Monday, April 19, 2010

Learning from Earth's Patterns

Three cheers for bald and balding people. You are true eco-warriors- without plastic combs or electricity for hair dryers. Comedian Larry David said, “Come on. We have got to go bald - all of us. Walking around with a full head of hair is like driving an SUV or dumping toxic sludge into a river. It's irresponsible. Hey, you hair people, shame on you!”

While green issues have become mainstream, the conversation still tends to be stuck in blame and division. Are you green or not? How green are you? How green is green? How much care do I need to show for the earth to qualify as green? Sometimes the choices don’t inspire great optimism. When the cashier asks if I want paper or plastic for my groceries, it sends me on an existential crisis. Do I want to participate in the utter devastation of the environment or the complete destruction of the planet? Neither paper nor plastic is a great option, unless they are reused. So you stand in the firing line, while people nearby check out your answer and look down their noses at your lack of eco friendly reusable shopping bags. The bagging assistant waits with bated breath, with plastic poised as the default if you can’t decide.

Being green is not a competition. So I shouldn’t boast that our family uses an outdoor clothes line to save on the cost of a clothes drier. The clothes dryer is your carbon lint print. The Lawton clothes line is no cause for pride. It’s something we grew up taking for granted. It did take the neighbors a while to get used to. But I will say that sun dried clothes smell and feel SO good. And there is no substitute for the warm feeling of self righteousness on your naked skin when wearing sun dried clothes. But I’m not going to tell you about our outdoor clothes drier because being green is not a competition!!!!!!

With another Earth Day upon us, how will you commit to being green without judgment and blame? What do ancient spiritual traditions that predate paper or plastic choices have to offer our green lifestyle and motivation? What does nature herself have to offer?

Making Green A Win/ Win/ Win Situation
Being green can be a win/win scenario. One of my favorite episodes of the TV show The Office is when Michael Scott tries to intervene in an office conflict. He comes up with a negotiating outcome called win/win/win. Everyone gets to win, especially him because everyone agrees to his solution. One of the office workers has a print on the wall near her desk that a colleague is offended by. So Michael’s solution is to create a t-shirt of the print, and have the worker who is offended by the print wear it. That way the woman who likes the print will be able to look at it all day, and the one who is offended will never see it because he is wearing it. They don’t share his enthusiasm, but that’s his attempt at a win/win/win solution. Win/win/win is awesome. So often in our world the one to win is the one with the highest bid. The results can be devastating. As we have discovered again in recent weeks, mining companies often risk their workers’ lives in pursuit of the highest gain with the least expense. Clearly, the death of miners is not considered part of the cost. It seems that only massive financial penalties will cause mining companies to get serious about safety.

In 2004 a 3-year-old boy was crushed to death by a boulder that tumbled down a strip mining site in Virginia. The coal company was fined $15,000, the maximum by law. $15000 doesn’t even hint at the value of a human life. This cannot be serious! It’s cheaper for mining companies to pay the fines than to take necessary precautions that save lives.

Jesus challenged this very situation in his day. There is an obscure story in the Bible about Jesus cursing a fig tree which had no fruit on it. Mark said the tree withered over two days, while Matthew said it withered immediately. That discrepancy alone should alert us to the fact that this event probably never happened. It was a parable. What was the point of the parable? The cursing of the fig tree is placed immediately after the story about Jesus creating a scene in the temple that had been turned into a market place. The outer areas of the temple were being used to sell the animals needed for sacrifice and change money. Poor people were being priced out of the temple. This was taking place in the only part of the temple that Gentiles could gather for prayer. Jesus wasn’t critical of money and markets per say. He was critical when power and profit took precedence over people and principles. Like Michael Scott, Jesus wanted a win/ win/win solution and not a situation where the rich and powerful win and the poor lose.

The cursing of the fig tree was a symbol and a reminder that when power and profit take precedence over people and principles, the results are devastating. If we don’t get serious about sustainability, we will be creating our own curse. The earth won’t curse us. God won’t bring punishment on us. We will just get what we are asking for. As the saying goes, “Careful what you wish for ‘cause you just might get it.” The earth will have no choice but to give us what we are asking for. The consequences of our choices will crush us like a giant boulder. The earth will be fine, with or without us. It will find a way to self correct, and move on. Many species, including human beings, might not be so lucky.

You can help to create a win/ win/ win solution by living mindfully. The win/ win/ win equation is people, planet and profit, the triple bottom line. Make decisions that balance all the costs, seen and unseen, immediate and long term is a win/win/win solution. Dig deep into your consciousness. Mine your inner motivations. Next time you turn on a light or start up your clothes drier, remember the miners who lost their lives to make your lifestyle possible. Create a life where all can thrive, including the earth. The miners are part of you and your choices. The earth is part of you and you are part of her. Feel this profound spiritual truth in a profound way.

