Can We?

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It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerical reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits.  This brings us to an entirely practical question: Can we–and if we can, how can we–make actual in our minds the sometimes urgent things we say we know?  This obviously can not be accomplished by a technological breakthrough, nor can it be accomplished by a big thought.  Perhaps it cannot be accomplished at all. – Wendell Berry, The Jefferson Lecture

So can we?  Who really can wrap their heads around the collective and massive agony of a planet gone mad?  And even if we could, would we be capable of the herculean effort that it would require to correct the situation?  Do we even know how?  And even if we did, how many people would care enough?

And is it even up to us?  The Bible says that it isn’t:

I well know, O Jehovah, that man’s way does not belong to him. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step. – Jeremiah 10:23

So what does God really expect of us?  Do we just stand by and watch as the world goes up in smoke?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”+37  He said to him: “‘You must love Jehovah* your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul* and with your whole mind.’+ 38  This is the greatest and first commandment. 39  The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’+ 40  On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”+ – Matthew 22: 36-40

So, although God promises to step in and handle the things that we cannot fix on our own, he has always expected people to show love.  Most of what destroys and hurts people and other living beings is behavior that is the opposite of love.  We can, as Gandhi so famously said, “be the change” we wish to see in the world as we wait patiently for God’s intervention.

Why are we unable to stop the destruction?

Will Man Ruin the Earth Beyond Repair?

Simplicity of Wellness

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The Vital Lie

Photo by Majd Mohabek via Flickr creative commons

Photo by Majd Mohabek via Flickr creative commons

“The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen coined the phrase “vital lie” for the comforting story we tell ourselves that hides a more painful truth.  When it comes to the full costs of ecological ignorance in the marketplace, we endorse the vital lie what we don’t know or can’t see does not matter.”  – Daniel Goleman
Our world is undergoing unprecedented change.  For the first time in history, man, through his activities, has become a serious threat to the continued existence of life as we know it on planet earth.  In his book, Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy, Daniel Goleman highlights one of the many challenges to change, and that is our inability to perceive ecological damage as an imminent threat.  This makes it easy for people to believe “the vital lie” that because they can’t see or feel the damage, can’t perceive a threat, that it doesn’t matter, or even that it doesn’t exist.
“Psychophysicists use the term “just noticeable difference” to describe the merest amount of shift our senses can detect in sensory signals like pressure or volume.  the ecological changes that signal impending danger are sub-threshold, too subtle to register in our sensory systems at all.  We have no ready-made detectors for, nor instinctive response to, these hazy sources of harm.  The human brain adapted to spot dangers within its sensory field.  But to survive today we must perceive threats that are beyond our threshholds for perceptions.  We must make the invisible visible.” – Daniel Goleman, Ecological Intelligence
But there are people who are so exquisitely sensitive to chemical and electromagnetic exposures that they seem to have almost superhuman abilities to detect toxins with the potential to harm humans, animals and the earth as a whole.  I believe that these people, at least to some extent, may represent an exception to the rule spoken of above. It seems to be the assumption of many, even sufferers of chemical sensitivity themselves, that the chronically ill are maladapted to our world.  But if looked at through the lens of ecological destruction, just the opposite may be true.  Those who know they are ill from the toxins in our environment have adopted the name canaries in the coalmine because they believe they are a warning to the rest of the world.  They live each day unavoidably aware of the damage to our planet.  They feel environmental damage in their lungs,  joints, muscles,  brains.  They feel the pain of the destruction like no others.  For them, Toto has pulled aside the curtain so that they can see the humbug wizard behind the madness of our world.  They exist in an alternate reality not seen by others, and it can be maddening.  The world is burning, but though they scream fire at the top of their lungs,  the audience is mostly deaf.
No, canaries are not maladapted, they are hyper-adapted.
 When a person is aware of what and where pollution is,  and is also aware of the fact that they are indeed being made ill by pollution, there are certain things that they are unlikely to do.  They would be unlikely, for example, sit in a moldy house drenched in artificial fragrance and toxic cleaning chemicals and wonder why round after round of antibiotics doesn’t clear up their repeated sinus infections.  They probably would not wear clothes reeking of fabric softener while wondering why their asthma keeps getting worse.  They would not own a vehicle with a leak in the gas line and wonder why they have migraines every time they go anywhere.  They would not spray their yards with Roundup and then wonder why they just cannot get well.   They just wouldn’t do those things.
The problem with being a member of a group of people who are hyper-adapted to a toxic world is just this: they are a minority.  For now.  And because they are a minority, it means that the pollution proceeds unabated.  It means that because the destruction is “beyond the threshhold for perception” of most people, canaries will often be viewed as crazy malingerers.   It means that no matter how many adjustments to their lives that they make, they will never completely escape the pollutants that are making them ill.  It means isolation.  It means frustration.  It means heartbreak.
So what is the answer?  It is Daniel Goleman’s contention that if more people begin using their cerebral cortex to make decisions about what’s dangerous and what’s not rather than relying on their amygdalas, that we might have a chance to turn this ship around.  We just need to get the word out, he says.  I disagree.  Our best efforts will continue to fail.  The cards are stacked against us because those with the most money and the most power seem for the most part to be guided not by accurate information coupled with altruism, but by greed.  They are morally bankrupt.  This will not change because all the good ideas and good intentions in the world cannot root greed out of the heart of man.
I’m a Christian.  And as such, I do not believe that we are alone in this.  I believe the bible when it says that God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18)   I believe Jesus when he said that the “meek… shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5 KJV)
So if I’m right, if it’s true that God is going to stop us from annihilating ourselves, does that absolve Christians of the responsibility to care for the earth?  No, far from it. Wendell Berry wrote that we“have no right to destroy what we did not create.”  God did not put us here to become a plague, but to care for and protect our home. (Genesis 1:28)  And aside from that, it is the responsibility of all Christians to imitate their God who is love.  Love should guide all of our actions.  Wasting resources, polluting the air and water, spreading garbage everywhere, and generally making ourselves pests is far from loving.

