Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Patreon Post: Ethical Consumption, doing it wrong, enjoying it all

I am really enjoying the collaborations I'm finding with Patreon donors! A sweet friend just became a patron at the dollar amount that gives her the chance to direct my blogging. She had a great suggestion. Here's what she wrote:

We've talked about this a little here and there before but I'd love to hear more about your opinions on this, especially given your permaculture/yogi background :) How do you manage to make ethical decisions while being a "normal" (that's a separate blog post, ha!) person in the world? How do you manage being a busy person and a creature of first world comforts while still treating the earth and people and animals kindly, without driving yourself crazy? I'll give an example of my thought process. I try to avoid plastic usage as much as possible -- we all know that's nearly impossible to do 100% of the time, but I feel good about my efforts. But sometimes I'm busy, and I buy something on Amazon instead of going to the store. Ok, so now I'm using fossil fuels to get me my stuff, more than driving to the store, and it comes with extra cardboard and plastic bubbles. BUT... but... in doing so, postal workers have jobs, Amazon people have jobs, BUTTTTTT I'm also helping fuel a major corporation instead of a local business, and it goes down and around the rabbit hole. So obviously all of this stuff is personal, right? I mean, everyone has their own line they will or won't cross. But maybe you could put out some of your musings about how you make (or suggest others come to) a decision about that line or maybe you know of some non-negotiables that are so significant, I shouldn't (or should) be worrying about my Amazon purchases. 

I love this and have so many thoughts on it. And I appreciate the clarity on "normal." I'm by no stretch "normal," don't know what that is, and also don't aspire to it. I am working towards integrated.

Wanting to feel integrated with my surroundings first prompted me to try to be better informed about how we coexist with our planet, animals, and one another. Those findings propelled me into activism. I was so incredulous about the realities of First World consumption, irate at human right's abuses, and terrified by my perception of the apathy or lack of information around me. I think those feelings are good and important. Anger is related to passion and we need that force to create change. The current organization of things is obviously not working and unsustainable. I don't know if many people are simply uninformed (that's feeling less and less likely) or apathetic. I don't actually think it's either. I think apathy is connected to feeling helpless. A lot of people feel like there's nothing they can do so they don't look at something upsetting over which they feel powerless. And I think many of us distract ourselves. Continuously. Because it feels taxing and demanding to take a sober look at ourselves and participation in our environment.

I am so impressed by each of us who have taken the powerful step towards being self-aware about our participation in our environment. It's brave and big. And will be accompanied by a host of emotions that can drive intimacy with the planet and productive fuel towards righting wrongs.

I think this is first and this is already intrinsic in my friend's invitation to this post. Caring is huge. Caring is everything.

And now we get into where caring can go awry.

I've totally done the thing where I tried to think about the impact of every little thing that I did. I was a bike commuter. I grew a lot of my own food and bought the rest at farmer's markets. I tried to only buy thrift shop clothes. I used that terrible grey hippie laundry detergent purchased from some co-op. I tried to deny myself items with a bigger travel range, like coffee, bananas, sugar, and avocados. I had to be vegan. I lived in a cooperative house. I went to lots of demonstrations.

I was constantly vigilant for my own lack and given my attention, always finding it. My actions to minimize harm around me were emotionally linked to my own unresolved feelings around how I had been harmed. If I stepped on an insect, even accidentally, it felt a lot like the times I had been in environments that weren't safe for me. I felt like I was the abuser, the perpetrator.

My own past codependent-trauma-survivor patterns morphed into the field of being "good" and "right." 

Now, I'm not saying this is the case with most people and certainly not behind the prompt of this post. But, the context informs where I live today in relationship to harm reduction.

I was pretty convinced I would crack the code and be "right." I would start growing my own cotton and making my own clothes. No one would be harmed by my existence. I would be pure and a shining example of why everyone else is wrong.

A few years ago, Kevin and I were wandering through Manayunk and we found a Tibetan shop. We went in to look at the books and prayer flags. We got into a pretty extensive conversation with the Tibetan proprietor. His responses continually surprised me. I thought he would say we were right for being vegan at the time. Instead, when Kevin said he was a landscaper, the man shared a prayer for the insects who would inevitably be caught up in his actions. He said he ate meat. He killed bugs (I got the sense it was usually inadvertently). He thanked everyone he affected.

This idea planted a seed for me that I've explored since. This man seemed very connected to the world he inhabits and as though he was not trying to minimize his impact. He acknowledged and thanked those who make sacrifices for him.

