Beyond the Inconvenience of Changing Behavior & Changing the World

I am still preoccupied with the issue of global warming and the devastation we cause simply by being regular, average citizens of the western world, but I am ready to draw a more concrete parallel to this awakening and the overall quest for the True Self. Of course, the way we live upon this earth and the imprint that we leave upon creation is an inherently spiritual question in itself, so please forgive me if I get stuck here for a while.

In Entering the Castle Caroline Myss writes a great deal about a fear of humiliation as being the force that keeps us from embracing humility – the quiet, unselfconscious power that can open us to God. She asks her readers to go through these humiliations, from the minor interpersonal stuff that keeps us from changing our morning routine to the deep spiritual elements that affect the way we relate to the Divine. I am beginning to realize that one of the little humiliating situations that I would do anything to avoid is being derided for being too high-maintenance or difficult, for being deemed a chore to have around because I cannot just go with the flow. Of course, I fear a common element of groupthink, the tyranny of the majority that will do everything possible to keep all people at the lowest common denominator.

The food we choose to eat can expose us to a great deal of judgment and ridicule. As someone who is gluten intolerant, I have had more than enough conversations about my diet and my digestive system. Before I got serious about eliminating gluten, I was a relatively serious vegetarian, but once the menu’s meatless pasta choice became a half-remembered dream, I had to give up my anti-flesh convictions. If I planned ahead even more carefully and prepared to refuse even more offered sustenance (let us not forget the degree to which calories are the currency of friendship, love, and hospitality), I might be able to earn back my veggie stripes, but at least to this point, I have found that it is not worth the struggle.

There has been plenty of reporting dedicated to the impact our carnivorous diet has on the planet. Environment Magazine published the first story I ever read about the issue. Even that show I keep talking about, Six Degrees Could Change the World, discussed the amount of energy it takes to put a hamburger on an American plate. The issue is emerging as one that is larger than my own appetite or the annoyance of people who never know what to feed a picky eater like me (ah, those hostesses faces that have fallen to despair when I whisper weakly that soy sauce’s second ingredient is wheat!).

I bring up the issue because I recognize that one reason I do not change my diet is a little bit like my inability/refusal to see the Divine in all people and treat them accordingly. I don’t want to plague loved ones with either my wearisome food concerns or my new codes of honor. Already I am the woman who cannot eat a normal birthday cake and is forever caught up in spiritual pursuits, how can I start passing up pork chops at Sunday dinner and refuse to twist my wit in wicked directions to make friends laugh too? Of course, none of this is to say that I am either entirely virtuous (I liked the turkey and cilantro burgers my husband made for dinner last night and sometimes I am engulfed with a mean spiritedness that is entirely my own) or that I am completely ruled by others’ whims (I am a pretty strong willed person, but sometimes I abandon my principles in an often feeble attempt to be polite).

Some of the most overused words of this decade have got to be “convenient” and “inconvenient” – proof that Al Gore’s movie hit a home run into the modern cultural lexicon. It is time to stop throwing around inconvenience as just another buzz word, however, and realize the deep truth contained in the fact that we are creatures completely addicted to our convenient, disposable world. Changing our behaviors and facing the confused or hurt or laughing faces of our companions really is just a trifle when we talk about affecting the fate of the world or engendering more compassion in this world, but damn, it sure seems hard.

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Upon Hearing a Conversation Spiced with Hope

It’s funny how shreds of the past come to mind in a new light now that I am allowing myself to recognize the central place the question of planet’s future has in my life. On Saturday while I was making dinner I listened to a Speaking of Faith episode called “Discovering Where We Live: Reimagining Environmentalism.” At the time, I gave it as much mind as I could as I tried to wrap my head around making spaghetti alla carbonara (both because it was one of my husband’s favorite dishes and I wanted to make it perfect, and because I was frying pork and readying myself to eat it – me, vegetarian who??).

