Saleem: Welcome back, y’all! Saleem here. This is More Than A Feeling. You’ve made it to the very last day of this whole Dread Challenge experiment. And you’ve been sharing how it was going for you, as we investigated how to feel better, even when we’re anticipating the worst.
Susan from Boston: My name is Susan and I'm from Boston.
Barb: Barb Benincasa, and I'm from upstate New York.
Susan D: Susan from Waynesboro, Virginia.
Saleem: Going into this project, a lot of you felt some resistance to engaging with dread.
Susan from Boston: My dread looks like a gigantic tornado twister made of metal with hundreds of thousands of tiny, swirling metal spikes on it.
Barb: To me, dread is a sound. It's the sound of breaking glass.
Susan from Boston: It's not something I wanna think about. It feels doom full, and I want to avoid it.
Maureen: Dear Dread, It's time to go. I no longer want you in my life.
This week, as we’ve been in community, sharing stories, and drawings, and memos, for some of you, dread has become a bit more approachable.
Charlene: I am discovering that what my dread is trying to do is protect me. So I'm kind of making friends with the dread, which is something I did not expect to happen at all.
Lara: I found out that it's really about keeping me safe in bed where no one can harm me.
Of course there’s no magic, cure-all quick fixes. But there are some pretty useful tools out there.
Tui: I found that it was not cathartic or even comforting, although I didn't expect either of those. But it was educational to see my dread in a different manner. Thank you.
Joanne: What I found surprised me. It turns out that deep down, I'm still really afraid of being alone and isolated.
Susan from Boston: I'm really appreciating this podcast for making me aware and conscious.
Joanne: So that was quite enlightening and, and interesting and unexpected.
Our final stop on the journey is a type of dread so big that a lot of us are struggling to get our heads around it: The climate crisis.
Jonathan: Jonathan Harmon. I'm 17 years old.
Betsy W L: My name is Betsy Loving
David: Hi, my name's David… Dread about the unpredictability of our environment. Things like climate change, weather.
Betsy W L: Facing these realities as they worsen. It's kind of a nightmare.
Jonathan: I remember one time in school we were doing our classwork outside and everybody was like “Oh, it's so hot. So hot, dang!” Like it is really getting hotter. That's scary.
Betsy W L: The idea that our earth itself is failing rapidly and that the wonder and beauty I grew up with and have loved all my life may go away.
Saleem: This is sometimes called eco-dread. It’s bigger than all of us. And it can feel overwhelming and paralyzing. And we don’t have the option of letting that be our only reaction. Not only because it’s painful to feel that way, but because the only real solution is the biggest collective action the planet has ever seen.
Patty: And it's real, and it's now. It's not just for, you know, ambiguous loss in the future.
Ali: I live in Northern California, so for me it's about the wildfire season, which seems to be like year-round now.
Patty: If we're living with our eyes wide open and our heart's wide open, it's getting harder and harder to pretend like it's not happening.
Saleem: Welcome back to More Than A Feeling. It’s our eco-dread episode.
Two of the voices you just heard belong to mental health professionals with some eco-dread of their own. One of them, you may have recognized from prior episodes:
Ali Mattu: I am Dr. Ali Mattu. I'm a clinical psychologist.
Saleem: And the other is a new voice…
Patty: My name is Patty Adams. I am a somatic therapist.
Saleem: Patty’s here to give us a helpful practice for emotional resilience. Because there’s such a heavy weight attached to this emotion. So she’ll be back a little later in this episode.
But first… Part of what can make eco-dread so overwhelming is the global scale of it. There’s dread about floods, drought, fires. Fears for younger generations. Grief for the already staggering losses. Anger at seeing the destruction of our one and only home. All this can make us feel helpless. Like any action we take is tiny in comparison to the scale of the problem. So we’re going on a little field trip. To see how much comfort and inspiration can be found outside, wherever you are. Even next to one of the most polluted canals in the U.S.
[busy street sounds and music]
Saleem: As you might remember, I live in Durham, North Carolina. But a few years back I did a gig in New York City. And my temporary home for a few months was a low-lying Brooklyn neighborhood called Gowanus. For the record, Gowanus the neighborhood was a great place for my family to spend some time living. The canal that runs through it – appropriately named the Gowanus Canal – might be a little harder to love right away.
