Alan Heeks

2022 Climate Outlook: pray for miracles

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Jan 072022
 

The holiday time around New Year 2022 has been a chance for some of us to reflect on the outlook for the climate crisis, and it’s not a cheery prospect. I have been digging deep to find some constructive responses.

In reviewing current information, I was startled to learn that, if you adjust for the temporary economic slowdown from covid, global carbon emissions in 2021 continued to grow, and the growth rate is accelerating. This is featured in a YouTube talk by David Ramsden MBE, see talk here.

He also reports that CO2 emissions in recent years have been above the trend towards worst case scenarios (3.2o to 5.4o rise by 2100), and that the mean average of projections for 2100 has risen to 4.0o, from 3.5o in 2018. Maybe we have forgotten COP26 over Christmas, but recall that it needs massive cuts in annual emissions, starting now, to keep temperature rises to 1.5o overall. Frankly, this is unlikely.

This outlook has led to a sense of desperation, for me, and many people I know. I was touched by a recent article by George Monbiot, describing how he burst into tears on live TV when being interviewed after COP26. See feature here.

So in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been down in the pit of despond, looking for gems of hope. They’re hard to find, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Pray for miracles: it is objectively true that only miracles, i.e. events way beyond rational expectation, can save us from temperature rises well over 1.5o, and all they’d bring. So we can at least pray for such miracles to happen. As part of this, picture the transformative changes you hope for, such as radical action by governments, huge behaviour shifts by billions of consumers, and a longterm approach from businesses. Quite a few people, including me, are praying and meditating for planetary healing and positive change at 7.00pm GMT every Sunday, for half an hour.
  2. Do what you can in your local community: even though I don’t think my efforts in the last two years locally have had a big impact, they’ve had some, and that may accelerate as climate extremes, gas and food costs, etc., get worse. At minimum, doing what you can will help your morale, and we’re all going to need mutual support soon in our local communities.

One of the Bridport Climate Forums which Alan helped organise

  • Do what you can for the bigger picture: this could include supporting national campaigns, lobbying your MP, donating to help the many people already dislocated by climate change, protecting forests and habitats. See where your passion is and act on it!
  • Keep your heart open, and grow your resilience: In my recent dig for gems of hope, I had a helpful talk with a friend who is an Anglican priest, and an activist with Extinction Rebellion. I asked, “If we believe there is a divine power shaping the human world, why would it be creating this huge, worsening crisis, and all the suffering it’s likely to bring?”

Between us, the best answer we could come up with is this: to see this extreme crisis as urging us all to go beyond, to grow in extraordinary ways. In particular, to keep our hearts open, to stay loving, generous, collaborative, under pressures that could just lead to selfish grabbing. Exploring Soul Resilience might be part of this for you, as it is for me. We also need to transform the level of our resilience skills: for example, our ability to live with and mediate conflicts, to stay clear amid confusion. Co-creativity will be crucial for this.

An introduction to Soul Resilience

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Sep 012021
 

If you hope to thrive and grow through your life, not just cope and survive, how will you do this in the stormier times we can see ahead of us? It needs a quantum step up in resilience, and that’s what Soul Resilience could offer you.

Exploring the soul’s journey is one of the best ways I’ve found to navigate my rising anxiety and bewilderment in the last few years. Try sharing my belief that the soul is a piece of wise essence in each of us, whose journey may last thousands of years, and which chooses each human incarnation it comes into.

This belief offers a radical and positive twist in the way you view your current situation. Instead of feeling you’re a victim of random challenging events, try asking your soul, Why am I here? In other words, dialogue with your soul about why it chose this life you’re in, and what it wants to learn, experience, or do in its time here on Earth with you.

You may ask, why would a soul choose a life with severe covid, or as a refugee? The best answer I can offer is this: I believe there are many more dimensions or aspects to life than the few we perceive, and from a bigger, soul perspective, there can be positive reasons. Viktor Frankl’s time in concentration camps is one example of how love can grow in awful situations.

