Small Ways To Build Resilient Community

We’re all currently getting a sense of why community resilience will be important to help us meet the global challenges of the future. In times like these, little things can make a big difference, if we all act as part of one interconnected community.

Here are a few small ways I’ve begun to re-learn the lost skills of living in community, even though we can’t come together in person right now.

Checking in with the neighbours

(By text or a note of course, not in person). If everyone checked on their neighbours on either side, no-one would be left completely without support.

Seeing people as people

When I visit my local shops for food supplies, I realise how draining it must be for the cashiers to be surrounded by the energy of panic buying. Treating keyworkers as fellow human beings (not anonymous robots who are facilitating our own needs) feels important to me right now.

Leaving enough for everyone

When food shopping, I’ve made a concerted effort not to take the last of anything on a shop shelf, and only to take small amounts in general. Ancient people stayed in balance with nature by always leaving a little behind; we need to re-learn this approach.

Supporting local businesses

Many of our local shops and restaurants are offering delivery services, partly because they’ve been forced to stop operating in-person services. Aswell as meeting our own needs, if we use those services we are helping to keep those local businesses afloat.

Looking after ourselves

You’ll probably have heard the ‘air mask’ analogy before, about putting on your own air mask before you help others. If you are depleted and exhausted, you can’t help other people effectively. I’m also reminded of this poem by Martha Postlethwaite:

None of us can save the world single-handedly right now. But we can all do our little bit to sow the seeds of the kind of community we want to live in when we come out on the other side of the current situation.

The Gifts We Need To Rediscover

Lately I’ve become curious about the ancient practice of sacrifice. Not in a grisly way. It’s the act of giving – as opposed ‘giving something up’ – that has caught my attention.

I wonder if we’ve forgotten the importance of giving. We place value on giving to other human beings, and call that generosity. But ‘sacrifice’ was often about giving back to the earth, in recognition for everything we receive.

The word sacrifice means ‘to make sacred’. These days, we associate the word ‘sacred’ with religion. But viewed another way, it just means important, worthy of reverence (ie deep respect). And why would the source of everything we depend on for survival not be worthy of reverence?

The business-as-usual response to climate change encourages a belief that technology and innovation will save us, and we won’t need to change the way we live; that we can continue to have high demands for resources, and find new ways to meet these needs. The argument for reducing our needs – for energy, for consumables, for materials – is not the dominant proposal.

It’s as if it would be out of the question that we should give up any of the perks of the life we’ve become accustomed to.

It got me thinking – what personal sacrifices am I willing to make?

The treat of going somewhere hot on holiday, that requires a flight to get there?

The convenience of processed and packaged food?

The comfort of gas central heating?

Excessive consumption is a privilege of a western lifestyle, and we’ve been conditioned to see it as our entitlement, so much so that we’re not even that grateful for all that we enjoy.

But what if we saw those personal sacrifices as opportunities? To reject consumer conditioning. To make do with less, and to appreciate what we have more deeply? Enough of those acts might start to become a force for change, a shift towards a new way of living that doesn’t threaten the ecosystems we depend on.

Yes, it might feel hard. Maybe we can openly admit how much we love our cars and and our foreign travel, and allow ourselves to experience this process as a loss.

Our culture teaches us the practices of acquisition and excess – of always getting ‘more’ stuff for ourselves. We’ve lost touch with the practices of balance, of letting go, of making offerings by giving up some of our own personal share as a mark of respect for something greater than our individual selves.

Maybe this isn’t so much about giving things up, as much as it is about learning how to give.

In this way we could put our energies not into the climate fight, but into healing our relationship with the natural world.

We need to come back into a reciprocal relationship with the earth – what do we give in return for all that we take? What can we give? Reflecting on this, I realised some things that we can give to the earth are:

Our presence. We can commit to living mindfully, so that we are more rooted in the present moment, in our embodied contact with this earth – what we see, hear, taste, touch and smell, fully receiving the gifts that the earth gives us, with gratitude (rather than being too distracted to notice).

