Friday, June 9, 2017

The Spirituality of Making Decisions

"The Beauty of the Earth "
- At the Desert Retreat House -

We were in Washington D.C. last week visiting our family when the announcement was made that the United States would be withdrawing from the international “Climate Agreement.” I was sitting in a room with my two little grandchildren when I heard this disturbing news and my immediate reaction was to hold onto those babies and wonder what their future would be like if we continue to egregiously neglect and abuse “Mother Earth"? When they grew up would a self-centered “climate” decision made for political reasons make it virtually impossible for life to flourish on this planet?

Upon hearing last week’s decision in Washington, I was reminded of how averse I am to driving on the highways in and around Los Angeles.   The incredible volume of traffic on overly-congested highways, an ocean of automobiles for as far as the eye can see, highways that sometimes look more like parking lots with bumper-to-bumper traffic barely crawling over six or eight lanes. The amount of fuel consumption and engine emission alone is so staggering that I can hardly even imagine it.

The fact is that it didn’t have to be this way - all those cars on all the highways, the air slowly poisoned and polluted.  In fact the uncontrolled traffic in a city like Los Angeles is a direct result of decisions made 100 years ago by big business and industry, oil companies and automobile manufacturers.

A hundred years ago people got around the newly expanding City of Los Angeles by making wide use of pubic transit, electric streetcars and cable cars were the primary mode of transportation. The Los Angeles streetcars were the “talk of the country,” touted as a new model of transportation for the growing population in the nation’s big cities - safe, energy efficient, easily accessible for everyone, economical.

But the captains of industry saw streetcars as being a serious hindrance to the “profit margin.” There is way more money in making and selling cars to every individual and forcing them to buy your gas. And so they exercised their influence and used their political power, and streetcars met an untimely death.

To this day, despite major efforts at changing how people travel, there is very little in the way of good public transportation in L.A; instead, the city is plagued by an overabundance of individual automobiles, polluting the air, clogging the highways, quietly destroying Mother Earth.

We hear an awful lot today about global warming, incredibly harsh winters, summers that are hotter than ever before in history. The atmosphere is becoming more and more poisoned, oceans are over-harvested and polluted by oil spills, forests are dying. It all makes me wonder if, like the traffic in Los Angeles, it could have all been avoided if 100 years ago different environmental decisions were made, decisions not driven by bloated egos in the worship of the almighty profit margin?   It also makes me wonder how it is possible that we would even consider making decisions in our own day to withdraw from a climate agreement aimed at restoring the damage we have done to this planet?

In her book, Minding the Earth, Mending the World: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis, Buddhist author and teacher Susan Murphy takes a lesson from the Hopi Tribe of the North American Indians who believed that the “Great Spirit” intimately abided in and flowed throughout all creation. They believed that we all belong to Mother Earth, all joined together in the flow of the abiding spirit, and so what we do to the earth we do to one another.

I was especially interested to read about the decision-making process employed by these native peoples when it came to how to treat the natural environment:

The Hopi way of approaching any big communal decision about
how to treat Mother Earth is one that may seems strange
to ears like ours so attuned to the urgent din of ‘growth at all costs.’
They would gather together and ask the question,
‘What will this mean for the next seven generations?’

The people would close their eyes and reach deep inside to visualize the faces
of those downstream in time from themselves –
the next seven generations of those unknown stewards of the earth yet to be born.

In light of the recent climate announcement in Washington, this idea of making decisions about the earth with a concern for what it will mean for the next seven generations is a very powerful image for me.

It also seems to me that you don’t have to be a politician, a corporate executive or oil tycoon to be making seven-generation decisions when it comes to how we treat Mother Earth. Recycling, saving water, concern for how much fuel and electricity we consume, these are far more than politically correct acts performed by liberal-minded “tree huggers.”  The way any one of us treats the earth is the way we treat one another, not only those who live on this planet with us but those who will come after us in the generations yet to come.  

The philosopher, William James, once said:

Act as if what you do makes a difference.
It does!

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