Lately I’ve been feeling something that would be best described as urgent helplessness with regard to the state of the Earth and the rampant apathy surrounding it. I want to spend every possible second I can learning and arming myself to be able to spread the word and do everything I can to help remedy the situation. I do everything possible at this point in my life to reduce my impact on the Earth and then watch all my neighbors continue their destructive paths. My work is quickly outdone exponentially just in this neighborhood.
Often times, I want to just go buy some land, build an earthen home, start a food forest, and live at peace with few material items and without consuming energy or ruining water reserves. But in order to do that, I would have to leave my family for several reasons and I am not willing to do that.
I’m stuck between the need to live a modern, Western life and the desire to leave it all. Living in this way, no matter how much I reduce, reuse, recycle, and garden, I will still have a negative impact on the Earth, even if I do everything I can to minimize it.
My true desire is to start renewing the planet. I want not only to stop having a negative impact, but I want to start regenerating. I also want to change others’ behaviors. I want others to start wanting the same thing.
Perhaps staying in the city and continuing the modern life will help me figure out how I can help others live in a regenerative way without having to become hermits. Perhaps staying here is the best thing I can do on a collective basis throughout my life, even if my current living situation is not regenerative. Only time will tell I guess.
But when my feelings of helplessness become overwhelming, I try to take a step back. Sometimes I would watch a film that would briefly show our solar system and it would help. I didn’t know why, but I figured it was due to the expanse of the universe making this particular problem, this particular planet, seem small. But it didn’t help for long.
This time, I reached out towards Buddhism to help. I knew that I was attached to my desire to change things. I knew that this attachment was making me suffer. But I also knew that I had to keep trying my hardest to reduce suffering for all beings on this planet, and so I have to continue this fight. So what would a living sage say about this?
I found a book that I thought might have the answer. I purchased Love Letter to the Earth, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and I indeed found the answer. That answer reveals why seeing pictures of the cosmos eased my anxiety.
Thay reminds us throughout the book that we are made up of matter and energy that is constantly evolving and exchanging with the matter and energy that makes up this this whole planet – this whole universe in fact. We are all star dust and water, sun and wind. Our bodies are constantly evolving, cell by cell, and therefore there is no death and no birth. Energy and matter do not simply disappear. Our consciousness is energy that will transform to another form of energy when our current form ceases to exist. Our bodies will go into the earth and become countless other forms of matter, just as they are doing right now as we shed skin cells.
I knew this, and it eases the fear of my own death. I also know that my attachment to my loved ones is the only thing that causes me to fear the death of my loved ones. In other words, I only fear the death of my loved ones because I do not want to lose my time with them, not because I think death is some scary thing to be avoided at all costs. But I know that this attachment causes suffering and will definitely cause me suffering if any of my loved ones do cease to exist in their form before I do.
But then I read, “Dear Mother Earth, You were born from the dust of distant supernovas and ancient stars. Your manifestation is but a continuation and when you cease to exist in this current form you too will continue in another. Your true nature is the ultimate dimension of reality – the nature of no-coming and no-going, no-birth and no-death. This is also our true nature. If we’re able to touch this we can experience the peace of freedom and non-fear.”
Just as I fear the death of loved ones due to attachment, I also fear the death of this Earth due to attachment. I fear the death of other sentient beings (caused by humans) due to attachment. Even if humans cause the complete and total destruction of this very planet, it will all continue to exist in some form. Even if the planet simply explodes into dust, it will all continue to exist. Even when the sun burns out, all of that energy will go somewhere. I am fearing the unknown – the future.
This is not to say I should not still try my hardest to protect the planet and all of its beings. I will still act out of compassion in everything I do. I will still avoid killing and causing suffering to animals and other people. I will still work towards a regenerative way of living and promoting it to others. But, if I can keep the above thought in mind, I think I can do it all out of joy and compassion rather than fear and pity.
And if I can do that, it may transform my tone, my message, and the very impact of my work. In fact, this revelation, which eased my fears, the very thing that was motivating my environmentalism, may increase the very effectiveness of my work.