The Joyful Lament: on Pain for the World

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by Skye Cielita Flor & Miraz Indira

Recorded by Kevin Lay

“Planetary anguish lifts us onto another systemic level where we open to collective experience. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings.” ― Joanna Macy

“Grief dares us to love once more.” ― Terry Tempest Williams

Art by Rahme Etai

In the face of relentless ecological crisis and existential threat, there pervades a profound sense of shared grief. It is a grief born out of witnessing our forests burn, our ice melt, our sacred sites desecrated, our fellow species perish in exponential curves of diminishment. It is a collective fracture in the human mindscape, an anguish echoed in the rising inequality, rampant pollution and existential uncertainty of this moment. 

Yet, this grief is not merely a personal emotional response. It speaks to our deeply entrenched ties to the world, an intimate sense of belonging that anchors us within this interwoven matrix of life.

Growing the capacity to be with and metabolise our sorrows, in community, is how we come back to life, and remember how to tend to it again. 

Numbness as culture 

“The mind pays for its deadening to the state of our world by giving up its capacity for joy  and flexibility.” ― Joanna Macy 

“The apathy from which many of us suffer, the sense of paralysis, is a product of our shrivelled sense of self.” ― John Seed   

“The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain.” ― Gabor Maté

In this moment of multidimensional crises, it is a radical thing to slow down and listen, as Thich Naht Hanh said, to the cry of the earth within us (Nhat Hanh, 2013). But how many of us, in our daily lives, hear this cry, or are able to bear it, or believe it matters anymore?

Through programming and assumptions too subtle and myriad to even see, our modern society teaches us that only a narrow band of feeling is acceptable. There is a deep fear, unspoken and pervasive, that opening to our true capacity for feeling might overwhelm or paralyse us with despair. 

The price we pay for numbing out is high.

The price we pay for numbing out is high. It requires constant energy. If we cannot feel the horror of the world, neither can we feel the beauty. And without beauty and aliveness, we suffocate in manufactured, toxic simulations of life. We know what this personal price feels like. And on the global scale, the price is literally incomprehensible. 

Modern industrialised society has made numbness into a cultural artform. Yet through the fog of the anaesthetic, the unheard cry still rattles the heart’s inner chamber. Though we strain to hold our images of life-as-usual together, there is, deep down, a sense of going to pieces. This is just as well. Pain is a signal something is out of balance and needs tending to. And despair, as Miriam Greenspan says, is the breaking down of an untenable system of meaning (Greenspan, 2014).

‘Positive disintegration’ (on the merit of going to pieces) 

“Any system that consistently suppresses feedback — closing its perceptions to the results of its behaviour — is committing suicide.”   ― Joanna Macy 

Disintegration, though uncomfortable, has a tantric aspect: it wakes us up to life as it is (as distinct from how we would like it to be). 

“We must learn again, together, to fall apart. It is an essential process for evolutionary and psychological transformation. Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski refers to it as ‘positive disintegration.'” It occurs during periods of accelerated change and allows the “emergence of higher psychic structures and awareness” (Macy, 2021).

Our resilience is rooted in our ability to adapt and align with the relentless energy of life.

Joanna Macy puts it this way: as open systems, and as parts of the earth system, we are not objects that can break, but evolving patterns that perpetuate themselves (Macy, 2021). Change is intrinsic to us. The modern fetish for safety and self-defensiveness stunts our perception and cripples our adaptability. Our resilience is rooted in our ability to adapt and align with the relentless energy of life. This openness fosters the flexibility we need to navigate the pressure and complexity of this moment in time. It also is key to true aliveness and a return to our larger identity.

Grief and belonging: re-awakening to our ecological identity

“We are Earth itself, expressed into a particular form out of a living field of meaning which, physically, is an ever-changing, ever-adapting ecological matrix. And we are inextricably embedded within that living scenario, an irremovable part of its fabric. We are not, as we have too often been told, isolated consciousnesses inhabiting a ball of resources hurtling around the sun.” ― Stephen Harrod Buhner

From the perspective of systems thinking, we aren’t independent entities detached from the world around us. Instead, we are embedded within the Gaian (earth) system, akin to cells in a body, each with a specific role to contribute to the wellbeing of the whole. 

