Earth Day 2014: The Morning After
It is an uncommonly peaceful morning. I’m sitting in my sunny living room which is clean for once, walls joyfully papered with the marker-and-crayon musings of my own children and those from JAMcamp. My glowy-green matcha is the perfect temperature and especially yummy. I hear seagulls singing while they fly and little birds chirping on the wire. A mellow incense fills the air — a gift from a long-lost college friendship recently restored. This is a rare calm and happy moment, and I am appreciating it.
But despite appearances, all is not right with the world.
The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“concluding four years of intense scientific collaboration by hundreds of authors from around the world”) finds that “the world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming.” Yet, as the New York Times states, “However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”
We are being silent. We are being small. We are not really talking about it. Biking more and replacing our lightbulbs and signing petitions against Keystone XL are all important, and we should all absolutely be doing all of that. But something more drastic and immediate and powerful is additionally required, certainly from our governments and corporations, but also from us, individually.
Of all the analyses I’ve read, the Buddhist view and approach is the only one that gives me any real satisfaction; the only one that truly gets at the ROOT of what’s going on, how we got here, and how we can move through it; the only one that describes a path that feels possible, holistic and sensible; the only one that tells the whole truth. If you have a few minutes, read this article by One Earth Sangha in its entirety, and see if you agree: “The Earth as Witness: International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change”. Here is an excerpt:
“The Dharma (body of teachings from the Buddha) informs us…that craving, aversion, and delusion within the human mind are the root causes of vast human suffering. Just as these mental factors have throughout history led to the oppression, abuse, and exploitation of indigenous peoples and others outside the halls of wealth and power, craving, aversion, and delusion are also the root causes of climate change. Climate change is perhaps humanity’s greatest teacher yet about how these mental forces, when unchecked in ourselves and our institutions, cause harm to other people and the living environment. Led by industrialized nations, the desire for evermore material wealth and power has resulted in the reckless destruction of land and water, excessive use of fossil fuels, massive amounts of solid and toxic waste, and other practices that are disrupting the Earth’s climate. However, by acknowledging and addressing these internal mental drivers, we can begin to resolve the external causes of climate change.”
The statement goes on to discuss the importance of engaging in ethical conduct which honors all life and helps to restore the Earth’s ecosystems. This includes making healthy and loving choices when it comes to our own consumption and behaviors, and also speaking truth to power and standing up to those interests that block the path to putting the same forces of love and peace in motion on a more global level. It requires ENGAGING, both in our own process, and in the processes at work in the world that threaten to destroy our planet and its inhabitants.
The statement also reminds us of the path and practice of mindfulness, which will make all else possible, and without which, I increasingly believe, we are lost. When we regularly employ some form of mindfulness practice, we are strengthening our ability to pay attention, to rest in kind awareness, and to gain understanding and insight. We begin to SEE the greed, hatred and delusion in our own being. We begin to notice when our thoughts, words and actions may cause harm to another, while simultaneously growing our capacity to choose a more ethical approach. And we get deeply in touch with the lack of separation between ourselves and each other, and between humans and the earth. When we are in connection with the truth of interdependence, it becomes much more difficult to stay asleep, wear the veil, and just say, “Whatever.” Apathy and denial become more painful than the alternative. And we awaken.
So my recommendation for “Earth Day 2014”, for whatever it’s worth, is to meditate. Every day. For even 1 minute. Sit in your body. Relax your shoulders and your belly. Find your breath. Come into this moment. Drop the worries and stress and fixing and planning and remembering and regretting and blaming and judging. Stay with the breath. Listen to the breath as if your life depended on it, because it just might. Do this for a few moments every day. This practice plants seeds. They begin to sprout. More practice waters them. They grow stronger and taller and sweeter. They are made of love and kindness and joy and healing. This is the garden our earth needs.
Do this alone, and do it with your children. As the Dalai Lama famously said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world in one generation.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But it certainly cannot hurt to introduce our children to a practice that at its core nurtures compassion, kindness, mindfulness, awareness, and the reminder that we are all one. And it is certainly beneficial to teach our children how to tune in to themselves, so they have the opportunity to learn first-hand that true and lasting happiness comes from within, rather from something or someone external.
And what to do about the fear? The bottomless, overwhelming, vibrating anxiety and terror that can come up when we really dive into the truth of what we are doing to the planet, and what this might mean for ourselves, for our children, for all children, for all beings. Meditate with that, too. Sit with the fear. Feel it in your body. Name it. Acknowledge it. See it. Hear it. Embrace it. It is beautiful. It is an echo of your true self speaking out, screaming that something is out of balance. Stay with it. Love it. Heed its message. Certainly, this way, you will have a better chance of moving through this difficult emotion to whatever’s on the other side (ethical action? acceptance? equanimity? love? insight?) than if you avoid, resist, push down, shut out, numb, medicate, or otherwise block it. It is better to face the truth, no matter how painful. For in the space created by the willingness to see things for what they truly are, we receive the healing.
And the final teaching in this moment — perhaps always — is the reminder of impermanence. We can meditate every day, we can drive less, we can be kind, we can buy organic, we can buy less, we can engage in political action, we can remember the breath. And this will all help — certainly it will help us be happier people, and maybe it will even help the world turn into love. But it is also just a FACT that everything changes. We will age. We will get sick. We will die. We will lose the people and things we love. And our unwillingness to accept these fundamental truths of existence is often the greatest source of our suffering. So put energy and time and intention into planting seeds of love and kindness within and without. And then let go of any attachment to outcome. This, too, is mindfulness. Purposefully being present for what is actually happening, in the present moment, without judgement, without the need to manipulate or control, without expectation. Sitting with discomfort and not running away. If there ever was a time to get good at this, that time is now.
We are literally, in this moment, on the brink, at the edge, under the gun, hanging in the balance. What will we choose to do about it? All may not be right with the world, but neither is all lost. We have our bodies, we have our breath, we have this moment, we have our love. Let’s put them to good use.
In the interest of providing support so this work doesn’t feel so isolated and lonely, I have created a FaceBook page called We Are The Ones where we can find each other and relate around these intentions. If you would like to join me in a commitment to start or continue a regular daily meditation practice, for the sake of our own sanity, and for the future of the planet, please visit me there. I will be posting daily, sharing quotes, resources, tips, observations, and opportunities to meditate in community, both virtually and in person. We can celebrate and support each others’ practices with our virtual Sangha (community), and embody our intention to meditate daily for the benefit of ourselves, all beings, and the planet.
I love you. See you on the cushion.
The Reminder (lyrics)
you are the sky you are the mountain you are the water you are the fountain you are the moonlit meadow moss under my toes
you are the bloom you are the butterfly you are the sundown you are the morning light you are the proof that something inside of us knows
you are the moon you are tides turning you are the galaxies you are stars twirling you are the road everything comes, then it goes
you are the nugget right at the heart of things you are this moment empty of everything you are the song that rises up and forever grows on and on and on and on and on…
you are the wind you are falling leaves you are the soul that shines you are the heart that grieves you are the raindrop you are the ocean you are the magic words you are the potion you are the message speaking through everything you are the sage who smiles you are the child who sings on and on and on and on and on…