21 Questions for 2020: #1

1. What do we do with our negative emotions, which can so often be either paralyzing or panic-inducing as we live through such turbulent, upsetting times?

When I think about how human beings have treated other animals and all life on Earth, I am quickly moved to shame, guilt, anger and despair. If this is what it means to be human, then I don’t want to be human! Let me come back as a butterfly or a blade of grass! 

But the wise ones say that negative emotions like shame, guilt, anger and despair don’t help anyone or anything. We live in a vibrational universe, and whatever emotional vibration or signal we send out, we amplify that tone in the world. 

This is not to say that I should be merry as I wake up on New Year’s morning to horrific scenes of destruction in Australia, fires destroying the habitat and outright killing millions of innocent creatures.

But my being upset won’t help them, and it ends up being paralyzing for me. Sadness and despair simply breed more of the same, when what is needed now is strong, positive, energetic action. 

We must ramp up rescue efforts for those immediately in harm’s way—how is it possible, for example, that Australia is still depending on volunteer firefighters with fires burning out of control on millions of acres and closing in on its largest cities? 

And we need to work with determination and clarity on mitigating the harm of climate disruption, and adapting to the rapidly changing conditions of the 21st century. Politicians, media influencers, the global judiciary and governing agencies, and all the ordinary people on the frontlines must not be allowed to look away from the looming existential threat of the climate emergency of our time.

The burned koala bear accepting a sip of water from a straw won’t know or care what richly clad senators or board members decide in an elegant paneled conference room half a world away. But those decisions will determine the fate not just of that little bear, but of all her relations, and whether her kind will still exist in the 22nd century. 

As far as we know, humans are the only animals on the planet with the magical ability to see into the future. Thanks to our highly developed communication skills, we can keep records of the past and present, allowing us to predict the future with remarkable accuracy. 

Thus we understand that the massive climatic changes taking place on Earth now have not happened on this scale in at least 10,000 years, and it’s been even longer since die-offs and transformations of habitat like we’re seeing now happened so quickly. 

Our foreknowledge is both a blessing and a curse. 

Unlike, say, the koalas and the coral reefs, we have the time and the ability to adapt to the changes underway. 

But we also go wide-eyed into this transition time, understanding that in the 21st century all that has been familiar may be swept away, from institutions to cities to the forms of social organization that have served us, for better or worse, these past 500 years or so.

So yes, as I sit with my crystal ball (or illuminated touch screen) and contemplate the future not just of humans but of all the innocent animals, birds, insects, fish, sea creatures and plants—as I take stock of the destruction of the beautiful lands, waters and atmosphere of our Mother Earth—I can’t help but feel sorrow and anguish. 

I know that I have contributed to this desecration. I am complicit, and therefore I also feel shame and guilt. 

These emotions are a mark of my humanity—we call those who perpetrate violence without remorse “inhuman,” and there seem to be far too many inhuman humans running around the planet these days.

As we enter into a new decade, the 2020s, I bow to my sorrow, rage and guilt, knowing that they are powerful emotional signals that all is not well. 

Our emotions are like built-in gauges, designed to help us navigate our world. Right now, my emotional alarms are on high alert, warning me to wake up and take action.

But I am also aware that my “fight-or-flight” fear mechanism is not going to serve me well right now. Fear is understandable, given the circumstances we face. But we can’t run from this climate emergency, and our best approach to fighting it is calm, focused determination.

We may decide strategically to unleash the always-effective human power of mass protest, as Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Climate Strikes did in 2019. 

The key word here is strategically. We must be clear about the what, when, why, how and where of our protests, to give this effort maximum visibility and effectiveness. And of course, we must harness the power of social media to amplify and extend live actions. 

2020 is sure to be a turbulent year on the political and planetary fronts. This year, even our negative emotions must be focused and directed like fire hoses on the wildfires of change overtaking us. As we act, we’ll find that our fear and depression turn to clarity and determination. 

To be human on this planet now means to hold the power of life or death over all life on Earth. We humans have created quite a mess on Earth, and we are the only ones who can clean it up. 

If you value life, you must accept the responsibility that comes with being human. And then raise your vibration, strap on your jumpsuit, and get to work.

Leave a comment


  1. A wonderful question! I don’t believe that any emotions are “negative,” as I honor the spectrum of the heart’s knowing. I do think what we do with our feelings (including allowing them space and ability to flow through and actions) matters. I seem to be writing more sparingly these days, so took your question on a walk, in a way, in the pouring rain, feeling the overwhelmed of recent days (mostly related to national news) and then finding a turning as I walked into mystery and wonder, greeted by my helping spirits. I walked and sang and blessed! And came home, shedding the wet garb and wrote a mindful writing piece. (These are unedited).

