Feeling alive on a dying planet

How does one live on a dying planet and what does it mean to talk about his reality?  What does it mean to confront this reality and relate to it in the presence of others?


This has been something I have not really known what to do with for years.  What’s it like being alive living on a planet where one has no idea if there will be a stable enough climate or ecosystems to continue to support life in the coming decades and even years?  How does that affect how one lives in the world?  How does it change the values one chooses to live by?  How does one express pain and sadness about this predicament to others?  Do people really want to talk about it?  How many people feel the same sadness I feel?  

I have heard the term pre-traumatic stress refer to this feeling of an asteroid coming towards earth and just having to wait for it while not really knowing how hard it will hit.  It’s a weird feeling.  I am curious about how others are coping with this reality.  I am writing this post because I think it’s important to bring the topic into consciousness.  It’s important to talk about it with others who are maybe feeling and caring about the same thing.  At the same time I wonder why it’s been so hard for me to share with others that this is a topic that’s important to me.  I think part of the answer is because it requires emotional vulnerability.  I am not concerned with this topic because it’s a fun intellectual exercise.  The reality is that it is really sad and I have a lot of grief about it.  Sharing my feelings with others about something so important to me is really vulnerable.  It’s not easy.  I was often worried how others would handle my sharing.  

For years I have felt the pain of other animals suffering, of forests being cut down, and of the earth.  This isn’t really something that’s dinner table conversation and certainly isn’t bar talk.  I have tried to bring it up in the past to some friends but I have not personally felt like there was much emotional connection.  Sometimes it feels to me like people either don’t really know what I am talking about or there is a silent agreement to not dive too deep into the pain together.  There is a part of me that really wants to grieve.  I want to grieve for what’s already been lost and for what’s going to be lost in the future no matter what the outcome is.  I don’t want to just do it alone.  We are social creatures living on an interconnected planet.  There is an added comfort in sharing sadness with others whether or not there is real hope for a difficult situation to change. 

Personally it’s also a weird feeling that if I live long enough I may not even die of old age or something else, but it may be climate change that makes life unlivable before I’m ready.  The scientists say there have been six great extinction events in the earth’s history and we are living through one right now.  Do we have some special responsibility?  

When I look around outside, my mind often goes to what has been lost.  It goes to the sadness of how life on earth has changed and what’s not here.  It’s sometimes hard to pay attention to the incredible beauty that’s all around me because my mind is preoccupied with the past and resisting the reality of change.  

I don’t really have any answers personally other than I want to really feel my grief for the planet more.  I want to spend some time feeling the depths of my pain about the possible extinction of all life on earth during my lifetime.  I also want to be able to share these worries safely with others and I want to cry in community with others.  It’s probably been 7 or 8 years now since I started reading a bunch of environmental books where people were talking about the reality of the situation and not sugar coating it.  For a while I was overcome with anger and sadness and for a while I was in denial. 

While part of me feels like there is much grieving to be had even as I move forward with my life, another part of me really feels like this dire situation is an invitation to really live an authentic life.  The earth is calling me to live into my gifts and offer them to the world because if we all do that and follow our hearts maybe there is some meaning in that.  Maybe we can help preserve life on earth by following our authentic gifts or maybe we can just create some meaning on a dying planet.  This brings up another question for me.  Is an action meaningful if it doesn’t work out how we want it to?  Are our actions now important even if so much is lost in the future? I think they are. It feels like they are.

The other thing I feel really strongly about is the desire to really experience the beauty that’s still here on earth.  Some days I do better at this than other days but there is still so much beauty left.  There is a part of me that just wants to be filled with beauty and awe and wonder for life.  Those are often the times I feel most alive.  One of my great desires is to travel and see some of the last wild places on earth.  This is what my heart desires.  My heart wants to experience the rainforests of central africa and see elephants on the savannah and just experience beauty everywhere.  Just to bear witness feels meaningful to my body.  

The carbon counters may say this seeking beauty is frivolous and not helpful to the carbon footprint and maybe so, but I feel like falling in love with life again and falling in love with beauty and wonder and awe and this beautiful planet may be our only hope.  It’s a weird time to be alive, but maybe you don’t appreciate something or someone truly until you truly comprehend they are going to die.  Maybe that’s one of the benefits of Buddhism and insight meditation practice.  Seeing things as they really are means contemplating and living daily in a world that you know is impermanent.  

This beautiful planet and all it’s beautiful creatures (including the complicated one’s like us!) were never going to be around forever.  Maybe the current situation is offering us the opportunity to truly appreciate the wonders of being alive alongside other life.  We have a chance to truly appreciate the beauty and diversity and wonder of the magnificent and diverse number of species left on earth.  How cool is it to be living our lives while a diverse array of other creatures are doing much the same!

It’s often made me anxious in the past to truly discuss this topic.  Often, I would just bring it up as an aside but not really go into the depth of my pain on the topic.  It feels kind of nice to share my feelings here on the blog and I am curious if this post resonates with anyone?  Part of living an authentic life is being vulnerable about the things that we care about and the feelings that we have for those things.  How are you coping with life on earth in 2021?  Does this post resonate with you?  Is there too much else going on in the world to worry about what might happen in the future? Do you talk with people about the future of life?  Does the uncertainty of it all motivate you to stop waiting and start living according to your values?

4 thoughts on “Feeling alive on a dying planet

  1. SO beautifully written and you’ve given me a lot to think about. I want to read it again, take some notes and then comment more thoughtfully.
    I when you say you have a strong desire to experience the beauty that’s still here on earth, I think that’s why I love gardening so much. The spring is a glorious time of beauty and growth that continues through fall..and then begins again the next spring. Amazing to me. And something that I can help nourish and control……to some very small extent anyway!!

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    1. Yes! That’s why I love gardening, too. You can be so observant of small changes, and nurture a small piece of the universe to invite many living things to flourish there. A small gift of my time, which also rewards me with beautiful scents and sights.
      It is so painful to think of all that’s been lost. I’m takes more courage than I can muster to hold that pain. Best I can do is support efforts of caring and compassion for healing the planet while doing my small part.

      Like

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