Anyone who is paying attention to the scientific news about climate change is bound to experience existential anxiety. Temperatures rising to unlivable levels, threats to food and water supplies, coastal flooding, migrations of displaced human beings leading to the destabilization of societies, anarchy, war, and genocide—all of these topics appear in the press with frightening regularity. Meanwhile, the voices of wisdom, leadership and vision we need to address this crisis are drowned out by a cacophony of fear, denial, demagoguery and downright disregard.
When I search within for ways to cope with the threats facing us, I am stymied at first. I can’t deny this is happening—I have too much respect for science and my own observations. I can’t turn away because reality is so upsetting—the truth has become impossible to ignore. Nor can I resign myself to a hopeless world view. The vision of vast numbers of species, including our own, potentially going extinct, is the antithesis of comfort. And while I believe in a higher power I don’t believe God will save us from the fate we are currently invoking with our carelessness. Such faith isn’t sufficient comfort for me. God presumably also loved the Neanderthal people.
This morning I was walking on a foggy beach before breakfast. Sea lions and dolphins were sporting in the waves while cormorants and grebes fed in the shallows. People and their dogs strolled by causing shorebirds to circle and land, circle and land. The scene was idyllic but I was troubled with my existential dread, my mind rushing past the beauty around me to the dystopian future. I questioned what my teacher, Prem Rawat, would say about this and then felt a wave of impatience, knowing exactly what he would say. He would encourage me to stay with my breath and find contentment in the present moment. But wait, my mind was screaming, I want answers! I want to know what to believe about the future!
As I continued my walk in the fog my wise mind at last spoke. "Can you practice being patient?" it asked me. "Patient for what, exactly?" my emotion mind snarled, not willing to be placated. As I walked, wise mind led me to further understandings. Patience is a form of acceptance, in the moment, for the moment. Patience requires that I tolerate the moment with all its uncertainty, discomfort and fear. To be patient I have to accept not knowing when things will change or even if they will change. Patience implies a gentle willing attitude toward what unfolds outside me while remaining grounded inside myself in the present moment. The present moment is the only path to lasting comfort. Acceptance, willingness and contentment are comforting indeed.
How can I be patient in the face of climate change? I can learn to accept uncertainty and impermanence. I can patiently take steps to reduce my climate footprint. I can increase my activism toward acknowledging climate change as the existential threat it is. And, when I awake in the night worried about the grandchildren of this world, human and nonhuman, I can be patient with fate.
Human beings from time immemorial have been forced to wonder if they and those they love would survive wars, pandemics, famines and autocracies, as frightening as what I am imagining. Such fear is part of being human. I can be patient with being human knowing I am truly powerless before the fate of humanity.
The sun has broken through the fog sparkling the sand and surf. A group of children is building a sand castle and a few surfers are riding the waves. I think I'll take a swim.