sustainability

earth day 2015... where is the accountability?

today is Earth Day.

i woke up at 3:45 again, unable to sleep... it happens every once in a while (i've written about it more than once). i wake, usually pretty suddenly, either in a total panic or with a more subtle sense of dread and low-level anxiety. this morning is one of those... the dull, unavoidable ache. lately, i've been able to go back to sleep, knowing how tired i'm going to feel later in the day. but this morning, it didn't work. i got up and fussed around for a bit, then tried to go back to sleep but it simply wasn't working. so i curled up next to Jakob, hoping not to disturb him, and prayed. the answer came swiftly - "go get in the water." so i quietly slipped outside to the back garden and into the hot tub which has become one of my favored places of rest and reconnection.

almost as soon as i got in, i began to weep. i knew it was there waiting under the surface, but it came on hard and suddenly... and i let it. i sat there in the dark, under the stars and the silhouette of our Grandfather Tree and wept from the deepest place inside of me.

at first, i thought it was from all the anxiety i feel about living up to the expectations i've set up for myself with what we're creating and doing. then i thought it was from the preparations for our wedding in July. but i soon realized that it was deeper than those things. it didn't have a name nor did it have a voice other than a silent, heart-wrenching cry from deep within.

i remembered - like so many times before - this feeling of unspeakable anguish, this cry emanating from 11174867_10206141196706905_8458638082752159094_nthe deepest part of my being... the cry of being alive, of being in human form. the cry of Mother Earth and all the beings who share life here... the birds, plants, dolphins, Tibetan refugees, lions, impoverished children, elephants, raped women and girls, slaves, parched riverbeds, burnt forests, hungry homeless, barren tar sands, isolated teenagers, plastic-strangled seagulls. the cry of Life itself calling out to and from my heart, reminding me that i am not separate.

it is so easy to forget. i do it all the time.

it is so easy (when i have so much to accomplish) to minimize the torment of women (some i know personally) who have suffered abuse at the hands of wounded fathers, husbands and strangers... leaving everyone disconnected, numb and filled with rage. it is so easy (when i can never truly understand) to dismiss the pain of so many men longing for connection whose choices have had devastating effects on themselves, others and our planet... excavating the hole in their souls even more deeply. it is so easy (when i live such a privileged life) to pity children who must walk miles every day for their water or hunt through garbage heaps for their dinner... knowing that, with the toss of a cosmic coin, it could just as easily have been me.

it is so easy to forget that who i really am and where i come from is... this beautiful planet, the stars, the infinite cosmos... Love itself.

as i kneeled in the warm water, weeping and praying for help, i heard my Mother's quiet voice reminding me that all i have to do is let her take care of me. i felt her gentle caress holding me as i allowed myself to release the worries i had thought were the cause of my discomfort. i held her profound grief in my bones as all the silenced voices of innocent victims, the pain of the persecuted, the anger of the unjustly imprisoned arose in my belly.

as i knelt there weeping, many questions (some new, mostly old) surfaced...

how is it possible that such a small group of humans could have such a profoundly negative impact on the Whole of Life?

how can the people, privileged with the "right not to know," once informed, live with the fact that they have caused so much pain, destruction, torment, anguish for so many?

how is it they can so easily forget that they are inextricably connected to everything, that every action they take has a profound effect on everything and everyone around them?

what keeps me working so incredibly hard all the time to bring more Love and Light into the world only to have it end up feeling as if the boulder i seem to be pushing up this impossibly steep hill could be flicked back down to the valley of hopelessness by the finger of some government official or corporate CEO who seemingly has only profit and power in mind with no regard for anything else?

where is the accountability? it's all just so f-xx-ing unfair!

i arose from the water, not with a sense of satisfaction at having found any answers nor with a sense of relief, but with a knowing that, right now, my best and only option is to let myself feel what i am feeling... deeply and thoroughly. (as i wrote those words, a small bird hovered right in front of my window in confirmation.)

and to continue to express and allow these feelings of despair, rage and hopelessness at what is happening to remind me that, at the end of my raging, wailing and despairing, is only Love. plain and simple.

