We spoke with author LaUra Schmidt about climate grief, healing personal trauma, and how spirituality and climate awareness are connected.
LaUra Schmidt is the founder of the Good Grief Network, as well as the brain behind the 10 Steps to Resilience & Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate program and the FLOW Facilitation Training modality. She is a truth seeker, community builder, cultural critic, trainer, and facilitator.
As the granddaughter and grandniece of Holocaust survivors, LaUra has long been captivated by the human condition. She is a lifelong student, curator, and practitioner of personal and collective resilience strategies. Inspiration finds her in natural landscapes and honest, openhearted dialogue.
LaUra grew up in rural Michigan and graduated with a BS in environmental studies, biology, and religious studies from Central Michigan University. Her MS is in environmental humanities from the University of Utah. She holds certificates in Integrative Somatic Trauma Therapy and Climate Psychology.
S+H: People tend to use the term “good grief” as an expression of dismay or frustration. You and your co-authors used it to name the peer-to-peer support network you developed for people experiencing climate-related anxiety and grief. Can you share some of the thinking behind your choice of the title “Good Grief Network”?
Schmidt: Good Grief Network cofounder, Aimee Lewis Reau, named our initiative “Good Grief” back in 2016. It was our way of reclaiming the necessity of attending to our grief. We see grief as wild and generative. Grief knocks us down to rock bottom and allows us an opportunity to build back up by forcing us to examine the big existential questions, like: Why am I here? What constitutes a meaningful life? What does the future hold?
This process inherently readies us for a reorientation in values and worldview by stripping away our previously unexplored assumptions about how the world works. It creates openings to see our lives, our culture, and the world anew. If we embark on our journey with grief, we become wiser, more mature, and often more empathetic people. Good Grief is an invitation to let grief collapse, reorient, and teach us.
You write very sensitively about the need to be gentle with oneself when addressing trauma in one’s life. Can you talk about this from your own experiences and also share some thoughts about why such gentleness is so important?
Aimee and I are not therapists or experts in trauma healing. We have, however, studied trauma healing by exploring our own healing paths and by taking innumerable workshops and courses; I specifically earned a certificate in Integrative Somatic Trauma Therapy.
We run peer-to-peer support groups where it is quite common for instances of trauma to show up. We always address trauma from a peer level, with the invitation to “be with and don’t fix,” and a commitment to cultivating responsive, non-judgmental spaces. We have found that to heal trauma, sometimes we just need compassionate spaces where our stories can be witnessed without someone rushing to fix us or getting caught up in their own reactivity.
We have found that to heal trauma, sometimes we just need compassionate spaces where our stories can be witnessed without someone rushing to fix us or getting caught up in their own reactivity.
My own early life was dominated by domestic violence, neglect, and tremendous loss. Through trauma healing and observing patterns, I’ve come to understand that our individual and collective reactions to the state of the world are trauma responses.
And my experiences are not unique. Very few, if any of us, make it through this life without some form of trauma. We are living through very traumatizing times, and instances of trauma will only increase as the storms, droughts, flooding, and wildfires continue. And those of us living in the dominant culture have historically lacked the language to name it, in addition to lacking the resources for how to move through it.
It’s critical that we have an understanding of how our trauma responses impact our ability to be present, to choose our responses, and see alternate pathways. When our trauma responses are engaged, their job is to protect us from further harm and focus solely on our survival. But in an ever-changing climate, our best chance at survival is through authenticity, connection, and community, all of which are compromised when our trauma responses are engaged without awareness.
Meeting trauma and our trauma responses with anything other than gentleness and sensitivity only perpetuates the problems of isolation, alienation, and disconnection. We can’t reprimand trauma away. We meet it with compassion and love, understanding that our body survived the trauma in the best way it knew how. We can thank our body for helping us survive and also make it clear we’re relatively safe at this moment and do not need it to be on such high alert anymore.
We can’t reprimand trauma away. We meet it with compassion and love, understanding that our body survived the trauma in the best way it knew how.
