[While the universe, as I experience it, includes neither coincidence nor accident, quirky humor is never in short supply. A much longer period of noodling than usual was required for the following two cents to reveal itself, a fact that would be unremarkable except for this little kiss from the gods: the eventual publishing date, once my inner guidance said this baby’s about as cooked as its going to get, turned out to be the 26th anniversary of my sobriety.]
A friend, leader in the climate change movement, tells me that a child born today will never fish in the ocean as an adult because oceans soon will be basically lifeless. He also says we’re beyond being able to reverse the damage. Countless stories like this, challenging any sensible person’s optimism about our planetary future, are part of our reality today. What’s the healthiest action we can take in the face of them? What responses will best serve our highest potential? The starting point for me is this: I honor that we are killing the earth, and thus ourselves.
Then again, I’m a drunk. Specifically, a sober alcoholic for more than a quarter century. I know how the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. I bow at the altar of despair that inflames a commitment to go to any lengths never to be “here” again.
Pay attention or die, the universe whispered to me for years with loving, relentless, ever-escalating intensity. When that mantra finally pierced my well-armored heart, it became one of the jackpots of this incarnation. Without its gun to my head, I’d be worse than dead.
Today, because sobriety is only incidentally about abstinence, I celebrate being engaged in the never-ending practice of learning to choose love rather than fear. I also celebrate the brutality of addiction that led me to realize that that was the choice I had to make––again and again and again––or suffer. Indeed, that choice is my life’s only work. Everything else––family, career, my physical health, the health of the planet––is but the playing field on which that choice takes place.
I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices.
At the heart of that self-understanding is an appreciation that addiction applies to a lot more than booze, narcotics, gambling, tobacco and sex, to pick some of the more familiar faces. Indeed, our ability to honor the vast range of other addictions which spawn untold carnage is essential to healing the planet…and living a healthy life regardless of the state of the earth.
Toward the top of that list, if not number one, is our addiction to our view of reality—our ferocious attachment to how things are and/or ought to be, and our self-righteousness, our indignation, toward people and situations that don’t measure up. One common symptom of this addiction is our compulsion to blame others for our feelings. Care to put a buck in the collection for every time you’ve thought the equivalent of “Polluters make me angry”? Of course they do. We’re just innocent victims of the big bad wolf. We don’t choose to be angry; that stinky old wolf makes us. Heck, if it weren’t for that wolf, we’d be happy.
Our addiction to such behavior may be even more harmful than all the addictions we have 12 Step programs for.
- How else would an ocean become unfishable without our addiction to ignoring the common sense that endlessly tossing shit in the sea while harvesting species to extinction probably has consequences worth noting?
- How else other than the addiction to the fear of change would our government edit to the point of emasculation its own scientific study that predicted dramatic environmental harm if existing paradigms were not altered in a timely manner.
- How else other than addictive self-infatuation would so many of us who claim to be working to heal the planet fail to appreciate that demonizing those who don’t think as we do is a deadly form of spiritual pollution that undermines our ability to both influence their perspective and enjoy our life?
That’s why the horror of dead oceans, genocide, slave trafficking, child pornography, water boarding, terrorism, poorly served combat veterans, dysfunctional leaders and the like are a gift. Our addiction to denial and rationalization is more easily pierced by the universe’s loving, relentless, increasingly intense call of pay attention or die.
May we honor that call as a sacred teacher.
May we celebrate that, around the globe, the gruesome consequences of our ignorance have begun to help us to embrace despair at its best––the kind that inflames a commitment to go to any lengths never to be “here” again.
May we be grateful that, no matter how halting our efforts, no matter how daunting the work in front of us, we, brothers and sisters of the earth, are growing ever more mindful of our choices, making us perhaps more mindful today than at any other time in history.
Whether we become mindful enough, quick enough, to prevent our planet from becoming uninhabitable (as opposed to simply requiring dramatic adaptation) is, to me, beside the point. The point is not outcome, for that is ultimately beyond our control, individually or collectively. The point is how much persistence, creativity, flexibility, kindness, clear thinking, and frankly courage we can contribute to the healing process…even when the task seems akin to turning around an ocean liner in the Panama Canal.
With this in mind, may we be willing to consider that the most important pollution we will ever reverse does not require anyone or anything outside of us to change. That’s because the most important pollution we will ever reverse is our mind’s addiction to nonsense––anything other than love.