Every now and then someone complains that Radical Joy for Hard Times focuses too much on grief. Nature is full of beauty and wonder, they say. Why do we have to talk so much about what’s wrong?

The answer: Because there’s a lot wrong! We live in a world where the very future of land, waters, and all species are threatened by climate change. We live in a world where the exploitation of fossil fuels goes on, as if climate change didn’t exist. Where hazardous waste incinerators and toxic dumps threaten poor communities. Where ancient forests are cut down to make cardboard.

If we ignore what’s wrong, then we place blockages, like big boulders, around the arteries of our emotional body and stem the resources we need to make change. Joanna Macy, who has written and taught extensively about despair and empowerment, says, “The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies. Furthermore, the fear of despair can erect an invisible screen, selectively filtering out anxiety-provoking data.”

There are many excellent approaches to living with the problems confronting the places we love. Radical Joy for Hard Times’s way is to:

1. squarely face the wounded place
2. share stories about what the place means to us
3. get to know it as it is now
4. make a gift of beauty for it.

Through facing the hard times and creating gifts of beauty that acknowledge what’s wrong, what endures, and what we love, we move through the hurt into gratitude. That’s how we get to radical joy.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

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