Leadership Insights by Shannon Waters
A dear aunt of mine, who is now on the other side, used to speak about the 'fast-paced life'.
She had a chronic health condition which caused her to make modifications to her daily activities; yet, she was one of the strongest people I have known.
Years ago, at first I understood her mention of pace in a physical sense, as her condition caused her to do activities such as walking and eating slower. Over time, I learned she was also speaking about pace in an emotional, mental and spiritual sense.
Her teaching of pacing continues to enrich my life.
The arrival of the winter season, in my home territory of Cowichan, includes longer periods of darkness, higher levels of precipitation, and more time spent indoors. Winter calls for us to slow down and turn inward. My inner reflection, mirrored in the environment, brings presence to the connection of all beings and allows me space to honor my aunt, whose spiritual life was incredibly vast.
My aunt loved to walk. It was something we did together - when her energy allowed - for short distances. Using our physical bodies to get places exemplifies our connection to our environment. It is beneficial for our well-being and for the well-being of the earth. My aunt did not drive. In her younger years, walking was a key means for her to get around. Factors such as distance, weather, but also the pace of our lives affect our decision to travel by means such as walking or cycling. Travelling by these slower means, for those able, provides benefits including connection, stamina and joy – all these sustained my aunt years past the time physicians predicted she would no longer be physically mobile.
Being human means experiencing emotion.
One never moves beyond emotions such as sadness, fear or anger.
My aunt was committed to a lifelong healing journey. She would speak to accepting our emotions and creating the time and space to be with them - with support of family, friends and/or health workers - to allow them to move through us, perhaps transforming to an entirely different experience or creating energy to fuel grounded action.
Climate change and biodiversity collapse can feel overwhelming and rouse emotions of sadness, fear and anger. Through pacing ourselves, these emotions may be able to be transformed to compassion, courage and passion inspiring substantial collective action for the benefit of ourselves and future generations.
Our collective inter-generational trauma as Indigenous peoples in Canada - removal from our lands, harms of the residential schools, effects of the sixties scoop, depletion of our languages and outlawing of our spiritual practices – weighed heavily on the minds of my ancestors, including my aunt, and continues to impact myself and my daughters. This trauma is now also magnified by the mental health impacts of climate change and biodiversity collapse.
Extreme weather events and compounded stress can spur the initiation, or exacerbation, of actions such as aggression and substance use.
New terms are being derived to describe conditions such as eco-anxiety and solastalgia - mental or existential distress caused by environmental change – and organizations, such as the American Psychological Association (APA), are providing recommendations to support individuals and communities regarding Mental Health and Our Changing Climate.
The APA’s 'tips to support individuals' align to my aunt’s teachings and remind me to slow down and take time to maintain practices that help to provide a sense of meaning and to nurture connectedness to family, place, culture and community.
My aunt would frequently prioritize bringing me out on our traditional territory to know the healing plants and to experience the flow of the healing waters. Her spirit would be lifted by connecting with the environment, and she would often comment that her steps were easier after being in the river. I cherish those memories and teachings and though I miss her dearly, I have other family, including her daughter and my own daughters, to share these experiences of connection with - and yet, the rivers and plants are changing.
My grief of the loss of my aunt, and others who have passed, is mirrored in my ecological grief – mourning the loss of parts of the natural world.
By slowing down to nurture my spiritual connection with my ancestors and my environment I honor my grief and gain energy to give back to all that has sustained us as people, and to help prepare for the generations yet to come.
As timelines tighten – leadership now has just 12 months to enact the “decisive, political steps” to reduce our carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 – slowing down to spiritually connect provides me purpose in these times of environmental uncertainty, the ultimate gift of letting go of the 'fast-paced' life.
Shannon Waters is a Public Health + Preventive Medicine Physician, Communicator and Bridge Walker. In her current leadership role as Medical Health Officer for the Cowichan Valley Region at Island Health Shannon works to bring a voice to all of her community, including Mother Earth.
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