Earth Etude for Elul 20 — Past and Present Pain
by Rabbi Katy Allen
~ What if…the feelings we have when we pass through…zones of destruction are actually arising from the land itself? What if it is the grief of the forest registering in our bodies and psyches—the sorrow of the redwoods, voles, sorrel, ferns, owls, and deer, all those who lost their homes and lives as a result of this plunder of living beings? What if we are not separate from the world at all? It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses. What if this is the anima mundi, the soul of the world, weeping through us? We know and feel in our bones that something primal is amiss. Our extended home is being eroded, as is the experience of our wider self….Our souls are connected with the soul of the world, and it is through this bond that we acknowledge our interconnected lives…..The cumulative grief of the world is overwhelming. – Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
I have long struggled with PTSD as the result of childhood trauma. And I have long worked to develop coping skills to prevent myself from being triggered and returning emotionally to that time.
Recently, I’ve realized something deeper. Part of my journey to healing is about recognizing those triggers that are from current traumatic events happening in the world that I – like all of us – read or hear or see about. Part of my task is to differentiate between what is imagined and what is real.
It is a painful journey to allow into our consciousness the reality of what is happening in and to our world, to recognize that the delights of the planet in which we grew up are no more and will not be again, to know that more devastation is coming today and tomorrow and the next day, to hear the next threat to our democracy and our stability, to wonder who and what will succumb next.
The pain I’ve felt from awareness of the current status of our nation and our planet has touched and triggered old pain. I am slowly learning to separate them. This can save me from returning to the past, but it can’t save me from feeling the pain of the present. Allowing myself to feel that and coping with it requires different but related skills.
Living with the pain of the present and the corresponding envisioning of the future requires – for me – a profound acceptance of what is happening. There are no magic bullets to save us and all living beings from ourselves and our lack of understanding and caring. Disasters are bound to increase. Devastation is now the norm. Both in the human world and beyond. Both in the political realm and in the natural realm. It requires not being surprised by the next horrific event. It requires acknowledging that injustice and inequality abound. It requires, for me, deep in my heart, knowing that whatever will happen will happen, and that my job is is to keep on living, keep on loving, keep on growing, keep on giving to the best of my ability, keep on holding others to the best of my ability, keep on offering forth something deeper of my soul, and recognizing my limitations.
That is my task in life, this Elul, and throughout the year, for as Rabbi Salanter teaches us, we must start to prepare for next Yom Kippur at the end of havdalah this Yom Kippur. T’shuvah is a never-ending task.
Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. Starting in September, she will be teaching an online class: Loss and Transformation: Maintaining Hope when Optimism is Elusive through JCAN. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma’yan Tikvah.