That’s because the canal is famously polluted. It’s known for absorbing generations of industrial pollution, and catching sewer runoff, too. At times the Gowanus canal has looked, and smelled, so dirty it was nicknamed “Lavender Lake.” What I’m getting to here is that one way to see the Gowanus is as this symbol of people trashing our planet. But we’re here because we met someone who taught us how to see it as something else, too.
Aurelia Casey: If we're talking about nature, that's something I definitely can talk about all day long. But we have an hour though, right?
Saleem: This is Aurelia Casey. She’s an environmental educator from Brooklyn. Aurelia runs a youth program at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. A big part of her job is getting kids and teenagers involved, hands-on, in conservation and environmental justice. We sat down on a bench in a park looking out at Lavender Lake itself. And talked about some of the things I totally missed when I lived right next to it.
Aurelia Casey: People look at the canal and they think it's dirty. And you know what? Historically, this is true, right? We were polluting our waterways. We can be honest about our stuff. But one thing I like to remind people is that oftentimes we are very quick to highlight the negative. And not so quick to highlight the good, the great. There are people who go and they are picking up the litter. There are people like myself and my colleagues who are hosting field trips on the Gowanus Canal. We are inviting youth of Brooklyn to come and test the water quality. So they're learning much more about it.
Saleem: You know, I could see someone coming here and just seeing the deficits, and being like, “Oh, this is a Super Fund site.” And seeing that as a negative. They might be like, “Oh, there's a truck transporting a bunch of cars over a bridge right there. There's, uh, construction with some kind of tall crane like device. I see a bunch of Verizon trucks.” What advice would you have for someone who that's what they see?
Aurelia: When you sort of take a moment to just sit in a place and really look around at it, the land sort of speaks to you and gives you an idea of what it looked like in the past prior to buildings and warehouses and cargo ships and cars. If we were to travel back in time pre, um, European settlers, we'd be in the midst of a salt marsh right now, right? It's no longer a salt marsh, but it is the Gowanus Canal and this is what we have of it in the present.
Saleem: And when Aurelia’s thinking about the history of that canal, she’s not just thinking about the older ecosystem that’s been damaged, she’s looking at what’s surviving and thriving there right now.
Aurelia: If you take a moment and you realize how hilly a place is. Uh, you take a moment and sort of look at the rocks and figure out how old they might be. Um, you look at the trees and how broad they are, how tall they are. I also would encourage people to just look up what indigenous people used to occupy this space that they now live upon. The Leni Lenape people, um, the Canarsie people further down in Brooklyn, right, what it looked like here for them.
We now live on this land. We now use it for multiple different things, but still our trees are still here and they still manage to survive. The birds still migrate here yearly. You'll see new insects. You'll see insects that are native here. And then most importantly, you see people interacting, right? People are just walking through the space to get home or to get to their next destination, or this is their destination so that's where we are. That's the Gowanus Canal to me. I don't mind it. I think it's cool. It's quirky.
Saleem: It is cool.
Saleem: Aurelia says if you’re willing to do just a little research about a local place, you can also find out what advocates are doing for it. And even be part of the effort.
Aurelia: Try to research and figure out: are there people who are helping this area? Are there people who are doing something good for this area? A lot of what you're looking at might just look like regular park benches or really cool greenery. Um, but a lot of this stuff was strategically placed here so that it can help combat things such as rising sea levels. Um, increased rain.
Saleem: Another thing I almost didn’t notice was an area of bushes and little plants at the end of the walkway we were sitting on. It just pops up, looking like it was growing from some secret source under the concrete. Aurelia told me it was a project called Sponge Park.
Aurelia: I think it's a literal name. Sponge Park. The whole concept behind it is native plants that specifically can deal with rising sea levels, right? These plants are native to wetlands, native to a salt marsh. What the plants do is they sort of act as a buffer to collect this overflow of stormwater.
Saleem: I, I think some people have the feeling that more information will lead to more dread. Like you'll see people talk about how, for example, with a documentary about climate change, it's hard to get people to watch it sometimes. And some people kind of give up. I'm not faulting those people. I'm just expressing like a thing that feels real. Do you feel like overwhelmed by it or never?
