Some subjects are difficult to examine because they are complex, others because they are emotionally charged. The environment and your place in it is both.
This is one reason that many of us don’t make the best environmental choices. The subject is complex, there are conflicting explanations of what is going on. The subject can be painful. There are all kinds of heartbreaking and terrifying things happening in and to the world.
It’s not surprising that some of us feel some combination of sadness, fear, anger, guilt, and despair when it comes to the environment. Most of us don’t enjoy these emotions, so it’s understandable if we avoid places, people and conversations that elicit them. In some cases people will seize the opportunity offered by climate deniers to turn their attention away.
I can’t be judgemental about any of this. It is too close to my personal experience. But the current discussion around the environment has given me lots of opportunity to explore constructive ways to work with emotional challenges.
The Environment and Emotions
Biologically, emotions evolved to guide action. But for this to work requires that we are clear about the direction that the emotion is moving us in, and we have actions that we can engage in.
To make the most of our emotional impulses we need to carefully distinguish between different emotions. This is called emotional granularity, and is dependent on interoception, the capacity to feel inside the body.
When we return emotions like guilt, anger, and despair, how can we apply this understanding?
If we avoid these feelings and let them blur into some vague negative smog then they cannot do their job which is to guide action.
If on the other hand if we have this emotional granularity then we can make important distinctions. The anger can be experienced as wanting to do something about a specific issue. Despair may resolve into an appreciation that a particular route is a dead end, and that it is time to re-examine what is possible.
How can you develop this kind of emotional granularity, and this kind of interoception?
How to Develop Emotional Granularity
Meditation and meditative movement methods such as Tai Chi are solid ways to develop interoception, emotional granularity, even if they are not instant solutions.
Equally important is the ability to observe emotions without drowning in them. This is one of the functions of good coaching, where the coach skillfully brings the attention back to the difficult emotions with curiosity rather than judgement and at an intensity that is optimal for resolution.
Action is perhaps the most powerful method to transmute moods, since it is what the moods evolved to kick start.
The difficulty when faced with a global problem is that individual actions can seem futile. However sometimes doing anything makes a surprising difference.
We can still aim to optimise the effectiveness of what we do. This is supported by planning and focusing on what is in our control. The noble goal of ‘saving the world’ fails from a coaches point of view. It is too vague and does not lend towards specific steps. I speak as someone who aspired to this and achieved very little as a result.
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