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Lions Roar : January 2009
46 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 Truthfully, we can’t even begin to realize how much effort it will take. In the last few years there has been a deluge of books on the market and Internet websites offering “easy steps” to being green. People everywhere are wanting to do the right thing; there is a hunger for information and guidance. Most often the focus at this first stage of response is personal: What can I do to create a green lifestyle? How can I live in a more eco-friendly manner? The guidebooks point out ways to save energy, make wise food choic- es, and consider green products. These are important steps in the right direction; they offer a way to begin living with the Earth’s health in mind. But we will need to take this conversation much further if we are to truly address the state of the world today. As I have spoken to audiences around the country, I have been struck by what could be called “green zeal,” an almost fervent sense of engagement with environmental concerns. People feel passionately about protecting rain forests and whales; they want everyone to know that polar bears and penguins are threatened. Behind the passion is a deeply felt need to do something right, to find a way to correct our past environmental errors. Almost no point on the globe is free of human influence now; we have left our mark in virtually all the world’s ecosystems. People to- day feel the sorrow of these thoughtless actions in the past—the once-expansive forests so diminished, the native peoples deci- mated. There is a great well of shame and grief wanting relief from the painful consequences of our own shortsighted actions. This manifests as a need for healing, for making life changes that will take us in a kinder direction, one that can sustain our own lives as well as the rest of life on Earth. Our anxiety over an uncertain future has become particularly acute with the new understanding that climate change will affect us all. We have the sense that global support systems are lurching out of control, that things have gone too far that we may already be in serious danger. Climate advocates are urging government leaders to invest in a green vision for a more hopeful future. Businesses are making energy and waste audits to cut costs and improve long-term economic viability. Voters are calling for a “green jobs” economy to help us make the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Green zeal is necessary to change our ways quickly, to meet environmental goals that would be impossible without global cooperation. In the midst of so much greening activity, many people are making significant changes to their lives, taking up what I’ve come to call the “green practice path.” They are changing their lightbulbs, taking the bus, insulating their homes, serving on community boards, and passing along green values to their chil- dren. From what I’ve observed, these efforts are based in much deeper motivation than home improvement. People are thinking deeply about what matters to them and taking their actions seri- ously. I believe they are bringing their best ethical and spiritual attention to environmental concerns and trying to match their actions to their moral principles. People come to green practice from many walks of life and are taking initiative in many different arenas. Green zeal is turning up in every corner of the Earth. Thousands of people are living their own inspiring stories as they find a way to share their green ethics on behalf of a more peaceful and genuinely happy world. There is no single green path; the path is determined by individual experi- ence, local needs, and personal motivation. The green path is, by and large, a secular practice, open to all who feel the call. It seems to me to reflect what the Dalai Lama calls an “ethics for the new millennium,” an ethics built on compassion, restraint, and accep- tance of universal responsibility for the well-being of the Earth. If we engage green living in more depth, it becomes an expres- sion of our deepest moral values. The “work” of green living be- comes less a chore and more a locus of ethical development. We conserve water not because we should be frugal but because we respect the Earth’s resources. This shift in thinking and under- standing can be quite profound. The conversation moves from personal sacrifice to real consideration of the nature of our con- nection with the Earth. When we come to see ourselves as part of the great web of life, in relationship with all beings, we are naturally drawn to respond with compassion. A PATH OF PRACTICE When people start out on the green path, environmental issues can feel like a separate world, something very much apart from their own lives. That sense of separation makes it harder to find a way to become part of the work in an effective and meaning- ful way. In a world of myriad environmental challenges, it is not always clear where to make a contribution. How do you know where to put your effort? How can you tell if your work is making a difference? As you look for a way to address what is disturbing to you about our planetary situation, it is important to keep ask- ing such questions until the appropriate answers arrive. You might wonder where exactly to apply the green principles we’ve discussed. Should you work with a nonprofit organization or a government agency? Should you get a new, more green job? Should you work locally, nationally, or internationally? Hardly ever does anyone survey all the possible options and then make a rational decision about “what is best.” There is too much going on; there is too much to know. This may seem overwhelming as Many people are taking up the green practice path. They are bringing their best ethical and spiritual attention to environmental concerns and trying to match their actions to their moral principles.