Living systems, like the earth system, maintain dynamic equilibrium, grow in resilience and evolve. One of the primary ways they do this is through feedback. They adjust their defences and open their perception to the language / message material of the world; to its ever-present flows of matter, energy and information. In this way, through a kind of vulnerability, they adapt to the ever-changing scenario of life. 

Our feeling senses – our heart-minds – are the channels through which feedback from and to the earth system flows.

Our feeling senses – our heart-minds – are the channels through which feedback from and to the earth system flows. Thus, in order to be connected to the flows of information / energy / intelligence in the Gaian system, we must build the capacity of our hearts and minds and senses to be open and responsive. 

When these channels of connection are open, yes, we feel the pain of the world. It is, in fact, the signature or doorway of our re-connection. On the other side of the doorway is the joy and beauty of the world, our joy, our only true joy, which is the joy of remembering we have never been separate from life, that we belong, that we are, as Joan Halifax says, a vast ‘unity in process’ (Halifax, 2004).

“Once we have experienced the fierce joy of life that attends extending our identity into nature, once we realize that the nature within and the nature without are continuous, then we too may share and manifest the exquisite beauty and effortless grace associated with the natural world.”    ― John Seed (2007)

The very act of saying yes to ecological pain allows the boundaries of the imaginarily fixed-and-unchanging human ego to soften and can lead to an eco-awakening experience: the direct experience of grieving not for Earth, but as Earth.

One of the main goals of the Work that Reconnects/ Experiential Deep Ecology is to facilitate this shift in identity. But coming to experience Earth as our larger body, as our own selves, means taking down the partition and actually letting the consequences of the industrial growth society and generations of disconnection be felt. 

Skill in grieving is fundamental in the process of stepping into this wider identity. Being connected right now will hurt. But it is necessary for us to bring healing to our world and our own broken, separated hearts.

Grief needs a village – ritual as ‘collective nervous system’

“Grief has never been private; it has always been communal. Subconsciously, we are awaiting the presence of others, before we can feel safe enough to drop to our knees on the holy ground of sorrow.” ― Francis Weller

“A tribe is necessary for grief, even if it is only to be a resilient, non-judgmental basket against which the grieving person can thrash.” ― Martin Prechtel

The act of mourning has, throughout human history, been a communal endeavour.

The act of mourning has, throughout human history, been a communal endeavour. In a world increasingly focused on individualism, the need to reconnect with this shared process of grieving is more crucial than ever. In the communal sharing of grief, we find ourselves mirrored, validated, and less alone. 

Our experience with deep ecological process work is that grief is brought forth by the safety and holding capacity of the ‘communal nervous system’. We cannot, and should not, do it all alone. We have evolved to open together and to carry each other into the places that scare us, just as we have evolved to sing and praise and dance and grow together.

The power of naming:
how the ‘gates of grief’ can deepen the work

All facilitators of the Work that Reconnects / Experiential Deep Ecology will have their own ways of holding the space for grief to come through. We have generally worked with the Truth Mandala. In recent years, however, we have started bringing in the framework of Francis Weller’s ‘gates of grief’ (Weller, 2015).

He suggests five gates through which we encounter grief:

  1. Everything we love, we will lose: Recognizing the transient nature of all things.
  2. The places that have not known love: Unearthing the pain rooted in neglect or abuse.
  3. The sorrows of the world: Identifying with the collective grief for our world.
  4. What we expected and did not receive: Mourning the absence of what was essential to our development.
  5. Ancestral grief: Inheriting unresolved grief from our forebears.

Each gate reveals an avenue of grief, facilitating a more nuanced understanding of our emotional landscapes. 

The modern mind’s language around grief is impoverished. There is a power in being able to name certain experiences as species of grief; in a way, it helps us to draw the pain out and see it more clearly. As Stephen Jenkinson says, “if you can’t say it, you can’t see it” (Jenkinson, 2015).

We have found that introducing and exploring the gates through Open Sentences, writing practices and process work leading up to the Truth Mandala can be a potent way to deepen the ritual. It can help to prepare the heart, to soften the walls and begin to elicit the various kinds of interrelated pain we carry. We also like to invite people to really inhabit the feeling and move it through their bodies instead of just speaking “about” their grief in the ritual space.