Aurelia: I want to say it's okay to have those moments, but keep moments as moments and don't make them your lifestyle. Don't make them your death sentence. And even if you are not somebody who likes bugs, you're not somebody who likes getting dirty. Take a walk along any sort of waterfront. Go to sleep, listening to the sounds of recorded rainfall. You know, these are different ways that I definitely, uh, like to calm myself down if I'm having a moment of feeling despair or feeling great sadness about the state of our environment. It will start to really kind of change your mindset, especially, you know, if you are doing it locally. I'm not talking about you going on vacation, I'm saying find something to do right in your backyard. Even if you go and you get scared because you see a huge spider or a snake and you're like, Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm not doing that. You did it. And you got that interaction with our planet, and I want to say that will contribute to having a little less dread about the future of – of climate change
Saleem: We’ve been talking about how much being outside can be – not a cure for eco-dread, but a way to engage with it. When we pay attention and take in what’s actually growing and thriving around us, we’re less likely to get stuck in fear and despair. And Aurelia told me it’s even more powerful if we can actually get our hands in the dirt, too.
This idea of shifting our attention, so we also notice the good, comes up in the mental health world, too. We spoke to a therapist who uses it to help clients struggling with emotions about the climate crisis.
Patty: Most people who are even marginally aware of what's going on with the climate, that's immediately bringing up an incredible amount of dread and grief and fear and terror.
Saleem: That's Patty Adams. You heard a little from her at the top of the episode. Patty's a somatic therapist who lives not too far from me in North Carolina. Being a somatic therapist means Patty focuses on the physical sensations her clients feel in their bodies, as well as their thoughts, emotions, and other experiences. Patty told us that it’s natural to want to suppress or avoid painful emotions about the climate crisis. But in the long run, that can make us feel worse.
Patty: Like if we're chronically not feeling it, yes, it's gonna feel overwhelming to tap into it, you know, and then it just becomes this sort of ball and chain behemoth that's dragging behind us. And we're like, “No. Can't look there. Can't look there.” And soon we become immobilized because there's literally nowhere we can turn that feels safe to look, you know?
In my mind and in my practice right now, like the idea is there is something on the other side. And if we just keep shutting down and collapsing, any hope we might have, will be eroded if we all just keep shutting down and collapsing in the face of this. Like we need the capacity to turn towards, even for little tiny bits at a time to allow our eyes to really see that this is what's happening. Because there are meaningful actions that we can take and not just in like a silver lining, posi-core, good vibes only. Cause that is so not my way. At all. [laughs]
Saleem: Patty said one way we can keep our eyes open to what’s happening, and still be able to process the feelings, is by practicing something called resourcing.
Patty: The basic idea is that, I'm always gonna notice what's hard. I don't have to try to notice what's hard. I actually have to try and make a choice of cultivating a practice to look for what is sweet or even neutral we say. Okay or neutral. Is there anything okay or neutral about what you're experiencing? And our nervous systems are naturally designed to do that. So when we work with resourcing, what we're doing is we're trying to support ourselves in jumping on that wave of like, “Oh, I notice something sweet. I settle. Sometimes it's hard. I try to notice something sweet. I settle,” you know, these up and downs.
It isn't a magic wand in the sense that it – nothing is going to eliminate these overwhelming feelings because they are a response to what's really happening and
there's no way around it. But we can make choices to engage with them in what we would call titrated or manageable ways, right? Which is not never, and it's not always, right? It's somewhere in the middle. It's that dance. [laughing]
Saleem: You don’t need to be outside, or in nature, to practice resourcing. But if you are, something pretty incredible happens. That’s where eco-therapy and today’s Dread Project Challenge comes in.
Patty: We as a species were evolved in concert and in relationship with the natural world. Like we ebb and flow the same way the tide does, and the moon does, and the breath does and all the things. So ecotherapy to me is the idea of embracing our relationship to nature, or sometimes it's called the more than human world, to understand ourselves as part of it, as not separate from it.
There are some really healing and soothing things that just happen to our physiology you know, like the systems in our bodies. The physiology that respond favorably to looking at, you know, beautiful trees as they change colors in the fall, or to hearing the sounds of birds or, to smelling plants. There's just all these sensory ways that we don't even have to have an intellectual relationship to it. It's just our bodies know what to do with that information. So when we go and connect with nature, even if it's one minute on our back porch, feeling the sun and looking at our potted plant, it literally invites us to slow down in a way that is actually medicinal, is actually an antidote to some of the overwhelm.
