Finding clarity & joy on Earth Day

Posted by

Happy Earth Day! A time for celebration, acknowledgment, and appreciation for all those who bring loving awareness to all their choices, knowing everything is interconnected and our actions matter. And a time to reflect on our own choices and challenge ourselves to be more conscious.

Here’s a heartbreaking piece of information. May it motivate us rather than depress us:
A survey of young people found that 45% of them, and a much higher percentage in the global south, are so anxious about the climate crisis’s effect that it affects their ability to function. They feel that “the world is doomed.” They are afraid to have children. And they feel lied to by leaders.

While many adults may feel powerless, the children of the world actually are powerless. They can speak up and go on strike from school, as hundreds of thousands worldwide have; they can influence each other in person and on social media, but they can’t vote. They don’t have political power, financial power, or a seat at corporate and governmental tables.

This means that those of us who do have the vote, who do have resources, and who do have positions of power and influence need to represent those who don’t.

So many of us who would rush to save a child in danger find it difficult to do even rudimentary things to address the climate crisis when that is the biggest threat to the children of the world. Why?

The Buddha’s Five Aggregates (The body, feeling tones, perception, volitional mental formations, and consciousness that loosely and temporarily form the ‘self’) can help us understand and address the challenge. 

Last week we looked more closely at the third aggregate of Perception. It includes all the labels we agree on for objects and concepts, enabling humans to communicate in meaningful ways. But some of these concepts are faulty and unhelpful. And one of these is the perception of the earth as separate from ourselves.

This flawed perception creates unintended consequences: 

It can make us feel hopeless and helpless to make a difference.

It makes us feel justified in turning away and ignoring what’s going on. 

When we see ourselves as separate from nature, we may not feel responsible for harmful actions and may even see wild nature as the enemy. 

Or we may hold nature up as something so special that we are not worthy of being a part of it. We may be ashamed and paralyzed by ecological guilt. We may feel we don’t belong anywhere in the natural world, and that the world would be better off without our species. We look around and see the suffering we as a species have caused and continue to cause, and it makes us ashamed and angry. Any actions we take may activate further shame and anger. This level of self-hatred drags us down and depletes our ability to respond skillfully to the challenges we are all facing.

We may think we don’t want to get involved, but we’re already involved! All our actions are our involvement, for better or worse. All our choices have consequences, for better or worse, no matter how powerless we may feel. Even inaction is a choice with consequences.

We are each of us so powerful that our choices influence the choices of others, for better or worse, and their choices, in turn, affect others, rippling out in all directions. Pause to think of your own life, the consequences of your actions or inactions, and the choices you made. Perhaps you have discounted things you have done that are still rippling out in beneficial ways to people you will never meet.

And, of course, if what comes up are harmful actions, acknowledge them and reset your intention and your effort to be wiser now that you understand how powerful you are and how intrinsically interconnected you are. Not because you feel you ‘should’, goaded by some internal or external judge.

We do this because we are cultivating awareness and opening to the sense of infinite lovingkindness that allows us to feel the intrinsic interconnection of all life. We come home to this aliveness of being! The elemental dance of being!

All our misperceptions lead us to this idea that we are separate from other species of plants and animals that we have named and categorized, filed away, or admired from afar but not accepted our intrinsic interconnection.

Part of our practice is to notice the discomfort, denial, distractibility, the pulling away or turning away, the clinging and striving, and how it gets us so entangled we get lost.

We allow grief to be present in our lives along with joy. This is part of the nature of life as a human being. We dance with it all, whatever arises, by being fully present, not pushing it away.

Whether we wake up and celebrate our interconnection with love and skillfulness or get lost in denial in whatever form that takes, the elements — earth, air, fire, and water — will continue to come together and apart in a glorious variety of ways. Just as the rainbow is a brief commingling of these elements, so is each of us. Humans have a longer timeline than rainbows, but that lifespan is an everchanging interaction of the elements. And so is everything else. All is impermanent.

Awakening to that understanding frees us from the painful entanglement of harsh opinions about our bodies’ aging. In class, one of my sangha sisters shared what her dermatologist told her about the spots and skin tags showing up on her skin: “Think of a mature tree and how the bark becomes gnarly. Is it any less beautiful?” Most of us would agree that a mature tree is even more beautiful than a slender smooth stick of a sapling that only provides the promise of the beauty to come.

Can we recognize the beauty of the aging human body? The Japanese term wabi-sabi captures the deep understanding of appreciating all the cycles of life.

Recognizing our intrinsic interconnection, our perspective may seem odd to people entrapped in their own acceptance of the cultural misperception of separation, and they may react negatively to our actions and words. Our practice is not to argue or proselytize but to be compassionate. We know what it is to be entangled and blinded and feel we must fight to defend a separate self. It is part of the experience of being human. None of us has perfect insight. However, each insight we experience is a lens we keep polishing through meditation practice and purposely living with awareness, integrity, and lovingkindness. In this way, our actions become responsive rather than reactive. And we don’t spark reactivity in others but give them a safe haven for reflection.

Waking up to our interconnection allows us to act out of a sustainable sense of ongoing loving co-creation. Every moment is a pivotal point of power. Every moment offers us the opportunity to see and express our interconnection. Or turn away and entangle with fear-based thoughts.

As we practice meditation and access the sense of being fully present, that sense of disconnection can dissolve. We can look with fresh eyes and let go of delusion. We are nature!


Let me know your thoughts on this.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s