Processing grief

If I could give one gift to every person setting out on the path of thinking deeply about climate change it would be knowledge of what helps them process grief. This is the skill I need to be in it for the long haul. Without processing grief, I have found it impossible to find space for joy. I don’t know about others, but I simply can’t learn about the large and small consequences of climate change; really see the structures of exploitation and domination holding up modern societies; witness the neck breaking speed at which decades of environmental protections have been dismantled, even as the scale and frequency of natural disasters skyrocket and then return to everyday life in the next breath. I feel so much sadness daily, but am committed to affirming life in its fullness, which includes laughter and frivolity, love and lots of joy. And this, rather than giving my life energy over to fear and grief. But if my eyes are to remain open to what’s happening, I have to move the pain of it through my body and eventually on out in a healthy way.

At a friend’s invitation, I recently began dancing Bollywood, and found it serves this purpose for me of washing away grief. With its roots in Bhangra and other Indian harvest dances, this pop dance style is silly, exuberant, and powerful. In a word, life-affirming. Partway through the quarter, I started feeling extraordinary gratitude during each class. Gratitude for being alive, for living now, for being able to exercise, for this music, for feeling my heart working and my breath deepening, for being able to dance with other people. In other words, pure connective joy. I don’t dance to disconnect from hard feelings. I feel them and then dance to reconnect with the rest of life. And I have to do it pretty much daily. Bollywood is not what does it for everyone, needless to say. Whatever you choose, I’d recommend it be unquestionably and completely cleansing at the cellular level.

It is possible that this whole book is about love.

Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown

“It feels important to end this book with an admission.  It is possible that this whole book is about love. My love of this planet, my love of human beings and creatures and the idea of there being a future in which this planet is still home to living things.  My love of the humans who have taught me to be awake and to feel the world around me, and clued me in to both caring more about life and being less attached to the outcomes of life. My love of Black people and Detroit and liberation.  This is, finally, a book about the preciousness of time. It’s limited and it’s so sacred, friends. And everything we do, every single thought and action and relationship and institution, everything is practice ground. So practice emergent strategy, yes, but only as much as you understand that it is a way to practice love.  For this, for all of this.”

KellieWorking assumptions

I find how to live a better question than how not to die. I am not so interested in worrying about human extinction. People are dying now from climate change.

I’m not interested either in feeling guilty about destroying life on Earth.  I’ve found this kind of guilt debilitating, and from a Universal frame of mind, believe the forces that created life on Earth will do so again when the conditions are right.

If not to save humanity from extinction, then what?  Because the path of living in relationship with nature, ourselves, and each other brings more joy. Especially, when we see the ways it encourages life in others.

When I mentioned to a teacher how sad I am to see so many trees dying in our nearby forest, he asked I look for any signs of life growing out of who and what had fallen. Here is what I found.

Hairy curtain crust growing on an oak branch that fell more than two years ago.

Hairy curtain crust growing on an oak branch that fell more than two years ago.

KellieWorking assumptions
Not knowing

There is a story of a Zen farmer who wins a horse. His neighbors say, you are so lucky, you won a horse! He says, we’ll see. One day, his son falls off the horse and breaks a leg. How unlucky, the farmer’s neighbors say! We’ll see, he says in reply. War breaks out in the region, and all young men are sent to their deaths as soldiers. The farmer’s son can’t go because of his broken leg. The neighbors say, what luck. The farmer says, maybe. This story and this skill helps me remember that the future is unknown, as much as we have models that help us predict it based on what’s currently known.

I’ve found not-knowing a useful resting spot. A home base that I can return to when I’m tired and scared. It also helps me leave the door open for possibility, for miracles to happen that my small human brain didn’t imagine and couldn’t have imagined yet.

For example, I would never have imagined that the United Technologies purchase of Coyote Ridge for missile testing would mean that, 60 years later, this property by Morgan Hill could become the last remaining refuge for the endemic and endangered species, checkerspot butterflies. Diversity of life is such a precious thing and how to support it, still such a mystery.

California plantains are the butterfly’s chosen host plan, but the plantain has mostly been crowded out by invasive grasses covering the hills we see around here. Serpentine rock is a refuge for the plantain because it evolved strategies for filtering out the rock’s toxic metals. The majority of serpentine rock now lies under the 280 freeway and housing developments up and down the Peninsula (including my own).

Had Coyote Ridge not been preserved as a sound buffer, those involved in its conservation believe it too would have been paved over. A Stanford researcher won significant funds to preserve the land for public use during negotiations to expand the 101 freeway.

Former missile testing buffer zone.

Former missile testing buffer zone.


I learned this story as part of a California Naturalist training program I participated in this past Spring. Hiking up to Coyote Ridge, our class crested a small hill and saw California goldfields for as far as the eye could see. Through our binoculars, the field of flowers fluttered with thousands of checkerspots; feeding, visiting, flying about, and being completely magical.

Encouraging everyone to imagine a positive future is so important, it's absolutely critical, and we can't do that—no one will feel the freedom to do so—if we're always talking about the worst we fear in the language of inevitabilities.