The idea of choosing to come into a time of crisis may be a hard one to accept, but I invite you to explore it. On my new website www.soulresilience.net, you’ll find more resources to help you explore the soul’s journey and start a dialogue with your soul.

What I’ve learned from asking my soul these questions is that my soul is curious, and wants to experience how it is to live in a time of upheaval and dissolution. It doesn’t expect us to save the situation, but it wants to learn how to stay centred and positive in an alarming era, and how to be loving and supportive to people and the planet when it’s tempting to be self-centred and focus on survival.

I’ve also found that dialogue with my soul can give me lots of practical resilience advice: for example, how much to limit my intake of bad news, how to process difficult feelings like alarm, and how to balance them with gratitude and trust.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been involved in group exploration of these topics, and I’ve found that there’s a lot of mutual support and wisdom to be found collectively. If this might interest you, see the Groups section of my new website.

Climate alarm? Learning to live with it

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Aug 262021
 

The IPCC report this week on the climate crisis has left me alarmed and unsettled, maybe you too. I’m writing this blog for myself as much as anyone, as part of my long-running search for ways to live with this. There are plenty of good processes out there, and many of us have been using them for a while. However, I keep feeling that it’s like baling out a sinking boat with a teaspoon: my raw emotions are flooding in much faster than I can process them out.

Why is this? We’re now in a climate crisis which really is threatening our survival, the stability of our societies and our individual wellbeing. So floods of raw emotion could well be seen as a healthy, functional response to the current facts.

I also suspect that the emotional impact on us is aggravated by the pandemic. At root, humans are social animals: we need in-person eye contact, smiles, hugs, companionship, to nourish our sense of safety, and in an alarm we need to gather in groups to gain understanding, support, and a view on how to respond. We’re all in deficit for such contact because of covid, and still limited on what’s possible.

For millennia, in a crisis people would gather in circles on the land

One of the ways I try to meet a challenge is to look for the gift in the problem. Where are the upsides in the current climate crisis? One is that it’s getting very hard to deny that we’re in a climate emergency caused by human activity. So we’re all in this together. Another is that it’s affecting lives across the world, and clearly the crisis is here, now, not elsewhere or in the future. These views are confirmed by recent UK research from Climate Outreach, see my blog on it here.

Beyond these basics, the picture gets muddier. We can see that many people can’t live with the alarming realities of the climate crisis: even if they don’t take refuge in denial, many will go to despair or apathy, feeling there’s no way out. All too understandable.

So where to turn? Deep Adaptation is in my view one of the best guides in this bewilderment: see my overview blog here. I agree with Jem Bendell that the first step is to accept, learn to live with, and grow through, all the big emotions this crisis stirs up: fear, overwhelm, despair and more.

In Jem’s view and mine, one of the best processes to do this is one from Joanna Macy, known as the Work that Reconnects, or deep ecology: see my overview writeup here. But there’s a catch: the key to this process is having your feelings witnessed and validated by others. Not easy to arrange these days!

So, back to the gift in the problem. The best I’ve come up with so far is these steps:

