Environmental Overwhelm

The environmental state of the world is on the forefront of people's mind lately. I do not need to go into all of the devastating events that have been happening. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I enter the world each day and how I want to show up in it. This is a bit of a difficult process as it doesn’t happen overnight and it is always changing. I love the analogy of a river system that moves along the earth into wetlands, lakes, streams, raging rivers, etc. My life has been like that, an ever changing river.

What a lot of people today do not know about me, is that I am a deep environmentalist. Over the last 15 years, I have been an activist, advocate, sustainability professional, facilitator, teacher, and now business owner. I was recently interviewed for a blog post by an organization working to protect women from abuse through providing shelter and services. The interest for the interview was around Eco-Feminism and my work. (Article Link) This interview seemed to break a bit of a built dam on my river’s path.

You see, about 15 years ago I had participated in a 2 month cycling trip around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. There were 14 of us and we formed a part of The Otesha Project, which was a youth run, volunteer cycling & performing group. We lived with everything we needed on our bikes, and would perform a play to schools, libraries, parks, private groups about our everyday choices and how they impact the environment. Essentially, we were being the change that we wished to see in the world, and leading by example! This tour changed MY LIFE. My river was raging!

It didn’t take too long for the waters to slow. After living so simply for two months, it was incredibly difficult to re-integrate back into regular society. I mean, I had lived with 2 t-shirts, 1 pair of bike shorts, a skirt that would get exchanged at each second hand store, 2 pairs of socks, bike shoes, sandals and that’s it! This experience was both freeing and painful. I remember getting home and sitting on my bed crying as I looked at all of the clothes that I had in my closet. Where could I possibly wear all of these clothes? Why do I have so many? There is sooooo much in my apartment that needs to change, where do I even begin? I’ve been living so irresponsibly! So many thoughts both positive and negative were swamping my brain.

I quickly audited my apartment, became my own extreme version of an environmentalist and tried to move through my days. I donated all of my clothes except for the very base amount needed, I began to collect the extra water that was lost during warm up time in the shower and used it to flush the toilet, I watered plants with sink water, I was vegan, I made my own toothpaste/shampoo/deodorant, I bought bulk, I reused EVERYTHING, I consumed an immense amount of literature and films on a world of environmental topics, I found a soap box and I stepped up on it. I was passionate, determined, stubborn, and super annoying. I couldn’t understand why people in my life and the world didn’t see what we were doing. Why couldn’t we just shift a bit? Didn’t we all live in an environmental incubator for 2 months?

This passion flowed out of me and into an incredible world of opportunity and action! I joined the board for environmental & social justice organizations, I started a student group on campus when I went back to school, I petitioned for causes, marched in protests & demonstrations, facilitated workshops, and felt like I had purpose! Unfortunately, this purpose also drove me to a complete place of OVERWHELM. I got to a place where I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing all of the problems with it: waste, consumption, water, energy, transportation, food, coffee, etc. Everything had an impact. I judged everything and a lot of people. Everything I read, watched, or did had to do with building awareness and my awareness was on overload. There are just too many causes in the world, there isn’t enough time to give to all of them! I was spinning and this ended in a complete shut down. I was so passionate that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t happy. I was making myself miserable by burying myself in this work. I couldn’t see positive outcomes anywhere and it shut me down.

I began to pull away from volunteering, stepping down from boards, watching documentaries, reading articles, talking about the environment. I went into a sort of auto-pilot in my life as a form of protection. I scaled back completely from being an active participant and became more passive. I was disheartened by the outcomes of my extremely high expectations, and sort of just moved from day to day. My waters became still, even frozen.

It wasn’t until I had a conversation with someone (I can’t even remember who), that I began to see what I was doing. This wise person encouraged me and told me that I was trying to solve all of the issues and this would never work. “Choose one, and focus on that” they said, “This will help with all of the feelings of overwhelm”. So, with a little bit of movement again, I considered my options. I attended a film festival and was completely moved by a film entitled “Blue Gold” about the current state and crisis of water. A few months later, I attended a talk with the creator of the film and the city’s public works department! I was so inspired, encouraged, & moved once again, that I chose my issue in the world and began to flow once again. This time, I was more clear and focused. I wholeheartedly believed in the cause and began working on issues related to water, more specifically water rights. At the time, we as humans didn’t have a right to water (believe it or not) and Canada was one of only two countries to abstain from voting on this. Thankfully, today we have a right to something that we intrinsically need to survive! Imagine that:)

Over the years, I have learned how to be in this world without overwhelming myself. I recognize that we are in a time with information overload! I once heard a Buddhist Monk say that they do not participate in the news cycle. And when asked how they keep up with what’s going on, the Monk simply stated “if there is something important enough that i should know, someone will tell me”. This resonated deeply with me, and I began to turn off the constant news feeds in my life. I realized that I was passively consuming immense amounts of negative information every day, everywhere I went. We are not meant to receive all of these messages all of the time. Since going on a news detox, I feel able to participate in my world more fully, without being weighed down by all of the problems. Again, I have chosen to focus on a path and the river is flowing!

As I reflect on this, I notice that my life’s river has gone through a full cycle. On March 6, 2020 I will be attending an event/fundraiser for International Women’s Day and the keynote speaker is none other than the creator of that film, and inspiration behind my work, Maude Barlow! I am incredibly excited to meet her once again. I continue to work for environmental rights, I teach students in college how to lower their environmental impacts, I consume literature, films, talks, and more, I run a business dedicated to re-connecting us to our natural world and I have become an Eco-Mindset Coach, helping others to live more sustainable lives: socially, economically, emotionally, and environmentally!

“If you are wondering who is going to change the world, take a look in the mirror!” - Maude Barlow


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