You're Not Alone: Climate Change Peer Support Groups
Caring for the world, a mixed blessing
Allowing yourself to really care about climate change can be a liberating experience: suddenly all the energy used to "not think about it" becomes available for action. However, being brave enough to face the climate science facts can trigger fear, anger, sadness and even emptiness and despair. Self-care strategies need to be in place to avoid 'burning out'. Support from others can be a crucial part of your self-care, but your family and friends may not want to hear 'inconvenient truths', and counselling/psychotherapy can be expensive.
Have you ever considered forming a Peer Support Group? Coming together on a regular basis with a small group of others who are prepared to engage with climate change can be a good way to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed by the size of this challenge. This kind of self-care is inexpensive - meeting at one another's homes, taking pot-luck meals, and taking it in turns around a circle to check in. As trust builds in a group like this, it can be tremendously helpful to your sustainability as an engaged citizen or activist.
Alternatively you could consider ways in which the climate change activist groups you already belong to can incorporate peer support processes. Doing something as simple as putting a designated amount of time aside at the beginning of meetings to check in with how everyone is feeling in relation to the issues of global warming can be very helpful. Listening to one and other without judgement, acknowledging the inevitable fluctuating feelings that arise in us, eases feelings of isolation, confusion and overwhelm. While you may worry that this process could stir up intense emotions, groups commonly find that this simple sharing actually helps to cushion and balance feelings, leaving members in a freer and more creative frame of mind for their work ahead.
The Story of a Support Group
In the early 90's, I (Rosemary Faire) attended a Council of All Beings workshop lead by Australian rainforest activist John Seed in a Buddhist retreat centre west of Sydney. (See the Deep Ecology support groups post for more about these workshops.) Participants of the workshop were guided through a series of experiential processes that enabled us to share our deep caring in a safe community. After this experience, a small group of us, with some of our friends, decided we wanted to form a support group to keep alive the sense of empowerment that the workshop had given us.
Our group, meeting about once a month in one another's homes, became our "Earth Support Group", and it enriched our lives for nearly ten years. We did not have a leader, and the group functioned very organically. We developed an opening and closing ritual, illustrated on the T-shirt design below. To open the group, seated in a circle, we would ground our hands on the "earth", then onto our self (heart and belly), then gesture toward "spirit" and finally join hands to each other. To close the group we would perform the same four gestures in the reverse order.
In addition to our regular sharing circle, we created several group projects through the years. We designed and facilitated our own Council of All Beings workshops at various conferences, and even adapted the structure (from Joanna Macy and John Seed) to our own Towards Creative Reconciliation workshop. The group eventually came to an end after several of us left the 'big smoke', but it had enriched our lives for many years..
Support Groups using the Arts
In your support group, sharing thoughts and feelings through conversation can be the most comfortable way to start, even though it can sometimes be difficult to describe feelings in words. When your support group feels established and able to provide a safe place to be, you may wish to experiment with approaches which incorporate arts modalities such as drawing, mask making, poetry, song writing, drumming, dance or drama.
You can use a wide variety of artistic media to explore themes like "my life journey", "what I care about", "my roots" and "my resources" or simply “how I am today”. Don’t push yourself into arts that don't feel safe (your "NO WAY" zone), but consider using arts that are on your "growing edges" - things that you've always wanted to try but are not familiar with. Playing around outside of your "comfort zone" can be both stimulating and freeing.
Sometimes an art-work that has unfolded playfully from a place of "not knowing" can give you, and others in your group, a gift of insight beyond words alone. You can find resilience and resourcefulness when you began with overwhelm or confusion. The arts have always been a way to grapple with the big mysteries of life, and calling upon them can add a rich dimension to your support group.