First off, after my recent post about Christmas with no presents, somebody sent me a link to a great site that helps facilitate giving gifts to charity as Christmas presents. You might find it helpful: Redefine Christmas. Onwards...
Here is a little bit from the epilogue of my book. Just thought you might enjoy a taste:
As Annie Leonard says in her online video Story of Stuff, the live impactful lives we lead may not be so great:
"We are in this ridiculous situation where we go to work, maybe two jobs even, and we come home and we’re exhausted so we plop down on our new couch and watch TV and the commercials tell us “YOU SUCK” so gotta go to the mall to buy something to feel better, then we gotta go to work more to pay for the stuff we just bought so we come home and we’re more tired so you sit down and watch more T.V. and it tells you to go to the mall again and we’re on this crazy work-watch-spend treadmill. And we could just stop."
We could just stop.
Somewhere I read a talk of Pema Chodron’s where she says something like, “Most of us in this room are not so rich that we have nothing material to worry about and we’re not so poor that we can’t think about anything but getting ourselves fed. So let’s start by giving thanks for our middle birth.”
What Pema means about a middle birth is that we can be so overwhelmed by suffering that we don’t have the luxury to examine our lives. Or we can be so distant from suffering and so coddled by material comforts that we become too complacent to examine our lives. In a middle birth, we have just enough suffering to get our attention but not enough to overwhelm us.
Perhaps part of the problem in our response to the planetary crisis—why we don’t stop, as Annie Leanord says—is that so many of us in the developed world have such a cushy lifestyle that we are stuck in our complacency.
This is like the story of the Buddha himself. As it goes, his father was a king and wanted more than anything to protect his son from the knowledge of suffering. As a result, his son was never allowed to see anything that might upset him. Buddha came to believe that life was only about the pursuit of his own pleasure. He never questioned his life, because he never had a reason to. He just lived it as it had been delivered to him—until one day when he left the palace.
For the first time, he saw sick people and old people and dead bodies. He saw that these things ultimately happen to all of us. That sooner or later, we all suffer. Buddha asked, if old age and death are what happens to us, then what is the meaning of our lives? If the pleasures we seek are not permanent, then how important are they? What is the worth of all the riches and pleasures I’ve experienced in the palace which one day will be taken away?
Buddha was shocked out of his complacency and began searching for a better life. The good news is that, at least as the parable goes, he found it.
Maybe this global warming thing, along with all the other environmental crises, along with the economic meltdown, could be for us in the developed world like leaving the palace and seeing dead bodies and the old people and sick people. Maybe it will wake us up enough to ask: What is this life? What is it for? What is its meaning? How should we live?
Maybe it will wake us up enough to make us search for a better, more meaningful, more purposeful life—for us and for our planet.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.