An Ode to Grief

An eye and a tearIt all started yesterday, as I was watching the TED talk by Johan Rockstrom. I am in the process of updating and tweaking a course I will be teaching at the School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) this coming January, heading there for the third year in a row. This two-week course takes the students on a journey of Systems Thinking, Sustainability, and the leadership that is needed for the times we live in – volatile, uncertain, complex, full of both challenges and opportunities on the individual, collective, social, environmental and organizational scopes. I like to keep the content current and up-to-date, and this is what started it all.

Or, perhaps, it started several years ago, when I met Anil Sachdev, the founder of SOIL, and that first conversation led to my current yearly trips to India. Maybe even earlier, about 8 years ago, when I connected with Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), and started teaching there while immersing myself deeper and deeper in the whole area of sustainability to begin with.

Or… there might be even earlier steps to this journey that I find myself on. The journey that led me to these days, of seeing – and feeling – the impact of this whole field of “sustainability” and “sustainable development.” Something suddenly hit me, deep, and the emotions started rising. They were unexplainable, yet tangible and strong, and they were not all necessarily mine. It felt as though I was channeling something much bigger than my own capacity. What’s the point? What are we really doing here? How much meaning there is to teaching another course, while the suffering around us, around me, just keeps growing? Sure, there are countless individuals and organizations that do incredible work, passionately committed to mitigate, restore, and heal. Sure, there is a growing awareness of all that is really happening behind the scenes at the various corporate and political levels, allowing us to know the “truth” better and take action.

And the great irony of these days for me is that they come right after the weekend at BGI, where I was teaching Appreciative Inquiry, the framework and philosophy of looking at what gives light to any human system. How to look and find and amplify that spark of the positive. I now wonder whether, before we look for that spark of life, we need first to step fully into the darkness, allowing it to engulf us and throw us into the pit of fear, pain, and grief. Feel our collective and planetary grief, with no defenses, reasons, or excuses.

“The Mother is enraged. She is enraged at spiritual systems that emphasize transcendence and detachment over a passionate and loving relationship with what is here, embodied in the earth and our own humanness. She is enraged that the teachings of the Father have been twisted and misused by patriarchal power systems more intent on maintaining control and domination over the world’s precious resource than in doing the real spiritual work of transforming consciousness so it can relate to all of life as the divine reality it is. She is enraged that we are not finding joy and love in our lives, enjoying the gifts that She has given us, honouring and embracing our life with Her. And She is enraged that it is taking so long for Her children to understand that life is precious, that every atom of creation contains the love and light of God, that by ignoring this fundamental truth we are spiraling Her world into irreversible darkness and destruction.” – Andrew Harvey

Perhaps this is what we really need to do. Pause. Stop all the actions and just pause. And feel, deeply, all that is happening around us. The disappearance of species. Pause and feel. The pollution. Stop. Destruction of our environment. Open deeper. The injustice towards other humans. Feel some more. The pain we are all causing Mother Nature. Grief. Opening up to it, allowing it to wash in and out and through me, and just feel. Until we can’t any more and want to move away, do something, anything. This would be the moment to keep pausing and keep opening. Because under all the waves of grief, there will be love. Deep, dedicated, and committed love.

“Passionate engagement in life includes the willingness to experience, deeply, the needs of the world and the suffering within life.” – Andrew Harvey

And now, back to updating the course. And to more grief.

Simon Goland