The person whose accomplishments and experiences stick with me now is Majora Carter, a native of the of the South Bronx who returned to her neighborhood after studying art in college and, to her own surprise, ended up taking on the environmental issues that detracted the lifestyle of all those who lived in her part of the city. How could I have listened to this story just a few days ago and been largely unmoved? How could I be filled with anything other than stop-in-the-middle-of-the-kitchen-with-my-jaw-open awe when I heard about this unlikely shifter and creator of local culture and landscape? Now that I am staring at this problem as vast as the atmosphere of the earth and all of the oceans combined, I am desperate to find proof that we can make some of difference. It seems that I have more shining examples than I have the ability to recognize. I just may be time to open my ears and eyes wider so I can recognize the radiant hope that humanity still has the power to generate.

Check it out at: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/discoveringwherewelive/index.shtml

Global Warming and The Place Between Mourning and Action

Six Degrees Could Change the WorldLast night, I declared that the thing that breaks open my heart, the thing that wakes me at three a.m. and turns my sweetly oblivious sleep toward the direction of nightmare is the spectre of global warming. A person who I love has lived his day under a bleak cloud after watching the same program on the National Geographic channel that I did last night, Six Degrees Could Change the World. I was able to tell him that such information galvanizes me at this point; I have done my mourning for the devastation that our modern lifestyle has cast upon this earth, now I am ready to act. Of course, I am realizing now that I may have just been trying to comfort him. I know that I will not finish mourning our stifling planet until I can understand what it means when the glacier at the head of the Ganges has melted and the coral reefs around Australia have all died, and how can I ever comprehend the destruction of natural wonders so vast? It is just as difficult as trying to wrap my mind around the forces that created these beauties in the first place.

The decision to really take on this issue, and make it something that I am aware of with each cup of coffee passed to me in a paper cup and with each shampoo bottle I toss into the trash when I see it is not a number 1,2,3, or 5 and the recycling center has no interest in it, will force my everyday life into a new perspective. Am I really ready for that? Can I find a solution to the 37 miles I drive alone each day on my way to and from work rather than just climb into the car guiltily each morning? Can I bear the inconvenience of keeping a plastic mug and silverware in my purse so that I can cut down on at least one cup and one plastic fork everyday? Can I find somewhere other than beneath torrents of hot water that flow from the shower head to do my best thinking?

Situations like these might lead to minor annoyances or changes in behavior; in the end I will probably reap the great immediate gains of feeling virtuous and proactive. The real problem would arise when I begin to imagine how changes I may feel compelled to make in my own life might make those around me uncomfortable or upset. George Monbiot’s 2006 book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning was the first to introduce me to the idea of “love miles” and how those are a part of the environment’s undoing. Inwardly, I “tsk, tsk” at the perpetual business travelers who circumnavigate the globe several times a year in the pursuit of universal capitalism. Monbiot tells his readers that they must accept that one of the great entitlements of western society, air travel, would need to be a thing of the past if we are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the degree he believes necessary: 90% by 2030. How do I deal with not being able to fly to see my friends in Ireland or that I might be contributing to the devastation of the Amazon if I went on an “eco-tour” there. I am still unready to think that it would be better for Galway Bay if I never went to see it again. What is even more difficult to imagine are those “love miles” that don’t seem like a vacation or a luxury but necessity like the two hour drive to see my grandfather or the four hour ride to the Cape to see my folks.

What would it mean to be of a generation that once had the entire world at its feet, but now may only have it at its fingertips, making the Internet into the only responsible way to reach out and experience the world?

Perhaps we could realize that we are actually creatures who can only truly experience the world as far as the visible horizon like David Abram talks about in The Spell of the Sensuous. Maybe his vision of local culture is not just a quaint homage to the indigenous peoples of this world; maybe their way of life is a model for our future.

And I have not even addressed the idea of action. I am certainly not finished mourning yet.

Recognizing that “Six Degrees Could Change MY World”

NASA The dryer is humming in the background, but the house is only lit by one compact fluorescent and the glow of the television and my laptop. There’s a cup of cold, forgotten coffee next to me, but I am drinking water we filter at home out of a Nalgene bottle I have used a thousand times. We went for a nice hike today, despite the gusty wind and the snow, but we drove to the top of the mountain for a change of scenery rather than take the path from the backyard.

My husband is watching a National Geographic special called “Six Degrees Could Change the World” and I am finding it impossible to focus on an Andrew Harvey book about Christ. The idea of the infinite love of God is tough to focus on when a voice is saying that “a change of just one degree could change American cattle country into a wasteland swallowed by drought.” I have never heard Alec Baldwin sound so terrifying – he’s the narrator of this scary little story I find impossible to ignore.

