Living Green: Burned Out

When my husband and I decided to pack up our life in 2022 and move from Garrison to Lake Placid, a lot of factors went into the decision, such as wanting more outdoor activities and more nature for ourselves and our children. 

But there was something else driving my decision. I was burnt out from my climate work. I was giving it my all: protesting, writing climate articles, working as the climate coordinator, lobbying, writing this column, making changes in my own lifestyle. It wasn’t enough and often I felt lonely and alone in my pain for the Earth. Instead of living in the moment, I was living in the future, and the future was dark, scary and filled with loss. So, yes, I burned out on climate work.

Erin Muir

Erin Muir

I had just decided to write about my climate grief when I saw  that Erin Muir, who lives in Cold Spring, would be assisting with a workshop on Oct. 29 called “The Work That Reconnects: Healing Burnout.”

I shared with Muir my experience with climate burnout. She responded: “It is because of our connection to the Earth and our love for it that the despair and sadness is so intense. And there’s no one talking about it, no space or ritual around how to process that.”

Muir says she was in a difficult place 2 1/2 years ago, feeling disheartened about the state of things, the Earth, politics and life. She was having a hard time pulling out of it when her friend gave her a copy of A Wild Love for the World, an anthology of writings about Joanna Macy, an activist, author and Buddhist scholar. 

In her Work That Reconnects workshops, Macy offers teachings and practices for transforming grief, anger, paralysis and fear into compassionate connection and action. Work That Reconnects was developed 45 years ago and has been practiced thousands of times all over the world since. 

As Muir read Macy’s book, she said it felt like it gave voice to a lot of things that had been ruminating for most of her career as a landscape architect. Macy asks people to “become unafraid of our pain for the world, not ignore it. The pain is there because of our connection and if we block it we are blocking important feedback. Letting it fester within us is not helpful. Instead, if we can face it, give it voice, then collectively what can we do, if we are not afraid?”

The workshops are a process of group work that uses experience-based activities to help participants connect with one another and with the intelligence of self-healing powers of life on Earth. She draws upon concepts such as deep ecology, systems theory and gaia theory. The “spiral” is what is used to guide participants through four steps: Gratitude moves to “grief for the world,” to “seeing with new eyes” and “going forth.” 

There are practices for each step of the spiral; each workshop is unique and emergent. But the aim is to provide a safe space for people’s concerns about what is happening to the world, to help shift perspective to beyond the personal, and give space for creativity and power to do “right action.”

Muir joined a facilitator group for Macy’s program and now organizes her own workshops. She has hosted three locally. Each lasts six weeks, with eight or nine participants.

One takeaway from my conversation with Muir was that we need activism to stop business as usual. But we also need life-sustaining practices such as permaculture and regenerative buildings. And we need self-care, tapping into joy, tapping into flow, music, into the feeling of connection. “You need to take care of you, so you can carry out all the other pieces,” Muir says.

After a year of taking time for myself, walking my dog in the woods, feeling gratitude for the seasons, learning how to figure skate, I am feeling ready to come back to work on behalf of the Earth, but this time I will do it differently.

For information about Muir’s workshops, email [email protected]. 

Leave a Reply

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.