I have been feeling called to write something about the current bushfire crisis in Australia. As usual, when I sit down to write I get caught up in wanting it to be perfect, to fully reflect what my heart is feeling. This often leads to complete inaction. The piece doesn’t get written at all, or I write but I don’t post it.
Like many people I fall into comparing mindset. I see what others have written in articles and on social media and I think about how poetic or clear or beautiful their sharing is. I feel like my words are not going to be as powerful. But, the pull is strong here. I need to overcome my fear of sharing what might not be perfectly written but comes deeply from my heart.
I can feel the powerful shifts of this particular time in our lives, of this era and I know many of you can feel it too. How we relate to the current situation and how we act is of much importance right now.
For those of you around the world that may not know, my home country Australia is in the midst of a huge bushfire disaster that is affecting much of the country, in particular Victoria and New South Wales. It is early for fire season. The days are hotter than they have been, the land is drier and there is a lot of fuel. More people live in the country, escaping the cities. Combined, these factors mean big fires for long periods affecting more communities.
My own community, Wandiligong (near Bright in North-East Victoria), was evacuated on Friday 2 January due to a fire in the Abbeyard area which started due to lightning strikes on New Years Eve. While some of the community have remained at home to defend many have left and businesses have closed to tourists. Volunteer and paid firefighters, police and other emergency service personnel have been hard at work defending Wandi and the other Ovens valley towns from the massive fires in really difficult terrain and conditions. We are so utterly grateful to everyone!
I have been away from home for a week and so far my house and our wider community is safe and I feel like one of the lucky ones in this disaster. I hope that I can return home later this week and resume regular classes by Monday but the reality is that this is uncertain and is likely to remain so. It has been hard to be away from home. I wish I was there offering some of my own support to those fighting the fires but right now my most important role is taking care of our two kids and keeping them safe.
Times like this of course bring with them turbulent emotions. For those directly affected there are the worries of losing homes, businesses, income and most desperately, those we love. But, for the whole country and even across the world there are feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, helplessness, rage, disappointment, powerlessness and blame that can really shift us out of balance.
I feel it deeply. There is a huge grief here for the millions of hectares of native Australian forest that is being burned and sending CO2 and toxic smoke up into our precious air. Huge grief for the hundreds of millions of animals that are dying and injured because of these out of control blazes. A feeling of immense gratitude to those that are giving their lives to protect homes and communities. And also, this absolute honour to be walking the human journey with all of the people that are showing up to support those in need. The people that are donating money, homes, time and energy and reaching out a hand to help. Those stories touch me the deepest.
I also feel shame at the way we have treated our home collectively. And we ALL have to answer to this. Mother Earth is responding to us with the absolute power and destruction that she holds, and now we HAVE to listen. We can no longer live from a place of disconnection and separateness. It is time to heed her call.
There is a big blame game being played out in the media and on our social feeds. We can easily get caught up in pointing the finger at different groups or individuals that haven’t done enough or have contributed in some way to this current situation.
Here are some thoughts from my view point (and this is my own reckoning – you don’t have to agree with it all and if you don’t I promise I will listen to your views with an open mind and heart):
- The planet IS getting hotter and quickly. This is of course contributing to the prevalence and scale of fires. It seems that we as humans are contributing to this climate change and we as a global community need to make some big shifts in the way we create and use energy to balance this out in some way. This has to occur on all levels, the everyday things we do as individuals and the policies of those that govern us (who by the way are elected by and work for us, the people).
2. We have become disconnected from the land on which we live. Particularly in the West, we create so many barriers and policies to protect us from the elements that we have lost the knowledge of how to work with nature. We, through our current system, are using resources unsustainably for greed and profit. We have created a separateness from nature which is killing us. We have a chance to rectify that here but it is a small one and requires a true and heartfelt apology to Australia’s First People who DO still hold this knowledge by a thread. We need to let go of the past and work together for the future in a collaborative way, one that is full of respect, openness to ideas and a view that we are all in this together.
If you can, watch this great interview with Victor Steffensen, Indigenous Fire Practitioner who talks about just one of the ways we can listen to and learn from Indigenous Australian knowledge and practices around fire management combined with what we know scientifically. And this is just one aspect of the environment that is critical right now. The use of water for corporate profit is another one, and there are many more. As Justin Leonard from CSIRO says, “We have to start by understanding the land and the landscape.” When we can learn how to build and live in these fire risk areas properly, manage our lands and rivers sustainably, and control the fuel of these fires in a way that works with the cycles of nature we will protect the animals that live there and our own communities.
Our Indigenous People know the ways that we need to heal ourselves and the earth and it is through our connection with this land. Yuin Indigenous Australians recently united in a historic healing ceremony at Mount Gulaga. We need to break down more barriers and unite all people in this way to heal our spirits.
3. All of the science and research we can throw at this isn’t going to fix the global problems we have got ourselves into. The biggest threats we have facing us as humans as part of the natural world (and by the way we don’t need to ‘save the earth’ it will go on just fine without us) are selfishness, greed and apathy (Gus Speth).
We can’t address these problems of warfare, environmental destruction and inequality only with science & technology. We need the inner work of humanity. We need mindfulness and compassion to guide our communities and our politics. We need love as the power to overcome greed, anger and fear. My teacher, Jack Kornfield writes beautifully about the power of these practices here.
