Autumn can bring feelings of melancholy for some. The waning of the daylight and longer nights, nature starting its hibernation in colder climates, all leading to a sense of ending. Not for me though. I love the autumn colours, the bite of cold in the mornings and a return to rain and storms. I wander about a find conkers, breaking open the thick, green casing to reveal the rich, brown prize inside. Look closely and you will see the patternation and variety of colours on just this one small miracle, shiny and smooth, I pocket it away.
This autumn is troubled. There’s no getting away from it. The Ukraine war rages, the climate and biodiversity crises ongoing, a cost-of-living crisis and economic meltdown on the horizon. The news is dark and deep. I speak with colleagues and we hold both fear and optimism in equal measure; this is cognitive dissonance at its most profound. And yet, the season still changes reassuringly, our planet holding its galatic rhythm, flux in deep time.
The concept of time has been part of lots of conversations recently. I attended the Association of Sustainability Practitioners Wisdom Council. This meeting, led by community member Theresa Sansome, asked three questions of us —
- What can we leave and let go of now?
- What can we allow to rest?
- What can we plant in preparation for new growth?
The exercise was framed, within an autumn narrative, to help us think forward to our future selves, and learn from them what is important now. I spend quite a lot of time future thinking, but often this is way beyond my lifetime and not in conversation with myself. Within the space of the meeting, we all felt safe to explore this questioning, leading to some really interesting and deep conversations. Very human conversations, those rarely found with colleagues, or online given the brevity of social media.
Forming these connections, learning from them and having the tools given freely to reflect in these ways, will be important in changing the narratives for the future. Colleagues and friends arrive to these open forums with as much pessimism as optimism. Collectively, we see the immensity of the challenges now presented to us. However, we can also acknowledge how the speed of transformative change is ramping up.
The pushbacks against UK Government policies by organisations, whose membership base comes from those folks not normally associated with protest, is one example. Practitioners and other sustainability consultants are talking about more urgent inquiries from businesses, and broader remits of action asked for by clients. I’m see a greater level of active citizenship at local levels. The general public is taking control, developing and delivering projects to improve their communities, and these projects are becoming ever more ambitious.
The energy crisis, coupled with the covid pandemic and its long tail, is spurring action. It’s an uncomfortable fact, but humans are hardwired to act only when danger is looming. The climate and biodiversity risks are big and exstitential dangers. They aren’t large bills dropping onto the doormat and, unless you immediately threatened by the increasing number of extreme weather effects, a majority of us are still focussed on the day-to-day.
2030, and potentially 2050, are still within my lifetime. I’ll be 54 and 74 years young respectively. Imagining having a conversation with my future self at these points in my life is a challenge — I’m more used to imagining the world* around me. I know from experiencing the death of my parents, that the collections of stuff gathered across their lives were inconsequential. It was our presence and the time given to their care at the end that counted.
So, what can I let go of now? For me, holding anger and fear about the world’s challenges feels detrimental. I’ve always tried to use this emotional energy and channel this into work — colleagues who know me well, and my back story, have told me that. At yet another junction in my life, letting go of these negative feelings and approaching a future with only positive energy seems more helpful. I don’t think I’m going to become a Zen Buddhist overnight, but I can work on the mindset. It’s certainly not helpful to attribute blame, hindsight can only provide lessons. Holding anger for a long time only leads to resentment.
Changing hearts and minds and helping people towards a positive, thriving future, from all sections of our society, bankers to farmers, business to communities, can only be achieved successfully without a combatative attitude at the fore. I’ve written before about talking with those who have opposing views, and it’s only by finding shared values can you actually build useful conversations. These fundamental elements lead us to similar pathways, despite the different stances we begin with.
What can I allow to rest? Ha ha, just myself I reckon. I have a tendency to spread myself too thinly. Partly, I think this is because I’m full of ideas, I want to do so many things and get on with creating and living. Partly, it’s because life is short and we’re a long time dead as my parents used to say. Mainly I believe, it’s around the urgency of the challenges we are facing. All these things combined means I work well into the evenings and weekends sometimes and struggle to switch off.
About six months ago, I spoke at length to a sustainability colleague. He was keen on setting up a support group for those in our field, to combat the challenges of knowing what we know and having to face the daily realities of normal life. It’s not just in our area of work that we are seeing increasing levels of concern around mental health. Teenagers driven to suicide by social media algorithms, adults harmed by doom-scrolling, increasing levels of climate anxiety, and the long fallout socially of the covid pandemic. These anxieties can have profound effects on society itself and are not helpful in generating positive narratives.
To combat the negativity I fall back on simple pleasures. Walking in nature, hanging out with community activists and volunteers, talking promising projects over tea and biscuits. These connections provide a reality check, they soothe the soul and leave me feeling energised. We are being positivity and doing the work to create a better future. Activities like this, cost next to nothing except energy and commitment. So, I will take leave of too many rabbit holes online for now and focus on the tangible.
Finally, what can I plant in preparation for new growth? I’ve still got a lot to learn, lots and lots of fantastic knowledge to devour and enjoy. The big one, is the need to learn the language of my adopted country, not just muddle my way through the kids homework. These are the seeds, which will unlock a whole new level of grounding and community. Without an easier understanding and ability to chit-chat to others around me, getting on and around is tricky. Yes, I can do what I need, but I want to know my neighbours, want to be involved in this community and integrate. We’ll be moving soon and I’ve already checked out the local classes for Portuguese, happy days.
Lastly, I have a new module of the Worldviews MOOC coming up and can’t wait for that. There are a few books on the Christmas list to myself, if I’m a good girl. The future will bring a world of new ideas and energy to explore as my girls grow and learn themselves. Humanity is learning and exploring every day. This search and thirst for new understanding is also what gives me hope in these transition times. We are curious, clever creatures, adaptable and diverse. Our collective experiences are converging across political spectrums and philosophical divides.
There are immediate challenges, which we all are facing. Global systems are collapsing, transforming, and regenerating. For good or bad, we will implement a ton of solutions, which might work or fail, but still we will learn. The dynamism of humanity, a thirst for more than the narrow scope of Homo economicus, is growing daily. In imagining the conversations with my future self, I can see a direction of travel for my life, freer from daily stress and worry. Holding this in the front of my mind is helpful. It gives me a longer term focus and helps me choose today, planting the seeds for tomorrow, and growing the future day by day.
*I got to choose Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2050, but browse through the calender for other contributions, some are really excellent.
If you like this article, please give it a clap — you can clap up to 50 times! I write irregularly but around every couple of weeks or so, follow me to be notified when I do. Mainly, I’m a artist, activist and sustainability consultant, now building a new life in Portugal. To see more of my writing and support my work, visit — https://www.patreon.com/Postcards_from_Portugal or buy me a coffee https://www.buymeacoffee.com/GClaws. See more of my sustainability efforts at https://futurecologic.co.uk/. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy it and I welcome any comments or conversation starters below.