I explored this idea a bit more fully when it came up for me healing from Lyme disease. An infection linked to a parasite felt powerfully intertwined with so much of the untangling work I've done over the years to make sure I'm not participating in codependent dynamics, to get clear on my own desires and needs, and be a joyful advocate for myself. I saw how much I tried to minimize what I wanted because I didn't think I deserved it. If others are suffering, shouldn't I as well? 

The thing is, I have suffered. And I probably will again. And I'm not trying to compare my suffering to anyone else's. There's no need and that's a dark rabbit hole. 

And, I don't think I need to suffer to be entitled to joy. I think joy is our birthright. 

I've come to shift my perspective on how to "do all the things." I still think being a bike commuter is fantastic. What I loved most about it is that I felt free. I felt the air, I saw animals, I felt my body. It was truly a joy. It's fantastic that bike commuting has all these environmental benefits. I think most things that put us in greatest contact with our inner world and the environment surrounding us have the same effect. And I think we should reach for joy.

Kevin and I have lost some steam with growing our own food, but a lot of the trees, vines, and bushes we planted are establishing, maturing, and bearing fruit whether we neglect them or not. They're luring us back to get ourselves in order and grow more food. We'll get there. In the meantime, I do buy a lot of my seasonal food at farmer's markets. Because it tastes better and feels better in my body.

I 100% drink coffee, with sugar, and eat bananas, avocados, and other foods that are shipped from far off distances. And I think it's well within reason that within my lifetime I will no longer have access to those foods. I am really grateful for them now. 

I am no longer interested in minimizing my presence in the world. This does not mean that I'm in the market for a hummer. I think it's incredibly important to stay aware of our impact in the world. And I absolutely make choices to try to support the good. Our house has a composting toilet for chrissakes. And honestly, part of that is because we live in a part of Pennsauken with crap plumbing. We've saved a ton of money by not having to do a major pipe repair and instead having a composting toilet. Opportunism! Fringe environmental benefits!

We don't use a dryer. We line dry our clothing. I'm sure there's an environmental bonus there but at this point, I've come to enjoy the ritual of going outside to hang my clothes. My cats figure-eight around my ankles. I get outside when I might have been otherwise slumping in front of the laptop.

We hand wash our dishes. I think we're actually in the wrong here, in terms of water consumption. I hear different things but I'm pretty sure I've heard that many say a dishwasher uses less water than hand washing. Very well could be true. In our case, there's a wide window over the sink. On the ledge, I have small statues of Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Hanuman, along with some stones and palo santo. While I'm washing dishes, I look at the deities, the stones, the tiles on the backsplash, and the trees outside. I like it. It's calming. I feel water and suds. I get my plates and dishes clean(ish). It's a quieting meditation.

So I might be wrong there. But my life has a little more softening in it due to the dirty dishes.

The part I feel the most legit guilt around is my iPhone. Smartphones are 1,000% devils. I know there's slave labor involved in making it. I know that mining the materials is brutal to the environment. I know there's no good way to recycle them back once we made them a phone. I have a tendency towards being addicted to all the functions of my phone. I do work on managing that because, in all truth, I also love that I can go on a road trip and GPS the whole time. I love that I can find a coffee shop in some booney town in the mountains of Appalachia. I love that I can order things and read things and talk to my friends, no matter where I am. So, in truth, I also appreciate the technology. And I think it's largely unsustainable and it seems highly likely that in my lifetime it will no longer be available. At which time, I will remember it fondly, read more books, and use maps. If I have access to vehicles that can move me that far.

What informs my decision making is that I am an intrinsic part of the world. I will affect it. I will at times cause harm. I have been harmed. I am in an ecosystem of joy and trouble. I'm interested in being a very full participant. When I have the choice, I try to opt ethically. If I can get a book from a big box distributor or a small purveyor, I go small. And there's joy in that. I've encountered so many great conversations from the guy who has spent decades in the dusty bookshop amassing stories. The ethical choice often involves greater presence and experience in the world. I want to be guided by that-- how I can take up space, with as much mutual benefit as possible. I want to be here fully. Which means I leave a trail of destruction in my wake. I also have been in the wake of other's destruction. It's both.

There is no way to get it right. What we're left with instead is an invitation to experience.

Monday, August 6, 2018

It will not work out

As he does, Kevin told me about a podcast he recently heard. This was an interview with a truck driver who wouldn't listen to the radio or allow himself any distractions while he crisscrossed the country. He wanted to befriend his own mind. Thoughts and identifications flitted through his mind, as they do all of us, and he let it play out to see if he could ever move beyond.

One day, he thought, "It will never work out."