Earth-May31today is Earth Day.

this is the only home we have.

and my question is... what will we choose to do when we remember who we really are?

what I want for Christmas

kitchen windowi’m sitting here in the comfort of my beautiful country home looking out over the bucolic view from our kitchen window… and i’m feeling sad. even though i have tomatoes cooking on the stove waiting to be canned, a warm cup of tea sitting next to my computer, and a fire in the wood stove to keep me cozy, i am grief-stricken at the state of our world. and i am well aware that i am sitting in the position of having an amazing amount of privilege… even the privilege to feel this way, to even have the time and space to think and write about my privilege.

i have so much.

probably more than i deserve.

definitely more than i’ll ever have the opportunity to know and understand.

i am so grateful for every single thing in my life… every person, relationship, object, opportunity to serve, feeling and experience - every single one. yet, despite all of the goodness, i sometimes feel the deepest sadness, grief, anger and outrage at what we continue to do to ourselves and our world. i could go on and on about all these things, but i’ve written so many blogs about it, i’m honestly kind of tired of hearing myself talk about it.

so, in honor of the upcoming holidays in which many of us exchange gifts and some of us write lists to Santa Claus asking for what we want (a questionably commercialized practice for many reasons which i won’t go into now), i’m writing my own very idealistic, yet wholly heartfelt “Christmas list" - not to Santa, but to Life, to God and mostly to myself and my fellow humans:

i know this isn’t a very cheerful (or nearly extensive enough) list*. but it seems to me we keep making some pretty poor choices in the big picture, and not much has changed over the years (i.e. compare this article about the Copenhagen talks in 2009 to Lima 2014). regardless, i hope you found it interesting, informative or inspiring in some fashion, and that it ignites you to take some kind of action to illuminate your life and our world more brightly, even starting right in your own home.

there is actually a lot going on that is super positive (i’ll share that in my January feature blog), so there is a great deal to be hopeful about. and the truth is... we need your light to add to that list.

Earth-May31

we have so much to lose and so much to gain.

probably more than we can imagine.

definitely more than we’ll ever have the opportunity to know and understand.

Happy Holidays and may 2015 see more of our wishes come true.

*this list was written in no particular order including some links knowing that they are but a few of many examples i could have used. if you recommend others, please let me know; i promise i’ll check them out. thank you for understanding.

Dear President Obama

Oil Pipeline through forestDear President Obama- Although I was a huge supporter of yours in 2008 and have written several blogs regarding supporting you in the past, I regret to say I am deeply disappointed in your actions, and my faith in your sincerity as our country's leader has seriously diminished.

As we all know the Keystone XL Pipeline is a huge issue. Some think it could be the defining environmental moment in our country's history given its very real potentially dangerous consequencesOthers think it will be a failsafe answer to our economic crisis. I'm sure it is clear on which side of this issue I stand. To quote an email I recently read in regards to the start of the operation of the southern leg of this pipeline, "This is a simply a sad day. The president who launched his campaign with a call to 'end the tyranny of oil' has now allowed - and even publicly encouraged - TransCanada to run the dirtiest tar sands crude straight through American farmlands, waterways and even front yards."

I will be the first to admit that I have been, at best, a pretty ineffective armchair activist. I have not yet chained myself to machinery nor strapped myself to the fence around the White House, the way i have often wished to. I have not written countless letters nor have I marched on Washington. Yet.

Mr. President, I ask you - what will it take for all of us to learn that more oil (translate as "more money lining the pockets of a very, very few already excessively wealthy") is not the answer to any of our crises - economic or otherwise? When will we wake up to the fact that completing the southern leg was actually a cunning (albeit totally blatant) way to ensure completion of the northern section (i.e. "well, we can't not finish what we started!")? Will we have to continue to poison our water sourcesdecimate sacred landswipe out precious wetlands and performeconomic hari-kari to finally learn that we made one of our biggest mistakes as a nation by allowing this fiasco to even be considered, much less acted out?

