The last few weeks I’ve been hyper-aware of how beautiful the natural world around me is. Everything is green and luscious, the flowers are blooming and the scent of lilacs when I’m riding my bike along local roads fills me with delight. We’ve had visits from incredible birds including orioles, Eastern blue-birds and indigo buntings. We’ve been dining on fresh asparagus and my rhubarb is almost ready to harvest.
But along with my joy and appreciation I’ve also been, at times, overwhelmed with sadness. I’ve been reading up on climate science and watching documentaries, and it’s abundantly clear that we are destroying our habitat. Not only with our determination to gas ourselves with carbon dioxide but also our relentless consumerism and throw-away lifestyle.
For years I’ve been a supporter of environmental causes and wild-life protection. I grew up in the country and always marked my days by what was growing and what I was observing from various tree-forts and favourite hideaways in the fields. In the last two years, those of us who are dedicated to species diversity have witnessed decades worth of hard-fought battles being wiped out by a single administration. And nature has no use for national borders. What happens anywhere on the planet affects us all. How does one make peace with that?
How do I maintain compassion and willingness to listen to people whose values are absolutely opposed to my own? How do I balance my sympathy for the unemployed coal-miner or fisherman with my love for the natural web of interconnected beings that we depend on for our survival? How do I live up to my own environmental aspirations? (Do I throw out all the plastic straws already in my house or do I use up what’s there?)
One answer is to be nihilistic, and just look after “I, me, and mine.” I can pretend that there’s nothing to be done and rationalize that we’ll probably be wiped out by some other disaster anyway (like an asteroid, or a volcano). But that’s not in my nature.
The other answer is to keep on keeping on and learn to surrender any expectations of results. The Bhagavad Gita, and a number of other yoga texts prescribe precisely this.
The sage Vasistha tells a story about a crow and a coconut. Imagine a tall and beautiful coconut tree, against a sunny blue sky. A crow alights on the tree, and at the moment he lands a coconut falls to the ground. Did the crow cause the coconut to fall? Or was it just the coconut’s time? The point of the metaphor is that we can never know. Yogic and buddhist wisdom prescribes that we behave as if every action we undertake matters immensely (karma), and also, we must recognize that our every action may make no difference at all. This paradox is hard to hold, but I feel there is great wisdom in it. We do all that we can do, and surrender any expectation that the results will turn out in our favour. We don’t stop caring, and we don’t stop trying, but we let go of anger and frustration about the way things turn out. In a way, we’re taking care of taking care.
Working hard on surrender (lol),
Ps would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.