Feature Stories

Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, December 2016

Four Practical Tips for Supporting the Earth in Uncertain Times

You can download 7 Ways to Find Meaning by Supporting the Earth HERE.

The unexpected results of the 2016 election have sent a ripple of uncertainty through the environmental community. We are all being barraged with emails, articles, and social media, ranging from catastrophizing to grieving to calls for political action. According to the New York Times, Trump could put climate change on course for ‘Danger Zone’. According to Science Magazine, Trump has promised to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement, to curb climate regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), appointing a prominent climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead his transition team at EPA. Yet spiritual teachers are advising us not to catastrophize, to stay present, to brush ourselves off, and move forward. Sage advice, but easier said then done.

The Office of Sustainability wants to encourage people of all faiths to act in ways that are environmentally responsible and live out their values as good stewards of the Earth.  We turned to Rev. Peter Yuichi Clark, UCSF’s Director of Spiritual Care Services, for guidance on how to stay sane, healthy, and effective in the midst of uncertainty.  Peter is an ordained American Baptist minister and a board certified chaplain; he and his Spiritual Care colleagues provide emotional and spiritual support for patients, their families, and staff.

We identified four strategies for supporting the Earth in the midst of uncertainty:

  • Let yourself grieve, but don’t get stuck;
  • Be mindful;
  • Stay in connection/Find community;
  • Move into action; Get engaged.
  • Specific ideas include:

    • Get out your checkbook
    • Walk the UCSF Labyrinth
    • Spend time in nature
    • Get politically active
    • Write an encouragement letter
    • Send good intentions
    • Be a good steward with 10 specific suggestions

    Let Yourself Grieve, but Don’t Get Stuck

    We are living in historically uncertain times, and we each react to uncertainty differently—fear, collapse, anger, sadness, shock, action.  “The sense that I’ve gotten from many people around here is that they feel a little uncertain about what to do next. They are not sure what’s going to happen and don’t know what to do. That’s what a lot of people seem to be doing—grieving,” explained Rev. Clark. “The danger is if I stay stuck in the shock and the numbness, I’m not able to move forward in terms of my grieving process.”

    He articulated, “It’s not about how fast I go through the process or about whether I’m having one type of emotion more than others.  What I really need to pay attention to is whether I am getting paralyzed in my grief.” There are actually six different types of loss, and one of those types is called a systemic loss, which is where we have lost our sense of how the world seems to be structured around us. “This election shook that sense for many people and challenged their vision of what their country is like—that’s a systemic kind of loss,” he said.

    There’s also related loss known as an intrapsychic loss, which is where we lose a sense of our self image.

This frequently happens for folks who are cancer survivors, or people who have lost a limb, and then they have to change their image of who they are.  A related kind of loss that can happen for folks who are feeling they are not even sure what it means to be an American.


    “So I see folks going through the grief process around this, because grief really is just a reaction to losing something or someone that I placed great value in.  And my image of what this country could be or ought to be, if that’s not there anymore because of the election, that’s a loss.”

    Rev. Clark’s tips for not getting stuck include:

  • Spend time in nature;
  • Listen to music;
  • Connect to a sense of the sacred;
  • Pray or meditate, if those practices are meaningful for you;
  • Pull back to see things from a cosmic perspective; and
  • Remember to notice what is working, practice gratitude, and take in the good.

  • Be Mindful

    Jack Kornfeld, an esteemed author and Buddhist practitioner who has helped introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West, recently shared his thoughts on how to respond in a time of uncertainty.  Kornfeld experienced the election like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—when he tuned into his body, he experienced fear, sadness, and confusion. He explained that it is important to acknowledge and be present with our feelings so they can unwind and untangle.

    According to Rev. Clark, it is important to give yourself time to feel your feelings and to trust that your feelings will change over time.  Grief is a process. “Each of us walks that process in our own way and as long as I’m paying attention to my physical health and making sure that I’m staying connected with others and staying connected with the sources of sacredness and transcendence in my life, that will give me a sense of meaning and purpose,” shared Rev. Clark. 

    Kornfeld recommended shifting our awareness from our feelings to our thoughts and naming them—racing, trying to figure things out, planning, rehashing, catastrophizing.  “Then we can tune into our heart.  Compassion, wisdom, love. A sense of being here, present, stillness.  Come into the present in a deeper way,” explained Kornfeld. What is important is to not let fear take over our hearts. 

    Stay in Connection/Find Community
    Just like you would hear from your physician, Rev. Clark advises to get enough rest, eat nutritious food, and get exercise.  You want to try to keep your body in as good a shape as you can.  That’s the first step.  And then the second step is to find people around you who can support you.

    He explained, “Now, that’s a little bit more challenging with something like this because chances are good that, if you’re feeling this sort of reaction, most of the people you love and care for are feeling similarly, so it’s actually similar to having been in an earthquake. Where everybody you love has also experienced an earthquake and so you’re all trying to support each other, but you’ve all been equally traumatized.”  He stressed that it is extremely important to make sure that you are not isolated, that you’re talking with other people, and that you are expressing what you’re feeling to people who can truly listen to you.

    “I’m a person of religious faith, so I think that having a connection to one’s spirituality, one’s sense of the sacred is also very important,” exclaimed Rev. Clark.  This can help you have a sense of “I’m not alone in this” on multiple levels.

