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By Kirsi Jansa

Recorded by author

Grounded Clarity (c) Kirsi Jansa

My body-mind therapist told me a few years ago that it might do me good to practice not only “active hope” but also “active grieving.” My pain for the world had sunk from head-level understanding and settled in my heart.

There is still much joy, beauty, and tenderness in our world, and at the same time this darkness and suffering is growing, finding new forms, intensifying.

If there is a time to go through the portal of grief, this is a good one. There is still much joy, beauty, and tenderness in our world, and at the same time this darkness and suffering is growing, finding new forms, intensifying. The more we practice active avoidance, the less alive we stay and the worse it gets for all of us.

Over the years, I’ve learned from my teachers to ground myself in gratitude before facing the hard stuff and difficult feelings. Before entering the portal of grief, I headed out to our woods, a place where I feel cared for and connected. 

The first snow of the fall was coming down like it was dancing with the wind. Soon we all, I and all my rooted, winged and furry friends, were covered in a thin snow blanket. I walked home in awe, grounded and uplifted at the same time, ready to face what we prefer to avoid.

It does feel odd to write about this publicly, yet I’d rather break a taboo than watch the taboo destroy us.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone in their book Active Hope – How to Survive the Mess We’re in With Great Resiliency and Creative Power ask questions that help me practice active grieving. I journal and share this with a wish to help as I know I’m not the only one feeling worry, fear, anger, guilt, sadness, numbness, or despair about the state of the world. It does feel odd to write about this publicly, yet I’d rather break a taboo than watch the taboo destroy us. Bear with me through the bleakness. I’ve gone through this spiral many times to know it’s worth it.

When I see what is happening to the natural world, what breaks my heart is….

…the suffering of trees. In the continental US, one in six trees that are native to this land are in danger of disappearing from our Earth. American forests are “slipping toward oblivion,” researchers are discovering – and not only American forests. Globally, 30 percent of tree species are threatened with extinction.

…the state of birds. Birds have lost and are losing their natural habitats and are disappearing. Two of three birds in America are threatened with extinction from climate change in the coming decades. Because of the warmer weather, birds are delaying their fall migration. Being out of sync with what is natural, they have to feed on invasive plants, and by doing so further disperse their seeds.

…the arrival of these weird species that are now calling our woods and gardens a home. Spotted lanternflies, the eerie plasticky-feeling and yet beautiful flies, chew trees and shrubs and plants leaving behind a sticky goo that grows black mold. Jumping worms munch through soil like bulldozers through mountains in their search for a coal seam. They give me creeps yet I cannot kill them. They are living beings and here because of us.

…one million species are in danger of dying out, many within decades.

Globally, the United Nations Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimates that one million species are in danger of dying out, many within decades. The global rate of extinction is hundreds of times higher than normal, and the mass extinction is accelerating. The UN Biodiversity Conference decided last year to put a third of the planet and  degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030, yet the implementation of the agreement is a huge challenge for our collective mindset that brought us to this mess in the first place.

When I see what’s happening to our human society, what breaks my heart is… 

… all this human suffering: Extreme hunger in Africa, catastrophic floods in Pakistan, war and senseless brutality in Ukraine, Syria, and many other parts of the world. Rampant inequality. Millions and millions of refugees on the move because of human-induced climate and ecological crisis.

…young people around the world are suffering mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually.

… our ignorance and disconnect. Many of us people-beings live as if we are an island – separate, isolated, lonely, not knowing what we’re missing. We are either unaware or willfully dismiss the fact that what we do in our part of the world impacts trees, birds, bugs, people, and all beings everywhere. 

…this unsettling culture of denial. One manifestation of our Culture of Willful Blindness and Age of Looking Away started its operations here in Pennsylvania in November of 2022: The Shell cracker plant. The plant received the largest state subsidy ever and will produce millions of metric tons of tiny ethylene nurdles, raw material for the global plastic industry to be turned into stuff for us. It will emit enormous amounts of carbon. Now we live not only on the headwaters of global carbon pollution but also the headwaters of plastic pollution, and yet our leaders from both parties still welcome more of the same.

…this human greed and arrogance. At COP27 there were more lobbyists from the oil and gas industry than representatives from the most vulnerable countries combined.

…this collective apathy and eerie silence of most of us who still have fairly comfortable lives. Because of very human reasons – unhealed traumas that tend to run in families, old stories we hold on to, lack of imagination, lack of emotional tools and support to deal with this, or simply just trying to make ends meet –  we look away and stay silent. 

Sometimes it feels like I am living in a nightmare fearing for or watching my loved ones get lost, disappear, and diminish into Fog of Nobelong or Fog of Fewbelong.

Sometimes it feels like I am living in a nightmare fearing for or watching my loved ones get lost, disappear, and diminish into Fog of Nobelong or Fog of Fewbelong. First their head disappears in a narrow view. Then their heart gets wrapped in something that feels like plastic. Their senses dim, they cannot smell the fire or hear the alarm bells, they argue with you if you try to warn them. I know they are alive and yet I feel their soft and warm hands turn cold and withdraw. I’ve been lost in the same story of separation. I know that loneliness. All I can do is to love.

Inter-Being (c) Kirsi Jansa

What I do with these feelings is… 

It’s been a journey. My teachers have been telling me to pause and simplify my life for almost two decades, and yet I’ve continued rationalizing, blaming, trying to change others, medicating myself by staying busy. 

It took a tree-teacher to really get to me. On Arbor Day of 2019, a forty-foot black cherry tree crushed our brand new EV I was driving. My friend-colleague and I were on our way to yet another climate-related meeting. The car was totaled, we walked out unscratched. Police told us that we were a half a second away from death. I finally learned to pause. Maybe I’ll learn to listen.

