A Q&A with Caroline Contillo; climate activist, mindfulness teacher

A Q&A with Caroline Contillo; climate activist, mindfulness teacher

Dear Readers,

I connected with Caroline (@spacecrone) on Twitter a few months ago. The world of trauma-and-climate-informed activists and social workers feels small, and yet both Caroline and I fall into this category and found one another.

From the last few Warmly Zaria posts, it's become clear that we are all looking for more tangible ways of dealing with the emotions that a changing environment can evoke.

Caroline, who has years of experience as a buddhist mindfulness teacher and community organizer, felt like the perfect person to speak to regarding ways to remain present even as environmental changes convince our bodies that we should be living in a state of perpetual fight or flight.

Zaria: How did you become interested in this work?

Caroline: I come from a family that has always considered themselves environmentalists, so that piece was always there.

As I got older and got into radical politics, combined with, as an undergrad, taking a course on climate change, I [began] realizing that just recycling wasn't gonna be all the work we need to be doing to address the climate crisis.

Z: What do you feel like has been the most impactful lesson you've learned thus far?

C: I have this call-to-action; How do I interact with this topic, that feels so huge, so systemic and that brings up a lot of anger [and] despair—which is, in some ways, a very reasonable response to the climate crisis—that doesn't make me almost incapacitated at times, which was something I struggled with.

I would go through periods of a lot of organizing and then kind of collapse into a depressed state—Sometimes I would feel really connected to other people, and movement work, and sometimes I feel like even the people who "got it," I'd feel alienated from them. So, how do I not turn away from this topic, but change my approach in a way that climate change could almost be an invitation to figuring out how to understand my nervous system [and] trauma.

Z: That's a feeling I relate to. Do you have any ideas as to why climate organizing might tend to leave us more dysregulated than regulated?

C: I think what I learned is that sometimes we have the intention of coming together, figuring out a strategy and enacting these solutions, but what happens is people have so much grief and pain that they're bringing to this work, that if we don't open with something embodied and grounding and some intention to hold that space for each other, we risk just dysregulating each other.

Z: Tell me a little bit more about that about how those feelings manifest in the body and cause anxiety.

C: A lot of places are experiencing really acute disasters; in some places it's like the seasons are starting a little bit later and that can be perceived by the body as okay, something is wrong. And when we're in that survival state, we perceive things differently. I think that's some of what is really interesting to me about the way we talk about climate change; what's conscious for us can be different from what's happening at the level of the body.

And I think that's part of why having having groups where you process that and collectively put some language to it is really important.

Z: Any final words of wisdom?

C: There's an importance in knowing that we're not the only ones suffering. Even if it feels like we're the only person in a county who cares about climate change, still [imagine] yourself as connected to the entire body of people who do care about this. That's something that I feel is a balm, just to be able to know like I do actually belong to this body of people doing this work. As much as we can remember that, it's gonna be helpful.