This issue of climate changes, and more recently these fires, has been so politicised that it has the potential to polarise and then turn people off completely. Yes, our current leader has been massively lacking compassion at a time when he just needed to listen to people and show some support. Yes, the government needs to take action on climate change. Yes, there are many policies that come from a place of greed and fear rather than connection and equality (as a family member in Europe urged me to take refuge from the smoke and fires in a neighbouring country, I found it particularly ironic to think about the image of thousands of Australians leaving the shores on boats as refugees!)…
But, if we fall back into the status quo of fighting between ourselves we lose this important opportunity to actually effect the change that we need.
This is our time to wake up.
** More people now are touched by what rising temperatures on this Earth home really means.
** More people now understand what it is like to have to leave your home under threat of disaster and take refuge.
** More people are realising that science cannot hold all of the answers and what we need is human connection and collaboration.
** More people are admitting that we need to understand the land and work with it rather than this broken system of working against it and using it unsustainably.
2020 is our time to change.
Amidst these turbulent emotions and experiences we have tools to find our centre and find balance. By connecting with mindfulness and compassion we have an opportunity to respond rather than react to what is going on around us. To find that place of kindness and love within us rather than immediately acting on the anger, fear or sadness that we naturally feel.
Those stories of kindness are moving people deeply. In an era where we will likely be seeing more and more awe striking devastation and destruction on the planet as a fall-out of the way we have treated our home, there are enough kind people in the world to help. Through the threat of losing everything, we realise how little we actually need to be happy and so we can be free to share what we do have with others. This is our time to rise up and work together to lead our communities in the many tangible things that we CAN do.
And so I’m risking quoting Disney here but I’ve been reminded throughout this whole crisis of the message of Frozen 2 (yes, I have young kids). When faced with fear, greed, loss and grief all that we can do is, ‘the next right thing’. And when we act from a place of awareness, compassion, kindness and love we can trust ourselves to know what that right thing is.
So, finally, what can YOU do right now to help?
- Donate to one of the multitude of bushfire appeals (or all of them):
- Bendigo Bank’s bushfire disaster appeal: https://www.communityenterprisefoundation.com.au/make-a-donation/bushfire-disaster-appeal
- Red Cross Disaster Relief: https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate
- Wildlife Victoria: https://www.wildlifevictoria.org.au/donate/donate-to-wildlife-victoria (WIRES is the NSW charity which has received far more donations at this point in time so if you can please donate to Wildlife Victoria)
- Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/donate1
2. Consider when you book a holiday in the future, when it is safe to return, support the regions and businesses that have been affected. Tegan Weber posted a wonderful call to action “Go with Empty Eskies” and this is a wonderful way to help communities to recover from the effects of the fires.
“I want you to do just one simple thing,
“When these fires have stopped, and the towns impacted are safe and trying to regain some sense of ‘normal’, I want you to plan a road trip. Go with empty eskies, empty cars and low fuel.
“Go, spend your money, stay in their hotels, buy from their shops, camp at their camp grounds, buy their gifts, buy their fuel, buy bread and milk.
“Beyond rebuilding, they need continued and long term support to get back on their feet and your empty Esky makes more of a difference than you could ever imagine.”
3. Take some time out to ground and centre yourself if you feel yourself being pulled out of balance by the stories and images that you see. You might like to go for a walk, feel your feet on the earth, take some full breaths or practice meditation to ground, centre and reconnect. This is a time to look after ourselves as well. I’ve recorded a guided meditation specifically to assist with this and you can find it here.
4. Send loving kindness to the communities that are affected. This could be in the form of a meditation, prayer or intention. You may simply sit and feel your heart repeating the words, “May you be well, may you be safe, may you be free, may you be at peace.”
5. Connect with the Earth. This may again be a walk in nature or an activity that helps you connect with your environment such as gardening, swimming, climbing. Take some time to simply be in the environment you live in and notice the plants, animals and the land. Sit for a while so that you perhaps notice things that you wouldn’t have previously. You might even like to learn a new skill relating to being more in touch with the natural world. Search for ‘re-wilding’ for some ideas. Perhaps you might take the time to learn more about the traditional owners of the land where you live or work and make an effort to connect with their culture.
6. Take stock of the ways that you can make a difference when it comes to use of energy and resources. Building a Better World in your Own Backyard: instead of being angry at bad guys is a great book to give you some ideas of ways YOU can change, but there are heaps of resources around and so many ways each one of us can implement change. Get rid of things that you don’t need and donate them to a worthy cause. Downsize, grow your own food, regenerate your own soil, go solar, insulate your home, drive less, go plastic free, buy local… we know much of what we have to do. Let’s do it.
Be kind to yourself though, and talk to your friends and local community about ways to do this together.
7. Finally, if you feel called to protest then you might take your voice to our current leaders at an organised rally (although perhaps think about the timing of this and wait until the current State of Disaster is reduced) or you also might write to your local MP or other MPs in our government. Greenpeace has an open letter that you could sign or use for inspiration. Alternatively, you can find an organisation that resonates with you and support them through funds, time or your advocacy.
But remember, please write, call or protest from a place of groundedness and love, not from anger and fear.
I wish you all the best of luck. We rise together.
My you be safe, may you be well, may you be free, may you find peace.