Our attention. We can turn towards even what is painful, with openness and compassion. When the awareness of what is being lost becomes overwhelming, we may need to use the skill of ‘pendulation’ and move our attention onto something else, like appreciating what we do still have, or whatever feels uplifting.

Our respect. We can have the humility to realise that we don’t have all the answers, and that we’re not superior beings. We can show willingness to learn what is needed to restore the health of the whole. On a practical level, we can make choices in how we consume resources that are as respectful as possible of the earth and the other beings we live alongside.

For more on mindful living, see my mindfulness resources site.

Is Stress What Stops Us From Living Greener?

Like many people, I’ve made lots of changes over the last year to move towards greener living. But I don’t think I could have made that shift without a foundation that I’d been building for some time before that. These are the two important things that have made all the difference.

1. Reducing Stress

When we’re stressed and busy, we can’t cope with the added discomfort of inconvenience. Much of the ecological mess we’re in has been caused by making life more convenient and comfortable. And yet we seem more stressed than ever.

While we enjoy a lot of comfort, what I think we lack is emotional confidence: the ability to experience uncomfortable feelings. If we use modern conveniences as a way to meet emotional needs like security and comfort, we’ll need to find alternative resources to meet those needs.

This means finding ways to reduce stress and cope with life’s challenges without resorting to quick pick-me-ups that aren’t great for the planet, or even for our own health.

For me, the practices of mindfulness and self-kindness provided these alternative resources. From a place of reduced stress and increased wellbeing, I find it easier to make sustainable choices, like relying less on convenience foods, or forgoing the comfort and speed of the car.

The bonus has been discovering that what’s kinder to the planet is often a boost to personal wellbeing too: I feel much better when I cook from scratch, or walk to the shops. Which brings me to the second thing…

2. Slowing Down

Living greener does take more time. We’re not going to be able to change our shopping, eating, working and travel habits if we don’t make space in our lives for those changes.

It takes a commitment to slowing down if we want to have enough time to travel by train instead of car, to bake our snacks instead of buying them pre-packaged, or to source something from a local shop instead of buying online.

For me personally, the simple act of de-scheduling – leaving bigger ‘empty spaces’ in my diary – helped me to kickstart much of this change.

Without attending to my own stress habits, I don’t think I could have begun to un-hook from a damaging consumer culture. Perhaps our current way of life (over-stressed and super-busy) is even a symptom of the dis-ease that we need to address before we’ll be ready to let go of that way of life.

I suspect, given the epidemic levels of stress and anxiety in our culture, that we may need to heal ourselves before we can heal our planet.

For more on reducing stress and building emotional confidence, visit my mindfulness resources site.

Emergence-y

To say that we’re living in uncertain times is something of an understatement. The language of ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ certainly grabs our attention.

But I started to wonder – what if we saw this as a time, not of emergency, but of emergence?

What might emerge that is hopeful, out of that which is currently beginning to collapse?

Some of the positive possibilities that I sense beginning to emerge are:

Awareness – of our interdependence, and of the precious fragility of life.

Community spirit – as some of us begin to wonder what are the healthiest choices we can make to promote community resilience.

Appreciation – of what really matters, of meaning over money, of connection over consumerism, of presence over productivity.

I’m not just putting on a giant pair or rose-tinted specs. I feel that our lives in Western society are about to get a whole lot less comfortable, to say the least. And I definitely don’t think we should try to avoid that discomfort by persuading ourselves that technology will save our way of life as we know it.

But alongside that view, I’m holding a curiosity about what might also start to emerge that is positive, connecting, and life-enhancing.

What about you? What can you sense emerging?

Staying Slow In An Emergency?

In my own life in recent years, I’ve made a commitment to living slower and living smaller. Aside from improving my wellbeing (and that of my family), this is also much more compatible with greener living.