  1. Self-care: Accept how alarming this situation is, and love the parts of you that feel panicky, that want to hide in a cave or find someone to make it right for them. Give time to support yourself in whatever ways work for you, e.g. time in Nature, prayer, rest, singing, creativity.
  2. Mutual care: Find chances for mutual support wherever you can. Take a risk, look for this in social settings, or people you don’t know well, as well as close contacts. Recently I was chatting with an acquaintance, who suddenly said, “My wife and I just admitted to each other we’re terrified about the climate crisis.” That helped me hugely.
  3. Practical steps: Resilience research shows that it helps us when we take action, and support others. Recently I’ve been drafting a short briefing on practical local steps we can all take as climate responses: you can see the current draft here. Comments welcome! I’m planning to use this in various ways in my local community, including a briefing event for Great Big Green Week in September.
  4. Communing with Nature: Clearly the natural world is in crisis as much as the human one, and seeing them as a unity will help. For deep insights on this, see Thomas Berry. I’m finding a sense of mutual support by meditating outdoors, in my garden or elsewhere. Just as trees handle storms by deepening their roots, we can do the same see more on my website: naturalhappiness.net. And if you believe (as I do) that there is some divine power as well as material reality, pray that we’re all guided through this, and that suffering is relieved for all forms of life.
  5. Love and disruption: Turbulence and glitches in daily life are already rising, and the risk of bigger disruptions is rising too. We can’t stop these, so we need to find a better response. I recommend a blog by Jem Bendell, called The Love in Deep Adaptation. It’s a deeply-considered call for us to move beyond alarm and self-centredness, to meet others (and ourselves) with love and compassion. This, surely, is the gift in the climate emergency we’re having to live with.

How do we find the spiritual roots of resilience?

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Dec 092021
 

There’s so much talk about resilience these days, but little of it explores spiritual sources. My focus is resilience in everyday life: how we can stay steady, and grow through daily stress and bigger crises.

There’s plenty of research to show that people who feel a higher sense of purpose, who have a spiritual path, who pray or meditate, on average feel more wellbeing, and handle challenges more easily. But you can’t plug these features into your life like a phone app, so how can you evolve them and find a way that suits you?

I’ve been exploring these questions, for myself and in leading retreat groups, for twenty years. This blog offers a few highlights of what has helped me and some others to deepen our spiritual roots.

Resilience grows from strong roots

One place to start is great teachers like Jesus, Muhammad and the Sufi poet Rumi.  The best way I’ve found to access this wisdom is the work of Neil Douglas Klotz, who not only re-translates from the original language, but teaches spiritual practices used at the time, such as song, sound mantras, sacred movement, and walking meditation, which help to experience and embody them.

All of this has given me a very different, living sense of what Jesus and others can teach us about resilience. Here’s an example: the third Beatitude. In King James this reads, Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Neil’s translation is: Healthy are those who have softened what is rigid within; they shall receive physical vigour and strength from the universe.

More broadly, the original spiritual teachings of the Middle East can teach us a lot about resilience, probably more than the organised religions that grew from them. Most of them see divinity as the unity of spirit in life, not a patriarch, and heaven as a universal quality of inspiration, not a separate place ‘up there’.

Alan with Bedouin guides

A related source of my roots of resilience is what I’ve learned from semi-nomadic Bedouin in the Sahara. Between 2001 and 2012, I led twelve retreat groups in the Tunisian Sahara, travelling on foot and on camel with Bedouin guides.

If you want a role model of how to be happy with no control over your environment, and few material possessions, the Bedouin are an inspiring one. As they often told me, “You may be rich in possessions, but we are rich in our community”. For more about these experiences, see the Desert Wisdom section of my website www.living-organically.com.

A community that’s part of your spiritual roots is harder to find in Britain than the Sahara, but I’ve discovered ways to create this, for example in weekend retreats, Celtic seasonal celebrations, and even online meditation groups. Sharing songs, food, stories, and your uncertainties about life’s journey, can all help this process.

Another crucial part of my spiritual roots of resilience is deep connection to nature and the landscapes around me. This is part of the Bedouins’ resilience too.  And the teachings of Jesus and others from those lands are full of natural imagery and connection, in the original language.

As the climate crisis has deepened, and other uncertainties mount up, I have found that talking with my soul can really help my resilience: I ask it why it chose to be here in a human life in these troubled times, and I get some useful answers. If you’d like to know more about Soul Resilience, and about groups I am running to explore it, see www.soulresilience.net.

Nomadic Wisdom: old roots for new futures

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Nov 172021
 

Probably all of us are facing a future with a lot more uncertainty, and a lot less control. So what can we learn from people who have been living positively in that condition for thousands of years? By definition, nomads represent an extreme example of this, having no ownership or control of land, very few assets, and being at the mercy of whatever the climate throws at them.