Saleem: Ecotherapy soothes all kinds of tough emotions, not just eco-dread. And Patty gave us one very simple exercise we can try that is particularly useful now, in the Fall.
Patty: In the Northern Hemisphere we're experiencing the waning light and the moving towards the winter solstice, so the days are getting shorter. One thing that I encourage people to do, I call it sunset bathing. And it's to help people orient to the changing light. And it's just literally the idea that, sometime around sunset, if you can go outside, just for like literally a minute, 30 seconds. It doesn't matter how long, the longer, the better probably, but not if that's an obstacle. To me it's about reconnecting with the rhythms of the natural world, which then hopefully stimulates this idea of meaningful action, right? What you love, you serve. So if we allow ourselves to fully embrace how much we love and are in awe of the natural world, maybe we'll feel more invested in whatever our work is to do, to try to protect and save what we can.
Saleem: So here it is – your final Dread Project Challenge. I feel like I need some nature vibes music for this one…
Saleem: Sometime around sunset, stop what you’re doing, and just step outside. Even if just for a minute. Stay longer if you’re able. Notice the quality of the light. Maybe see the color the light makes on your skin. Or the leaves of a tree near you. Notice whatever your senses are picking up. Do you hear any birds? Is there a rustle in the breeze? Is anything changing around you, or maybe inside you, as you stand there with your senses turned up? And when you turn around to go back inside, maybe you can let a little bit of that evening light follow you back in.
Saleem: Thank you for being on this ride with us. Even though we started out in a place that felt a bit lonely and or even scary, it’s been a joy to see so many positive emotions come up. And we hope your practice with dread doesn’t end there, but that if one or more of these challenges really worked for you, that you might try it again, or find a way to make it your own. Here’s a few words of encouragement from our friend Dr. Ali Mattu.
Ali Mattu: The first time you do anything, you probably suck at it. Like, really badly. So whatever skill you want to try out, give it a good try. And that means doing it a few times. And if it's something you like, try doing it in different contexts. So try doing it at home. Uh, try doing it at work. Try doing it outside. Go easy on yourself, listen to yourself, try a few times and then if you like it, try it in different situations.
Saleem: You can also, of course, go back to the website to revisit the challenge prompts, share them with your friends. And if you’re looking for other practices that could help with different emotions, you can check out the Ten Percent Happier App. The app has dozens of courses and hundreds of guided meditations – a lot of them specifically designed to help you work with feelings of dread, anxiety, stress, and a lot more. They've also got all the episodes of More Than A Feeling ad-free in the app. You can download the Ten Percent app today wherever you get your apps and start with a free trial.
And if your dread is feeling really difficult or intense, check out the show notes or dreadproject.com for some additional resources that could help.
Check your feed next week for a fun wrap up on what we learned from all these conversations. I’m gonna be talking with Dan Harris from Ten Percent Happier about this entire journey and you’ll get a sneak peak on what’s coming up in the rest of season two of More Than A Feeling. We’ll have an episode on letting go of grudges, or holding onto them.
Sophie: I do think there is something kind of precious about one's grudges, because however painful those incidents were that gave you the grudges, it’s a part of your life experience that only happened to you.
We’ll hear from someone who mediates very intense conflicts, and go deep into her own story of empathy and forgiveness.
Coco: You have to understand that when someone dies and someone goes through a tragedy like that. On both sides, whether it’s the perpetrator, whether it’s the victim, everyone is hurt.
We’ll also explore the mystery and science of tears…
Ben Perry: And so I started this experiment where I just forced myself to cry every day.
See y’all then.
Saleem: More Than A Feeling is produced by Reva Goldberg, Yasmeen Khan, Stacia Brown, Palace Shaw, and Kim Buikema. Ben Newman is co-producer of The Dread Project, with help from Tara Anderson. Our executive producer is Jen Poyant.
Fact checking for this episode by Jeanette Beebe. Scoring and mixing by Matt Boynton of Ultraviolet Audio. Connor Donahue is our manager of technical operations. More Than A Feeling is a production of Ten Percent Happier.
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