by Britt McLeod, Community Development Lead

Galaxy Cat, Dragonfly, Migratory Bird, Arbutus Spirit, Mystery Stars and Tree Bark all gathered around the fire at the Roundhouse for the Council of All Beings. They wore homemade masks made of silks, feathers, rose petals and fluffy moss. The beings were gathered around the fire to share their concerns for what is happening to the natural world, what advice they would give to the humans, and their hopes for the future. It was a surreal experience – and program highlight – to hear a group of youth embody voices from the natural world, it reminded me of how much awareness and wisdom they hold.

The Eco Grief & Gratitude program was a 5-series program from October to November 2023, held on the land at Power To Be in partnership with Human Nature Counselling. I created this program for my graduate degree in Environmental Education & Communication. It is largely based on depth ecologist Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects (TWTR).

What is Ecological Grief? It is “the grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change” (Cunsolo & Ellis, 2018). The program offered tools and resources for youth specifically who are struggling with grief and despair elicited by the current and ongoing climate emergency. There was space for emotional processing of sadness, loneliness, emptiness, paralysis and anger, and also wonder, creativity, appreciation and joy.

We walked towards the question: how we can be present to the suffering caused by climate emergency without experiencing overwhelm and paralysis, and instead, cultivate the skills to move through our full feelings to a place of active hope and empowerment? (Macy & Brown, 2014). The group engaged in experiential, embodied, nature-based activities designed around four elements:

1) Gratitude and Presence,
2) Honouring the Pain for the World,
3) See the World with New Eyes
4) Go Forth with Active Hope.

“The Work that Reconnects helps people discover and experience their innate connections with each other and the self-healing powers of the web of life, transforming despair and overwhelm into inspired, collaborative action” (Macy, 2014).

Program delivery included:
• Nature connection experiences, and exploring the landscape
• Group bonding initiatives
• Sensory awareness activities
• Mindfulness practices
• Play
• Group sharing, council
• Creative expressions of emotions/thoughts through art
• Psycho-ed skill building related to navigating tough emotions
• Community building with parents and family members

“When you act on behalf of something greater than yourself, you begin to feel it acting through you with a power that is greater than your own. This is grace” (Macy, 2012).

A parent of a participant shared, “My son had nothing but good things to say: some [things he said were] more profound than he’d ever said before! He told me that he felt included, and that he felt like he belonged. [He usually feels like] a pariah among peers. He’s always kept to himself because he’s always felt too different and odd, and was always excluded from everything, [but in the Eco-Grief & Gratitude program], he felt like he was one of [the group]. That alone was worth him attending.”

We created a safe yet engaging space for the youth to express their full range of emotions, while gaining real resources for moving forward in their lives both individually and as a more connected group. Three experienced facilitators (Environmental Educator, Registered Clinical Counsellor & counselling practicum student) were there to explain the activities and hold space for all voices during and after these sessions. The program created space for youth to mourn and express joy together and in some cases, helped them to feel empowered and revitalized to move forward in an uncertain world!