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Mindful : April 2019
disappearing year after year. Oceans that were once teeming with fish are now depleted. The remaining fish drift in gigantic garbage patches, some as large as the state of Texas. Our grief and pain about such things is harder to push aside. The results of the climate crisis are mounting, becoming an enervating presence where once we drew pure pleasure and deep replenishment. Instead of relishing the majestic trees, abundant wildflowers, or breathtaking views, we confront drought conditions, flooding, or the smoky haze of distant forest fires. Our heart may feel heavy and weary or helpless at the scope of the problem. The Australian eco-psychologist Glenn Albrecht coined a new term for this: solastalgia. It is a part of an emerging lexicon in the men- tal health field that endeavors to address the distress and anxiety that occurs in relation to the ecological crisis. Solastalgia, composed of two Greek words, solacium (comfort) and algia (pain), refers to the distress caused by environ- mental damage and speaks to the grief, sadness, and despair that arises in response to the cur- rent environmental devastation. Instead of joy there is a hopelessness, a knowing that what is loved is now under threat. People feel solastalgia in response to moun- taintop mining from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Western Australia. It is felt when one sees the vast forests in the West scorched by fires. It is stirred when there are mass beachings of dolphins or whales or when blooming red tides in Florida stifle marine life. Sailors feel it when drifting past islands of plastic in the Pacific. Farmers know it in their bones when droughts crush their wheat harvests. When I recently came across this term, it articulated something I’ve felt for some time. It speaks to my changing experience in nature. In the past, nature had always been an unending source of nourishment, joy, wonder, and love. Now it is often tinged with sadness, grief, or loss at what is happening to species, habitat, oceans, and rivers. It is now impossible to ignore. What does this mean for countless people who have PHOTOGRAPHBYKEVINHORGAN/GETTYIMAGES gone to the woods for refuge and resilience? What are the dire consequences for vulnerable peoples and species the world over? Of course, I am also aware this grief is not new. Indigenous cultures and First Nations peoples have felt it for centuries. They have and continue to witness ecological devasta- tion of their homelands through land confisca- tion, drilling, mining, deforestation, and the monocrops of agribusiness. They perhaps are more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, whether that be declining fish stocks, melting ice in the Arctic, or changing migration patterns. Our current tears are part of a river of tears that has been flowing for a long time. Practice with Paradox For me, as for any nature-loving meditator, this presents a challenging dilemma. How do we continue to open our hearts to the beauty of the natural world when doing so means we also feel the deep pain of losing what we love? As I sit by the ocean, I can revel in the silky surface of the water, the light catching the crest of waves, and be mesmerized by its restless beauty and vast power. Yet I also can’t help thinking of the creatures that lie within it: the diminishing shoals of tuna and dwindling popu- lations of porpoises. Whenever my heart feels torn in this way, I remember that where we habitually place our heart and mind becomes our natural inclination. What we focus on determines to some degree our sense of well-being. We can’t ignore the eco- logical crisis. We are here because society has refused to look squarely at this complex prob- lem. However, does it serve the greater good to dwell only on the catalog of data about climate change? Such single-pointed focus can lead to despair, hopelessness, and worse. On my walk I can dwell on the smoke, the acrid smell, the diminished visibility, and the destruction those fires bring. Or I can shift my attention to what is not burning up. To the → Solastalgia refers to the distress caused by environmental damage and speaks to the grief, sadness, and despair that arises in response to the devastation. 46 mindful April 2019 nature