When Holiday Tradition Compromises the Earth

We recycle.

We compost.

We eat organic food.

I weep at the plight of the polar bears and I pray fervently every time I spot an animal that has lost its battle with an oncoming car.

And tonight, we smiled and laughed and forked over what was probably entirely too much money so that I could have the pleasure – and the guilt – of throwing this into the garbage can:

garbage

Even as the lovely man at the fire station carried our tree over to the sawhorses, I cringed. There was that oh-so-clever contraption that made enormous evergreens fit into humble family station wagons. We barely got any needles in the car and the trunk door actually closed. A gorgeous, full seven foot tree stands in our living room and the netting that will languish forever in a distant landfill sits in our trash after its brief, but ostensibly vital, use.

Life is full of constant compromise. A good relationship is all about meeting your lover halfway. A treaty between differing factions can only be reached through mutual give and take. There is the ideal, and then there is the reality.

Most of us cannot get to work without contributing to global warming in some way, even if we hate that our carbon footprint is growing in leaps and bounds. Those of us who do not grow our own food are so often stuck feeling contrite that the avocado and everything else in our salad has racked up more frequent flier miles than we have. But still we get in our cars, and still we eat lunch that was born in South America, and still we make a million little choices every day that mean the earth is forced to bear more and more abuse all the time.

Obviously we have to reconcile ourselves with our impact on the environment if we continue to live mainstream Western lives, but when are we compromising too much? I cut up that wretched Christmas tree netting as much as I could so that birds and other animals could never become entangled in it, but I am really doubting it will biodegrade even after Santa has made another million year’s worth of trips around the globe.

We work on our expanding our consciousness and enlivening our spiritual selves through meditation and prayer. We try to compromise as little as possible when it comes to the welfare of our souls and the love that we share with others. How do we find the strength to apply this sort of rigor to our love of our Mother, the Earth?

Taking the easy way out when it comes to personal awakening never works. Why do we continue to believe that thinking about the our beautiful, singular planet some of the time could ever sustain the most constant friends that we have, the ground beneath our feet and the air that fills our lungs?

I ask these question because I really have one of the answers, but I have all of the symptoms of being yet another guilt ridden drain on the planet.  In so many cases, awareness is 75% of the battle.  I am pretty sure that being aware of what is in the garbage isn’t helping anyone.

How do we begin to let this awareness really shape our behavior and make the external changes that, in this instance, are every bit as important as the changes we are going through within?

naked tree!

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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.

Pacing the Earth With Humility and Grace

“In order to obtain the astonishing and unifying image of the whole earth whirling in the darkness of space, humans, it would seem, have had to relinquish something just as valuable – the humility and grace that comes from being fully a part of this whirling world.”

– David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous

Apollo 17 Crew, NASA

In his remarkable book, Abram looks at the way written language (and all of the technology that resulted in perfecting that particular form of magic) has altered our relationship with nature. We are almost completely wrapped up in the power of our own minds to the degree that we no longer recognize that living on this planet is to coexist in an infinite partnership. He describes the ability of people of oral cultures to live in harmony with the land and every entity; he makes it clear that we “moderns” have alienated ourselves almost completely from such a symbiotic dance.

I wanted to celebrate the chirp of every cricket right along with him and know what it would be like to see the earth not as an inanimate setting upon which I enact the drama of my life, but to recognize the landscape as a main character. I was able to lose myself in the text. At the same time, the unforgettable element that reverberates through this work is that such a well-crafted narrative can only exist thanks to the innovations that have pulled us away from this original sensibility. And though his story is captivating, I think I would be looking for a little more excitement than the local moss and soaring birds might be able to offer after a little while. He offers a very brief solution to this separation from nature, and that is to return to a localized culture that truly focuses on what is immediately outside your back door rather than on the global vision that entrances us now. I am not sure that his answer is immediately practicable or even attractive, but I gained much simply from Abram’s description of an idealized unity of humans and their environment.

I chose the quote above both because it creates a startling perspective on the consequences of “progress” and because Abram employs the terms “humility” and “grace.” During this period of soul searching I am trying to take a break from my current dilemma that revolves around asking “what’s next?” to move further within to ask “where am I now?” Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle has been my guide, and in working with this book I have encountered these two words that I have thrown around before but certainly did not fully understand. These words are an interesting choice for Abram because one thing I missed in his book was any direct discussion of God. That is not a failing of this book necessarily – the natural world is the mightiest manifestation of the divine and it is easy to read into this text the sense that removing ourselves from nature is also to separate ourselves from the most beautiful and immediate expressions of the sacred. It is just something that I noticed was absent since so much of what I am reading these days is so overtly laced with “God talk.”

But what does it mean to live with humility and grace? This question is enough to fill endless entries, but it is one that I must begin to pose. At this moment I would consider grace to be the ability to walk through my day knowing that I am a channel of divine energy, conscious of the unity of all creation and of my own powerful place in that continuum. Humility is a concept I am just beginning to get my head around – to understand on a personal level that it is not about fading into the woodwork and sacrificing my personality in an effort to be blandly and angelically good. It is about settling into my truest self so that I am secure enough and grounded enough not to need to be first, not to demand constant attention and praise, not driven to denigrate others in order to improve my own position. It is about honesty and authenticity.

Both of these terms apply so perfectly to the way in which we must be bound to behave on this planet. To act with grace is to recognize our position in this web of life both by refusing to exploit it and by making positive contributions that better this world. And to move from a place of humility is to give up the idea that we are supreme creatures entitled to trample every other species and resource in a mad dash to have more and more and more. It is to recognize our own impermanence and look upon this planet with respect rather than as another foe to be conquered, another force to be controlled.