Developing a relationship with the natural world can have profound effects on our perceptions of the universe. Opening our minds and hearts to include the idea that a tree has rights and that a dolphin may be our neighbor can forever change one’s appreciation for life. Consciously choosing not to eat meat because of the deplorable conditions under which animals are kept can develop a connection to the world and the universe that can only come from accepting full responsibility for our actions. Even flushing the toilet with a mindfulness that the waste is, after minimal treatment, going into the ocean and not magically disappearing, can dramatically alter perceptions.
But with an open heart and open mind comes a price – and it is a high price for those living in the U.S. today. That price can be horror, shock, revulsion, and powerlessness. Deep teachers are needed now, more than ever before in our history. Now the opportunity exists to synthesize a few thousand years of experience and to take the next step towards living within the web of life.
I would like you to know
That we were not all like that.
That some of us spent our lives
Working for Peace
Speaking for animals
Tending the Earth.
And that when you find
The mass graves
And the abattoirs
And the laboratories
That we were not all like that.
Mary de La Valette
We can become discriminating thinkers – and teach our children, family, and friends to become that way too. Here are some ideas how.
- Realize that you may not have been given the tools to successfully wade through all the complex, mumbo-jumbo out there. Seek help.
- Ask questions. Probe assumptions. This is probably the easiest thing to do immediately. Ask “why” and “how” and “where did you hear that” and “how do you know that?”
- Hold yourself strictly accountable for what you say. Don’t even tell a friend about something you “heard about” unless you know where you heard it. Don’t contribute to the growing mythology we all have about what is going on in the world, how the world works, and who is good and who is bad. Find out for sure. When you read something in the paper, realize that it is a very incomplete picture of what is really happening. When you talk about it, preface your statements with words like “well, I don’t know what is really happening, but I read in the Times that . . .” This is a very important step in keeping your mind and heart open. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Reject stereotypes. Watch your language. We reinforce our own flawed learning everyday when we are sloppy with our thinking and our language. Don’t participate in the assumptions of our culture that continue to isolate us from each other. Don’t say things like “women love to shop” or “men love sports.” Don’t accept any of the assumptions that are often made about Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, or whoever. When you hear someone say “oh you know them, they are so lazy” when referring to some other culture, STOP THEM. Tell them that such a statement is inappropriate and unfounded. If you listen and laugh, you are participating.
- Don’t watch the television news AT ALL. There is nothing you can gain from it. Nothing.
- Seek alternative information sources. Seek out alternative bookstores in your community. Resist patronizing the large chain bookstores. Visit an alternative bookstore and then visit the superstore. Notice the difference in the type of books carried. Reflect on the affect that such selective book offerings in the superstores have on the public. What if everyone knew about alternative bookstores and their selections? Visit a womens bookstore in your community. Look at the amazing titles they carry. Reflect upon how has the world been affected by the fact that our perception of the universe has been seen from almost exclusively a white class-privileged male perspective.
- Examine your spending habits. Think carefully about what you need versus what you think you want. Are you spending to fill an emotional need, because you’ve been denied something you thought you deserved at work or as a child, or because you are angry or sad? Think about this very carefully. We are supporting the corporate regimes that are trashing our society. We buy their stuff. Participate in The Media Foundation’s “Buy Nothing Day” on November 28, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest retail shopping day of the year.
It is easy to get discouraged, to feel overwhelmed. But if you realize that the choices you make in what you buy and what you eat can have such a dramatic affect on the world, you can get quite a bit of power back. If you realize how easy it can be to smile at someone or to help someone in need, you will start to see that the answers to our dilemmas lie not just in legislation or politics, but in our hearts. Just figure out what you want to be remembered for and what is important to you. Then, do everything in your power to make them come true.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feed and dark wings.
I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then, knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
a dream once lost
among the sorrows and songs.
Rainer Maria Rilke
(translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
It is not easy to make decisions. How many decisions and choices that we make are our own or actually the result of subliminal, repetitive, and constant advertising we have been exposed to from an early age? In fact, drug companies are now advertising in major newspapers and magazines with the banner “Ask your doctor about ______________.”
Did you ever count the number of commercials you are exposed to? By age 5, most children in the U.S. see hundreds of thousands of commercials. We live in a culture which has 260,000 billboards, 17,000 newspapers, 12,000 periodicals, 27,000 video outlets, 400 million television sets, and well over 500 million radios (not including those in cars).
We are awash with social conditioning that is virtually inseparable from our true self. Yet in order to fully comprehend our planetary (and personal) crises, we must learn to separate ourselves from the conditioning.