On Global Warming


I’m entering a topic where when I searched online for images to accompany a post pertaining to it, I was accosted with pictures of the earth engulfed in violent flames, sad looking arctic animals stranded on frozen chunks of ice bobbing in the sea, and giant smoke stacks belching out plumes of exhaust. But amid all of the alarming and heart-wrenching images, I found this one, shown above, which I greatly prefer. I also think this image has the capacity to possibly motivate and support people, rather than just scare the crap out of them, which is a bonus.

I’ve purposefully avoided this topic, much like one would avoid the plague. Anything having to do with the word “activism” scares me. Right or wrong, and probably a bit of both, when I think of activism, centered around any topic, I immediately think of angry-ridden crowds, shouting and shaking their rock-fists in the air at some invisible collective entity that they’ve obsessively devoted their lives to hating passionately, and short-shortsightedly. This does not appeal to me in the slightest. Now, of course, there are those who would consider themselves an activist who are not filled with a boiling surge of rancor and enmity. I just happen to leave out this demographic of folks when conjuring up my idea of what an activist would look like. It’s similar to when I clean the house without wearing my glasses (I have very poor vision without them) – I do a half-ass job in addressing the art of cleanliness because I’m only taking the time to look at a fraction of the task at hand. In my defense, the house looks super clean after I’m finished, glasses-less of course.

When I think of the topic of global warming part of me shuts down. I start tuning out right away because I’m not interested in engaging in someone’s endless tirade about the accredited science, either for or against it, or how we should all be throwing ourselves in front of the freight trains hauling long trails of coal-filled containers through our mountain town of Missoula, Montana. And in all honesty, I’m not convinced there’s a whole lot that we can really do to stop the process of global warming. This is because that is, as a common Buddhist teaching puts it. Perhaps we’re simply not meant to continue on the way we’ve been and perhaps that means we can make a global shift in thinking and acting and perhaps it means the end of our particular way of life. Who knows?


But, aye, here comes the rub: given that I have an immense amount of confidence, trust, and faith in my root teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Buddhist tradition founded and inspired by him, I am given pause regarding the last line of the second Mindfulness Training, which states:

I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

The Mindfulness Trainings were revised, I believe, in 2009. This line was a new addition – and continues to be my least favorite line in all of the mindfulness trainings. If the line just ended after the word “Earth” I’d be on board, happily and contentedly. But it doesn’t end there. Every time I hear the last part of this training: and reverse the process of global warming, I shutter inwardly in astonishment at what I deem as the ridiculousness of what it’s suggesting. It doesn’t say to address the nature of global warming or reduce our environmental impact or rail against its progression – it uses the word reverse. And while it’s quite possible that I will never be able to fully integrate this word into my ability to understand the context underlying this part of the training, I am interested in transforming my disdain and avoidance of it. From my deep trust in Thay’s teachings comes a sense of knowing that he has a better understanding about things than I do, a wider perspective more in tune with the nature of life. So when I encounter something within the context of our practice tradition that rubs me the wrong way, or doesn’t make any sense, on some level I know that I’m simply not seeing the whole picture quite yet, that I’m missing an aspect of whatever teaching is being offered – it’s a sign, to me, that there’s work to be done.

What all of my commentary comes down to is this: 1. The topic of global warming repels me. 2. I have great confidence in my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. 3. The fact that global warming is addressed specifically in our Mindfulness Trainings nudges me in the direction of wanting to look more deeply into my avoidance of this subject.

And so, a week-and-a-half ago, I took a step in the direction of transformation by attending an Interfaith Global Warming Summit, hosted at St. Francis Xavier, a local Catholic church. I figured that with a faith-based foundation the gathering would lend itself to a more stable environment, as opposed to the heated/controversial energy that I was trying to avoid at all costs. I was right. I was pleasantly surrounded by community members, from a variety of faith groups, who were interested in delving into the topic of climate change with a sense of groundedness and realistic approaches towards addressing this complex issue.

The pastor at St. Francis, Father Joseph Carver, gave a wonderful presentation directed towards offering an overview of the Laudato si’, meaning Praise Be to You, which is Pope Francis’s second encyclical, a 184-page document with the subtitle: On Care For Our Common Home, in which the Pope critiques consumerism, irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming, and calls all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action.” – thanks Wikipedia!

It was a refreshing gathering and I left feeling very inspired. Using my glasses analogy again, I went to the Summit as an attempt to put my metaphorical glasses on and see things a little more clearly, rather than forge ahead in an out-of-focus fashion with only partial understanding. Mission accomplished.

While I don’t imagine I’ll ever feel drawn to picking up this issue as a large thread to weave in my life, prioritizing my time around it as I do with other things, I am taking small steps to gain more understanding, lessen my discomfort around it, and widen my perspective. Unwinding those places within myself that feel tight and uncertain allows me to become lighter and freer on my path of practice. The bigger my perspective is, the more open my heart becomes. And, perhaps, that’s what life is all about.

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