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Burning Out on a Burning Planet

CW: discussion of COVID-19, eco-anxiety, cancer, and climate catastrophe. mention of r*pe and abuse.


Believe it or not, I started writing this nearly 4 weeks ago.

And now am finishing it in isolation.

Coronavirus has been the word on everyone's lips for nearly a week.

Whole cities, provinces, and countries have ground to a halt, families are living in isolation from one another, and our most vulnerable people are afraid to leave their homes for fear of contracting the virus.

The failures of our global and national systems have never been more self-evident.

The only possible silver lining I can see is that sweeping sociocultural change could be on the other side of this mess.

Once our stress response returns to a natural activation — once the panic and the chaos clears — I hope we will look at this system and want to tear it down.

This system that leaves thousands under threat of eviction for missing a few weeks work, this system that insists on business as usual no matter the cost, that requires people to go to work ill, this system that amplifies feelings of scarcity and greed.

I hope that as the fear dissipates, we will look at this system and know that it is deeply flawed and that it must change.

And then, we will go out into the world and be that change.

Burning Out on a Burning Planet

The world is on fire.

Or flooding, depending where you live.

The United States is descending into fascism in real time.

Indigenous peoples worldwide are being arrested en masse for standing against corporate interests.

Systems of governance in the Western world have moved from covertly corrupt to openly corrupt, and there's almost nothing you can do about it.

Pipelines, plastics, pandemics, and profits are priority one, and anything (or anyone) that gets in the way will be forcibly removed.

This is a snapshot of the world in March of 2020.

The media is unrelenting, apocalyptic, and everywhere.

I would not blame you for turning away, for covering your ears, for blocking out the din.

I would not blame you for considering the enormous task of living as an engaged citizen in the year 2020 and deciding that you cannot shoulder the burden.

But, I ask you, what would you do if you felt like you could do something?

What could we do together as a vast and flexible community?

What would you achieve if you had the tools for resistance and resilience in our hurting world?

What would you say if I told the tools that you need to save the world are the very same tools you need to save yourself?

Social Creatures

Few of you might know that my first academic love was actually sociology. Before I learned about the field of psychophysiology, I did my undergraduate degree in sociology (mostly at Carleton University, for those who might wonder).

I loved the idea that so much of human behaviour could be understood through systems and environments. Not to mention many of the experiments in sociological research seemed to have a playfulness to them!

(Stanley Milgram's early work read like harmless pranks for science. His later work was less harmless but equally as interesting.)

These early academic years focussed on human life in the context of a social environment.

Before I studied people as individuals, I studied people as social creatures. Before I considered individual psychology, I was fascinated by social psychology.

And despite what Simon and Garfunkel might say; no one is a rock, no one is an island.

So when I started studying psychology in the context of mind-body health, I was already deeply convinced that you cannot understand an individual without considering their social and environmental experience.

A Human Earth

Eve Ensler, the acclaimed writer of The Vagina Monologues, permanently changed my life with her TedTalk Suddenly My Body.

(I would highly recommend you watch it yourself, but include trigger warnings for discussion of cancer, death, abuse, and violence against women. It's not easy watching, but it is deeply worthwhile.)

In the talk Ensler, describes her experience with cancer, and how it broadened her understanding of being human on the planet Earth. After battling cancer, Ensler says the separation between her body and the Earth's body melted away.

She explains that her "cancer was a cancer that was everywhere, the cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed, the cancer that gets inside people who live down the streets from chemical plants — and they're usually poor — the cancer inside the coal miner's lungs, the cancer of stress for not achieving enough, the cancer of buried trauma, the cancer in caged chickens and polluted fish, the cancer in women's uteruses from being raped, the cancer that is everywhere from our carelessness."

This idea, which in hindsight should have been so obvious, planted itself so deeply in my psyche that it has changed the trajectory of my entire body of work.

I was already studying how stress influences health, and how human psychology (i.e. stress) can only be considered in the context of social and environmental structures.

And in my spiritual life, I already believed deeply that our planet is a living, breathing organism itself.

But it took that 12 minutes and 52 seconds with Eve Ensler for all the pieces to click together.

It took 12 minutes, 52 seconds for me to begin to understand that the separation between our personal psychology, our body, our social psychology, and our planetary body is a very thin line — if it's separate at all.

Mindfulness for the Apocalypse

I have been working quietly on a side project called Mindfulness for the Apocalypse since October of 2018.

It has been my outlet for the anxieties that accompany late stage capitalism, environmental catastrophe, and the general sh*tshow that is living in the 21st century.

(Seriously, if you're not feeling at least a little burnt out from the constant newsreel of apocalypse and doom in recent years, are you really paying attention?)

It is an attempt to put the human stress response in the context of a dying planet.

And then to create real-world, everyday, community solutions that foster resilience, creativity, and emotional support.

Last September, I released a short manifesto to the world and under the subheading "Personal Resilience, I wrote:

"Living in a time of uncertainty means living in a time of omnipresent emotional and physical stress.

Living through climate catastrophe will require creative, intentional strategies for emotional resilience and personal empowerment.

Living in uncertain, catastrophic times means building resilience into the very framework of your life."

And, my good goddess, that has never been truer.

Watching people panic, and fight — literally fight over basic necessities like 4 years worth of toilet paper — is a sobering experience.

Witnessing the stress response succumb to mob mentality on a global scale is absolutely terrifying, while at the same time astonishing.

Understanding that this pandemic is likely a taste of what the next 10, 20 and 50 years hold is enough to bring anyone to their knees.

We are living in a burnout state/stress response/chronic activation all. the. time.

Panic buying is that stress response in action.

Panic is the only place to go from complete burnout.

Panic means people have reached a breaking point.

So how do we survive?

It may sound trite, but we survive together.

We recover. Our bodies and our minds.

And then we destroy the systems that keep people scared and resources scarce.

We build lives and communities centered around principles of equity, sustainability, and resilience.

We teach each other how to be more self reliant by planting gardens, preparing our own food, mending our clothes, and creating alternative local economies.

We slow the f*ck down.

We retreat into our local communities — not just for a few weeks, but permanently.

We look to Indigenous leaders, women, scientists, and healers for guidance.

We accept that the body of the planet, and our own earthly body are one in the same, and should be treated with the same care, compassion, and protection.

We demand systems that prioritize human life and the life of our planet.

And find the silver lining, and we burn the rest down.

more than usual,

sending all my love + gratitude,


Resources on Burnout + Eco-Anxiety

FREE Talk courtesy of Stratford Public Library and Climate Momentum

More about Burnout in The Burnout Series: STOP.

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