This post will guide you through an exercise/ meditation to help you and your children learn how to cope with the emotions that learning about climate change brings up. For more posts like this one, click on the “Mindfulness” tab in the menu
Climate Psychologists tell us that the primary reason that we humans (especially those of us in Western Cultures) are bad at dealing with climate change is because we are busy trying to avoid uncomfortable feeling and emotions that come with the realization of climate change: fear of the unknown future consequences; grief for the potential losses; and guilt for our part in it. These are big overwhelming, unpleasant emotions. And we are not accustomed to feeling such unpleasant things. In our modern life we can take pain killers for our headaches and other pains, we turn up the furnace or the air conditioning to avoid the discomfort of cold and heat, we turn on the TV or computer to distract for boredom or stress. In short people are hardwired to avoid the pain, but avoiding the pain means we often don’t deal with the problem. Psychologists refer to this as a form of the “Emotional-focused Coping”. The big down side is that the problem itself it not dealt with and inevitably it will rise again, and we are no more capable of dealing with it when it does (in fact maybe less because the problem may fester as we ignore it).
Mindfulness, which means non-judgmentally paying attention to the present, can help us all learn to sit with our uncomfortable feeling so we can do a better job of working through the problems. Here is one of my favorite meditations for understanding this principle. I first came across it in Susan Kaiser Greenland’s “mindful games activity cards”. It’s the melting ice meditation
- Sit comfortably on the floor with the kids. Explain the activity: we are going to feel what it feels like to hold a piece of ice in our hands. It might be a little uncomfortable, but it is safe and it wont hurt you.
- Ask them to take a few deep breaths and notice how they are feeling at this moment, just as they are. No need to talk, or report back, just notice.
- Place the ice cube in each child’s hand. Explain the process: if the ice feels uncomfortable, that is okay, that is normal. Try to take a few deep breaths, recognize that it is okay that the ice feels cold. Take a few more deep, slow breaths and focus on your breathing. If the ice is too cold put it down for a moment, recognizing that you are choosing to put the ice down and knowing that you will pick it up again when you are ready. After a few moments, pick the ice up and try again.
- Again, ask the children to notice how they are feeling. No need to talk or report back, just notice.
- Talk about how the cold ice can be like our feeling about environmental problems (and other problems too). They can be uncomfortable, but that is normal. It would be silly to pretend that your hand is not cold when you hold an ice cube, and it is not helpful to pretend that we don’t feel sadness, or anger, or anxiety, or guilt when we hear about big problems in the world. It helps if we identify them. It also help if we know we can consciously put them down sometimes– recognizing that we will pick it up again. And there is a difference between choosing with full awareness to put the ice cube down for a moment and throwing the ice cube away and pretending it doesn’t exist.
An extension of this exercise would be to do the meditation a second time, but this time have one ice cube for a group 2 or 3. Instead of putting the ice cube down when it gets to be too much, pass the ice cube to another person. This is less of a meditation and more of an object lesson, but is a good reminder of the importance of having someone you can talk to and share your problems with.