There are still days when it all just feels heavy and nights when my worries or fears wake me up. I cry more often and easier than I used to. Sometimes I want to forget it for a while and watch “Handmaid’s Tale” or a fantasy series.

Something has shifted though – I feel more free.

Something has shifted though – I feel more free. Maybe our near-death experience helped me make friends with impermanence. Maybe meditation is changing my brain wiring and I’m getting glimpses of an experience the Dalai Lama calls “mental immunity.” Maybe I’m learning to be with my earth emotions like Julia Butterfly Hill up in an ancient redwood tree she named Luna, surrendered and wildly free, when El Nino stormed over California. The dread is still there and very much alive but I am not the dread. Emotional storms come and go but I am not the storm.

…No mud, no lotus, one of the gifts Thich Nhat Hanh shared with us, has become my living mantra. My teacher Akong Tulku Rinpoche gave us a practice that helps us transform all our experiences into the golden light of universal compassion. Another teacher of mine, Mingyur Rinpoche, calls the practice “inner composting,” transforming all our unsettling feelings and experiences into something useful. Trees figured this out way before us humans: They stay grounded and yet flexible, connected. They breathe in and they breathe out. They live and give life, even after they are dead.

With the energy I get from my inner composting, I write essays like this. We are powerless only as long as we stay separate and silent. 

…I speak out. The Guardian editors say that “solving the crisis is the moonshot of our times.” They, together with dozens of media organizations around the world, are using their loudspeakers and are urging leaders to impose a climate tax on fossil fuel giants to pay for the damage we all are causing when we consume their products. 

…I will contact my representatives; I will ask them to get real. I will ask them to do what they can so we can protect our forests, oceans and other vital ecosystems and all beings that live in them.

…I share our climate journey with those who want to listen. In November of 2022, our little household disconnected from the gas grid. I wonder: What would it take to make this doable for all? 

…In the moments when the sense of futility and hopelessness tries to get me, I check my gaze. I probably again forgot to focus on the process and not the outcome.  

Be-longing (c) Kirsi Jansa

That day four years ago when my climate concerns sank from head-level understanding to my heart and body and became a felt sense, I followed the instruction of my therapist: I went to weep in the woods. For a while I thought the tears would never end. Thich Nhat Hanh said “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying;” I wasn’t only hearing the sounds of the Earth crying, it was like the Earth was crying-flowing through me.  

The river eventually settled into a steady little creek. It did wash off some inner darkness, edginess and frantic action making space for new: Desire to pause. Love. Deep joy. Sense of meaning and belonging. Courage so much bigger than ego can muster. And clarity.

Richard Powers, the author of the brilliant book about trees and humans, The Overstory, said something along these lines when he visited Pittsburgh a few years ago: How badly we have mistaken the survival of the fittest. Each survival is caused by many acts of collaboration. The fittest is the most connected individual.

How did trees – together with fungi– learn to transform and connect? Maybe they were born connected and never forgot the art and power of connection. We humans did.

Maybe “the moonshot of our time” is closer than we think and available for us all: it happens in our inner space.

Maybe “the moonshot of our time” is closer than we think and available for us all: it happens in our inner space. What is in is out. We people-beings fell in love with our rational thinking mind, a mind that has brought us a lot of good and also to this edge of collapse. Now we need to come to our heart and senses.

I’m starting to get what my therapist meant when she told me that it would do me good to grieve. No matter how much I try to focus on the positive, the dark and grief are there in me, in us. Sadness and all other emotions guide me along the way – yet this is not about me or my feelings. I am just a speck of space dust, or maybe I am moon dust or sun dust. I am nature, made of light, and so are you. Guided by the light within, we can practice new ways of being: inter-being and co-creating.

So, hello fellow Earthling, tell me (whatever the language of your species might be): What do you love about being alive in our wild times?  What troubles you? How can you help us all? Every being has something to give. Every single act of kindness, compassion and courage matters.

Re-connecting (c) Kirsi Jansa


Recorded by author

Kirsi Jansa is a journalist-reporter turned documentary filmmaker, photographer, and climate communicator focusing on self care and Earth care. She is a native of Finland, now living and working in Pennsylvania, USA. Kirsi has studied with Tara Rokpa Therapy, The Work That Reconnects and Active Hope networks for many years.  Through her creative expression, healing relaxation courses and community engagements, she explores what opens up when we pause, and what becomes possible when we experience the world beyond our habitual ways of being and relating.,

4 thoughts on “Moonshot

  1. Thanks, Kirsi, for the story of your journey. It is our journey, too. Some of us can face the truth of the tremendous damage done and still being done. Some can do that without falling into inert depression. I like the metaphor of the moonshot. It has several connotations but all involve a slim chance of things getting better — even much, much better! It doesn’t prevent the grieving but it gives motivation to keep at it.

    • Hello fellow traveller Carmen, I’m sending you moonlight and all kinds of healing lights as we stay present with our grief and joy. Be well ????.

  2. Thanks Kirsi for this doorway to our sensibility. So touching and so tangible. The spiral is such a helpful structure for every kind of communication, I find; every opportunity to spiral is a gift! And your writing invites me. My current big pain is our indifference to what we do to the water. I’m singing to the sea every day and I am joining with friends who share my concern. The fish jump and sea birds dance above me and I don’t feel alone. We will find the steps we can take to manifest our intention to help purify the waters of our dear Earth.

  3. Thank you for your courage to write about this publicly. So beautifully. So Heart-Fully. (What? YOU feel that way too?) It opens doors for me and leads me home – in such good company. Thank You.

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