It's deeply painful to face what's happeningon our planet right now.
From forests burning, ocean plastic, species just gone each day, displacement.
It's easy to feel totally overwhelmed.
Maybe a bit helpless.
Perhaps all of the above.
These messy and complicated feelings, they make total sense.
I wish that someonehad said this to me 30 years ago.
I was a college freshmantaking environmental studies, which is basically a semesterof really bad news about all the ways that humanshave profoundly damaged our beautiful earth.
And I felt like I had been droppedinto a dark tunnel, given no tools to get out and yet expected to carry onwith my everyday life as if things were normal.
But once you're exposedto that kind of information, things are not normal anymore.
And I was anxious, I was terrified, no one was talking about this, and I almost dropped outof school, for real.
But instead, I signed upfor a field study in California, and we were backpacking togetheras a small group for two months, which I know sounds very intense.
And it was, but what I foundis that we talked a lot.
We talked about how we were feeling about the world, openly and honestly, and no one told me at any pointto be more positive or more hopeful.
And surprisingly, I found myself feeling better.
I actually felt likeI could face these issues that had seemed so insurmountable more head on.
And I had this epiphany: What if by understanding ourselves and one another, we could find our way through this crisis in a new and different way? You know, what if psychology actually held a missing key to unlocking action on the greatest challengesfacing our planet right now? So when I got back from the field study, I focused on clinical psychology, and I researched the relationships between trauma and grief and creativity.
And the paradox at the heart of, I think, all of this is how do we stay present with what's really painful, how do we stay connected in the face of what's threateningand overwhelming and scary? And it turns out that psychologyknows a lot about these things.
Truly, a lot.
But I wasn't hearing any of thisbeing referenced in my environmental studies class, or the climate action meetingsI started going to, or the international conferences, where everyone is asking: Why aren't we acting faster, and what's it going to take? And so this has becomemy mission of sorts, which is that I take insightsfrom psychology and I translate theminto resources and tools to support those working on the frontlinesto turn things around.
And that means for anyone, by the way.
We're all on the frontlines right now.
And it's my belief, after years of straddling these worlds between environment andclimate and psychology, that this actually isa missing ingredient in our work that can exponentially accelerateour capacities to be creative and resilient and capableand skillful and courageous and all those things that the worldis needing from us right now.
So I'm going to sharethree concepts with you that I found particularly game-changing and how I make sense of this moment for us as humans.
And the first is somethingcalled our window of tolerance.
Dan Siegel has describedus all as having a window.
How much stress can we tolerate while staying connected and what clinicianswould call “integrated.
” Integrated, where we can actually be in touch with our thoughts and feelings and not just get kind of co-opted.
And we all have a threshold.
And what happens when we experience stress beyond what we can tolerate? We tend to go into the edgesof our window.
And on one hand, we might go into a sort of collapse, what's called a chaotic response, which looks like depression, despair, kind of a shutting down.
And on the other side of this windowis a more rigid response: denial, anger, rigid.
And so when that happens, we actually lose our capacityto be integrated, resilient, adaptive, all those things that we want to be.
And this is totally normal, but it's happeningall around the world right now, right? We're all vacillating betweenthese different feelings and emotions.
And so with something like climate change, with every new scientific report, documentary, connecting the dots between, you know, what we're doing and the impact it's having, it can collectively be pushing usoutside of our window of tolerance.
And we lose that capacity, right? So, over the years, I've interviewed hundreds of people from all backgroundsand political affiliations, from the Midwest US to China, and I talked to peopleabout how are we feeling about what's happening.
Not what opinions or beliefs.
What are we feeling about what's going onwith your local environment, with your water, your soil, the big picture.
And what I hear from people almost across the board, I'm telling you, is a bind.
People tell me at some pointin the conversation, “I care very deeplyabout what's happening, I'm incredibly freaked out.
I'm scared, I love this land, I love the birds, ” whatever that is, “But I feel like my actionsare insignificant.
And I don't know where to start.
And I'm also –” I hear between the linesof what people say — “I'm really scared to change.
Really scared of any change, it's so — I can't even think about it, it's like, unthinkable.