Emergent action, embracing uncertainty

“Through our ability to acknowledge the layers of loss, we can truly discover our capacity to respond, to protect, and to restore what has been damaged.”
  ― Francis Weller

When our hearts are congested with grief, it can feel impossible to be present for our own lives, let alone the entire planet. Grief keeps our heart-minds supple, warm and open and allows us to stay present for what is unfolding.

Emotional expression is also one of the main ways that the human nervous system self-regulates, and only regulated nervous systems really have the capacity to be present and engaged.

To ‘feel with’ our world helps us re-establish our identity with the intelligence and energy of the earth system.

To ‘feel with’ our world helps us re-establish our identity with the intelligence and energy of the earth system. Because of this, the process can unleash our innate capacities for resilience, creativity, and proactive involvement. Grief thus becomes a catalyst, transforming anguish into a potent force that empowers us to protect and restore our world, and to renew soul-centric, earth-centric human culture.

Coming back to life 

“There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken, a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.” ― Rashani Réa

“What can keep one anchored in the consciousness of service to life? For me it is two things. First, it is a community of others who share this recognition that we are here to render such service. Second, it is the grief and pain I feel at the loss of life and beauty.” ― Charles Eisenstein

Through the eyes of grief we realise that we can feel our world; that our psyche and world are not actually separate and that what happens “out there” also happens “in here”. 

Grief opens the way for participation in emergent movements that go beyond any one individual “self” or lifetime.

Grief opens the way for participation in emergent movements that go beyond any one individual “self” or lifetime. It can help us to surrender the lone wolf ego that feels hope or despair as it clings onto the imagined outcome of an action; it can help us become the pixel in the picture we cannot see the shape of; to participate for the sake of participating, without necessarily needing to taste the fruit of our action, without our care being dependent on an outcome. 

Essentially, knowing how to grieve helps us to live into our larger ecological selves. In this same way, grief is necessary for learning to befriend uncertainty, the ground of an enfleshed life, and to be present to our world.

For the grief we feel for our world is an expression of our deep love for it. And what else, really, should we be doing with our brief lives, than loving what is ours to love?


Buhner, S. (2022). Earth Grief: The Journey Into and Through Ecological Loss. Raven Press.

Eisenstein, C. (2013). The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible: Sacred Activism. Random House 

Greenspan, M. (2014). Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair. Shambhala.

Halifax, J. (2004) The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom. Grove Press.

Jenkinson, S. (2015). Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul. North Atlantic Books.

Macy, J. (2021). World as Lover, World as Self . (S, Kaza, Ed.). (30th Anniversary Edition). Parallax Press.

Macy, J. Seed, J., Fleming, P. and others (2007). Thinking Like a Mountain:Towards a Council of All Beings. New Society Publishers.

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Maté, G. (2018). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Vermillion – Mass Market.

Nhat Hanh, T. and others (2013) Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. (L, Vaughan-Lee, Ed.). Golden Sufi Center.

Prechtel, M. (2015). The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise. Random House.

Réa, R. (1991) The Unbroken. Accessed September 2023. <>

Weller, F. (2015). The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. North Atlantic.

Williams, T. (2001) Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. Vintage.

Skye Cielita Flor was raised on (and by) a semi-wild 10-acre homestead on the edge of a wildlife reserve in South Africa. Her teen years were spent hand-raising and rehabilitating wildlife at a local sanctuary after school each day, she later became a wilderness guide, trained in traditional Taoist healing practices for three years, became a qualified yoga instructor, and this was all before travelling to the Peruvian Amazon to undergo an in-depth full-time apprenticeship in Amazonian Curanderismo within the Mahua-Lopez Shipibo lineage for five years.

Miraz Indira also grew up close to nature but attempted to ‘civilize’ himself with higher education and a few years as a corporate lawyer. Through the good fortune of an existential crisis he wound up in the jungle, where he remembered something about belonging to the world again, and, with Skye, facilitated healing retreats for a number of years.  Along the way, he trained in psycho-therapeutic modalities, as well as breathwork and bodywork. 

Skye and Miraz now live on Wurundjeri country in Melbourne, Australia – where they apprentice themselves to the deep ecological movement arising in response to the convergent crises of the modern industrial growth culture. They have been mentored by John Seed in offering Experiential Deep Ecology/ Work that Reconnects workshops and regularly collaborate with fellow practitioners in both online and in-person contexts.

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