According to NASA scientist James Hansen, who likens the building of the pipeline to the enabling of an addict, "If he [you, President Obama] chooses the dirty needle [the pipeline], it is game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction. Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer."

The Keystone Pipeline is a NO WIN situation for all, and the fact that it is being considered at all is clear evidence of how far we have to go. The choice is clear: stop the pipeline and leave a lasting legacy of a workable, healthy future for us, our children and generations to come or allow this monstrosity to go through and provide a very short-term economic gain to a very few short-sighted individuals now, with their descendants suffering the consequences along with everyone else. We must all take a bold stand for ourselves and our country by rejecting this pipeline, shifting to 100% renewable energy, and making personal commitments to changing our habits now.

There is no issue more important, more vital, more critical than our climate.

There is no issue more important more vital

Clearly, business as usual is not the answer. That is exactly what has created "the Mess" my friend Sharif Abdullah says we face.  If we don't care for our environment, everything else is a moot point. Nothing less than a radical, urgently swift and complete change and  is required. No change, no business. No change, no economy. No change, no rights. No change, no future.

Mr. President, I urge you to stand with the voice of reason, those whose lands are being seized and your children's futures rather than the corporate machine which, sadly, seems to have your vote more than mine on this issue. Although I have lost faith in the promises you made six years ago, I hope with all my heart you take bold, decisive action in the right direction. If you don't, I promise you this… we will fight this travesty with everything we have.

with hope,

erin ross

Our Call for the Elephants

Once again, I am inspired by my family. They never cease to amaze me with their capacity for compassion, love and standing up for what's right. I know this propensity definitely came through my grandparents, but there must be a long lineage because I see it echoed through every member of my family in many unique ways and I admire it greatly. Thus, I've decided to create a series of blogs about the issues about which some of my family members are passionate. For this first piece in the series, I'm focusing on the plight of African elephants that was brought to my attention by my uncle's partner Barbara Hall, who, although not born into the above-mentioned bloodline, is truly one of the gentlest, most compassionate souls I have ever met. She is such a gift of humbleness and equanimity to our sometimes loud, often opinionated and always wonderfully vibrant family.

When Barbara first shared this information with me, I found myself in absolute disbelief. I thought things were going relatively well for elephants lately – that the horrors of the '80's genocide (I use this word deliberately) of more than half of the elephant population in Africa which took place was behind us.

I guess not.

She pointed me to two New York Times articles (1, 2) describing the slaughter of elephants in Africa to support the illegal ivory trade, which brought me to tears of outrage and deep grief. This cannot be possible. If the killing continues, I understand there may no longer be elephants on the African continent within one generation. I find it unimaginable and horrifying to consider a world without elephants. I can't think of a single child I know who doesn't love these gentle giants. They are an intrinsic and essential part of the fabric of life on this precious and fragile planet, and we need to make sure they remain that way.

 

In 1989, my first husband and I took our son (then two and a half years old) on a trip around the world for ten months, landing first in Thailand. I will never forget the day we visited an elephant camp near Chiang Rai to spend a day with these amazing beings. I was eating a banana while we were chatting with some of the folks who worked at the camp when, out of nowhere, I felt a nudging on my shoulder and next saw a rubbery grey shape reach over and very deftly pilfer that banana right out of my hand. I looked up behind me and there was the sweetest, biggest thief I'd ever laid eyes on. He was looking at me as if to say, "Well, what did you expect? You made it so easy!" I patted his trunk and cheek as we all laughed and joked about what a sucker I was for letting him get away with it. Honestly, it was a pleasure.

That same year, while we were making our way around the British Isles, we had the great fortune of attending the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for a week with my mother. One of my most memorable events was a reading by Heathcote Williams from his epic poem, Sacred Elephant (3). My mom had a copy of his previous effort, Whale Nation (4), and was thrilled that we actually had the opportunity to hear him read in person. This was not to be missed.