“Violence against one is ultimately violence against all. The willingness to abuse other bodies is the willingness to abuse one’s own. To damage the earth is to damage your children.” – The Body and the Earth, by Wendell Berry

What can we do?
 We can refuse to believe “the vital lie”.  We can pull our heads out of the sand and educate ourselves.  We can make a genuine effort, once we know better, to do better.  We can believe those who feel the pollution in their bodies, the canaries.  We can refuse to  do avoidable harm.    It matters. 
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Move!

walking the dog

“Walking is man’s best medicine.”  – Hippocrates

I guess I’m a pretty good spokesperson for guilty non-exercisers.  I exercise in jerks and starts, mostly sitting on my derriere but every once in a blue moon trying to behave like a seasoned outdoorswoman and failing miserably.  This has to stop, because I, like nearly everyone, understand that movement is absolutely essential to bodily health.  It strengthens muscles, including the heart, moves lymph, increases lung capacity, and the one that interests me the most: it can dramatically improve mood.

I found a great article in U.S. News and World Report about the mental health benefits of exercise.  Here are some choice excerpts:

 “Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain.” – John Ratey, author Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

“Working out also helps keep us from ruminating ‘by altering blood flow to those areas in the brain involved in triggering us to relive these stressful thoughts again and again,’ says study coauthor Elissa Epel, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF.”

“Research suggests that burning off 350 calories three times a week through sustained, sweat-inducing activity can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants.”

“Exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors, which help make new brain cells and establish new connections between brain cells to help us learn.”

“Even mild activity like a leisurely walk can help keep your brain fit and active, fending off memory loss and keeping skills like vocabulary retrieval strong.”

Pretty impressive, especially when you consider the fact that the medications we use to treat mental health problems have such potentially serious side effects.

One day when I was much sicker than I am now, I decided to take a walk to try to shake off some of my brain fog and depression.  I felt too weak to walk, but I set out anyway.  I threw my shoulders back like I owned the world, took long strides, and breathed deeply.  I’ll never forget how much better it made me feel.  So why don’t I do that everyday?  Okay, here come the excuses: the traffic on our road is dangerous and the diesel fumes make me choke, the only other place to walk is on the canal road which is nearly always drenched in herbicide and grows bumper crops of puncture weed which injure my dog’s feet, the neighbors dryer vents constantly spew forth a toxic cloud of “freshness”, and there are scary dogs.  Deep breath…  But I walked today anyway.  See? That’s how writing heals.  First you write something, then you have to do it or you’re a hypocrite.

But how does this fit?  Simplicity of Wellness is, after all, an article about how love heals.  How can exercise show love for the earth and its creatures?  Aren’t the benefits mostly personal?  No, because not only are walking and bike riding very good forms of exercise, they also happen to be great alternative forms of transportation, especially if you live in, or close to, a city.  Obviously, fewer cars on the road means less pollution.  Walking or biking instead of driving when possible is another win/win situation for both ourselves and the earth if we would only put it into practice.  It’s another way we can show love for earth and all its creatures, including ourselves and our fellow humans.

I would love to become fit enough to walk all the way into town and back.  It would help me to avoid having to drive so much, and it would do a world of good for my body.    I hope you will join me.  Lets move!

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy

Small Planets

NASA_Earth_America_2010

“It is wrong to think that bodily health is compatible with spiritual confusion, or cultural disorder, or with polluted air and water, or impoverished soil.” – Wendell Berry

I was a hunter with her spear.  There in the distance was a the deer, ambulatory grace, caution personified.  She would become part of me, and part of my family.  All at once, I threw the spear true, and brought down my quarry.  All of her would be used, not one bit wasted, and I was thankful for her.

This is how I would play as a child.  What fascination the idea of living in a tribal society, migrating with my food supply, entirely aware of my dependence on the natural world and entirely in sync with its rhythms, held for me as a child, and still does.

Our culture is sick, and one of the most troubling symptoms of that sickness is its alienation from the natural world.  Our existence has become almost exclusively artificial. It is screened off from the sources of our health and life.  And the more artificial our existence becomes, the sicker we become.  This is proof that we are not independent of the Earth, but completely dependent upon it not just for the raw materials which we use, but for its energies, its rhythms, its sights and sounds and smells.  In short, we need to live close to earth, and we need earth intact, unpolluted.

