"For twenty-five years, Violetta has been teaching climate science at a university in Los Angeles, trying to educate students about the effects of carbon dioxide emissions, greenhouse gasses, and fracking.
"Suddenly she noticed a pop-up on the computer beside her breakfast plate. A senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory had published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: "California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?" Violetta felt her stomach tighten and experienced a feeling of nausea. This was just the most recent news adding to the vast body of information on the escalating impact of global warming. . . .
"Later that morning, Violetta sat down to write an article on the relationship between the California drought and global warming. Yet her mind was going around and around in circles, chewing over the facts. Her brain did not want to work, to be creative and lucid. It felt like a wheel desperately stuck in thick mud. As she tried to work, Violetta became more and more frustrated with herself. By evening, she sensed a familiar feeling of depression quietly and insidiously descending on her, with the familiar by-products of powerlessness, paralysis, and self-loathing.
"A few days later, Violetta, who is my friend and frequently comes up to Santa Barbara to attend my meditation retreats, gave me a call. 'Can you help me?' she asked. 'This old feeling of being stuck in molasses has taken me over again. The state of the world's climate makes me feel hopeless and irrelevant. I have stomach troubles again, with my belly feeling tight and nauseous. I'm worried about my health.' Violetta told me that these symptoms had returned after she had seen the devastating article by the NASA scientist. 'Maybe you can give me some practices that will help me get out of this hopeless cul-de-sac. Otherwise I'm useless and can't work.'
"My goal in working with Violetta was to teach her practices that would help her free herself from feelings of depression and self-deprecation so she could join with others in becoming active on behalf of the world. . . .
"In the next month, Violetta did write the article. . . . However, she knew that she would have to continue to work with her sense of discouragement and hopelessness. These were very old and persistent feelings for her. To support herself through times of desperation, she added the following Dissolving Hopelessness through Bodhichitta prayer to her morning practice: "• I notice the feelings of discouragement and despair in my body, and I recognize the discomfort I am experiencing.
• I choose to pause and feel the gentle breath of my heart.
• I offer compassion to myself and stay with the felt sense of my own suffering.
• I notice the stream of hopelessness and discouragement passing by, like thick, yellow sludge slowly curving down a tropical river.
• I let this slimy stream drift by with patience and acceptance.
• I remember that we all at times feel despair, fear, and grief, and also that all of us want to be happy.
• I include all those who have experienced despair and hopelessness in their work for this world in my prayer.
• I hold images of our suffering world in my mind's eye – polluted waters and skies, parched earth, distressed animals, and vulnerable humans.
• For our whole shared world, for the well-being and freedom of our world, I choose to wake up, to take care of my own despair.
• Then I can rest in the heart that cares for all.
• I can work on behalf of the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged, and the finned.
• I can wholeheartedly join others in their compassionate engagement.
• Grounding myself in the sensation of breath, I join the clear and immeasurable life-giving flow that interconnects us all.
"Allowing herself to feel her despair helped Violetta slowly wash some of the sadness and grief out of her heart. Experiencing herself as part of a shared world and an interdependent part of life helped her to feel less burdened by her work. As she did her research and taught on behalf of the heart that cares for all, she was increasingly able to flow with both the times of grief and hopelessness and those of creativity and joy."