“It’s too much.”: When the World Overwhelms

Do you ever feel like the world is too much to bear?  Like the darkness is going to consume you? That you can’t bear to look at it or think about it because it hurts too much?

This “it’s too much” feeling has happened to me frequently over the past year.  It’s different from my depression years ago, which was more focused on my internal self-loathing.  This is more of an external depression felt internally.  It’s like the pain of the world is an arrow shot straight into my heart.  Hope, the fire in my belly, is nearly extinguished.  My body shakes and my tears water the Earth, or my dog’s coat.  In reflection, I realize my tears are my hope.  My shakes mean I am still moving, and moving means I still have influence.  As long as I don’t freeze (my go-to panic response), there is possibility.

My examples of my “it’s too much” scenarios are plentiful, though they may seem insignificant to a bystander:

  • I am sitting in a dark theater of a film festival.  The movie is portraying a man, a runner, a hunter, who is seemingly connected to the Earth.  He climbs a remote mountain, hunts a mountain goat.  He kills it.  I silently cry in my seat and the tears are pouring, my body trembling.  The boy doesn’t know what to do with me.  I can tell he wants to comfort me but is keeping his fingers crossed that I can continue to muffle my sobs.  You see, mountain goats are beings I am blessed to see perhaps once a year, on sacred days.  The magnificent creatures offer me blessings on my travels.
  • A week later, I am on the bathroom floor crying into a towel.  On the news, I am constantly hearing about immigrant children being torn away from their parents.  Then I look at my computer.  I can’t remember exactly what it was this time, possibly a picture of a mama bear shot in her den with her cubs, or a story of a momma cow chasing after her calves who were put in a truck to go to slaughter.  The tears came instantly.
  • In the spring, I learn my sister’s cancer spread, just when we were getting ready to celebrate the end of her breast cancer treatment.  I hold back my tears at internship, but put them all into Pacer’s fur when I get home.
  • Quietly, I listen to war stories from the boy.  How can people be so cruel?  Another immigrant child died in camp.  A picture of a starving polar bear, then dead whales on a beach with plastic in their bellies.  There’s a school shooting, then another.  Trophy hunters killed an elephant.  A line of dog’s were euthanized because their owners didn’t want them.  The Earth may only have another 12 years until climate change takes over, until the pain is too much for Mother Earth to bear.

I’m drowning.

Swim.

Even if it is a doggy paddle.

Eventually I come out of the bathroom.  Pacer licks away my tears.  I don’t get rid of the pain, but I keep moving.

I run up the hill, or Pacer pulls me up, and I stare at the snow-capped mountains.  As long as love, like the love between a girl and her dog exists, and as long as the beauty of a sunlit mountain range exists, there’s reason to keep moving.  My tears have only watered the Earth allowing for the summer wildflowers to grow.

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Lake Estes with Twin Sisters, Meeker, and Longs Peak in the background.

Martin Buber speaks of grief and praise.  The grief is movement.  As long as we allow it to move through us, our praise and love will be our fuel to fight on.

The problem, the dis-ease, as I see it, is that we have numbed ourselves to the pain.  Society appears to be wallowing in a state of depression, with anxiety as its sidekick.  It seems like no once can figure out why, so pills have become our pesticide-ridden fertilizer.

What if we all cried?

I know it hurts, but you must be brave.

Eckhart Tolle speaks of the universal pain body.  I first read about this while on my Rites of Passage trip last year.  He said that women feel more intensely during menstruation, feeling the pain of women around the world.  It’s no wonder that a sensitive soul like me prevented her river from flowing for so long, without any guidance on how to deal with my emotions.  I read about the pain body while naked in a canyon, the womb of Mother Nature.  Finally, deep in the canyon, I felt a truth and a sense of purpose with my pain.  Mixed with it was a call to heal.

But what can a little privileged white girl from Colorado (born in Cleveland, Ohio) do?  (First, I should probably stop talking to myself like that.)  I have a degree in wilderness therapy—does that even mean anything?

To be honest, I’ve always known the answer is “yes.” Yes, there is hope.  Yes to life.  Yes, I have a part in the healing.  Sometimes, it’s just seems safer to feel small.

And I had some idea of the how.  Besides having loved ones close to me, getting outside has not just been fun for me, but a necessary part of my life to rejuvenate and heal my own wounds.  It reminds me that even in the darkest of times, there is beauty in the world.  It’s like adding kindle to my fire, making my energy grow brighter so I can share it with others.

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Still, I really wanted specifics.  Yes, I knew I could take clients out in nature.  I knew more and more research is coming out about health benefits of nature.  It was enough and not enough at the same time.

Then came a cold summer day of 50 degrees and constant rain where I had signed up for Wilderness Therapy Un-Conference, dragging myself there only because I had already paid.  By bedtime that night, I was already so cold and wet that I was ready to hike back to my car and leave.  AND my tent was leaking.  This was not the beautiful nature I liked to bask in.  Of course, I survived, like every other person there who was cold and wet.  There’s something to facing adversity in nature too, but I won’t get into that here.  With a break in the rain that morning, I sat down with my group for our first session.  What topic had we decided on? Of course, the stars aligned for me.  Our topic was:  As wilderness helps/healers, what was our role in healing the planet?  I could go on and on about the insight of my group members, but for now I’ll just list the four steps I came up with during our conversation in how to create healing:

  1. Create love and connection to the Earth. (PLAY*)
  2. Awareness: Education on the state of the Earth
  3. Allow and help people to grieve
  4. Action: Give tools on how to make change (volunteer, recycle, vote, etc.)
*Many people have not grown up in a way that connects them to nature, or their attachment has been severed over the years.  The biggest piece in step one is cultivating joy in nature.

Big but simple, difficult yet doable.

Another flicker of hope.

As I said before, our tears are a necessary part of healing.  Before this year, I thought rain when the sun was shining was a dichotomy.  Now I know they are both necessary parts of a bountiful life.  It is only with the rain and the sun that a rainbow can exist, creating a bridge from what we call the real world to the world of our dreams.

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“For the rainbow is perceived as the very edge of the Dreaming, as that place where the invisible, unconscious potentials begin to become visible. “
(Taken from The Spell of the Sensuous)

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