Practicing Joy in the Apocalypse

The title for this blog came to me as a joke I was telling myself as I was wandering the streets of Sydney (prime thinking time). My train of thought was that this could be the next big thing in the self-help book genre. Humanity has faced global crises before, such as the Cold War when nuclear war was the looming catastrophe, but the climate crisis feels decidedly more disastrous and complex. So how does a responsible member of Planet Earth stay joyful and optimistic during the end times?

The etymology of the word apocalypse is from the Greek apokalyptein, which means to uncover, to reveal. What is currently being revealed about the vast majority of humanity is that we are disconnected from the Earth. Our war with nature has not only been waged externally on the wild places and beings but we have tamed our own wildness to such a degree that we don’t feel like we belong here anymore. The rewilding movement has emerged to bring us back to a point of equilibrium not only by rewilding places and spaces through strategies such as creating wildlife corridors and giving nature the space to recover but as Marc Bekoff writes in his book Rewilding Our Hearts, by facilitating “corridors in ourselves that connect our heart and brain, our caring and awareness.”

Yoga master B.K.S Iyengar says “Yoga means to yoke, to join, to harness, to unite, to bring together. It means elevating the body’s intelligence to the level of the mind and then yoking both to unite with the soul.” Given the goal of Yoga practices is this unification, making whole all that feels fragmented in us, rewilding and Yoga practices are a powerful combination in these times.

Wild Body

A wild body is healthy, strong, mobile, at ease in the world, and engaged fully with its environment through all five senses. Yoga asana can be an act of remembering our wildness as we move the body in many of the ways it has evolved to move. We take the time to be fully present in our bodies as we move and breath. In Yoga asana we take the forms and flow of nature – we become the tree, the mountain, the dog, the cobra, the warrior, the sage, the crow, the camel, the locust. We bring our minds down from the ether, into our feet, grounding and feeling connected as our physical body connects with the body of the Earth. Co-founders of Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon and David Life put it this way:

The Sanskrit word asana is most commonly known as the name for the yogic practice of assuming various physical contortions, but it actually means ‘seat’. By taking a seat, you establish a connection to the Earth. By Earth we mean all things, all manifestations of reality. Earth not only means the ground we walk on, the air we breathe, or the water we drink, but also all beings – animals, plants and minerals – that we come into contact with daily. Through asana practice we consciously connect to a touchable, tangible, sense-able level of reality.

Our bodies are made of all the elements of Earth. The Earth is flowing through us. Our bodies are the Earth herself, not a separate entity. And so, in connecting with our material body through movement, we connect with the Earth.

The practice of ‘forest-bathing’ emerged in Japan as a way for people to engage more fully with the nature through engaging the five senses. When we are indoors we mostly use the sense of sight and hearing and our other senses become secondary. However when we are outdooors there is more equality between the senses. Engaging with our senses in this way brings us fully into the moment, which reduces our stress levels, making us feel more peaceful and at ease. In the practice of forest bathing it’s important to walk without a goal in mind. Don’t think about getting from point A to point B. Instead walk slowly and with awareness. Feel the breeze and sun, or raindrops on the skin and earth under your feet; listen to the birds and the rustling of wind in the leaves, smell the sweet fragrance of nectar and wood and soil in the air, taste any edibles you come across, pay attention to the small and beautiful details around you.

We can approach connecting to joy and to our wild roots through the physical body. But the practice continues as we connect all the fragmented parts of ourselves – body, mind, heart/soul.

Wild Mind

When you see the words ‘wild’ and ‘mind’ together your first thoughts may be of a mind that is uncontrollable and untameable. But by the term ‘wild mind’ I mean quite the opposite. A wild mind is at ease, not involved as much in doing as in being. A wild mind is present and connected and not caught up in the ego driven project of list-ticking and achievement making. A wild mind is in a state of flow as opposed to stagnation. A wild mind is not rushing, projecting, planning but is in the state of effortless awareness.

Meditation practice cultivates the wild mind as we settle into our awareness. The practice is simple: Sit, be still and focus. The object of focus can be anything. In Jivamukti Open classes we link the mantra Let Go, with the breath. Another way to approach sitting practice is to take it outside into nature and have your focus be to watch the world around you with care and attention – to simply be present in the world around you.

Wild Heart

A wild heart is in love with the Earth. A wild heart loves freely and fiercely. A wild heart feels connected to sacred life, all life. A wild heart is protective and caring and compassionate and reverent.

My favourite poem is Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver. The first few lines cut-through. She writes,

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

We focus so much of our saving-the-world efforts on behaviour change, and when we fail in aligning our actions with our vision for a better world perhaps we chide ourselves, when we, for example forget our reusable coffee cup or shopping bag. Behaviour change is important, however, we can’t neglect the source of where these acts of care come from. When we cultivate love and connection with the Earth our actions evolve organically. We align more effortlessly with our caring, altruistic and cooperative nature. And we protect what we love. Our primary focus then, needs to be falling back in love with the Earth. Marc Bekoff expresses this beautifully in Rewilding Our Hearts,

Rewilding our hearts is about becoming re-enchanted with nature. It is about nurturing our sense of wonder. Rewilding is about being nice, kind, compassionate, empathic, and harnessing our inborn goodness and optimism… Ultimately rewilding is not merely a logical argument or a moral imperative. It is an expression of love. It is our response to the unspeakable wonder and amazement of creation itself.

The Buddhist peace activist and teacher, Thich That Hanh, encourages the practice of writing love letters to the Earth as a way to reconnect with her. Take some time in nature with your pen and paper, or in your mind, and compose a letter expressing your love for the Earth.

Ultimately all these practices can bring us back to the feeling that we belong here – we aren’t visitors. We are also an expression of nature and all we have to do to live harmoniously with all of creation is reconnect with her, body, mind and soul.

It is easy to get caught up in the troubles of the world and this can be challenging for our mental health when we care so deeply. However, if we can approach the act of caring through taking the time to cultivate a deep reverence and connection and love for the Earth and her beings, then we have a soft landing place as we anchor to a sense of belonging, deep love, awe, wonder and joy – at the same time as we navigate how best to protect sacred divine life.