Mr. Williams' books are unique in that they are written as epic poems – pages and pages of history of and tribute to these regal creatures. And, not only is there a multitude of photographs and illustrations of whales and elephants to complement his words, but there is an entire section with massive amounts of research on their behavior and biology as well as thorough chronicles of their often unfortunate interactions with mankind. I have been captivated by these volumes for years and could be found reading them often when visiting my mom's house, so it was truly a rare gift to be able to hear him read the poem in person.

So you see, I have a very soft place in my heart for elephants.

I won't go into detail here about how they are being slaughtered – you can read that for yourself in the NY Times articles and elsewhere. But I will, however, say this – elephants matter. If you have ever looked into the eyes of an elephant, you will see the soul of one of the wisest, kindest beings you have ever met. They know stuff. They're brilliant. Remember the old saying, "An elephant never forgets?"

Recently, my friend Shoshana emailed an article (5) about the passing of a gentleman in South Africa, Lawrence Anthony, who was known as "the elephant whisperer." This courageous man not only helped to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife around the world, he also rescued animals in the Baghdad Zoo during the US invasion if Iraq in 2003. According to the article:

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives…. For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved.,,, “A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “and from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

In the U.S., our tax dollars support regimes like Uganda and South Sudan whose militaries have been, directly or indirectly (depending on how you choose to see it), linked to the systematic slaughter of entire herds (including babies) of elephants from helicopters so that the global thirst (mostly Chinese) for Ivory can be quenched. Last year, over 38.8 tons (that is 77,600 pounds) of ivory left more than 4,000 elephants dead. It is absolutely untenable that this rampage continues. How can anyone enjoy using ivory chopsticks knowing that they contributed to the extinction of a species? How can we as U.S. citizens stand by and simply let this happen? Like Soraida Salwala in Thailand, what can we do to help our elephant companions?

If you are, even in some small way, as moved as I am to make sure we save our elephant companions, I urge you to consider one or more of the following actions:

  1. Write letters to President Obama and your congress members to protest the subsidizing of this genocide with our tax dollars.
  2. Thank Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for speaking out against the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
  3. Write letters to the governments and/or representatives of South Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and China. You can find information about any country at this link.
  4. Boycott any jeweler who carries ivory products, illegal or legal; consider that even they may not know which is which.
  5. Consider boycotting all products made in countries, such as China and the Philippines, which support the illegal demand for ivory.
  6. Share information and petitions on your social media pages like facebook and twitter. Here are some sites to sign petitions and learn more (warning: there are graphic images on some):
  7. If you have children, share this information with them and enlist their help and the help of their friends and teachers. I fully believe we must tell them the truth about what's happening in the world. This is the only way of empowering them to share their profound fears and deep wisdom about the world we are leaving to them.
  8. Send love to these wonderful beings with whom we share this fragile planet in whatever way you feel moved to do.

 

We do not have to stand by and let this happen. Remember, every action you take or don't take has a profound impact on the future of our world. Your choices to speak up and take action – or not – help shape the decisions of policy-makers and have the potential to inspire the people you know by being an example of what it means to make a difference. If we could understand what the elephants might be saying, I'm sure they would agree.

As Andrew Dobson, a Princeton ecologist, asked, "The question is: Do you want your children to grow up in a world without elephants?"

 

Together, let's make sure future generations get to live in a world where elephants roam the African landscape, free from the terror of organized slaughter, as the gentle, wise and beautiful companions they are. It breaks my heart to consider the alternative. Can we learn to revere and care for them as much as they deserve? Because, if we truly are all connected, all one, what are we doing to ourselves when we allow this slaughter to continue?

 

In an upcoming blog, I look forward to sharing about the work of the Guatemala HumanRights Commission (GHRC), for which my cousin Kelsey Alford-Jones is the director.