Each human is a microcosm of our environment.  We are like small planets, reflecting almost exactly the condition of the larger planet which we inhabit.  Dump toxic waste in our waterways, and the tiny oceans of our bodies will contain that waste.  Belch filth into our air, and the filth will sully our bloodstream.  Spray neurotoxins on our food, and those toxins will pollute our cells.

I have a very deep, visceral grief connected with these things.  The home that was very carefully crafted in all its detail to be a self-sustaining, life-giving system, has itself become so compromised by the activities of humans that there is actually doubt not only about the health of the air we breath, the water we drink, and the food we eat, but about its continued ability to sustain life at all.  The very things that should give life and health, sometimes do the opposite.  Going outside for a breath of fresh air often instead results in a lungful of diesel fumes and a head that aches.  In addition to hydrating the body, drinking a cold glass of water may also dose us with chlorine, fluoride, rat poison, and prescription medication residues.  Eating a deliciously crisp and sweet apple not only provides nourishment, but also a hit of malathion.

It’s very sad that even if a person wanted to reject this culture which is so alienated from its life sources and find a place in the wilderness to set up camp, that person would still not be any safer than the deer who end up with tumors from chemical drift, the starfish that are dying of a mysterious disease all along the Pacific Coast, or the ring seals and walruses that are dying in Alaska from something that looks suspiciously like radiation poisoning.   Humans have done a pretty good job of spreading their malignant influence all over the earth.

But humans don’t have to be a plague.  God made us guardians, and I have confidence that in the future, that is exactly what we will be.

 

Photo By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unsafe – The Truth Behind Everyday Chemicals

http://www.linktv.org/video/9214/unsafe-the-truth-behind-everyday-chemicals

This video may seem scary, but if it motivates you to toss the toxic products in your home, it’s worth watching. Toxic chemicals effect all of us, not just the ultra sensitive. But you can dramatically reduce your exposures. High exposure levels are not unavoidable.

MCS Under Seige by Dr. Ann McCampbell

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“Movies like Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action depict the true stories of communities whose members became ill after drinking water contaminated with industrial waste. Their struggles clearly show how difficult it is for people to hold corporations responsible for the harm they have caused. Whether individuals are injured by exposures to contaminated air or water, silicone breast implants, cigarettes, or other chemicals, their quest for justice is usually a David versus Goliath battle that pits average citizens against giant corporations.

When confronted with the harm they have caused, corporations typically blame the victims, deny the problem, and try to avoid responsibility for the harm caused. The corporate response to people with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) has been no different. People with MCS are made sick from exposures to many common products, such as pesticides, paints, solvents, perfumes, carpets, building materials, and many cleaning and other products. But the manufacturers of these products would rather silence the messenger than acknowledge the message that their products are not safe.

To that end, the chemical manufacturing industry has launched an anti-MCS campaign designed to create the illusion of controversy about MCS and cast doubt on its existence. What has been said about the tobacco industry could easily apply to the chemical industry regarding MCS, that is, “the only diversity of opinion comes from the authors with … industry affiliations (1).” “

Read the rest of the article: http://annmccampbell.com/publicationswritings/publication-1/#

What Would Thoreau Think?

I wonder if Thoreau understood how incredibly privileged he was in his Walden shack?  I think maybe he did.  Even in his much quieter time, he must have known there weren’t many who enjoyed that kind of liberty and peace.  He would likely have been horrified had he been suddenly dropped into our time and into our culture.  If he resented the railroads of his time, what would he have thought of the roaring rivers of asphalt called freeways, never quiet day or night?  If he thought the newspapers of his time full of frivolous gossip and inconsequential happenings, what would he think of CNN, Google, Facebook, and Twitter?  I think he would have taken a stance that might have earned him the luddite label.  And maybe he would have become a little depressed like a lot of us.

Psychic pain is nothing new, but has it ever before in history been the epidemic that it is now?  I think not.  And it’s no wonder.  We are profoundly disconnected from each other and from the sources of our life and health.  We replace genuine connection with the sedating effects of chemicals, those we can get from a bottle and those that are released in our own brains when we pacify ourselves in front of our myriad of screens.  Even our beloved home, our little jewel in space, reflects our dysfunction and adds to our stress with it’s strange and frightening symptoms of planetary fever.

My mind is my escape.  I often dream of a little cabin by an isolated and beautiful lake.  All that would be audible there would be the rush of wind through the trees, birdsong, the buzz of insects, the lap of water at the shore.  Every day I would paddle out over the mirror-like water in a little wooden canoe.  I would stare down into the clear, clear water all the way to it’s brightly green, moss covered bottom.  I would watch schools of fish swim underneath me.  The cool air would be spiked with the spicy scent of birch, aspen, and evergreens.  Sometimes the warm sun would make the water seem very inviting and I would, like an otter, slip into the cool wet and swim awhile with the fish.  The cold shock would soon become a cool caress, and I would emerge dripping, enlivened, and vibrantly alert.