Flying Against the Wind

In the years ahead, none of us will stop the work we are doing for the environment.

By John McIlwain

These are deeply upsetting times for everyone concerned about our planet, its climate, and the life on it. As the initial shock of the election passes, and a more sober reality emerges, it’s time to pause, breath, and find a still center from which to plan and act as we consider next steps. This is where spiritual practices can be invaluable.

An irony of dark times is that it’s easy to become distracted from, and even forget, spiritual practice, or whatever practices we may have that help center us, in times of turmoil. Yet these are just when they offer the greatest healing and are most valuable. I highly recommend the interview with Kristin Barker, co-founder of One Earth Sangha, where she talks about how her Buddhist meditation practice keeps her heart open and equanimous in these difficult days.

As Barker notes, the first step is to be present to what is so, to acknowledge the reality of the situation even if it is not to our liking. Nonjudgmental acceptance does not mean to agree with or like the circumstances; it’s simply, and importantly, a first step to skillful action. Only from a quiet and steady heart, with clarity about the situation, can our inner wisdom arise.

This is also a time to keep the long view in mind. Progress is never linear; it spirals up and down, in and out, and, surprising as it may be, dark times often lead to great growth. As Alverto Taxo, an Indigenous Elder from Ecuador, says:

It is necessary to fly in this time when it feels like the winds are against us. When circumstances are different from what we want, it’s similar to a very strong wind that is coming against us. It is our opportunity. With that wind against us, [like the condor] we can fly higher. … It is necessary to open our hearts and our minds and to take advantage of the difficult circumstances of life, to understand the message of life and fly even higher.

In the years ahead, none of us will stop or even slow down the work we are doing for the environment. The new administration can and may do active harm, but the most effective action in the US over the years has come from below the federal level. This will not change; in fact, the actions of the incoming administration may well be a forcing event to sharpen the focus and reinforce these actions. As Michael Bloomberg told the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce last month, “Cities, businesses, and citizens will continue reducing emissions, because they have concluded—just as China has—that doing so is in their own self-interest.”

So this is a time to breath deeply, feel grateful for life, feel the love for the earth that lies under our fears, and come together with others to reflect, plan, and organize for the long haul. Our greatest impact will come from considered, consistent, and coordinated actions at all political levels and with the private sector. Remember we are on the side of life, and my heart tells me that we will look back in five years and see that far more progress has occurred than we expect today.

John McIlwain is the director of the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior program. 

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