Alan with Ali, one of our Bedouin guides

Some of the most inspiring times of my life were the ten retreat groups I organised in the Tunisian Sahara, travelling by foot and camel with semi-nomadic Bedouin guides. You can see my blogs about these trips here.

These were men born and bred in the desert, as nomads, who in the 1980s had to move to a town because climate change had dried up the shallow wells and springs. They still bred and herded camels in the desert, and they loved my groups because they were back in the life they loved.

The Bedouin are profound teachers by their approach to life. Although their situation is materially tough and basic, they are happy, dignified people. As they sit in a circle in the chilly light before sunrise, they are chatting, lighting the fire, making the bread, tending the camels and singing. I join them and ask myself, “Is this work time or social time?”, knowing that this is a western mindset and the question would be meaningless to them. Their songs move seamlessly from praise of Allah through romantic ballads to children’s play songs. Their days really are a flowing dance uniting, work, spirit, fellowship and recreation. Because of some of them speak good French, this is a rare chance to share the life and culture of people who are still within the semi-nomadic tradition.

You might think that losing the nomad life, living quite poorly in a town, would leave them despairing or bitter, but it hasn’t. They are some of the most happy, resilient people I’ve met. Around a campfire under a million stars, we’d ask why. They said, “You may be rich in things, but we are rich in our families.” Beside their deep, tribal sense of community, I could see that they had roots in their love for the desert, and in their faith, in Islam. A friend who works in Palestine says this is all true there.

Physical navigation in the desert is very difficult: there are no roads, and very few features you can put on a map.  If you go into the desert with native Bedouin guides, as I have done many times, they never use a map or compass. They navigate the desert as their forebears did in Old Testament times. They literally know the desert like the back of their hand: every dune and contour, every stump of palm or odd shaped rock, they can distinguish and steer by. My guess is that the Bedouins’ love for this land nourishes them so deeply because it feels like a reciprocal relationship: their intimate knowledge of the land, their rapport with its fragile ecosystems, enables them to navigate the desert, and even harvest from it, in the sense of finding grazing for their camels.

On most of my retreats, we had 24 hours where the visitors went into silent, solo time. On one trip, I had a friend who is an organic farmer in Surrey: he said he spent a lot of time on his farm alone and in silence, and would rather spend this time living with the Bedouin. This gave him and me a deeper sense of how they operate as a community: they seem more like a group, and less like individuals than westerners, and they moved seamlessly from one combined task to the next.

It is probably no coincidence that Islam originated in the desert, and that the Prophet Mohammad organised camel caravans before he received divine inspiration. I have studied Islamic teachings enough to see their beauty, and their relevance to a life without control. The Fateha, the Islamic equivalent of the Lord’s Prayer, celebrates the idea of divine unity, recognises a bigger power than the human individual, and calls upon that power for compassion, guidance and inspiration.What might be called the spiritual resilience of the Bedouin is well worth exploring further: if this interests you, see my blog on Desert Wisdom: the book and the nomads.

Book blog: The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller

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Oct 042021
 

Subtitle: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

You may have noticed, as I have, a growing number of grief tending workshops, grief rituals and similar events in recent years. What’s your reaction to them? I admit that mine has been a mix of mild interest and some resistance. Francis Weller is one of the leading American teachers in this field, and this book has the conviction of someone who has worked with groups for over 30 years, and has learned from many good sources, including tribal cultures. This book is not an easy read, because it digs into feelings that many of us bury, but it’s a very worthwhile one. Weller believes that most of us carry a lot more grief, and from a wider range of sources, than we let ourselves acknowledge, and I agree with him. This book is written with a lot of care and respect for the grief we all carry, and it is an excellent guide to this difficult territory.