When I think about the climate crisis, I’m pretty convinced by those who argue that in the long-term, we need to move towards de-growth and localisation. As a culture, we’ve been living big and living fast. Many of our carbon emissions would be reduced if we switched to slower food, slower travel and slower material consumption. If we lived a little (or a lot) smaller, we might end up with a local economy that would provide satisfying work opportunities in our own communities, with less need for commuting to stressful careers in globalised corporations.

But what about the transition from ‘big and fast’ to ‘small and slow’? With climate change reaching the urgent status of ‘emergency’, are we going to have to act big and fast to make the necessary transition happen? How do we move towards a new set of values without relying on the old values to get us there? Do we need to keep the westernised norms of driven ambition and success-orientation in place for a while, to drive this change?

Here’s why this troubles me. My current level of wellbeing is hard-won: I’ve spent years using the practices of mindfulness and self-kindness to free myself from unhealthy conditioning. My own self-destructive patterns included chasing achievement, compulsive problem-solving and inhabiting an identity built on trying to save other people from their difficulties. These tendencies kept me stuck in a skewed world-view that was all about my individual survival and ‘success’, rather than truly connecting with (and contributing to) the wider world that I’m part of.

So now, how can I respond to the climate emergency without stepping into these old habits? Trying to be an over-achieving eco hero would be a sure-fire route to depletion and burnout, leaving my capacity for long-term contribution much reduced.

From this position, I’m wondering how I can remain rooted in slow, simple living and contribute to a community response to climate challenges.

There is no easy answer to any of this, and I believe that it will become increasingly important to ask good questions, to learn to sit with uncertainty, and to embrace not-knowing.

Perhaps we will need to bring a sense of sustainability to this process of transition itself. Granted, maybe we don’t have time for complacency, but we’re unlikely to solve these issues quickly. We will need to conserve our personal energy so that we can keep working on the transition to a new culture for many years to come. I don’t want to peak too soon by being over-ambitious now, and then withdraw later on when it all gets too much. I want to stay engaged, not get disheartened when I realise my efforts haven’t been a ‘successful’ fix in just a couple of years.

Maybe I’m simply realising why more and more people need to be involved in a collective response, so that we spread the effort and create a momentum for change that is in itself sustainable.

Viewed in that light, maybe the efforts I’m already making are enough. I certainly can’t save the world single-handedly, but communities of people all doing ‘enough’ might enable the radical transition we need.

For further reading on degrowth, see the writings of Samuel Alexander, and on localisation, you may be interested in the work of Helena Norberg-Hodge

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my piece on making space for how we really feel about climate change – Plastic-Free, or Guilt-Free?

Continue reading “Staying Slow In An Emergency?”

Plastic-Free, or Guilt-Free?

Like many people, we’ve drastically reduced the amount of single-use plastic we consume in our household.

But something has been niggling at me. I’ve begun to wonder if the rise of ‘plastic-free’ is partly because it gives us a sense of something we can actually do about the climate crisis?

We can tell ourselves we’re being eco-friendly, and feel less guilt about the part we’ve played. We can distract ourselves from feeling powerless by taking action. With the advent of many new products that provide a sustainable alternative to plastic, we can even shop our way to feeling better (even though the culture of consumerism is partly how we got into this mess in the first place).

So while going plastic-free is certainly important, I’m wondering how much it serves to distract me from issues like carbon pollution from our home gas usage, or family holidays. Have I jumped on the plastic-free bandwagon mostly because it gives me the feeling that I’m ‘doing something’? And is it in fact a strategy that helps me to avoid some uncomfortable feelings?

I have a long history of trying to fix problems as a way of pushing anxiety away. Through self-kindness, I’ve learned healthier ways to practice emotional regulation. The climate crisis is inviting me to revisit that work, and check if I’m repeating that pattern. Perhaps even writing this is an attempt to do something, to avoid feeling powerless.

Many climate experts now are highlighting the denial that can go along with these issues. Not just at a governmental level, but a personal one. People like Joanna Macy and Jem Bendell are imploring us not to shut out the feelings we have in response to all this – feelings of despair, anxiety, sadness and regret that are all an appropriate response.

