Report by Andrew Durling, Co-ordinator, Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth
How do we feel about the ecological destruction and the devastating impacts of climate change that are going on all around us? If we have strong feelings about that, how can we deal with them and even channel them into positive actions that will protect nature and the Earth? Such questions were at the heart of a dynamic, innovative workshop in Eastbourne last Saturday that challenged its participants and facilitated a deep sharing of feelings, thoughts and solutions for some of the planetary crises we face.
The workshop was facilitated by members of the Dharma Friends of the Earth network, who had been invited by Eastbourne Friends of the Earth to come down to the Devonshire Collective in Eastbourne. The workshop facilitators, Joseph Mishan and Emma Thompson from the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement, introduced some practical exercises for engaging with nature in a direct, focussed way, exploiting our innate human curiosity about the world and using some of the principles of mindfulness. Then they led the workshop participants into an ever deepening conversation about the effects a deeper connection with nature both inside and outside of ourselves can have upon us and how those effects can be harnessed towards a more effective engagement with the urgent need to better protect nature and the Earth for the benefit of all living beings whilst at the same time preventing ourselves from becoming overwhelmed or discouraged by the difficulties involved in such activism.
Andrew Durling, Co-ordinator of Eastbourne Friends of the Earth, and one of the organisers of the workshop, said, "I first met Joe and Emma whilst helping to set up the Dharma Friends of the Earth network, and was so impressed by them that when they offered to do a workshop in Eastbourne I immediately accepted! I and some of my colleagues in Eastbourne who spend a lot of time in environmental activism of various kinds, have long felt the need for a stronger support network for such activists, as they face many difficulties, both internal and external, in their struggles to stay energised and positive in the face of environmental challenges that can often seem insurmountable, especially in the face of institutional indifference that stretches sometimes to minimisation of the reality of climate change, or even to outright climate denial. Also, just look at the remorseless destruction of wildlife habitats from inappropriate development, over-use of pesticides and herbicides, destructive farming practices, or just plain ignorance of how important biodiversity is for our own survival as humans let alone survival of life on planet Earth.
“The strong inner drive I felt to do something, anything, about this fuels my activism within Friends of the Earth, but there are many activists outside of Friends of the Earth too, as well as individuals who belong to no environmental group (and who would never identify themselves as activists) who are also similarly driven. But doing such activism on one's own is hard, very hard. It's still hard doing it with others in a group. That's why all activists need support, not just in terms of resources and political backing, but also in terms of emotional support and encouragement from others who share the same feelings and the same goals, as well as the same difficulties in meeting them.This workshop, free and open to all, was the first time we in Eastbourne Friends of the Earth have tried to introduce local people to the idea of such a support network and share ways in which it might grow and become more effective.
“I have to say that the workshop was a very powerful one for me and led me to have a 'lightbulb moment' where my own personal path in environmental activism became a lot clearer, thanks to the illuminating insights shared by my fellow workshop participants in the deep conversations we had. Judging by the reactions of the other workshop participants, I think all of them gained something meaningful from the workshop, which makes me feel very happy and justified in having helped to bring the workshop to Eastbourne. The tea and cake was delicious too, by the way!"
By a masterstroke of serendipity (or synchronicity?), the 'Tears for the Earth' exhibition, also at the Devonshire Collective, was open at the same time, a few yards further down the road from the workshop. The exhibition, mounted by local artists, is itself a powerful, creative expression of feelings and thoughts about the very ecological destruction and climate breakdown that the workshop was grappling with, and it's worth noting that some of the workshop participants had already been to that exhibition, and/or were local artists themselves. The exhibition is on until 30 September, so you still have time to see it and be challenged, shocked even!
The workshop and exhibition have an added poignancy in the wake of the enormously destructive hurricanes that have just hit the Caribbean and the United States, hurricanes which climate scientists have pointed out were significantly intensified by the abnormally warm waters of the tropical Atlantic due to the global warming that has accelerated in recent years. These hurricanes, couple with the abnormally intense and widespread wildfires of North America, still ongoing, and the abnormally intense monsoon rainfalls in India and South East Asia, causing immense flooding and human misery, are all stark reminders of the urgent need to confront the environmental challenges of our time, challenges bigger even than Brexit!