As soon as he had the thought, he became enlightened. His idea of enlightenment is that he no longer saw himself as a fixed person; i.e. my name is so-and-so, I am this person's son, and this person's neighbor, and this is what I do, this is how I am, and this is what I like and dislike. Instead, he became a being. A becoming.

There's nothing to resolve. He realized there's no way to better himself through a move, job, or relationship. There's nothing to better.

He realized he'll never reach the apex where the past traumas resolve, mutual understanding abounds, and we all look back with satisfaction.

Or, to the degree that happens, it's as others grieve us.

Resolution is death.

As long as we're living, we're in the creative phase. Creation doesn't end. Creation creates.

It will never work out freed him from striving.

These are hard concepts to write and communicate about because most of us apply the ideas to our own circumstances. We think about that one kid who has no ambition and sleeps on his Mom's couch. I'm not trying to say that kid is enlightened. I don't even know if Kevin's podcast subject is. No striving is not equivalent to not acting. Not acting, copping out, sleeping away your life on other people's energy, are actions. Absolving ourselves of responsibility is an action. I don't understand this message to advise dropping out.

We can act. And know we're acting to act. To be in the thing. To do it. To have the experience.

But don't expect much.

We could act out the greatest level of ambition imaginable, play the biggest concerts, go for the highest promotion, and do it for the joy of the experience. Why else? The accolades are fleeting. Identifying with those acts only leads to heartbreak when they inevitably shift and change form. But the experience is the thing.

It's the only thing.

Right now feels incredibly unpredictable and unclear. Just about everyone I know is putting one foot in front of the other despite heartbreak and fear. I wonder if we can relieve ourselves of the pressure of thinking that we're going anywhere. We're here. And right now it feels dense and weird. And at other points, we have other experiences. Nothing is wrong and it's also not right. It just is.

A friend of mine is grieving on instagram by sharing heartbreaking modern art pieces. It's heart-wrenching and beautiful in exactly the same moment. I'm overwhelmed by her ability to tap into what she needs to allow grief to move through her. I'm looking at these paintings and understanding them more fully. One next to the other paint a journey of centuries and places where humans suffered. Put one foot in front of the other. Didn't fix it. Didn't make it right. But lived it out.

This will not work out. And this is everything.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Boredom Medicine

Tonight, I'm allowing something that too often I avoid: being bored. I thought about a movie. I scrolled on Facebook. I started glancing at my bookshelf for titles I hadn't yet read. Then it hit me: I'm bored.

And I smiled.

This doesn't generally happen.

I don't generally allow this to happen.

I'm as adept as anyone at packing my minutes with tasks. My attention is consistently spoken for. When I remember boredom, remember it's space and promise, everything changes. When I allow my eyes to dart, looking for their next point of focus, my mind to soften, my fingers to drum... I remember. I remember aimless nights as a teenager when I discovered the pack of JD Salinger novels. Or the Rolling Stones catalog. Or made endless mix tapes. And then wrote some stories. I remember zines. I remember the trouble I get into when I don't schedule what I'm going to get into.

Tonight, I got into my bookshelf.

Next week, Kevin and I are hitting the road. To me, this feels like a big trip. It's domestic, to places new-to-me, and significant to my lineage. More on that later.

A trip means books. Kevin and I travel well together because we know one of the greatest treats of a vacation is ample reading. A week generally means at least 4 books each. I prefer books set in our destination, or somewhat related. It keeps with the mood, sometimes inspires a side trip, or at least an otherwise unlikely plant identification or meal choice.

We're headed south, deep south, which means great literature. Somehow, my shelves aren't teeming with the southern classics at the moment but there's enough. I have a Ron Rash novel I've been meaning to get to. This should be good timing. I haven't picked up Flannery O'Connor since I was a teenager, and she meant a great deal to me. She's in the stack.

And then there's the medicine book. I don't know how else to describe it but it's the book I take that I know won't be the page-turner, it won't be my first pick, and if anything, I may only glance at it. It's the medicine. If I find myself with a new perspective I'm struggling to integrate or I feel I'm finally in a place to hear the message, I pick it up. In Crestone, Colorado, it was Women Who Run With Wolves. In the Catskills, it was Yoko Ono's Grapefruit. In Portugal, Leonard Cohen's poetry. Sometimes it's a mystic or a poet. I take a voice who I often long to hear. In reality, it usually feels like a voice whispers to me from the shelf, and says you'll be able to hear. You will be ready.

I'll be in some cabins. I'll have some time. Nights accompanied by crickets stretch the longest. I tend to pass them wandering in and out of books. Bored. Waiting. Magic.