By Matthew Fisher

For years I have suffered from an intense amount of anxiety and depression about the state of the world and the stability of the future my generation will inherit. I frankly have pushed a lot of friends and family members away by communicating from a place of anger and fear.

This summer I had the chance to stay at a yoga retreat center for 2 months, working and meditating. A major reason that I made this decision was to take a deep breath and make peace with the intensity I was feeling. While it might seem to be a bit overly dramatic to hold the weight of the world on your shoulders, I think it is something a lot of us do without thinking about it. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future, and a lot of the problems that we face seem insurmountable. Two common ways of dealing with this are taking on too much responsibility and living in a constant state of anxiety, or shutting down completely to issues. 

My first two weeks at the retreat center I felt a lot of strong emotions through me. One meditation I had a vivid image of playing with my future children, I felt hot tears running down my face at thought I might never have the chance to start a family of my own. I kept obsessing over news of the worsening climate and environmental crisis, and I felt as if the panic and fear I had been living with for years was just intensifying.

Finally in a group meditation class I told the meditation teacher about the intense emotions I had been feeling about the world and what the best way to deal with them was. He replied to not push anything away and honor what I was feeling, but also to keep coming back to a place of surrender and peace. He told me that I would be far more able to come up with solutions from a place of inner peace than frantic panic and fear.

Looking back on the last several years my words and actions have not been very effective. I have let myself become consumed by the problems of the world and have not let myself slow down and enjoy life. I think often a lot of environmentalists and activists feel that if they let go of their urgency then they will lose momentum and won’t act. I feel that in reality we are burning ourselves out. I remember sitting under a hammock next to a beautiful lake at the retreat center. I was struck by the thought that here I was in such a beautiful place and was so consumed by thoughts of negativity and fear that I was unable to enjoy it. I remember thinking “I am going to die one day anyways, I can’t control that, what really matters is the way I choose to live.” Over the next few weeks I slowly felt the internal anxiety and fear I had been carrying start to dissipate. 

Image: Pixabay

I started to laugh more, to cry more and to really get to know and enjoy the amazing place and people around me. I felt a lot more creative in the ways I was approaching environmentalism. I led a wonderful climate empowerment workshop with 350 Colorado and felt I was able to facilitate an honest dialogue about handling grief and burnout in climate activism from a place of peace and confidence. I noticed the conversations I was having with people about the environment became a lot more positive and uplifting.

I often now found myself in the place of being encouraging and helping others working through their own fears and despair. I now feel I am able to manage my grief for the world in a way that is a little more gentle and has space for more joy and laughter. We still face an unprecedented crisis that will demand an incredible amount of creativity and ingenuity. However I think that we will be far more effective motivating ourselves with love and connection than fear and despair.

I want to end this with a friend’s response to a particularly dramatic social media post I made about my eco-anxiety a few months ago:

“Don’t you dare dismiss the feelings of impotent rage that rock the foundation of your being. And make you question the point of it all. Because that’s exactly what a deeply caring and informed sane person should be feeling. Let the feelings come. Feel ’em all the way down. Weep a river. And shake your fists at the heavens. And then… when the feelings pass, come back. Let the quiet grace in. Back to the gratitude that you got to see any of it at all. That you got to be a tiny speck on a tiny speck, aware of its own miracle of being. Buy a chocolate milkshake. Listen to a song that makes you sing along. And make a difference in someone else’s life with your kindness. ‘Cuz in the madness of it all, you still got you. You still got you. And that ain’t nothin. In fact, it’s everything.”