Thursday, May 15, 2008
Bless me Al Gore, for I have sinned. I confess that I have not yet installed solar panels on my roof, though I have coveted them. I confess that I will drive with my family on vacation this year, though I have purchased offsets. I have even eaten of the forbidden fruit-of-many-miles, shipped from afar. I have sipped my coffee from Styrofoam cups. I am guilty. No matter how many “Hail Gaias” I say, I find myself in a state of eco-guilt.
Part of the trouble is that my contemporary lifestyle (and yours too) is not structured to make eco-friendly living particularly easy or convenient. More often than not, the eco-choice involves more time, money and/or effort. Sometimes, when I’m feeling overworked or stressed, I just give in and take the easy way. Sometimes I’m just plain selfish. I want that useless unsustainable piece of junk, earth be damned.
A bigger issue is that all of us are embedded within larger systems over which we have no control. Governments, corporate policies, choices made by CEOs halfway around the world… We all live with the consequences of others’ decisions every day. I have electricity from coal (green energy is no longer available from companies in our area) and neighbors who drive Hummers. Sigh…
On the other hand, there are days when I haul a load to the recycling center, dine on a meal of fresh-local-organic food, and make the time to hang out a load of laundry to dry in the sunshine. I like those days. I get to feel very self-satisfied. I even indulge in a little denial of those larger systems I just mentioned. Nice and smug in my state of eco-redemption.
The trouble is, the smug denial doesn’t last for long. The weight of Earth’s problems presses down, and I find myself feeling crushed by the sheer magnitude of it all. I am going to take a wild guess here, and speculate that I am not alone in my experience. There are no easy answers. No 12-step plans for recovering members of industrial civilization. No shining path to a restored earth with lots of stuff for everybody.
We are all in this mess together. Regardless of race, class, gender, religion, nationality, income, sexual orientation, ethnicity, political persuasion, state of health, age, education level, favorite color, preferred pizza topping or genetic heritage, in the end we are all simply human animals. Self-aware naked apes. The only surviving members of the genus Homo. The product of a 13 billion year journey from Mystery to energy, particle to atom, molecule, star and planet; from semi-living virus to herons, redwoods and humpbacks. Carl Sagan famously said that we are stardust. Literally. And it’s true. We really are stardust with consciousness. Quarks with personality. We are of the same substance as the rest of Gaia’s children. We are one.
It is here that all eco-guilt and redemption falls away, and we find ourselves in a State of Grace. It’s a liminal place, somewhere beyond and above policy debates and scientific predictions, where we perceive the essence of All That Is. We recognize it and embrace it. It sustains us. We touch Mystery, and it is enough.
Like all liminal places, we cannot stay forever. It’s back to 21st century “civilization” for us. Back to wrestling with the nitty-gritty choices and everyday challenges of living consciously and mindfully. Al Gore is right there beside me. And so are you. No guilt. No redemption. Just fellow humans, stardust siblings making our way together.
Rebecca Hecking writes on eco-spirituality, “green” living and sustainable culture from her home in Pennsylvania. Today is her 42nd birthday. She is a member of the species Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and is made up mostly of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Just like you.