    Busy lights, lies flooding, blanketing fear for my country swarm as I seek solace in the Cave of Winter, leaving my hearth today for my Nature walk. I turn…into Mystery and Wonder as I walk, stacked in this morning’s rain. Delightfully, my helping spirits join me as we sign and walk together under the bare, glistening branches. Joined in Bliss.

    I’m reminded today of choice. Thank you, Jennifer! Wonderful invitation to write today!
    Blessings and warm hugs… Katey

    ps. So much better to engage in activism from a quieted heart… good reminder!

    • Wrote “soaked in the morning’s rain,” so don’t know what happened there! Maybe “stacked” is an interesting accident! 🙂

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  January 12, 2020

      Thank you for sharing your mindful writing, Katey! You bring up a thought-provoking point, about whether it’s right to categorize some emotions as “negative.” I am remembering a talk I hosted by Frances Moore Lappe, when she talked about how she was a nervous public speaker until she realized that her fearful, thumping heart wasn’t telling her to stop, it was telling her to go! That the fear was a sign that something important was happening, to which she needed to pay attention–but not to run from. That said, I have been listening to many wise ones who say that coming at our present predicament from a fear-based perspective is going to be damaging, perhaps even crippling. I know that for me, in this time, it seems very important to learn to walk in comfort beside my fear, and not let it tell me what to do.

      • I sat with your response and appreciate the wisdom of what you said. Perhaps, it’s honoring the feelings and being willing to transform them into positive action that helps most. (I’ve been traumaticized by fear in my own life and experienced healing that lifted me out of feeling frozen into feeling whole again. My walk seemed like a metaphor, maybe related to what you just shared. Recognizing feeling overwhelmed and accepting the invitation to turn, allowing it to flow on by (like a river) as I embraced Mystery, Spirit, and the beautiful wonder of singing with my helping spirits to Nature. (I’ve wrestled with the notion of “negative feelings” for ages, and this is where I’ve come out- for now!) Thanks for the dialogue, Jennifer. As always, thought provoking and honoring… 🙂

      • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

         /  January 12, 2020

        Yes, I think so! “Honoring the feelings and being willing to transform them into positive action”–that is what I am trying to do in many ways in this New Year!

  2. I do not find it helpful to think of emotions as negative or positive. From my perspective making space for everything that I feel and that others feel is the healthiest and most optimistic approach to dealing with the upheaval of these times. This non-dual deeply somatic spaciousness is, from my experience, evolutionary consciousness. Duality is the product of the old story, the old way of being. Broadening, expanding, enhancing the capacity of my nervous system to be with it all leads organically to action that is resilient, innovative, and refreshing. It is a new and raw field of mystery. We have never been here before. Exhilarating!

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  January 13, 2020

      Stephanie, I so agree with you! And yet it is a daily struggle to keep myself from falling back into those old dualities. I love this idea of “expanding the capacity of the nervous system to be with it all,” and particularly with those emotions that have been called “negative.” I suppose it’s akin to the meditation/mindfulness practice of thinking of the emotions as weather that pass by and roil the waters, but cannot disturb the deep well of the soul. And what a potent metaphor that is, for our climate-change-driven era!

  3. Emma MacKenzie

     /  January 14, 2020

    My goal is to experience my emotions as information rather than affirmation of stories that may or may not be true. Anger or fear and their myriad children are no more or less significant than joy and delight. Yet, we give more weight to the former. If allow my emotions to be messengers asking me to look, not for the current story, but the seed moment – that gives me the opportunity to work with weeding out that seed through visualization. I also use a variety of breath and energy medicine practices to bypass the story and allow the breathe to clear out the causes both proximate and past. I find that bringing myself back into equilibrium as soon as I am able (without spiritual bypassing!) I can be more effective in the world – personal and global.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  January 14, 2020

      That is wonderful wisdom, Emma, thank you for sharing! I love this idea of “the seed moment”–I find I am often looking for that with the memoirists I work with. It can be a positive “seed moment,” that grows into something wonderful in the present, or something less positive, that we may be able to alchemically transform through the process of writing. I also see how the breath work can be so cleansing. In the end it’s all about healing ourselves so we can heal the world, I believe.


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