Just in case we need any more reminders that we are all connected, I understand that flights out of Sydney are delayed because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Imagine consequences being felt all the way from Iceland to Sydney, ten thousand miles away. Global flight patterns have been thrown into chaos by the volcano the same way that global ocean currents are changed by the breakup of an iceberg. If we don’t start living as if we are all connected, delayed flights will only be the tip of the iceberg of our mindlessness.

Pulling The Weeds from Your Consciousness
It’s no accident that spiritual teachers have always used nature imagery as an analogy for the spiritual life. Nature holds the answers to the ecological crisis herself. Take for example the change of the seasons. I have truly enjoyed the diverse seasons since living here, like I never imagined I would. Having grown up in the city, I never imagined myself watching for buds and colors around the streets. I take delight in hearing the kids call out “forsythia” from the back of the car; a flower I had never heard of until moving here. I’m a long way from the balmy winter days in Sydney, the lush beaches you can swim in all year round, and the ever present green. And yet the wild and evolving days of West Michigan have their own charm and wisdom. Nature has taught me a lesson that words could never convey. Change, even change that is wild and unpredictable, is transformative. I should pay more attention to the patterns of nature.

For example, Jesus said that the way of God is like a mustard seed. There are many different ways to interpret this parable. The most obvious interpretation is that things that seem small can grow and transform in the most incredible way. This is true enough, and you know it’s true because you have experienced this in your life when the most seemingly insignificant events or actions have triggered massive growth and change.

It’s true also for your green lifestyle choices. Small as they seem to you, your choices carry within them the potential for massive transformation, even the flowering of a new consciousness. You have an incredible seed within you. It is the seed of divine relationship; you are connected to everything that was and is and is to come- with each part of life and life as a whole. Do you feel it? I see it in you, and hope you are beginning to see it in yourself. This seed is the source of sustainable living and loving.

How do you know when your actions and lifestyle are making a difference? Here is the interesting connection and an alternate interpretation of the mustard seed. When the mustard seed grows in the wild it is like a weed. It grows rampantly and can quickly destroy plants. It is unpredictable and produces a fiery after effect. It can take over where it is not wanted, and creates the type of environment where unwanted birds may linger. Mustard is also hard to swallow. It gets up your nose, and leaves a pungent aftertaste. Yet it’s good for you. Mustard has healing, antiseptic qualities.

Do you see the connection to the life of Jesus? He was like mustard, getting up the nose of the power elite of his day. He wouldn’t go away, and he wouldn’t stay quiet. The religious and civic leaders of his day experienced him as the pungent aftertaste of mustard. But he was good for them. Sometimes the way of an eco-warrior is unpopular. Be willing to make lifestyle choices that are unpopular when these decisions rest well with your inner conscience. Be like mustard, agitating for change even when you leave a sour taste in the mouths of those who don’t yet have ears to hear.

Being green is good for you. It’s obviously good for the earth. Without a doubt, it’s good for your children and future generations. It is becoming increasingly clear that it’s also good for the economy as well. It is truly a win/win/win lifestyle.

A study was undertaken in a nursing home. Every resident was given a plant. Half of the residents were told that the plant was their responsibility. They should water and nurture the plant. The other half of the residents were told that they should just enjoy the plants but they didn’t have any responsibility; the nursing staff would care for the plants.

You might expect that the study was measuring the health of the plants. It was actually measuring the health benefits to the elderly residents. The residents who took responsibility for the plants were living longer and were more engaged and joyful than the residents who didn’t care for their own plants. (Sharon Salzberg in Loving-Kindness p. 33)

Being green is good for your health, so commit to being green this Earth Day in large ways and small, in both countercultural ways and mainstream.

The ultimate win/win/win/win/win/win is the incredible experience of oneness with the earth that surpasses understanding and transcends language. Let this earth day be an end to duality in your life. You are one with the earth. You are one with the miners who risk their life for your comforts. You are one with spiritual teachers through the ages who have pointed to the unity of nature as the path to spiritual peace. You are one with the seasons, and you are one with change. You are one with all of the earth- not just the waterfall moments of peace and quiet, but also the volcanoes and earthquakes that shake up your indifference and remind you to stay alert. You are one with all of it.

Green eco-warrior heart in me greets the green eco-warrior heart in you. I am part of you. You are part of me. And together we are part of the earth. Namaste

For Further Reflection-
What is your motivation for caring for the earth?
How do you explain natural disasters?
How do the patterns of nature guide your response to the ecological crisis? 

What do you learn from spiritual traditions about being green? 

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