My younger son called me today, asking if I would be in the Northwest early May. The Dalai Lama is speaking in Portland, he told me. On environmentalism and interfaith.I was thoroughly crushed to have to tell him no, I’d be here in the Midwest instead… But I was also touched that he knew I’d want to hear this important talk.
Before I am anything else, I am an environmentalist. Without the world around us — healthy & whole — we have pretty much zip. Each of us is, ultimately, an animal dependent on food, water, air to breathe. Shelter from the storm.
Currently, there’s a FB conversation going around that looks at the CEO and original owner of Whole Foods. The man is not the nicest person, let me say. And I disagree with his politics. But I know about them, and unlike other places where I disagree with the politics of owners and/or chains, I still shop at Whole Foods. Why?
Let me tell you a story (don’t you love stories?) ~ It’s about the first Earth Day, back in 1970. I was still in school, but I remember. It was about protecting the Earth, and I was a true believer from pretty early on. Only a couple of years later, I belonged to a food co-op, working my hours for cheaper prices for the organic produce & grains & other things I bought. I was a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t have a large footprint. (Don’t get me started about the cabbage soup even the dog wouldn’t eat…)
I read recently that we change far more radically between 20 & each subsequent decade than we think. On some things — the ones I knew little about, like children! — I’m sure that’s true. But on things like the environment? I’ve revised some: I’m not a vegetarian anymore, and I belong to a CSA instead of a food co-op. But I haven’t abandoned my basic beliefs. I still believe the Earth is sacred, a trust we hold for our children, their children, the children who come after us all. I still believe that if don’t hold it as a top priority, we are failing our beliefs.
Like the Internet connects through HTML nodes, the living web connects us. Buddhist leaders of meditation will ask you: who is this ‘you’? Where do ‘you’ begin & ‘I’ leave off? Science says atoms can go hopping about. And certainly I can smell my dog when he’s close (even after a bath…just sayin’). So his scent — tiny molecules of him? — is in the air I breathe. Which is, for me, why the breath is sacred: it holds the memory of all of us. Of everything. Since the time that there was something instead of nothing…
Pretty heavy, I realise. So back to Whole Foods. If we don’t care about what we eat, how we raise it, the impact of our individual life choices on the greater world around us, what do we care about? Especially the Buddhists among us…? Because in my world view, to be a Buddhist is to be a kind of spiritual environmentalist. It’s to look at how each of our choices ripples through the world, how it bleeds like ink in water into all the other lives.
Take quinoa. It turns out that vegans have to bear some responsibility for their choices, just like carnivores do. A recent article notes that Andean farmers can no longer afford the indigenous grain, an indispensable part of their (previously healthy) diet. Instead? They’re eating junk food, which is substantially cheaper. And working for corporations that exploit them, sometimes grievously. And despite what PETA says, it seems worse to me to see children living sub-poverty lives than it does to see humanely raised animals eaten. Hence the whole ‘not a vegetarian anymore.’
But I have no problems if you are a vegetarian. I only ask that we think about our choices. Take them seriously. Map the expanded landscapes of our lives. Because everything — every choice from what we eat to what we drive to how we carry our water — has impact. And nudges into the ‘you-ness’ of others…