The Roots of Heartbreak: Uncovering your role in healing your impact and that of your community

Courtney Weber guest posts on Pagan Activist about the People’s Climate March which happened in New York City on Sunday, September 21, 2014. The largest climate march in the world, it attracted 400,000 people. She is a Priestess, Writer, Tarot Adviser, and Activist in New York City. She is the High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and an organizer with the Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC. Her website is The Coco Witch and you can find her on Twitter. @thecocowitch.

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What brought me to environmental activism? I can’t point to one moment, but several small moments that all piled up, eventually. Maybe it was my science homework in the 4th grade when I cried as I read about the destruction of rainforests. Maybe it was the family vacations to the Oregon coast and seeing swaths of deforestation like a fresh shave on a wooded giant’s face. Maybe it was in college when I noticed that summer crept longer into autumn each year and it scared the hell out of me. Maybe I’ve always had an itchy bug to fight. As a teen, I jealously watched footage from actions of the 60’s and wished I’d been “born in a time when there were things to fight.” (I’m very careful with what I wish for, now!)

I’m often asked what the environmental movement means to Paganism and honestly, I don’t know how we could separate them. It’s like asking what the philosophy of Christianity has to do with helping the poor or what Buddhism has to do with peace. Our Gods are in the living Earth, itself. How could we not fight for it? I often think of this Alice Walker quote: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” I think all persons have a responsibility to carve out at least one portion of their life for making the world a better place. There is a tendency among Americans to say, “I’m too busy.” But we don’t have time to be too busy to work on this. It’s like a cancer patient saying they don’t have time for chemo. There’s also a frightening tendency among Pagans to act as though directing their energy toward a place of need is enough. When it comes to issues surrounding the environment, sometimes there is a sense within us that we are exempt from the injuries inflicted on the planet simply because we worship it.

Years ago, I learned about true energy exchange with the Mother which ironically involved carbon. I once had a single diamond stud earring that belonged to my mother, but after several moves, it disappeared. One day, my dad told me he wanted to have family diamonds made into a brooch for my mother and asked for the stone. I regretted to admit that I didn’t know where it was. A few months later, I visited Mt. St. Helens for the first time as an adult. As a kid, I’d been bored (of course), but in my 20’s, I was deeply moved by the beauty of the natural destruction. The forests were still gone, but the most brilliant of purples dotted the landscape as there is a specific flower that does well in the volcanic ash. I wanted to take a piece of Mt. St. Helens back with me. Despite the park signs that asked people not to take ash with them, I took a scoop for myself. As a Pagan, I knew the power of volcanic ash and would have a deeper respect for it than the average person. In short, it was “okay” for me to take it “because I was Pagan.” I left a piece of hair for the mountain, a piece of me in exchange for a piece of her. Later, I tried to give the ash to a beloved teacher who, while she appreciated the thought, insisted that I return the ash to the mountain.

“Those are her babies!” she said. “The mountain needs that ash to rebuild!”

I realized what a mistake I had made. I’d arrogantly thought my hair was a good enough exchange because my intention was pure, but it wasn’t. My hair would do nothing for the mountain, and in truth, the ash would do nothing for me except inflate my ego for “having a piece” of something so powerful. I had taken for my own desires and injured the landscape. I boxed up the ash, mailed it to the national park, and received a very kind letter from a ranger a few weeks later, thanking me for doing the right thing. Soon after that, I opened a drawer to dig for a necklace and the missing diamond earring rolled out. Carbon-for-carbon…somehow, I’d done something right.

Pagans aren’t blind. We know environmental degradation is ever-present and pressing. There are two dangers I see the Pagan community skirt. One is reclusive complacency: a belief that we are the only ones who care; therefore, stick with others who care like we do. Why bother doing anything else? The other danger is what I illustrated above: Acting destructively on the Earth and feeling we’re exempt because we’re Pagan. We’re worried about climate change, yet we drive fuel-chugging cars thousands of miles to festivals or use disposable products at Sabbats. We not only have a responsibility to be self-aware of our actions, we have a responsibility to aid in shaping the future. It’s our Goddess, right? Would we let people smash our statues of Isis or Hekate? Why would we let people destroy our forests or poison our water? Why would we let ourselves do that?

Pagans have a blessed voice to bring to the action table. We don’t proselytize, so secular groups aren’t nervous that we are out to convert. We are fun! At the Climate March, the Pagans brought the party to the inter-faith group. Buddhists, Jews, UUs, Atheists, Muslims, Christians….at least one of everyone found their way into dancing and singing along with our drums and chants. I love to tell stories of the spontaneous Pagan-Buddhist dance party in Columbus Circle and of the Jewish guy who rode up beside our group in a bicycle-cab, playing his clarinet along with us as we chanted “Air I Am.” Be they interfaith movements or secular rallies, we have spirit and presence to contribute that is unique, timely, and necessary.

Not everyone is able to contribute to the movement in the same way. The climate march was a seven-hour day on our feet—five of those involved just standing. I personally love them, so they’re easy for me. I also have a job that’s moderately flexible with my time and health enough to be on my feet for seven hours. But for those reasons or more, marches aren’t feasible or enjoyable for everyone and they don’t have to be. A thousand people rushed Wall Street the day after the march and hundreds were arrested. I was there in Spirit, but my own life cannot afford me to have an arrest record at this time so that’s not a way I can help. But I don’t have to be arrested to be effective. There are letters to write, awareness to raise, photos to take, hell—just GO to the places of destruction and tell people what you saw. I could quote all the facts about what’s wrong with fracking, but it’s more effective if I simply show the photos from PEC-NYC’s visit to fracking sites earlier this month.

What breaks your heart? What could you possibly lose to climate change? Find that painful spot, and address it in a way that brings you joy. It’s a hard enough battle on its own. Find that place in yourself that injures the world you love and work on it. Find a way to address those actions in your community and work on that, too.

Find the roots of your heartbreak and your own roles in it. In working on it, do so in a way that makes that heart sing.

One thought on “The Roots of Heartbreak: Uncovering your role in healing your impact and that of your community

  1. Tina Clark

    I’m reminded of Andrew Harvey’s quote, “don’t follow your bliss, follow your heartbreak.” And in doing so, we find the work that brings us to our bliss. Thank you for your words.

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