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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Gonzalez

Experiencing Joy and Finding Meaning in the Climate Emergency

A young woman facing the ocean as the sun sets, with her arms open to the sky greeting birds that are flying over her head.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how to retain hope; my own and that of the young people with whom I work.  It seems to me that much of the angst that our younger generations are experiencing has to do with a systemically imposed purpose on them that deep down just does not make sense. My observation is that some of them settle and persevere through this cognitive dissonance while others get caught up in it and experience difficulties in conforming that can have long-lasting negative and positive effects.  I would put myself in the latter category.  For most of my adult life, I have been seeking out some deeper understanding of how things work, and how people work in relation to how things work.  Formally, I have done this through professional development as an educator.  Informally, I have wondered ‘why?’ at every turn, and looked for answers from the people, places and things around me.  Somehow, this has been reason enough for me to keep going.  On the surface, it seems mysterious.  The ‘why?’ never gets answered.  But below the surface, I think I’ve come to understand that the motivation is not finding the answer but rather experiencing joy in the process.  And not just my own experience of joy but others’ as well. My definition of joy is not to be confused with happiness or even contentment.  These seem to be highly subjective, and I could not begin to prescribe how to ensure or experience either of these.  But joy, I suspect, is more universally experienced.  Perhaps not perceived in the same way but maybe that is what makes it something we can look for and share together to deepen our understanding of each other and the world we find ourselves in.   


For me, joy pauses my thinking, sometimes for an instant, sometimes for longer, depending on how suspended I am in the awe of the moment.  I am pretty sure we have all witnessed something so beautiful, so amazing, so inexplicable, so captivating that our sense of self, our consciousness if you will, is suspended so that we feel one with that which we are beholding and the wonder we are experiencing.  Joy and wonder elevate our consciousness to appreciate the mystery of existence and to seek acceptance if not always understanding. However, in the relentless pursuit of productivity, the relegation of creative expression as frivolous, and the separation from the natural world to which we belong, these moments of pure joy are, for many people, difficult to come by. 


Right now, we are in a climate emergency. Some of us have not done a good job so far in honouring the natural human and more-than-human creative process. Our human activities, the ones that are disrupting the natural systems keeping us all alive, are not serving us or the rest of creation. But human ingenuity, upon which productivity-as-purpose is based, is actually a wonder in itself.  What if part of our evolution as a species is to realise that human ingenuity allows us to not only behold the beauty of this planet and this universe but the ability to reflect back on it with gratitude and love and seek to better understand and care for it?  It reframes our responsibility as humans as a conscious creative species that embraces the generosity of our Earth’s systems evolving in such a way as to bring us, and all of creation, to this point together, and ensures the continuation of that evolutionary trajectory.  What a hopeful, expansive and liberating notion! 


 I believe an integral part of our human experience is to seek understanding, to learn.  This is a natural response to joy and wonder. We can look for opportunities to learn in a loving way that does not negatively impact our human, or other beings’, journey of creative evolution.  And perhaps centring our thoughts and actions around protecting the experience of joy and wonder for future generations as they learn, formally and informally, will make all the difference.   


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