Our lives are, in a sense, composed of and organized by choices. Every day I wake up, I choose what I will wear, what I will eat, how I will commute to my job, how I will treat others, what I will do with my free time, etc. It can feel like I’m living on automatic most days, just living by routine, but really I make hundreds of choices each day. For me, this year has been about deeply examining these choices I make and how they affect the health and wellness of myself, others, and the Earth.
My main source of inspiration for examining my lifestyle was primarily spiritual and environmental. About a year ago, I had a dear, and brilliant professor named Dr. Kammer who was teaching a class on ethics. He asked the class of fifty if any one of us could name all of the trees on campus. Silence. Even just one species of tree on campus?, he asked. Again, silence. It turns out we don’t know our environment very well, even though we walked amongst those trees every day.
The changes required of us to live a more sustainable life, are indeed difficult ones. Riding a bike, examining the production line of our purchases, responsibly recycling and composting – these things all cost us what we in the modern life hold dear, and don’t ever seem to have enough of: time and convenience. In order to overcome these great challenges, Dr. Kammer argued, we must be in love with the Earth, and have an intentional relationship with it. And the only way to love something or someone greatly, is to know it deeply. It requires the same basic elements of any healthy relationship: respect, care, knowing, and sufficient amounts of quality time. I wince sometimes at how hippy dippy I sound, but ever since that lesson, I’ve been trying to know this Earth deeply, and intimately.
For many months, I wasn’t sure how to go about this “falling-in-love with the Earth” thing. Do I take more walks? Do I go lay outside in the grass and examine it lovingly? Do I talk to the trees? Whisper sweet nothings to the flowers? To avoid coming off as total loon, I decided instead to simply pay more attention to the nature that’s already in my life – to become mindful of the present moment and the beauty it holds. I started to notice and appreciate the small, red berry buds on the trees outside my office. I noted how the tiny bright dots of the buds spotted the distinct hue of blue of the sky behind them. Every day I acknowledge and nurture the plants in my house. I’ve felt more and more of a connection every day. It’s been the start of a beautiful relationship.
Here are some of the practices I’ve developed in order to develop and sustain my relationship with the Earth:
- Walking Meditations. I hated walking meditation the first few times I tried it. It felt so pointless and counter-productive to the point of meditating. I always felt distracted. But I was reintroduced to the practice when I was working through Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Love Letters to the Earth – which I highly recommend. He notes that every step we take, is another opportunity to reconnect with our Earthly roots, and remember that we are inextricably connected and intertwined with the cosmos, that we are a part of and supported by Mother Earth. I recommend designating a time to keep yourself accountable if you’d like to give this practice a try. I’ve designated my walks to my car or to my office as walking meditation times. Which brings me to my next practice.
- Riding a Bike. I’m not perfect at this one. But when my schedule fits in a bike ride rather than a car ride, I never regret it. It takes a bit of extra planning and more energy from my body (which I then just count as a workout for the day), but there really is nothing in this world like it. Pumping your legs, feeling your breath and heartbeat race, and touching the energy of the air around you as it whooshes by your face – it’s entirely exhilarating. I accidentally got caught in a downpour yesterday, and it was absolutely thrilling. I was giggling like a child at the ludicrousness of it all. Cycling is a time for me to feel the Earth around me, and remember that transporting myself via human power directly results in less carbon emission (cars are acutally the #1 source of emissions in Austin).
- Eating Fresh & Local. Reconnecting with fresh food has had three-fold benefits for me. My body is happier with what I consume, I reduce my carbon footprint by reducing the need to transport food across the country, and I learn how to make delicious meals from the natural foods the Earth nourishes us with. As a nice side-effect, eating fresh also reduces the amount of packaging that goes to landfill, which further cares for and respects the Earth. There is something special about knowing there’s only one degree of separation between the ground that grew the food, and my consumption.
*Bonus: Try eating the food you make mindfully. By bringing yourself into the present moment with your food, you grow a deeper appreciation for what nourishes you. I can’t tell you how many times I catch myself absolutely shoveling food into my face at an alarming rate – and for no real reason at all. If I’m not doing that I’m usually in ten different places in my head , thinking about my day, what I have to do, who I need to talk to, etc. etc. When I eat, I’m rarely in the present moment. Which means I’m missing a glorious opportunity to do one of the greatest things on Earth – eating to truly taste and appreciate my food.
I could list a number of other things I’ve done in my life to live more intentionally and more in harmony with our world (sustainable fashion, hand-made toiletries, switching away from single-use items like plastic and styrofoam, etc.) but I decided to stick by brevity. I’m very thankful for this time in my life – where I have the time, space, and community support to truly explore how I want to live. Having just graduated from college, I’ve never before had this kind of time and space to do so. I’m looking forward to continuing to critically examine how I live and interact with this world.
-Gillian, Interfaith Action of Central Texas in Austin