” And this is the second concept, which is something called a double bind.
And a double bind is when we feelsort of like, damned if you do, and damned if you don't, and you're just kind of stuck there.
It's a very intolerable human experience.
And we will do anything we canto get rid of it and just push it away.
And so all that care and concern, it's there, it just goes down, it goes underground.
But what happens is, it looks like people don't care, it looks like apathy.
And so a lot of folks who are seeingthe urgency of the situation are like, “We've got to motivate you.
We've got to get you psyched.
” And we become cheerleaders for solutions.
Or like, “Here's the facts, this is happening, wake up.
” And these thingsare actually not inherently bad, because we need solutionsand we need to face the facts.
But inadvertently, this can backfire and lead to more numbing and inaction, which is very perplexingfor a lot of people.
It's like, what the heckis going on, right? And so, this is because of this, you know, it's not really touchingwhat's going on underneath.
So imagine that you go see a therapist, and you've got a double bind.
You're feeling really stuck, you know you've got to change and the therapist starts shouting at you and saying, “Don’t you seewhat's happening? If you don't act now, you're going to faceterrifying consequences.
Don’t you care? What's wrong with you? What's it going to take?” Or you see a therapistand you're feeling actually sad and grief.
And this therapist says, “You know, don't think about it too much.
Here's some simple things you can do.
Simple positive things.
” And sends you on your way.
So if it were me, I would fire this therapist immediately, because a good therapistpractices something called attunement.
I love this concept so much.
Attunement, right, the word “to tune.
” And attunement is whenwe're feeling in sync, when we feel understood and we feel acceptedfor exactly where we are.
And we feel that, you know, we're in relationship with the worldin a way that makes sense, no one's trying to change us or shame us or judge us.
Right? And attunement takes skill.
When the stakes are high, let me tell you, it's very hardto want to attune with anything, when we're facing such urgent threats.
But the paradox of the moment we're in is that when we are more in tunein our window of tolerance, we are so much more capableof solving problems, being creative, being adaptive, being flexible, being our brilliant selves, right? So what if our climateand environmental work was informed by these concepts, right, of window of tolerance, lot of double binds and attunement? So it can look like a whole lot of things.
So I'm asked all the time, “OK, Renee, this sounds awesomefor a clinical context, we don't have time for this.
” And that is absolutely not true.
Because we can bring attunement into every aspectof our work on this issue.
And it starts with ourselves.
You actually can't do attunementunless you're in touch with yourself, I'm sorry to break it to you.
There's no way around it.
It's from the inside out.
And so it starts with actuallytuning in to “how am I feeling?” And being compassionate.
I know it's easy to say but really being compassionate, it's like, these are hard issues.
This is a hard moment to be a human being, we're waking up.
I'm not a bad person.
What's going on, bring curiosity into our own experience, which then allows us to attune socially, that's the next way we can apply this, is attuning, whether it's in small groups or one-on-one, campaigning, strategy, classrooms, movie theaters, parks.
Where we can give each other permissionto just be who we are, and again, this allows us to move into the higher level functioning.
The executive function, the prefrontal cortex, when we feel that ournervous system can calm down and we are understood by the other.
And the third wayis leading with attunement.
As leaders and influencers, showing up as human, as real, saying, “You know what? I am really scared.
I don't know what all the answers are.
” Can you imagine leaders saying that? “I don't know.
But here we are, and we're all needed.
And we're in this together.
And we can do this.
” That's a very different messagethan just, “We can do this, ” right.
It's like, “Here we are.
I'm scared, but this is happening.
” So here's the thing, all of this work exists, we have the toolsto create these conditions that can allow us to show up as our brilliant selves.
And I know, without doubt, 100 percent, that each one of us has the capacity to meet these challengeswith the ingenuity and brilliance and braverythat we as humans have.
We just need to cultivatethe conditions together.
We need each other.
To support each other and allow ourselves to really meet this.
That's what we need, so .
Let's take a deep breath.
Have compassion for ourselves and one another in this moment, time in history, so we collectively processthese painful truths, these difficult realities.
Let's do this together.
The world is ready for us to do this.
And we can do this.