The Subject Today is Love*

*apologies to Hafiz.

I’ve been thinking on love and the role it plays here in my heart, our home, amidst my family, and also that large world surrounding us, the communities and ecologies, the whole web of life that is so sticky and torn.

It seems to me that love has to be at the root of how we live, guiding the choices of what we buy, what we eat, what we throw away. When we were in the midst of our plastic fast, I’d often wonder at the Why of it. Obviously it was a symbolic act. Folks were quick to remind me that the ecological benefits of a glass bottle over a plastic one were debatable. We had no illusions of the profound impact our experiment had on anything but our own inner lives, our sense of Right Living and balance. In the end, we were transformed by the simple act of discipline and conscientiousness that were part of it.

What I came to consider the real heart, the true purpose of our fast, and yes, even our lives, was the work of the Ecosattva. In Buddhism, one who takes the vows of a Boddhisattva agrees to attain enlightenment only after all other beings have done so. It is, in essence, an impossible task, and one of supreme compassion. It is a heart opening path in which love for others takes precedence of love for one’s self.

For the Ecosattva, too, compassion is the source of a life dedicated to ending suffering of the planet and all her children. We “know” it is an impossible task, that our small acts are, as society loves to remind us, irrelevant. And yet we feel in our hearts a deep calling to do this work–call it simple living, environmental activism, deprivation, whatever. And then we do it. Imperfectly, perhaps. With limited means, often, and sometimes a dollop of doubt. But so long as our hearts are engaged, so long as love is the reason, rather than fear or guilt, then we are on the path.

What more can we do but walk it?


Hey, it’s New Years!

I don’t know of any vows for Ecosattvas, but if you were to make them in your house, what would they be? Be as grandiose (I vow to liberate the planet from capitalism) or as practical (I vow to always use a handkerchief) as you like.

For more thoughts on Buddhism and environmentalism, I recommend this article.

Change of Heart

(photo by E.)

Again and again this is my fear: not so much of our being judged in the future as having been the last generation to possess the potential and the possibility–even if hugely diminished by the trajectory, momentum, and infrastructure of all the generations that preceded ours–to effect change of the most profound kind: not a change in knowledge, but in entire systems of logic, or even further, changes within the heart.

–Rick Bass

A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.

–Wendell Berry

When people ask me why we are taking this plastic fast, the easiest answers to articulate are the surface things. There’s our concern about the pollution associated with plastic manufacturing, the ocean’s plastic soup, the ramifications of a disposable consumer society, and the risks posed by plastics to human and environmental health.

But the truth is, I’m not doing this because of my concern about hormone disruptors leaching from the linings of tin cans (though I still think this is a good reason to avoid plastics, hormone disruptors are, sadly, so prevalent as to be unavoidable). It’s not because I think forgoing tortillas in plastic bags will save the lives of a marine turtle (my concern about the gyres is very real, but my contribution to it from New Mexico, where our rivers hardly make it out of town, let alone all the way to the sea, is negligible.) I am concerned about our plastic filled landfills contaminating ground water, but when we have plutonium waste up and down the other side of the watershed, it seems a bit nitpicky. So why plastic? Why bother?

Until I read the lines quoted above, it wasn’t easy for me to articulate the real reason behind our plastic fast. But it’s simple: We had a change of heart. Which changed our lives.

Yes, certainly — of course — we are undertaking this action as a symbolic protest and act of solidarity with the earth. But, as one of my pragmatic friends pointed out, plastic is not really the problem.

We are.

The reason we are doing this is because it was time to do something. Something more than we ever had before. Something we didn’t think was possible. Something that reflected our desire to live with less convenience and more intention. As in, intention that our grandkids will know we started waking up, and started changing our ways. Even in symbolic ways. Or especially in symbolic ways.

I know it is enormously overwhelming when we start thinking of all the things we think we should be doing, that we want to do. Where to begin? Where to end? (Is there an end point?) For us, plastic was the starting place. It could have been anything, really. But it was this. A small, simple action that nevertheless felt like a powerful way to change our lives. And it has, friends. It has.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, Rumi said. Same goes for living more lightly. All we need to do is touch our hearts, and begin.