Justine Huxley, CEO of St Ethelburga’s writes about the experience of hosting a group working with deep adaptation, a map for navigating climate breakdown:
“Yesterday we returned from our second pilot retreat exploring deep adaptation. Sharing a stunningly beautiful location in Sussex with buzzards, falcon and roe deer, we spent four very intense and powerful days looking into the abyss – asking what does it mean to face the possibility of near term mass extinction?
We know we are in deep trouble. We know climate breakdown will be the biggest source of conflict this world has ever known. We know this has already started and we have spent many years ignoring the signs. A recent report backed by the Australian military tells us, if we do nothing to change our current trajectory, 90% of humanity will be wiped out in the next 30 years. So what does it mean to look at that future squarely and ask, how do we prepare?
As a Middle Eastern proverb says, it is easier to go to the tax collector with friends. We needed a container of supportive relationships to feel safe enough to approach this theme which has so much capacity to overwhelm. So our first task was to build strong and joyful community, across the considerable diversity of age, culture, politics and belief that was in the room. We also took time to connect with the land around us, in all its beauty and wildness. We cannot hope to change how we live on Earth unless we include Her in the conversation.
Then the real work began. We wrestled with the pain and immensity of it all. We faced our own personal fears around societal collapse and the suffering that could bring, mapping scenarios around food shortages, conflict, extremism, disease, displacement and extreme weather. We explored the trajectory of that unravelling – whether it will be a slow slide or a sudden dive. We looked at our own relationship with death, in a powerful sharing circle that took us into the depths where we needed to go. We worked through the 4 Rs of deep adaptation – reconciliation, relinquishment, resilience and restoration. We asked how can we slow down the disintegration into chaos, what ancient restorative ways of being can we claim or bring back so we can live with greater intelligence in a landscape of collapse. Throughout all of it, we were guided by St Ethelburga’s core values and the question: what is the spiritual and societal opportunity hidden within this crisis?
It was a disturbing but unexpectedly hopeful journey that we undertook together. The beginning of something new. An important work of readying ourselves for what is to come, inwardly and outwardly.
My own process involved so much letting go. The life that can no longer be lived. The guilt of our complicity. The past that must be left behind in order to be present in the moment, available, capable of being of service to others. We learned SO much! And felt hope and joy moving through us in unusual ways. Not hope based on expectation of survival. But hope based on redemption. That in the face of catastrophe we can discover and live what it means to be truly human. So that those of us who may not complete a natural life span can leave a fragrance of something real behind, which might be the seed regeneration. Perhaps, if we face the impending collapse with real courage and integrity, there will be a time in the future when human greed and hubris are just a bad memory, like a nightmare that came to an end with our awakening. Perhaps then we can build a new culture, where human beings live in harmony with the web of life, recognising the sacred essence that runs through all the natural world.
As we closed the retreat, there was a sense of difficult things being opened up, but a new strength and resilience in the air, a willingness to live grounded in what is real. One participant said, “I feel as if I’ve been washed up on a beach, sober for the first time. This honesty has been immeasurably precious”. I think perhaps we all felt the same way. This work is not for the fainthearted. But the time for denial is passed. There is power in facing up to the mess we have made head on. There is power in walking consciously into the future – knowing what hardships it will bring. There is power in community – brave community, made up of those prepared to respond from a place of realism and truth.
I feel much respect for our formidable participants – who have now become friends – for their strength and for their vulnerability, and gratitude to my colleagues Tarot Couzyn and Clare Martin for their tremendous wisdom and commitment, and to Professor Jem Bendell for his extraordinary leadership in providing this much-needed framework, the 4 R’s of deep adaptation.
I’ll be sharing more about the process we used and how it impacted us in the coming week. We will be making more experiments with deep adaptation in the coming months – there will be another two retreats in the autumn and a new series and action learning group on radical resilience. We’ll be sharing our learning publicly, engaging with other practitioners and seeking funds to train others to facilitate this work. And we’ll be reaching out to others at the forefront of this field to build community and connection across the world.
So join us on this journey. Let’s see what we are capable of when we come together with honesty, courage and love to face the unfaceable.”