This book offers a useful map of five gates of grief. The first is familiar: Everything we love, we will lose. The second is probably less familiar: The places that have not known love. This means the feelings and parts of ourselves that we have shut down and pushed away: the places associated with shame, trauma, and what he calls soul loss.

The third gate is the sorrows of the world. This is probably familiar to most of us, but he helpfully explains why this grief is so powerful in our times. He quotes the psychiatrist R. D. Laing describing us all as “Stone Age children”. Weller goes on: Our entire psychic, physical, emotional, and spiritual makeup was shaped in the long evolutionary sweep of our species. Our inheritance includes an intimate and permeable exchange with the wild world. It is what our minds and bodies expect.”

Weller’s fourth gate of grief is an intriguing one: What we expected and did not receive. This includes our ‘longing to belong’: he beautifully describes visiting Malidoma Somé’s village in Burkina Faso. He writes: “Every night near dusk, people would gather in the common area and share their day…. Children were there as well, weaving in and out of conversations, playing until they lay down and drifted into sleep…. Imagine how profoundly that would impact us, if we knew that we were welcome in any home and to find sustenance at any fire.” This gate is also about our hopes of fulfilling our gifts and potential, and being recognised for them, and our desire for a sense of oneness with all life, not just human. We need to recognise how far from this most modern life has moved.

The fifth gate is ancestral grief: I share his view that most of us carry unresolved traumas of many kinds from the generations before us, who rarely had the time and skills to resolve them. This is an extra weight that many of us carry, but at least recognising it is a first step to discharging it.

Weller regards ritual as a vital element in processing grief: he gives good examples of how this was used in different ways in tribal societies, and how we can use it in our modern times. He sees the crucial dynamics in ritual as being to provide both containment and release, and ‘making the repressed visible’.

If grief was a country, you could say that this book is an excellent guide to its heartlands, to what they contain, and how to access them. But even with a good guide like this, I feel it needs a lot of strength and courage to journey into these heartlands. In some of my groups, I explore the frontiers of this terrain, using processes like The Work that Reconnects, which provides a contained way to start feeling our grief, rather than a complete plunge into the depths. If this topic interests you, this book gives you an excellent sense of different ways to start your journey, and what that journey may entail.

Soul Resilience Retreat

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Sep 022021
 

How your core self can help you grow through storms

Feb 25-27, 2022 at Hazel Hill Wood near Salisbury
With Alan Heeks and Jane Sanders

As life gets more turbulent, we need to go higher and dig deeper to find a quantum step up in our resilience. This retreat is a chance to explore how the deep wisdom of your soul can help you to stay centred and positive, and clarify your purpose: why your soul has chosen to be here in a time of huge change.

The intention for this retreat is to create a deep space for soul exploration, with guided processes, sharing time, and solo periods to reflect, renew, and draw insights from soul, spirit and Nature. We aim to support resilience for challenges of all kinds, from personal and family, through work and community, to the global climate emergency. We will offer a different, soul-based approach to good climate response processes: Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects, and Deep Adaptation. The ingredients will include:

  • Finding your own sense of your soul, and creating a dialogue.
  • Ways to deepen soul connection, including calling on a guide, Nature immersion, sacred chants, group support, dreams, and Gaia connection.
  • Creating a safe container for slow, deep listening to the interconnections of all life, including spirit and nature.
  • Why am I here? Find your soul’s view on how to live with and grow through climate crisis.
  • Helping soul and body to cohabit, and create shared resilience.
  • Nourishing the soul, individually and collectively, as a key to everyday resilience.

Alan Heeks has been exploring resilience, climate responses, and the soul’s journey for many years. He is a widely experienced group and retreat leader, whose interest in soul resilience has grown as a positive response to the climate crisis. See www.naturalhappiness.net and www.soulresilience.net.

Jane Sanders has over 25 years’ experience in working with a mindfulness-based approach to wellbeing with groups and individuals, and draws on ecospirituality, deep ecology, rewilding and Nature immersion.

