Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v05n01)
Green Broad Ripple - by Cortellini
posted: Jan. 04, 2008
New Years is my favorite holiday. For me and my wife Patty, it has become an important event observed with ceremony and ritual, holding profound spiritual consequences. Socrates once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." New Years, for us, is the celebration of our examined life: a time of reflection on our past and a renewed commitment for the future. Our New Year's ritual is less a pronouncement of resolutions and more of an establishment of a theme for the year. These themes do not arise arbitrarily from our will. They make themselves known to us as we spend time reflecting on the events of our lives and, after the year ends, they become a permanent part of our introspective awareness.
The theme that presented itself in 2006 was "Appropriate Selfishness," and 2007 as the year of "Unrelenting Patience." I must say, Patty and I have been amazed at the large number of opportunities that presented themselves to practice this virtue since the theme gave our vision a focus. For 2008, "Letting Go" has come to light as timely both in our personal lives and the world at large.
The relevance of "Letting Go" in our personal lives was brought home to us through a book we are currently sharing entitled, Hooked - Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume. The foreword, written by Paul Hawken, a major figure in the sustainability and social justice movement, recounts the story of a friend who at one time was an officer of a large world bank whose home currently holds a total of 600 objects. This is everything, including teaspoons. The result of a willful commitment on limiting consumption, when he buys something or accepts a gift, he selects something to give away. Hawken goes on to say, "This is not a zero sum game. As the years have gone by, his home has become more nuanced and lovely. Every object has meaning; nothing is retained unnecessarily. His home is like a small temple. He needs little money to live on, which means he spends most of his time helping others. He is utterly alive, elfish, bright-eyed and present." This is an appealing vision for us, yet Patty points out that we have a long way to go for we probably have more than 600 objects in any one room of our house.
"The Artic is Screaming." This is the headline of a December 11, 2007, Associated Press story that quotes concerned scientists who expressed alarm at the rate that summer ice is disappearing around the north pole. Earlier worst case scenarios predicted the disappearance of Artic summer ice by the year 2040. New data suggest that summer ice is likely to disappear by the year of 2012 - just a few short years away. In the scientific community, there is very little doubt that global warming is real; that it is indeed caused by our industrialized way of life and that it poses the greatest threat to civilized humanity the world has ever known.
"The American Way of Life is not negotiable." Thus President George H. W. Bush forcefully declared at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This policy continues under his son. The current American Way is based on our disproportionate consumption of the world resources and is, at its core, unsustainable. We lead the way in producing the pollutants responsible for climate change through our consumption. In the '60s, we talked about Conspicuous Consumption. The 80s and 90s ushered in Excessive Consumption and the new millennium brought us Extreme Consumption. We are told that consumption, even if wasteful, drives the economic engine that provides prosperity. We are seduced by sophisticated marketing messages that promise that consuming will make us happy and create in us a want of want that can never be satisfied. We Americans constitute 5 percent of the world's population but consume 24 percent of the world's energy. If undeveloped countries consumed at the same rate as the US, four complete planets the size of the Earth would be required. Yet we believe that we have a right to our American Way - a principle we cling to strongly.
If America is to assume its rightful role as world leader, it must do so through example. It must regenerate the American Spirit for honest assessment, benevolent intent, nobility of vision and courageous action that has made it the great nation that it is. It must recognize its responsibility to the other peoples of the planet and to the planet itself. It must assert its confidence, embrace the future and lead the way to a new American Way based on principles of sustainability. In the effort to mitigate climate change, it will not suffice for America to simply change its light bulbs to CFLs. The hope of the world is that America will realize that it can and must, in the period of a few decades, reinvent itself. The first step is "Letting Go."