My dear friend Lindsay got frustrated with her Buddhist practice’s lack of action in a world that needs that conscious & kind approach. In the past 2-3 years she shifted gears & has been on the front lines of climate change action in London, Paris & now at EcoDharma in Spain. Here in New Zealand another couple friends have shifted from careers focused on the personal to the planetary by creating Action Station, a way of encouraging actual democratic engagement by using technology to unite people around their shared passion for change.
So I ask myself, what have I done for the planet?
Seems to me we’re going through a planetary stripdown. Most people I’ve encountered, including myself, have had to come face to face with the core of themselves these past couple years. Whatever the individual incarnation or story is of this process, I’ve seen countless people facing disease, death, loss of home, loss of identity, loss of conviction, loss of job or meaning in work, loss of people they love who have taken their lives because they’ve in turn had a loss of conviction. What I’m seeing is that we’re being stripped down to our essential core. And when we get there, when there is nothing left to hold onto, what’s left? And is it hardy enough to withstand the winds of change blowing through our worlds right now? When you are stripped to that level of vulnerability, can you still stand tall within it?
It’s not a pretty process. I used to wonder why Virgos seemed so often to be complaining, until I realized an essential aspect of their nature is the purifying process of separating the chaff from the wheat–the usable from the unusable, the nutritive from the non-nutritive. And in that process they need to identify what is what. So it can sound negative when you’re continually holding up to the light the bits that don’t serve. But then when you clarify what does serve, what is essentially good, then there may be energy & effort required to strengthen it. And this all takes time.
And how many of us have done this unbidden? How many people enjoy going through their trash? People tend to die surrounded by their rubbish. I mean this literally as well as energetically. My brother had to clear out my father’s cabin in Arkansas & it was filled with trash. Not just chicken bones from the chicken he ate months ago, but also reams & reams of papers that he’d written his ideas on. Respect to my brother for wading through that. Even my grandfather, who died this time last year & who lived in a fancy place with help & who was a lawyer, left his things in a bit of a mess. My father who had virtually nothing still managed to write up a clear will & to take care of his things before he died, while my grandfather who had plenty did not manage this so well. And this is not uncommon really. It’s not just money & belongings that I’m talking about organizing to be passed on to your family. I’m also talking about reconciling relational debts.
So this planetary strip-down shows up in personal leave-taking. For some it’s their time to leave the planet so they are taking leave of their lives & all that their lives hold. For most though it’s taking leave of what no longer serves. Letting the chaff drop from the wheat & strengthening what remains. It might be a job. It might be stuff. It might be a person. It might be a way of being or of relating in the world. And in this process Values become paramount. I’ve spent the last 2 years consciously examining my values & in particular I’ve been looking at how I value. When it comes to my relationship to the world through people, places, things, resources, ideas, I can cultivate my own value system, somewhat. Mostly though I have found that values are relative. As sad as it may sound I’ve found that nothing has any inherent value in it, except what we place on it. And if this process is not chosen & conscious, then it’s adopted from those around us without question. Oh, this costs this much because that’s how much you’re charging for it. But is that really it’s Value?! Or I value this relationship more than that one because that’s what my parents did or my country does. But what about the intrinsic & cultivated value of each relationship?
When I was selling a good chunk of my belongings I didn’t put any prices on things because I was experimenting with this realization that Value is Relative. It’s also negotiable. The emotional value I invest something with is very simply not going to be valid for anyone else, unless they are in the same story. For example, this table was where I sat & played backgammon with my grandfather. If his grandsons or daughters or anyone else in his family developed a bond with him at that same table, then we have a shared investment in the emotional value of the table. And because of that we may very well have a fight on our hands. How odd is that!
I’m also talking about leaving things better than when you found them. And this is where I’m looking to ‘up my game’. I’m noticing how most of us, myself included, operate out of ‘how much can I get for how little I give?’ Without even questioning the value of the item–meaning the material resources it took to make, the transport costs to get it to you, the people who were paid, or not, in the process–I’m always on the hunt for the best deal. For how I can get it cheaper. Now that I’m looking at it closely, this seems to me to be ass-backward. Because we all have way too much stuff. Driving in the US I was astounded at houses that were overflowing with things. Literally, bulging at the windows of their porch with roof-high stacks of stuff. Stuff scattered into the lawns, like some kind of disease slowly spreading itself. And we’re used to having our own individual tools–each house on a street is likely to have a drill & a ladder, but unless you’re a tradesman how often do you use those things?
Anyway, I’m digressing. What I’m trying to say here is that I’m really intrigued with this idea of knowing what I have–of choosely it carefully–because I intend to care for it. I have to store it & polish it. Yes it supports me, but I feel we’ve gotten skewed in our views on how much things ought to serve us. Or how much people or countries ought to serve us. What I mean by leaving things better than I found them is that I am doing the work of repairing any tears in relationships I value & want to keep. And re-leasing ones that are no longer nutritive. When I stay at a place I am doing my best to leave it better than I found it. To clean, tidy, brighten or bolster the place & the people who do me the honor of housing me for a spell–who value me enough to have me stay under their roof. One day soon I would love to have my own little nest & when I get to that point I feel like I will have done a good bit of the work to move in with minimal unconscious baggage.
I realize that it’s so, so easy to accumulate. Somehow stuff flies into my life far faster than it flies out. So right now, part of me being stripped down is these past 2 years of living out of suitcases & recognizing that my intrinsic value is not in my home, my belongings, my stuff, but rather in my skills & my willingness to embrace change. And even deeper than that is my trust that love feels better than fear. Each time I have to discern what to keep & what to release, I come back to this place–Am I afraid I won’t have this again? Am I afraid I won’t have enough & that’s why I’m keeping it? Or am I choosing it because I love it & want to be responsible for caring for it. And for carrying it. One of the many advantages of travel is recognizing how little you can take with you, at least when you have to carry it all yourself. And in my experience of wading through the wake of those who have passed on, we seem to assume that it’s the job of the next generation to clear the detritus of our lives. We avoid talking about death & what will happen after we die & yet in that avoidance we end up leaving our loved ones with the major job of sifting through our lives for us & determining what to keep & what to sell or recycle or put in the rubbish.
What I feel I can do for the planet is clear my own baggage, take out my own rubbish, & leave the place better than I found it. How about you? Are you going through a process of choosing to let go of things, places, people or behaviors? What insights have you gleaned from this opportunity to clarify how you value what you value? Here’s my gift to you in this process–a free 35 minute practice from MYOGA Seasons to help you set your sights to commit to what truly intrigues & nourishes you!