Hazel Hill: is a magical 70-acre conservation woodland and retreat centre, 7 miles from Salisbury. It has simple, yet beautifully crafted off-grid wooden buildings with lovely indoor and outdoor group spaces, heated accommodation in bedrooms (or camping), good hot showers and compost loos. See more about the wood at www.hazelhill.org.uk.

Practicalities:

Start time: 4pm on Friday February 25, finishing after lunch at 2pm on Sunday February 27.

Price: £260 including single bedroom, food and facilitation. Concessions £220. We will be asking everyone to help with practical tasks such as washing up, lighting stoves, etc.

Covid: Covid precautions will include: 1-metre distancing when indoors, all single bedrooms, holding group sessions outdoors where possible. Everyone is asked to do a lateral flow test before coming to the group.

Booking: For bookings or enquiries, please contact Alan on data@workingvision.com or 07976 602787.

Learning to Unlearn

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Aug 262021
 

Yes, it’s a paradox, but our ways of thinking, our habitual responses, are so deeply set that a deliberate effort of unlearning is needed if we want to see things as they are, and be able to find a fresh response.

I’ve been exploring Sufi teachings for over thirty years, and they’re a great aid in unlearning. One of the early books that inspired me was The Last Barrier, by Reshad Feild. It’s a moving, personal tale of his search for a Sufi teacher.

Reshad’s teacher is tricksy, elusive, constantly forcing him to unlearn, to live with ignorance. The teacher at one point actually tells him, “the purpose of the Path is to bring a man to the point of bewilderment.” Although the book was published in 1976, it’s very relevant in the current crises.

Another body of Sufi wisdom is poetry. Dip into Rumi, Hafiz, Shabistari, and you’re constantly opened up by paradox and insights that feel totally fresh, even though they date from the thirteenth century. For example:

Penetrate the heart of one drop of water 

You’ll be flooded by a hundred pure oceans

The limbs of a fly are like an elephant.

A hundred harvests reside in a germ of barley seed

Cosmic rays lie hidden in the pupil of my eye,

and somehow the centre of my heart

accommodates the Pulse of the Universe

— (Shabistari, translated in Desert Wisdom, N.Douglas-Klotz)

If you want a way to explore the subtleties of Sufi wisdom, The Sufi Book of Life, by Neil Douglas-Klotz is a good start. On page 84, he comments on unlearning, and offers a sound mantra which can help you be open to flashes of insight, “states of grace”.

So much of our upbringing and education tells us we ought to know, we should be on top of the situation. Whereas real life, in ever more forceful ways, is bringing us to the point of bewilderment, and hopefully teaching us to accept the state of not knowing.

Meaning, Purpose, Connection: what does inspiration mean to you?

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Aug 262021
 

The literal meaning of inspire is to draw in spirit, from the Latin spiritus, signifying both breath and a bigger connection. I know the word spiritual is hard for some people, so replace it with inspirational if you prefer. I’m using it because I believe that spiritual aspects of life and resilience will become more vital for most of us in the years ahead as turbulence grows. I’ve chosen three qualities which inspire me and lift my spirits:

  • Meaning: our sense of meaning in our own life, and the world in general, is badly eroded by the power of fake news and social media. To find meaning, we have to use our intention and seek it at a higher, non-material level: and this includes the meaning of difficulties, worries, setbacks.
  • Purpose: in a market economy, it’s sadly understandable that we’re constantly exposed to messages persuading us that we and our lives are pointless unless we buy Brand X. The best antidote is to find a higher purpose, one which inspires you and serves more than material and personal needs.
  • Connection: consider how your ways of connecting have changed in recent years and even more since covid: more online shopping and messaging, and less face-to-face contacts. Probably your life is more full of technical connections, information, stuff, but fewer connections with people, Nature, purpose and meaning.  A main part of my spiritual life is  feeling the connections between life of all kinds, a sense of fellowship which I find very nourishing and meaningful.