    Move into Action; Get Engaged

    After our shock and numbness shift, we will want to reinvest. “Reinvesting is a term that is often used in grieving work to describe how I find a way of readjusting and getting myself reengaged in the world.  I acknowledge that I’ve had this loss. And now I’m going to find a way of interacting with people around me so that I don’t get isolated and cut off.”
    Kornfeld also emphasized the importance of moving into action.  “Tie your shoes and keep walking in the right direction,” he said.

    There are many ways each of us can make a difference.  Here is our list of eight ways you can move into action:

    1. Get out your Checkbook:  Make a financial contribution to an organization, working at the global level or at the community level, whose mission you believe in. “This is my way of saying, ‘I’m in this game, I’m not going to give up, I want to participate,’” explained Rev. Clark.

 One organization that is aligned with UCSF’s sustainability priorities is the Environmental Working Group. Other environmental organizations you might want to consider include the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Card2. Walk the UCSF Labyrinth:  Walk the UCSF labyrinth in the meditation garden at the Mission Bay hospital campus (open 7 am to 9 pm daily), feel your connection to the natural world, and think about what you are inspired by.  Fill out the attached card and answer the question: 
”I am inspired to take this step forward in the next few weeks…” Bring your card to the meditation room at the Mission Bay campus where they will be shared in December. Or post on social media using #livinggreenUCSF.

    3. Spend Time in Nature: According to the Greater Good Science Center, nature can make you kinder, happier, and more creative.  Being in nature has a positive impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.

    4. Get Politically Active: Be diligent about contacting your governmental representatives and make sure that they know how you feel about things. Participate in a protest. If there’s a cause that you feel passionate about, speak up. Rev. Clark stressed, “I am going to make sure that I express what I believe is the truth as I see it.  And I see that as part of the duty of being a citizen of my country and a citizen of the world, that if there’s something that I think is central for justice and peace making, then it’s my responsibility to do what I can to try to make a change.” A recent post titled The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story included this call to action, “Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people. We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations, and prayers. Can we take them now into the political world and create an eye of compassion inside the political hate vortex? It is time to do it, time to up our game. It is time to stop feeding hate.”

    5. Write an Encouragement Letter: If one of your legislative representatives is doing something wonderful, send them a letter thanking them and encouraging them.

    6. Send Good Intentions:  If you are part of a spiritual tradition that incorporates prayer or meditation, send good intentions to others. Rev. Clark explained, “I’m Baptist and Baptists believe very strongly in the power of intercessory prayer where we pray to God on behalf of others.  And so one of the things that I do is I pray—for our country, for our elected leaders that they would be respectful of other people on the planet, and that they would help us to live up to our highest ideals.”

    7. Consume Less:  How Mindfulness can Save the Planet details several actions we can take for a renewable future, including the call to consume less. This piece stressed, “Virtually every product has a carbon price tag, whether it’s a new ‘energy efficient’ flat screen TV or a thick juicy steak.  As citizens, addressing climate change isn’t about what we’re buying; it’s about what we’re not buying.”

    8. Be a Good Steward:  Be good to others and good to the Earth might be the simplest, yet most profound advice. “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature,” Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical [teaching document for Roman Catholics] on the environment, titled Laudato Si: Our Care for our Common Home. There are many small actions we can each take to live lighter on the Earth, including:

    • Unplug It: Reduce your energy use by 5-10% by unplugging your cell phone charger, computer monitor, and other electronic devices when not in use. A plugged-in cell phone charger sucks energy even when it’s not charging your phone.
    • Enroll in CleanPowerSF: If you pay for your own utilities, enroll in CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s Community Choice Aggregation program, which offers cost-effective, cleaner energy alternatives for your home.
    • Buy Energy Efficient Appliances: When it is time to buy a new appliance, office equipment, or electronics, an easy way to save energy (and money) is to purchase an ENERGY STAR certified product.
    • Switch to LED bulbs: Switch to LED bulbs in your home and on your desk. LEDs use at least 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer.
    • Adjust your thermostat 1 degree: Right now – turn your thermostat 1 degree lower (if it’s winter) or 1 degree higher (if it’s summer).  It’s a great first step to reducing your energy use!
    • Recycle: Place newspapers, clean paper, cardboard, magazines, and letters in the blue bin, as well as all metals, bottles, cans, and hard plastics.  For more information on what can be recycled in San Francisco, go HERE.
    • Compost: Educate yourself about composting.  Food waste, soiled pizza boxes, coffee cups, dirty napkins, paper towels, and cafeteria dining ware can all be composted. For more details on what can be composted in San Francisco, go HERE.
    • Install Water Saving Devices for FREE: SFPUC’s Water Conservation Section offers all its customers free water saving devices, while supplies last.
    • Take Shorter Showers: Did you know that reducing your daily shower time by a single minute will save a whopping thousand gallons of water in a year?
    • Kick the Bottled Water Habit: Kick the bottled water habit by installing a water filter on your faucet and purchasing a reusable water bottle. Aim for a water bottle that does not leach chemicals, by looking for ‘BPA Free’ plastic bottles, or by choosing stainless steel or glass.

    Learn More

    Trump’s First 100 Days:  Climate and Energy

    How Mindfulness can Save the Planet

    The Earth Charter at 15, a Spiritual Lens on Sustainability

    Green Faith

    Buddhist teachers respond to Trump’s presidential win

    Don’t Bite the Hook: Five things to remember post-election

    Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency

    The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story