Instead of listening to the proof of “the dangers posed by global warming,” the litany of awe-inspiring changes that could occur with each degree increase in the global temperature I am writing this and trying unsuccessfully to keep my own fears at bay. It’s cable, so I know that this program will be repeated again and again, so later I can catch those details about how many thousands (was it 500,000?) of species that could be lost if one coral reef died so I can rattle off some statistics next time someone speaks dismissively about climate change. For now, I will watch and worry and wonder how on earth I can stop another polar bear from drowning and whether I will bring my grandchildren to my favorite Cape Cod beach someday.

Is this show going to give us any answers beyond reminding us to recycle and walk more and buy a hybrid (or wait, maybe you shouldn’t since there are so many resources already tied up in your current gas guzzler that putting yet another car on the road just makes it all worse)? I’ll keep watching and let you know.

At the very least, I think I can answer the question that Andrew Harvey posits at so many of his lectures “If you wake up at three o’clock in the morning and look at all of the injustices of the world, what is it that breaks your heart and forces you to action?” I cannot pretend anymore that someone else is going to take care of the corners of this earth that I love; I cannot withdraw into the fear that the science is too contradictory for a mere mortal to understand. The disappearing Arctic ice is my heartbreak; the rising seas will not recede into the neglected background of my modern life.

An Arctic Chill Whispering Through a Cozy Life

Arctic Tale

We’d had the disc at home for days before I was ready. In the midst of the pre-Christmas madness I swore to my husband that it was the right time, but wisely he overruled me and we watched something involving guns and bad guys instead. Finally, last night, wrapped in the glow of days full of family and immeasurable fortune, I knew I was actually ready for the polar bear movie. How foolish it must sound to spend days debating over when I could handle a G-rated film, but parts of the March of the Penguins set me weeping and I know I am not ever going to get over An Inconvenient Truth. Is it because watching and interacting with animals connects me to the girl I once was like no other experiences despite my overactive adult brain? Is it because some of the seawater that flows through my veins happens to be of the frozen variety as well? Is it just because I happen have a soft spot the size of the hole in the ozone layer for lost causes?

That’s really the thing of it, what had me wiping tears from my cheeks at the end of Arctic Tale: the idea that these majestic creatures – bears, walruses, narwhals – might truly be lost and that this is a cause I cannot begin to effectively fight for. I think I can generally say that I did not cry for selfish reasons (arctic mammals tend to have little direct effect on human life in the Hudson Valley as far as I have heard) but because it is devastating to think of those great beings starving for lack of ice. And that our behavior as a race is so much the cause of it all. Of course, I just realized in rereading that paragraph that I am clearly mourning my own helplessness because, let’s face it, I will always understand what it is to feel ineffectual while I will never know the texture of a polar bear’s fur. In the end, however, does it matter exactly why we act, just as long as we act?

At this point, there is little to say about the issue of global warming and climate change, as far as I am concerned. Al Gore has a well earned Nobel Prize for bringing the issue to the forefront and books like George Monbiot’s Heat have further proven the science and politics that surround this crisis. I have as much patience for the “naysayers” as I do famous atheists – you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I really haven’t got the time to consider all of your arguments against what I believe in since I am busy enough with the belief itself.

I hesitated in writing this because it somehow feels like old news. The movies I have mentioned have long since been on DVD and the Live Earth concerts are just so last summer. But I guess that is the biggest danger, allowing our impact on the earth become a phenomenon that captivated audiences in 2006 or 2007 and then settling back with those new compact fluorescent bulbs to wonder if they will make Hummers forever.

On Christmas Eve my father and sister and I got to talking about how incredibly lucky we are. I am always the one to bring up the things that distract me from the “good life,” be it shrinking ice caps or the unsustainable nature of American life and my dad is always telling me not to worry about it – I cannot change it so why let it detract from all my blessings and all that our family has worked for? The only answer I can have for that, even as I have another glass of wine and wonder if we can turn up the thermostat a little, is that there are certain people in the world who have to worry about unseen species and yet unrealized disasters, and at least to some degree, I am one of them. The only real task ahead of me is to sort out how to move from just worrying about it all to actually forging a small aspect of the solution…