As a trained mindfulness teacher, I know the value of this practice of allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, with self-kindness. Perhaps, instead of answering the call to ‘buy more stuff, but made of bamboo and aluminium’, we need instead to pause and feel. And then, take wise action.

Our current way of life is not sustainable. We don’t yet have the answer to what our future way of life will look like. So we find ourselves immersed in uncertainty. And we will need to let go, at some point, of our current reality as we move into our future one. The human race is in the process of receiving a collective diagnosis, and it’s not good news. We don’t yet know what the prognosis is. So what is important right now?

It’s a very mindful question to ask, given that none of us have forever anyway – what is most important, in this moment, and the next one?

I don’t have many answers to the questions I’m asking, as my own process with this is unfolding right now too.

I’m currently opening a space to allow myself to really feel what I feel about this, which includes powerlessness and hopelessness. Using the tools of mindful awareness and self-kindness, I’m discovering that allowing myself to experience all that isn’t as overwhelming as I’d feared.

In fact it’s something of a revelation. When the future is uncertain, every moment becomes an opportunity for appreciation. Of our loved ones. Of the air we breathe. Of what our bodies can do. Of the way the earth supports us by providing food and other resources. This human life is fragile, and incredible, all at once.

Reflecting in this way has also helped me to realise that my ‘eco self-improvement projects’, and my tendency to criticise contemporary culture are both defensive strategies – to prevent me from feeling powerless and guilty for my own participation in that culture.

My personal journey towards emotional confidence began (a number of years ago) through another experience of loss. The pain of bereavement forced me to let go of the life I had been living. Scary as that was, it was also a process of awakening, of growing up and learning a new, more resilient – and more fully human – way to be in the world.

I believe we are facing a loss now, of our current way of life at the very least. There will be a transition into something else that comes afterwards. We do need to prepare. And part of that preparation is to make some space to really feel what that means to us.

Personally, I do take the ‘crisis as opportunity’ view, but I also think we need to be careful not to skip over the emotional process of letting go. True change can’t happen without awareness, and painful as this may be, it’s an important stage of what is unfolding.

Many of the resources on my main website are shared for just this reason – to help people learn how to build the emotional confidence to cope with the full range of human feelings. These resources include meditations and other tools.

With increased awareness of my own experience, I can see how often I make choices that prioritise my personal comfort over sustainability. I can now begin the process of transition, of moving away from that way of life. This means preparing to let go of the conveniences of things like car travel and gas heating. And it means embracing a huge amount of uncertainty.

None of this will be a quick win, or a gold star I can give myself for greener living within the short-term. But it might be the beginning of real change.

Our efforts to live more sustainability might not save the world as we know it, but they can be a practice of respect, and of honouring the loss that is happening, and allowing ourselves to be changed by it.

A couple of resources I’m finding helpful right now are:

Jem Bendell’s YouTube channel

Jennifer Welwood’s poem on ‘growing up’ – The Dakini Speaks

You can also find free resources for mindful awareness and self-kindness on my main site, sheilabayliss.com

If you want to read more about my previous journey through loss, you can find a link to my writings on ‘Awakening Through Loss’ in the About page of my main site.

Are We Up To The Challenge?

I created this site as I watched a climate change video, and wondered in what small way could I contribute my own energy towards the huge shift that’s needed if we are to navigate the climate challenges we face.

How, when I sometimes wonder if I’m truly able myself to live more sustainably, can I bring anything of value to the table?

I can’t do much. But I can do my part as an individual, to make more sustainable choices – which will require that I learn a different way to live. And I can write about it along the way.

I can do what I’ve been doing with my mindfulness writing for the last few years. I can add my voice to the dialogue, sharing my own journey so that others can benefit. Just as I benefit from reading the stories of those further down the green living path than I am.

I can’t promise that what I share here will be all that original, or ground-breaking. But it will be real. I know I’m not alone on this path, and neither are you.