 

Resources:

  1. Gettleman, Jeffrey. "Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits." NY Times. Ed. Margaret Sullivan. 3 September, 2012. The New York Times. 8 October, 2012.
  2. Editorial. "Elephant Slaughter." NY Times. Ed. Margaret Sullivan. 8 September, 2012. The New York Times. 8 October, 2012.
  3. Williams, Heathcote. Sacred Elephant, London, Jonathan Cape; New York, Harmony Books, 1989.
  4. Williams, Heathcote. Whale Nation, London, Jonathan Cape; New York, Harmony Books, 1988.
  5. Kerby, Rob. "Wild elephants gather inexplicably, mourn death of 'Elephant Whisperer'." Beliefnet. Ed. Rob Kerby. 8 October, 2012.
  6. Please visit Gregory Colbert's website, www.ashesandsnow.org, to see more of these stunning photographs.

What About My Heart?

 
I said: what about my eyes?
God said: Keep them on the road.
God said: Keep it burning.I said: what about my passion?
I said: what about my heart?
God said: Tell me what you hold inside it.
I said: pain and sorrow.
He said: stay with it.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
-Rumi 

 

 

I woke up at 4:30 this morning, not with my semi-usual semi-anxiety, but with a sense of deep loss, as if someone near and dear to me had died. I didn't feel sad… just somewhat empty and curious. It wasn't "bad." I was simply aware that there was an experience arising in me that I hadn't felt for a long time. For a few minutes, I couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly. But then I realized I was touching - almost as if for the first time yet very ancient and familiar, and very tentatively - an underground lake of grief that has always lived inside of me. It was a grief for fallen trees, for innocent children dying every day, for enslaved women, for extinct and endangered species, for young black men arrested simply for being who they are, for the pillaged earth, for a species so lost we don't remember who we are. It felt familiar and yet so buried that I had forgotten it, like a letter to my future self from years ago, saying, "Remember me? I'm still here."~ Rumi

My question is - do you feel this same lake of grief inside of you, too?

When you hear about about another ancient tree that has fallen, another of our earthly companions who has stopped walking the planet forever, or another mountaintop that's been blown to bits, do you feel that deep, aching emptiness? When you read about millions of bees dying off and children born sick, do you see a connection? When teens, college students or little children are gunned down in their classrooms, do you wonder what we're waiting for? When a father in a small Sierra town kills his two teenage children, the family dog and then himself, do you ask yourself if he himself was deeply lost? When you hear about a young woman in India who dies from being gang raped or the Amazon rainforest being destroyed at a catastrophic rate, do you see the correlation in how we treat women and how we treat our earth, Pachamama?

What do you mourn? How do we live with all this grief? How do we cope with the massive amount of bad news that is out there on a daily basis? How do we keep hope alive?

I'm sure there are many more people who feel it than I am aware of, but I wonder how many of us divert our attention from it in the name of carrying on and getting through our days? We all have mechanisms for dealing with the grief and bad news… denial, avoidance, numbing out. There are a multitude of ways to keep it at bay. But that's the problem. We just keep it at bay. That lake of grief is always there. In the end, it is unavoidable… and the only way to deal with it is to be with it. In other words, we have to feel it to heal it.

Because, as we know, our personal and global attempts to avoid being with it have actually become the very causes of what continue to feed the grief… addiction, eating disorders, bullying, sexual harassment, fracking, a vortex of plastic as large as the state of Texas floating in the Pacific ocean, corporate greed, political power-mongering, a war that costs $720 million a day, racial profiling, the massive rift between the "haves" and "have nots," and ultimately, murder, suicide and extinction. Sadly, the list goes on and on.

The more I think about it, I am cognizant of how this ever-present grief affects me in every way. It influences my choices when I shop. It drives me to write articles like this. It guides me to continue to question my impact on the planet and how I can reduce it even more. It fires up my righteous anger and motivates me to speak, write and take action. But ultimately, it makes me remember how very much I love this world and everything and everyone on it.

