The natural disasters we see today scouring the land are the heralds of a New World, cast in the howling winds and flames of the Old World’s ruin. Below the surface, hidden in the parched and sickened soil, the invisible neighbors that ensure the rot and rebirth of life wither and falter. The cycle breaks. Beneath the waves, more and more species face extinction and entire ecosystems begin to unravel.
This is the Sixth Mass Extinction of the Phanerozoic Eon, science tells us, but it is Spirit that whispers about the effect it’ll have on our psyche. These are my small musings, subjective and biased toward confirmation. I hope they are helpful to you, if you’re feeling the grief of this great loss now, or in the future.
What the Hurricane Told Me
Irma passed to the west of us, but I felt its entire impact as if it had ended the world of southeastern Florida.
The School Board cancelled schools starting Thursday, and things did indeed look grim on Wednesday when they made the decision. I remember looking at the projected cone and thinking: “That’s comes in through North Miami, slices our surreal megalopolis at I-95, and exist in Port St. Luci. We’re doomed.” Then came the later evening forecasts showing it had shifted west toward Ft. Myers and Tampa. Relief at being spared was tinged with guilt: I have dear friends in that coast and Irma was a very strong Category 4.
I made a last supply run with my mother on Thursday and saw the spectre of fear on every face. There have been so many hurricanes in south Florida now–added to the ones I already survived in Cuba–but I had never seen every face haunted by this much anxiety and fear. Even the way we drove through the streets seemed overly-cautious or reckless, depending on how people processed their heightened emotions.
I was lucky: lost no power, had no damage. Only palm tree was snapped in my entire neighborhood of several blocks. Others I know weren’t so lucky.
The tensions did not relent in the aftermath. These thoughts passed through my mind on a loop: How strong were the winds anyway? Why are so many out of power? Why are so many trees down? Oh my gods, how is the dike? Will Lake Okeechobee overflow? I still remember the faces of the students I taught there. They must be nearly 20 by now. Did they evacuate? The recovery was slow–slower than I remember it being before. The south Florida summer heat sapped all strength and dampened recovery. I was in a daze. I learned of my attachment to civilization’s anesthesia and the fragility of the systems that feed it. I learned a new worry for the future. If this was global warming, how many more near-misses and extended power outages would I suffer? Could we withstand an Irma every year?
Then came Maria and Puerto Rico was vanquished and our President’s callous response had me near wit’s end. The barrage of the restored social media was deafening. I was drowning at the end of civilization. Forests are now carbon emitters, rather than carbon sinks–so damaged are our beautiful, wild places. The Everglades had taken a huge hit with Irma’s landfall–no one was talking about it. The Lake’s water levels continue to rise dangerously higher–discharges were nonstop to either coast and further damaging the besieged ecosystem. California burned; the West Coast burned.
I do not know how to grieve the death throes of Mother Earth or the local guardian spirits like my beloved Lady Florida. I witness, I hold space for their passing in my heart. I make room for tears I may never shed. I try not to let it paralyze my daily life.
I am beginning to get the idea that there will only be one cure to this soul sickness we feel: community. We must begin to come together, in small scattered groups if necessary, and do the work of healing with compassion. We must drop the alienating division between mind and body, individual and society, and find out what we can do together. We must learn the very human, spiritually clad, naturalistic rituals of grieving… because we’re burying our Mother Earth and taking the reigns of this whole planet in our hands.
May We Be Wise
I’ve been listening to the work of Francis Weller is a pyschotherapist, author, and “soul activist.” He specializes in grief, but embraces traditional teachings and an eco-spiritual perspective that I find very compatible with my pagan identity. Specifically, he proposes that there are Five Gates of Grief every individual (and community) passes through, kind of like Inanna on her rescue mission through the Underworld:
First Gate: Everything We Love, We will Lose
Second Gate: The Places That Have Not Known Love
Third Gate: The Sorrows of the World
Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive
Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief
If you want to give it a try, check out the YouTube Video below: