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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 48 you step onto the green path, but actually it is a good thing. We have come a very long way since the word “ecology” made its debut in the 1960s. In the twenty-first century, understanding ecology is central to sustaining life on Earth as we know it. There are many conversations, many opportunities, and many good causes at every possible scale of engagement. The key is finding the right “fit” with your knowledge, skills, interest, and values. It also helps if someone extends you a hand. Being naive can be an advantage to the seeker. You approach any new topic of Earth-keeping with a fresh mind, a willing curiosity, and your own humble hon- esty about how little you know. This means you must turn to others to learn more, coming with open hands as a student. Everything you en- counter has some value be- cause you don’t yet know what will be useful. Beginner’s mind is a beautiful gift for those entering the stream or taking up a new phase of the work. By asking for help or information, you take small steps in building relationships with others doing this work. This is very important; it is too easy to become discour- aged if you try to go it alone in facing environmental is- sues. Forging connections with others makes it seem possible to do the work; those with experience are a testi- mony of success to surviving the challenges. For some, the call or invi- tation comes first from the natural world itself. In my own formative years in en- vironmental work I lived on the edge of a wild area near the University of California in Santa Cruz. I would often go for walks among the coast live oaks on the grassy terraces or down to the dark canyon of the redwood-lined creek. During the long and emotionally demanding process of completing my graduate studies, I took my unshaped questions to the land, letting my feet guide me as I walked. I learned to respond to the pulls in different directions, not knowing where I would end up, trusting the process for its own wisdom. Sometimes I would find myself climbing an oak on the mesa for the big view of ocean and sky. Sometimes I would crawl close to a small spring nestled in moss, feeding the creek drop by drop. I found answers through listen- ing closely, waiting for insight that made sense in a way I could recognize. Some find the call arising from conversations with friends or from watching a stirring film. A neighbor tells you about her community garden plot; a colleague explains his house insulation project. After the widespread showing of Al Gore’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, many people suddenly felt called to take up the challenge of climate change. For some, the response is quiet and personal, an inner reflection or reckoning: It’s time, I must do something. For others, the process of taking up the green path is social and full of excit- ing possibility, like the com- ing together of thousands of students involved in the Focus the Nation actions on climate. The sheer social momentum of so much inspiring activity can galvanize a crowd to new levels of green commitment. This seeking or calling pro- cess generates a need to know more, to see who’s doing what, to get your bearings in an unfamiliar universe. These days it is not hard to develop a basic working knowledge of ecological principles and to learn about key areas of concern where people are en- gaged as citizens and profes- sionals. Information is quite accessible on the Internet or in introductory books or en- vironmental magazines. Many environmental groups wel- come volunteers interested in broadening their knowledge base by working with oth- ers who know more. It can be tempting to want to study until you feel you know enough to take action. But if you get bogged down with information overload, it might undermine the forward momentum you are trying to generate. To counter this hazard, you should keep an eye on what I call your “juice meter.” Which topics and issues generate energy for you? When do you notice your enthusiasm barometer going up? These mo- ments offer important feedback in the learning process; they tell you what to pursue and what to leave for others to pursue. You don’t even need to know why something is exciting, you just need to follow that thread to the next step.