I just listened to the "Animal Sacrifice" episode of This American Life2 about the story of the thousands of "Dogs for Defense" who served and died in World War Two. The story touched my heart so deeply because these loyal, innocent beings - mankind's oldest friend - had no idea what they were getting into. They went into service with the joy only dogs can bring to any situation. There was even an elite group of "Bunker Dogs," outfitted with saddlebags filled with explosives, who were trained to be suicide bombers. The narrator said, "Without knowing what the war was for, the dogs had done what they'd been asked to do... because that's the nature of the bond we have with dogs. We take care of them and ask them to trust us… and they do." That's when I broke down.

I was so stunned, I just kept asking myself, what have we done? What are we doing? What more are we are capable of? What choices are we making, all from this place of forgetting that who we are is Love?

I believe we must choose to allow ourselves to feel the grief at how deeply we do not understand what we have done and what we continue to do.  In response to the murder/suicide in our community earlier this month, Merita Callaway (one of our county supervisors and a neighbor of the family) said, “…We do not understand and hope that time brings some peace.”3 I, too, do not understand and trust that time will bring some peace. But I also know that it will take more than time to bring peace. It will take the intention to make different choices… to reach out when we would rather stay focused on ourselves, to use less when our habit is to consume without thinking, to write letters even if it means getting up earlier or staying up later, to do what is not comfortable because, ultimately, that is the only choice that will ensure peace. Our addiction to comfort has lulled us to sleep. But we can no longer afford not to wake up.

We have been making choices from a place of not seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak - out of the illusion that our comfort is more real and easier to achieve than the greater good of the whole. We all do it. However, if we truly love the only home we have and all of its inhabitants, if we truly love each other and ourselves, we will choose to get uncomfortable.

Megan Hollingsworth, founder of ExtinctionWitness, is someone who is a living example of a commitment to getting uncomfortable enough to live from love. She allows herself to feel her grief - all of it - deeply and fully, and she comes out the other side empowered and more committed to being of service in the world. I am deeply moved by her capacity for compassion and ability to be with this deep grief by truly allowing herself to experience the incalculable pain of the world. Megan is doing some of the most important work on the planet - reminding us that, in order to shift the vast amount of unconscious damage we have done to the planet and each other, we must allow ourselves to feel our grief about the violence, ignorance, greed and inhumanity or our thoughts, words and deeds. Again, we must feel it to heal it.

As my friend Alex wrote in a most touching and memorable post on facebook:  "I heard a story on the radio about a refugee camp near Kabul, Afghanistan…. A girl my son's age died in the night from the cold. Many others are suffering the same fate…. I got off work a little early today, and laid in the afternoon sun that spills into our home. I had a nice snack, and now will go pick up my son from day care. I'm warm and satisfied, surrounded by love and abundance…. I am blessed beyond what I deserve, and I don't understand suffering. If I could give up one blanket, one meal, one set of clothes, one tank of gas, any of these comforts I take for granted, so that another child like that can live, I would. I think any of us would. I wish it were that simple. Maybe it is."

I believe our grief at what is happening in the world - whether we're aware of it or not - is actually the evidence of how very much we love this world of ours. It's not our anger and fear that source this lake - it's love. We do what we've done simply because we've forgotten that what we really are is Love. That forgetting has consequences far beyond our understanding.

So, as Rumi so wisely wrote hundreds of years ago, "stay with it… the wound is the place where the Light enters you."

 

 

There is a light- a light that guides you through the storms.

There is a place- a place of healing and calm.

There is a peace- a peace that lives beneath the waves.

Beneath the sorrow and the joy, there is a stillness and grace.

Beauty is like rain, falling from the skies.

It is God's love that's pouring from your eyes.

The wounds of life, they bring healing my friend.

The heart that breaks is but opening again.

The heart that breaks is but opening again.

- "There is a light" by John Astin

Resources:

  1. Rumi poem
  2. Union Democrat, "Three Dead in Murder-Suicide," February 4, 2013
  3. This American Life, episode #
  4. John Astin, "There is a Light," Remembrance