The biologist Paul Shepard said, “The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a strange and beautiful otherness should have been encountered.” Somewhere, within all of us, is a yearning for that “strange and beautiful otherness,” that for most of human history has been an integral part of human experience. Our ancestors lived among and knew bears and bobcats, ravens and wrens, redwoods and oaks, rivers and lakes, forests, mountains, and deserts. They were intimately connected to the world around them and knew, on a very basic level, that it provided their sustenance.

We are often unaware of what Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow, calls the third gate of grief, “The Sorrows of the World.” This is an entry into grief about all the things going on in the world that bring us sorrow. We are all affected by the loss of species and habitats, the diminishment of natural environments, the weight we feel living in a money-oriented culture, and the quickening of the pace of life.

As a people, we have become divorced from the world we inhabit. We have insulated ourselves from the natural forces that govern our lives and in so doing, we have cut ourselves off from sources of abundant nourishment as well as wonder and awe. In our daily lives, we tend to not recognize the importance of these natural forces. We isolate ourselves from the elemental nature of our being.
This isolation has created a great emptiness that cannot be filled by human-generated “solutions” that do not recognize what we have lost. As Paul Shepard suggests, we tend to turn in on ourselves when we experience this emptiness and the anxiety and depression that may accompany it. We look for the source of this uneasiness within ourselves and may engage in a ruminative exploration that takes us to places of darkness and despair. While self-exploration has its value (and we are proponents of it for many reasons), this is an emptiness that requires an acknowledgement of what is being lost in the world.

The loss of our natural and wild world reflects a loss within ourselves also. When we are cut off from the wildness of the earth, we live in an artificial world, cut off from the wildness in ourselves. We do not embody the vivid and animated life we inherited but carry a yoke of dryness and muted experience. We are very prone to a life that too often feels like mundane drudgery and does not bring us into mystery or joy.

When we can enter into the sense of grief and loss about our world, we have an opportunity to rediscover the mystery and joy of our human inheritance. As Francis Weller writes,

“When we open ourselves and take in the sorrows of the world,
letting them penetrate our insulated hut of the heart, we are both
overwhelmed by the grief of the world and, in some strange alchemical
way, reunited with the aching, shimmering body of the planet. We
become acutely aware that there is no “out there”; we have one
continued existence, one shared skin. Our suffering is mutually
entangled, the one with the other, as is our healing.”

So it is in entering this grief about the sorrows of the world that we are able to address this chronic emptiness and find our way to become reunited with what we have lost.