from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

our pain for the world

'Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine', says Mary Oliver.

For many of us, our joy at the world is tempered by a deep despair at what's happening to it at our hands. No other species has the capacity to destroy the world as we do. The scale of the destruction can feel too much for our hearts to open to. This fact haunts me; and perhaps it does you, too. 

We have to keep opening our hearts; we have to not close down. That's what makes us human. To do otherwise makes us machines.
And I also know that pain can be the prompt to action. In other words, our despair can motivate us. Tonight, I shall go and hear Polly Higgins speak on ecocide (and perhaps report back).

Meantime, here is the wonderful Joanna Macy on despair:

'Where does despair fit in? Why is our pain for the world so important? Because these responses manifest our interconnectedness. Our feelings of social and planetary distress serve as a doorway to systemic social consciousness. To use another metaphor, they are like a "shadow limb." Just as an amputee continues to feel twinges in the severed limb, so in a sense do we experience, in anguish for homeless people or hunted whales, pain that belongs to a separated part of our body—a larger body than we thought we had, unbounded by our skin.

Through the systemic currents of knowing that interweave our world, each of us can be the catalyst or "tipping point" by which new forms of behavior can spread. There are as many different ways of being responsive as there are different gifts we possess. For some of us it can be through study or conversation, for others theater or public office, for still others civil disobedience and imprisonment. But the diversities of our gifts interweave richly when we recognize the larger web within which we act. We begin in this web and, at the same time, journey toward it. We are making it conscious.'

—Joanna Macy

From the article Working Through Environmental Despair,


  1. Thank you for this post Roselle! Yet again oddly timely :-)
    I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few days, triggered I think by a video trailer for an environmental film called the Midway Journey (there's a link in my twitter feed if you want to have a look - stunningly beautiful and heart crushing at the same time). This was a point the film maker made in his narration of the clip, that he hoped people would be affected, and affected enough to change something, anything.
    It feels like an ongoing battle, the desire to connect and care and do something vs the fear of it, being overwhelmed, what difference can one person make, how can we have any hope of taking on big business/govnmt ...and on and on. Then I talked to a chap who runs a volunteer company in Cornwall and he's been hard at work trying to get local government bodies to understand and accept Transition etc and seems to be making a little head way. He seems hopeful and at least engaged. Perhaps the more local our efforts - local to our county, our community, our own minds and bodies the easier to effect some change? I don't know. There's the whole question of engaged buddhism and all; do we sit and concentrate on ourselves or do we set our selves on fire in public protest? Not that I'm a buddhist particularly but I am looking for some middle way ;-P
    All the best,

  2. Hi Naomi - and thanks! Glad it's timely :-).

    Engaged Buddhism: we have all the time the conversation about 'right action and right effort' on the Engaged Buddhist forum.

    My sense is that we change the world by changing ourselves, and reach out too when it's needed. Western engaged Buddhism is very much NOT about either navel-gazing or suicide-protests, but about looking after our 'patch', inner and outer, to the best of our ability, and remembering that EVERYTHING we do, say, think, has a consequence. And that doesn't mean we don't make judgements about how to live, and speak out when it's needed; but we try not to judge and condemn others for acting from ignorance. I guess that's plain kind commonsense!

    You wisely say: 'Perhaps the more local our efforts - local to our county, our community, our own minds and bodies the easier to effect some change?' So, again, I agree with you - yes - act local/think global, as they say; and for me it's important to remember that none of this is either/or, but both/and.

    I want to feel my joy, feel my despair at the state of the world, and act compassionately from them without being swung so far off my centre by identifying with them that I CAN'T act. Drop in the ocean - but there are many of us adding our drops. Let's not give up!

    All best - R


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