Saudade for the forest

Last updated on March 18, 2022

Purple trees dot the green

The last post I wrote was a little melancholic (as an aside, I’m feeling much more up-beat now and very much looking forward to spending six weeks in Buenos Aires). One of the factors I didn’t mention that contributed to that mindset was the journey to Sao Paulo.

It was an 8-hour trip from Paraty and it started out wonderfully. The seats were ridiculously comfortable and I felt blissful, listening to my iPod as I stared out the window at the gorgeous Mata Atlantica. I was captivated by the magnificence and beauty of the trees.

Then things took a turn and the forest started to thin. As the journey pressed on, there were less and less trees and more and more concrete. You could see secondary forest in places, obvious for its uniformity in comparison to the raw, untamed wilderness. I was seeing the brutal reality of deforestation before my eyes and it stirred a surge of grief.

Interestingly,at that moment, Steve was reading a book by Joanna Macy, which talked about the ecological crisis and the idea of despair and empowerment. She suggests that since we are are connected to the planet and, as a human race, we’re destroying it, that affects us deeply. We close ourselves off from this despair, or we try and save the planet as something separate to ourselves. Macy suggests we need to face and own up to that despair, and let it in; if we do that, we will be empowered to help the planet and therefore ourselves.

Despair, empowerment and saudade

As I sat on the bus approaching São Paulo, I felt that despair. It was like grieving for a friend or relative, and mourning all that could have been, bringing to mind the Portuguese concept of saudade. But, as in human life, one can not live in regret, as part of the forest, and of humankind, I must not wallow in that either. We are part of the trees, the planet and the stars, and when you feel that connection, through joy or sadness, I think it does empower you to genuinely desire a more harmonious existence within it.

Macy runs courses to inspire this connection and face the despair. In that, I can see a likeness to psychotherapy, which I went through and also studied last year. In therapy, you often have to face up to and own events and emotions in your own personal history. Through that process you can understand yourself better and the way you interact with the world, therefore helping you feel more in control and aware of yourself. I haven’t yet read Macy’s book, but perhaps this is partly what she means; through facing and understanding the despair of the planet as our own, we can feel more in control and aware of our shared future.

As with many things, I think it will be hard to sustain, but right now it feels like that experience will stay with me and inspire a more conscious, harmonious way of life, motivated by the depths of a shared, connected self/universe.

1 thought on “Saudade for the forest”

  1. Good to see that you’re having a great time-I enjoyed the pictures of the street art in Brazil-looks an amazing place?
    Is much English spoken there-I hear a lot of Chinese is spoken there?
    Keep up the great blogs-great to hear and see you both.
    Much love,


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