In some ways it’s easier to suppress pain and leave it unaddressed and unexplored. In the past I didn’t take the time to investigate why I was feeling pain, I just knew that I didn’t want to feel it anymore and I’d find some way to distract myself. In this day and age it’s easy to escape into TV, games, the internet, etc. Eventually I learned to figure out what was going on underneath those feelings, so I could deal with it. Unfortunately, that approach never helped when I was feeling pain over something beyond my control. I think that’s why it can be so difficult to face our pain over environmental issues. Environmental degradation, slow violence, and climate disruption are such overwhelming issues that seem far too massive and complex for any individual to have a meaningful impact on. It’s hard to know what to do with pain over these issues beyond suppressing it or falling into a state of despair.
This chapter of Active Hope was valuable for me because it gave me not only a new way of dealing with that pain, but an entirely new way of looking at it.
I’m somewhat familiar with meditation. I know all about how you’re supposed to sit with difficult emotions and let them pass through you and all that. When you’re feeling a painful emotion just take some deep breaths, notice where you’re feeling the emotion in your body, and ease into it. My problem was whenever I tried to do that I would just get stuck in the emotion and spiral further into it or it would only give me superficial relief.
This is where I found the section on A Different View of Self so helpful. I’d never thought about my pain for the world as the world feeling through me. Initially, the idea seemed a little hippy-dippy to me, but as I kept reading it started to click. If I was truly separate from the rest of the world then I wouldn’t feel pain over environmental issues. I might think that they’re a shame, sucks for the polar bears or whatever, but I wouldn’t feel personally disturbed. It’s because I am connected to the world and part of something greater than myself that I feel this pain. In a weird way I’m kind of comforted by that thought. Now, looking at the pain this way reminds me that I belong on this planet, that I’m part of something that’s worth suffering for.
Thich Nhat Hanh on “interbeing”