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How Low Can You Go? Part 1: On Letting Go

28 09.11

How Low CanYou Go? Part 1: On Letting Go

“The courtyard is well kept
but the fields are full of weeds,
and the granaries stand empty.
Still, there are those of us
who wear elegant clothes, carry sharp swords,
pamper ourselves with food and drink
and have more possessions than we can use.
These are the actions of robbers.

This is certainly far from the Tao.”

Tao Te Ching, Verse 53

Salutations, solutionaries!

Derek again. I wanted to get the ball rolling on a topic that Nasi will run with in an upcoming installment:

How low can you go?

The “low” we’re referring to is your environmental impact upon the world. Almost everything we do takes up natural resources (especially in industrialized nations). Food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation, recreation. As hard as we try, it seems like the cards are always stacked against us as we’re part of a system that’s destructive to the very ecology that nourishes us. Even I am typing this for you on a laptop composed of petroleum-based plastic and precious metals mined from the earth. The electricity that’s charging my battery comes from a power plant fueled by blowing up mountains to extract the coal that’s burned to generate it. Ditto the broadband wifi that I’ve used to upload it to our blog. And don’t even get me started on the level of waste at the coffee shop that’s doubling as my office right now…

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easier to look out a window and find faults than it is to look in a mirror and do the same. However, nobody’s perfect, so no need to flog yourself in punishment for your transgressions against earth the next time you slip and do something unsustainable. You’ve been freed from The Matrix and your eyes are still adjusting to the light and your body is getting used to carrying its own weight. Maybe enlightenment isn’t a ladder, with some people higher and some people lower on the rungs. Maybe it’s a giant circle, and we’re all staring in at the same huge question mark?

I’ve always thought that sustainability is a lot like driving your car on the highway at night: you can never see to your final destination, but as long as you’re facing in the right direction all you have to do is keep moving forward. Being conscious of what you’re doing and being mindful of your impact on the world is (in my opinion) the first and most important step that all else flows from. I’ve noticed a tendency for people to think of sustainability as some kind of end goal to be reached, as if they could stop once they hit a certain level of recycling/composting/buying organically and locally/etc.

On the flip side, I think the secret of it all is actually this – sustainability is really a mindset, a way of life, a method of looking at and interacting with the world around us and all living things that cohabit it. It’s about constantly questioning if you can do a little more to help, if you can try a little harder and dig a little deeper in order for you to let go of the unnecessary in your life.

Too often I hear people say that they’ve GIVEN UP smoking cigarettes or buying individually-packaged products or supporting companies that pollute. I’d much rather hear their language reflect the truth – that they have actually LET GO of material goods/personal practices that were weighing them down all along and hurting the planet in the process. It’s much easier, from a psychological standpoint, to understand the value in LETTING GO of something you don’t need than it is to think/say that you are GIVING UP on something you have been dependent upon.

The words we use have power. They define our reality and dictate not just how we think, but IF we think. There’s a reason plantation owners wouldn’t let their slaves learn how to read. How can you question a system if you don’t even understand it? It’s all in the language, as George Orwell so eloquently expressed in the Appendix of his seminal masterpiece, “1984”. And I thoroughly believe we need to choose our words carefully if we really want to see a ripple effect of positive change spread across the globe.

We’re all on our own paths at different points along a much greater path to whatever our collective destiny as a planet will be. Asking questions about the issues raised above can be real mind benders and try the soul. And we may not be able to save the world…but don’t we at least want to be the kind of people who TRIED?

Knowing others is to be clever.
Knowing yourself is to be enlightened.
Overcoming others requires force.
Overcoming yourself requires strength.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 33

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