It’s called eco-anxiety, that feeling of stress caused by awareness of environmental issues. I know this because I’ve been researching it. I know this because I’ve been feeling it.
And I’m not alone. Psychologists report that an increasing number of patients report feelings of anxiety about the future of the planet. A growing sense that we’re losing this fight.
Tzeporah Berman, the (seemingly) tireless and (seemingly) hopeful leader of Forest Ethics – an organization that has won a few hard-fought battles to preserve old-growth forests and habitats – recently posted this on Facebook: “I am having one of those ‘it’s all too big and we are not making progress fast enough’ panic moments.”
And yet, I know when I feel that panic, it’s because I’m living in the “what’s next” realm. And “what’s next” sometimes doesn’t look so good. As we hold our collective breath waiting for Obama to make his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, as we watch what China and India are doing to generate power for the millions more who need it, it’s easy to give in to panic. To believe that it’s all too much.
But that’s when I know I need some “wow” in my life.
Wow has power.
This morning, for instance, I experienced wow when I stepped outside to say ‘bye’ to my kids on their way to school. Beside the path to our front door is a rose bush in bloom. The branches hung heavy with huge blooms, a deep rose pink and covered in dew. I had a long day of work ahead of me and a gnawing panic in my gut. But I stopped and studied that rose. The dewdrops looked like tiny mirrors, the pink defied description. “Wow,” I thought.
Wow is not hard to find. Wow isn’t about being dazzled so much as being awed. And awe can come in surprising packages. Ever watched a cat meticulously wash its face? Wow. Or an ant drag a dead beetle to its buddies? Wow. How about reading some Yeats or Whitman? Wow. I guarantee it. What about listening to Coltrane or Bach or, what the heck, Rihanna? Wow, wow, and often wow.
Watch a wind turbine’s hypnotic spinning, knowing that someone’s computer is running because of it. Take the time to really concentrate on the tomato you’re slicing for your dinner tonight. See storm clouds gather when seconds before the sky was blue. Put aside the panic and just enjoy the wow. Then run for cover.
Wow won’t necessarily make tomorrow less scary. It won’t suddenly change the minds of our leaders. But it will pull you back into a state of awe. Of recognizing that there’s a whole lot of wow in every day that’s too often eclipsed by fear. Wow might not change the world. But it can change your mind about the world.