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Cracking Open the Possibility of Joy
Collective Power Is Needed for Climate Healing
Reflections on Climate Grief to Joy, Healing Circle Programming at Crosby Farm Park
Written by: Grace Generous
The crisp October day welcomed us into the circle as we gathered in the clearing at Crosby Farm Park. Jothsna, Buffalo, Laura, and Ben welcomed us, asking us to find a natural object to add to the evolving art piece building in the center of our circle. I scoured the ground for my contribution: freshly fallen leaves, bright yellow and shaped like bird feathers. Others brought sticks, grass, rocks, and more, to create a kaleidoscope of color and texture on the ground. We settled into our chairs and began.
We opened the circle with a song. Carrie Owen, Dakota and Meskawaki, enrolled in the Omaha Nation, sang in
Dakota. Her voice rang through the park, like it was cleaning the air around us.
Three questions followed.
“What brought you here today? How are you showing up? What are you struggling with?”
Fear, anxiety, apprehension, these feelings spilled into the circle as we shared our stories. People worried for the safety of their families and communities; they worried about the unusual heat we’ve been experiencing here in Minnesota and the chronic drought the state has been suffering from. We talked about experiencing cycles of acute worry, when the summer heat gets particularly bad or when the stream levels are too low or, worse, nonexistent. We talked about the slow, creeping sensation of feeling overwhelmed and helpless as we watch a constant cycle of record-breaking temperatures, wildfires, floods, and other climate-related disasters play out on our TV screens.
We expressed anger towards the unaffordability of food, the treatment of water as a commodity, and the disproportionate effects these issues have on communities already suffering from systemic injustices like racism. Most of all we expressed grief, mourning the loss of what our futures could have looked like without the constant, unabashed destruction of our planet.
The center of the circle filled like a pressure cooker, tension palpable and emotions raw.
When everyone was done sharing, we sat in silence for a moment. You could hear everyone’s breath as the last rays of sunlight peeked above the horizon and the moon rose over our heads.
Ben took up his banjo and Strong Buffalo his drum, and the music began.
We go to the East seeking a new day of hope.
We walk to the south where life comes from, praying for a warm rain to wash away the evil from all of those that are violent.
We go to the West, the gateway to the other side, seeking guidance for this lonely journey we find ourselves on.
We go to the North where the cold wind will help us to endure all the pain and suffering of this life.
We go to the center of the circle and reach down and caress our Mother Earth, who loves and nurtures all her children.
And we look up and look all around and thank you, Creator, for this wonderful life you gave to us all.
We thank you.
Buffalo’s voice filled the clearing, while the clear twang of of Ben’s banjo carried across the field. You could feel everyone’s presence as we collectivley processed what we had shared. As the day turned to night, the cool air seemed to decompress the tensions we had each spoken out loud.
“What can you carry and release for someone else?”
This act of reciprocity was invited next. I picked up a blade of grass that someone else had contributed to the circle. I walked several steps out of the clearing and imagined that blade to be a vessel that could hold all of the worry and anxiety that those in the circle had shared. I took a deep breath and pictured the grief and frustration channeling into the blade. As I exhaled, I released it into the wind, hoping it would carry away some of everyone’s anxiety with it.
Climate anxiety is something I have struggled with since I first learned about climate change. As a child, I managed by avoiding the topic, too young and overwhelmed to face what I was feeling. As I grew older, I learned to compartmentalize better, how to show up in spaces and talk about the climate crisis while managing my anxiety. I believe that focusing on solutions is essential to mobilizing people to act.
As an environmental studies student I am constantly surrounded by people who understand the severity of the climate crisis. We discuss the causes, impacts, and solutions of this crisis in every class, from the introductory ones all the way to our senior seminars. For most classes, however, we tend to avoid discussing our anxieties. Not because we don’t have them, or because people don’t want to discuss them. I think it’s because if we spent a class discussing our climate anxieties, we might never leave the classroom.
Denying myself the time and grace to recognize and acknowledge my own anxiety, however, created further problems, preventing me from managing the rising pressure in my own chest.
Now, sitting in the circle, I let that pressure push out the thoughts and worries I never talk about, even with my peers, friends, and family. I felt tears well up behind my eyes. Tears of sadness, of course, but also, surprisingly, tears of relief.
“What are you taking from this? How will you utilize this experience to make a shift in direction? Has anything shifted for you?”
I reflected on this question for a while. What has changed for me? I felt slightly less alone in my climate anxiety. It always feels nice to find camaraderie in others, to fulfill that human desire to feel seen and heard and understood. Joy felt more tangible. I learned that I can and should find joy in small victories, to find rest and rejuvenation in my community because that is essential to avoid burnout. Cracking open even the possibility of joy felt like a radical shift. It was a possibility, however, that I was more than ready to embrace.
Learn more about Healing Circles and free programming opportunities:
2023 Healing Circle Dates:
Tuesday, April 4, 2023, 5pm – 8 pm
Thursday, July 13, 2023, 5pm – 8pm
Saturday, August 12, 2023, 2pm – 5 pm
Healing Circle programming is supported by Oyate Hotanin in collaboration with musical duo Buffalo Weavers and Change Narrative LLC—in a year-long climate action-driven project, Society of Mother Earth (S.O.M.E.). Developed with funding as an awardee of the Minnesota Humanities Center 2022-2023 Cultural Heritage and Community Identity Grant, and in partnership with Mississippi Park Connection. S.O.M.E intends to foster relationships between humans and the environment to prompt healing in our broken world through performances, healing gatherings, and storytelling initiatives.