You encourage readers not to ignore or try to erase uncertainty in our lives. You suggest that we befriend uncertainty and develop a relationship with it. Can you also give us a few specific ideas about how to “befriend uncertainty”?
Pema Chödrön says, “If you’re invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet.” Uncertainty is a universal truth of this reality. Many have been hidden from this hard truth by layers of privilege. As the impacts of the climate crisis creep closer to home, we’re seeing more and more people unable to cope with the amount of uncertainty surrounding us. It’s not easy to befriend uncertainty, and it’s an ongoing practice.
Learning to let go of expected outcomes is a practice that helps us learn to befriend uncertainty. A rigid expectation limits our ability to see and appreciate other pathways. Coming back to the present moment and being aware of our future projections opens up space to be nimble and responsive in disruptive times.
Building our distress tolerance is key to navigating our planetary tumult. We have to learn how to be comfortable with discomfort. It’s common to want to avoid, run from, deny, or suppress our feelings of discomfort. Yet, we must make time and space to feel these heavy feelings, and in doing so, we learn that feelings are data points. They provide information and always move if we are willing to process them.
Being with uncertainty is easier when we remember we’re not alone. This is where participating in support groups can be helpful, because being in community with our discomfort helps us move through it and shifts our attention to what is present for us right here, right now, while feeling connected.
You’ve dedicated a great deal of time, energy, and resources in developing your 10 Steps to Resilience & Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate program. How hopeful are you that this and other programs addressing environmental and social concerns will be effective in getting us through the Great Unraveling of our time? What else gives you hope?
We are not driven by a sense of hope, but a sense of obligation, justice, and love. Because we understand the deep interdependence of all phenomena and are constantly in awe of the beauty and magic of the more-than-human world, we are driven to protect and preserve what we can. We are obligated to work toward a just and life-sustaining future regardless of the outcome because there must be some of us who hold visions of future worlds centering love, reciprocity, and life.
Additionally, focusing on a hopeful outcome as a precursor to doing the important work of culture change is to foreclose on any future we cannot imagine. We are living in unimaginable times, so our certainties about what will or will not happen are restrictive. What is needed now, from each of us, is courage, heart, dedication, nimbleness, and connection. These capacities will carry us through the Great Unraveling.
You identify “hyperindividualism” as a threat to a healthy community. Do any of those 10 steps to resilience and empowerment specifically address hyperindividualism and how we might deal with this concern?
The 10-step program focuses on the impacts of living in a hyper-individualized world fraught with isolation, fragmentation, and disconnection. Much of what we teach throughout the program and address in How to Live in a Chaotic Climate is about coming back into relationality with ourselves, our communities, and our planet. By living in an oppressive, exploitative paradigm that thrives only because of competition, alienation, and disconnection, a critical step toward repairing relationships is to willingly investigate our biases and values that we have acquired by trying to survive in the dominant culture.
Do you see a connection between one’s worldview (particularly of a changing climate) and their spiritual development?
It’s difficult to comment on anyone else’s spiritual development as an outsider, but we feel that today’s predicament is spiritual in nature. Spirituality is simply the sense that we are connected to something beyond ourselves. Many of us raised in the dominant culture lead lives that are focused on our individual health, wealth, and personal gain. We focus on accumulation, safety, and certainty, often leaving us feeling alienated, isolated, and disconnected.
Fundamentally, so many of us are unhappy or unfulfilled. We have forgotten who we are: We are a small part of a vast, ever-unfolding universe. We are stardust recycled and reformed, playing a small part in a timeless story of deep interconnectedness, or interbeing, as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches.
Each of us relies on the world around us for survival; we require clean air and water, healthy soils, and, of course, other nervous systems to coregulate with. Our embodied connections with the people, Earth, and the cosmos remind us that our actions have ripples far beyond what we can imagine. Reestablishing our connectedness and coming back into presence is a spiritual task, and one that can profoundly impact the world around us.
Feeling our connection to self and others makes it harder to harm others without also feeling it. What new pathways forward could we create if we leaned into these feelings and actually experienced them?
Read our review of How to Live in a Chaotic Climate here.