William Bloom is one of the best UK teachers in this field. His books include The Power of Modern Spirituality. In 2015 he started an educational charity, Spiritual Companions Trust, which now has the first fully accredited UK course in this area: a Diploma in practical spirituality and wellness. The website lists a number of resources, with some useful videos and a booklist. See more at www.spiritualcompanions.org.

William believes, as I do, that one’s spiritual beliefs need not connect with organised religion or with belief in a deity. He describes three behaviours at the heart of all spiritual paths, whether or not these fit within a named tradition:

  • Connection – with the wonder and energy of life.
  • Reflection – on one’s life and actions, and how to change and improve.
  • Service – a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong, and acting so as to do good for others.

If you’d like to explore inspiration and the spiritual dimension of resilience, here are sources which have helped me:

  1. Nature connection: this is much more than feeling good in greenery. Try feeling at one with the vitality and wisdom in all life, including all of Nature. Imagine there’s a creative desire we share, which can guide us through the climate crisis.
  2. Woodland wisdom and stewardship: there’s a special depth to the connection humans can find with threes and forests. I’ve found this most at Hazel Hill Wood, the conservation and retreat centre I founded. Stewardship is the idea that humans are here to care for and co-create with Nature, not exploit it, and this is a big inspiration for me.
  3. Sufi wisdom: this has helped my sense of purpose and resilience for many years. Its core is seeing divinity in all forms of life, and keeping an open-hearted approach. You can learn more at another of my websites, living-organically.com.
  4. Dreams and myth: American eco-philosopher Thomas Berry highlights the importance of dreams (visions of hope), and of changing our myths or prevailing beliefs. He highlights the amazing creative wisdom of Gaia, Planet Earth, in evolving through repeated crises, and the need for humans to connect with this. See more at thomasberry.org.
  5. Deep ecology: a process created by Joanna Macy, drawing from Native American and Buddhist sources. She believes that most people are pushed into denial and inertia because they can’t process their pain and despair about the state of the Earth. Deep ecology is a powerful way to do this, and involves the support of a group as a key element.

Clearing our negative feelings enables us to find inspiration and a positive vision to engage with the troubles of our times. See more at www.workthatreconnects.org.

Meaning, purpose and connection are more a direction of travel than a destination we reach. They can help our journey through life to be one of discovery and service, even in these turbulent years.

Deep Adaptation and climate change: An intro to the work of Jem Bendell

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Aug 262021
 

Back in 2018, the sense of urgency about the climate crisis rose sharply, helped by several key voices, including Greta Thunberg, and Professor Jem Bendell. Whilst he strongly supports all efforts to reduce climate change, he cites extensive scientific evidence that it is too late to avoid serious worsening. Jem uses the term Deep Adaptation as a focus for facing and adapting to the major climate and related challenges of the coming years: I agree with his view that we need to find responses which go well beyond resilience in the way it is mostly understood.

Deep Adaptation has attracted widespread support and involvement, and  pushback, some of this from within the environmental movement. Jem’s work highlights the argument between giving people the bad news and alarming outlook full force, or softening the message to avoid turnoff. Both sides in this argument cite experience and psychological research that supports their view. It’s not a debate that can be resolved, but it highlights a key factor: that emotional responses, not factual information, are what limit many people’s engagement with the issue.

As of 2021, Deep Adaptation is best summed up as a large informal network and body of resources (blogs, videos, etc.) which have grown around Jem’s original paper published in 2018. This blog offers my view of the main elements of DA. You can get a good overview and entry routes at www.deepadaptation.info. To see Jem’s updated version of his original 30-page paper, click here.

One of the many things I value in Jem’s approach is that he acknowledges the deep emotional and spiritual impacts of facing a bleak outlook, and points to ways to process these impacts, including faith, and “a vision of people sharing compassion, love and play.” Having led various groups on Deep Adaptation, I support the view that the first step in engaging with the climate crisis is to face and work through emotional responses, which may include fear, grief, bewilderment, and despair.

