Grieving Our Loss in the Gulf of Mexico

How is one to respond to the oil spill in the gulf? The most common reactions are anger, followed by a sense of powerlessness. As a student of ecopsychology, this situation presents a challenge that is becoming more and more common: if we are to become intimately attached to the Earth, we will feel upset by losing it. This is not an uncommon aspect of human psychology – that to love something or someone means to risk hurting when we are forced to grieve its destruction.

Our sadness is compounded by the factors of the loss being preventable, being slow and steady, and by the mixed messages we get about whether or not we should hold out hope for our loved one’s survival. One response is to not become involved. If love equates to loss, the line of reasoning goes, then I’ll protect myself from being hurt by withholding my affection. There are some camps of belief that say that the Earth will survive what some call the “human virus,” that it can and will outlive us long after we destroy ourselves, just as it teemed with life long before we came into the picture, and will perhaps breed new and more sustaining species.

But this nihilist attitude quickly turns into apathy, in which all our efforts are seen as futile. As a thinking, breathing, feeling species, we have been gifted with emotional connectivity. And as a part of the global ecosystem, we realize on some level that there is not much difference between hurting the Earth and hurting ourselves. As this light of awareness dawns, it becomes increasingly harder to unlearn the lessons that brought us out of darker times, when we threw trash out the windows or let the stream carry it away. And so, we are left with an attachment that brings us pain.

Buddhist philosophy warns us to be wary of attachments, as they often become our identities and obscure the bigger picture of who we really are. But nondual psychology, which holds us as capable of liberation from attachments, does not contend that the answer lies in working to transcend all human reactions. Rather, by accepting and facing the very difficulties that our attachment brings, we dive below the surface and find that the true nature of our fragile anger, fear, pain and sadness contains elements of beauty as well.

As BP continues to tell the world that the spill won’t reach Florida, that the chemicals used to clean it are not as harmful as the oil itself, that the estimates of its size are overblown, the blame is misplaced, and this is an opportunity to learn how to do things better in the future, it may behoove us to begin to accept the scope of the catastrophe, to get serious about decreasing our dependence on oil, and to grieve the loss of ecosystems, livelihoods, and habitats. As we allow ourselves to grieve, we allow ourselves to heal. And then, we remember that the Earth is not full of pain. There is also joy.

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  1. I bet you have never actually dealt with the suffering the poor creatures suffer. I let you know I have for over 20 years. I grieve for the world all the time. I may live on the other side of the world but really feel for the ocean and all that’s in it. Try being covered in this oil.
    Just to let you know all the washing in the world will not save them, as 100% inside and outside their bodies will suffer burning and posion.
    Tell me again where the joy is for them. personally not to humanely kill them is far crueler. Their digestive system has been destroyed.
    For the land animals the clearing of native habitate means starvation while we have our cosy homes. Newspapers display pictures of those that have caught huge fishes the breeders of the ocean. There you have another way of extinction for the sake of self glory. Definately do not agree with you ok

    • Thanks for your commet Marilee. I appreciate your thoughts. I can’t speak for Jeremy (the author of the essay), but I didn’t take away from his words there is any joy whatsoever in the suffering of any species at the hands of Man’s folly.
      I believe we are all grieving for the loss, pain, and suffering we see all around us every day.
      Perhaps Jeremy’s point is that to abandon the possibility of joy in the beauty that is left in the world is to abandon hope.

  2. Hi Marilee. I agree with you 100%.
    There is certainly no joy for animals covered in oil whose homes are uninhabitable. This situation is sad, painful and difficult. But as Thomas points to, the danger in becoming stuck in our sadness and anger is that we forget why we care in the first place, because we love the Earth.
    I believe there is a place for being critical towards criminals like BP, and I also believe that to sustain our passions (like yours for animals) we need to stay in touch with the reasons we care, by enjoying the beauty in nature even while we mourn the suffering.

  3. What is really sad is that while enjoying all of nature even how amazing the simple cockroach is or a bee on a pond. A nice lake full of ducks and black swans until it dies up and you see them stuck in the mud in the heat of summer and no one can reach them. Left to die a pitful death in the heat.
    On a beach and you witness fishing by people who for some reason pull up Blowfish and leave them thrown in the sand gasping for air.
    Someone decides to light up the bush and for days you can smell the dead wildlife. All that you value is destroyed just like that.
    You watch the wonderful little birds in the flowers then someone sprays them for bugs and the little birds have fallen ill even die.
    I don’t know how I can put these things I feel into words and I have never found anyone who I share my thoughts with.
    Usually if I express these things I am told to forget them or simply to keep quite.
    As far as BP blame thing, accidents are accidents and who would have thought mother nature took control. I would have thought going deep into the ocean would be like going into space. I am sure BP didn’t plan this tragic event.
    I think leaving them to deal with it on their own was,every company and science knowledgable persons should have helped from day one.
    What if an earth quake had of blown up the oil pipe would the blame and outcome still be the same?

  4. Dear people
    Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia has information on what I was saying about the oiled birds and marine life. All you need to do is type in oiled birds of oil spilled gulf.
    Putting them death is far kinder. Please check it out ok


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