I share Jem’s belief that one of the best ways to process these feelings is the Work that Reconnects, initiated by Joanna Macy. Having space to voice your emotions in a supportive group, and have them witnessed, is an alchemical step that enables people to move forward whilst living with their feelings, and I’ve seen it work repeatedly. For my summary of Joanna’s process, click here.

A distinctive part of Jem’s outlook is his belief that societal breakdown is likely in many countries including the UK within the next ten years. The most probable trigger for this is global food shortages. He shares the view of many experts that a Multi Bread Basket Failure is possible anytime from now: this means major crop failure in the same year for the few countries and staples most world population depend on.

Jem’s expectation of societal collapse puts him at the pessimistic end of the climate experts I’m aware of. At the 2019 Findhorn climate change conference (see my blog here), I asked some of these other experts for their view, such as Jonathan Porritt, Vandana Shiva and Charles Eisenstein: they don’t think societal breakdown is likely. My view is that there will be turmoil in many countries, and huge stress on western Europe from refugees, as well as food shortages. I’d hope that the UK can organise food rationing and maintain societal stability: but this will need a lot of preparation. I have commissioned research on how UK food growing can adapt, see research report here. I am also leading pilot work on raising food security in my hometown of Bridport, and we are happy to share what we learn: see more here.

Overall, DA has two major, related strands:

  • Inner adaptation: exploring the emotional, psychological, and spiritual implications of living in a time when societal disruption/collapse is likely, inevitable, or already happening.
  • Outer adaptation: working on practical measures to support wellbeing, ahead of and during collapse (e.g. regenerative living, community-building, policy activism).

One of the most widely used DA frameworks is the 4R’s, summed up here using some quotes from Jem’s original paper:

  • Resilience: recognising what we most want to keep, and skills to do so, including how to handle deep emotions such as fear and grief. Facing the emotional impacts enables us to act more clearly and coherently.
  • Relinquishment: This “involves people and communities letting go of certain assets behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse.  Examples include withdrawing from coastlines… or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption”. We need to make voluntary choices where we can.
  • Restoration: This “involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded.” For example, the mutual support of local communities.
  • Reconciliation: “With what and whom shall we make peace as we awaken to our mutual mortality?” This recognises that the pressures ahead may intensify polarities, extremism, scapegoating, and we need to get beyond them.

The Deep Adaptation approach has attracted widespread support and participation: you can get a flavour of this at the Deep Adaptation Forum here. It has also attracted criticism from various quarters. You can see a good response to this in the article in Deep Ecologist by Naresh Giangrande, who is a Deep Adaptation Advocate, and was previously a leading figure in the Transition Network: see article here. Jem has published a recent blog with his response, and introducing the updated version of the original paper: see more here.

If you start exploring Deep Adaptation online, you can soon feel overwhelmed. So here are a couple of suggestions on where to start.

  • This recent blog by Jem gives an overview in a few paragraphs of how DA has evolved, plus a listing of his blogs, in categories, with links: click here.
  • The Love in Deep Adaptation: a really well-considered piece about the huge focus in Western culture on individual needs and control, and how deep adaptation and rising uncontrollability offers the potential for a return to compassion, curiosity, respect, and love: click here.
  • Notes on Hunger and Collapse: a useful overview of the limited info currently available on food impacts of climate change, plus references: click here.

For a short, 14-minute video of Jem giving the essence of Deep Adaptation, click here; for a fuller, 44-minute version click here. If you want to go deeper into Deep Adaptation, and get actively involved, you can find out more at www.deepadaptation.info, and you can also join the Deep Adaptation Forums, including Food & Agriculture, Community Action, and more. You can also contribute to the discussion on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/deepadaptation. Jem and Rupert Read have co-edited a book, due out in May 2021, titled Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, with a range of impressive contributors, which should provide a good overview of this complex and controversial field.