Thursday, November 7, 2019

Elder wisdom about climate change

At 71, I consider myself an old person, OK, and older person; a still oyster-farming, drum-making, oracle card reading older person.  And some old people get to be elders.  I have been paying lots of attention to our climate crisis recently, and then I realized I have been paying attention to our climate crisis for 50 years.  And that length of perspective creates some small wisdom I would like to share.

I read The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich in 1968, and was influenced enough by his dire predictions that when I was diagnosed with a pre-ovarian cancer situation in 1976, I decided not to have the surgical option that would allow my choosing to have children later, and instead said, "there are too many of us already," and went the more drastic route. 

Elder wisdom arises when looking back at a decision made not for now, but for decades into the future, without knowing the conditions or consequences of that decision. Do I regret not having children?  No. Because I have learned not to miss what I do not have. And there is wisdom in that learning.

In the late 70's  I discovered Lewis Thomas, and read The Lives of a Cell, and then The Medusa and the Snail.  I was completely taken with the idea that the human species are like locust on the prairie; we are devouring everything until our wall of destruction starves us out.  I began seeing locust behavior everywhere--looking like industrial logging and factory canning ships, strip mining and arctic oil drilling. And of course now we are too slowly realizing that there is no more food, no more prairie.

Thomas contrasted the locust with what he called "climax species."  Partnerships of creatures and plants that create an equipoise of stability. Like the red squirrel and the oak tree where the eating and the planting sustain both. In 1986 my partner and I decided to leave the city and find a place with "more trees than people." And on Cortes Island we learned that we could be more like the squirrel and less like locust.  There is good wisdom in learning not to want more.

Perhaps the most profound influence on my attention to the increasing world crisis was the small book, Good Life, Good Death by Gehlek Rimpoche, published in 2001.  Although the entire book was valuable, somehow all these years later I still haven't gotten past the title. 

What is a good death? I find myself looking at the lettuce in a store for a glow of  vitality because a human hand pulled the plant from the soil, brushed off the roots, perhaps cleared away a damaged leaf before placing it in a box.  This glow is from a good death.  I avoid food that was kept from a good life--kept from being in the vibration of the earth, or kept from moving naturally upon it. 

And I ask this question of myself, "Am I making a good death?"Maybe this is the greatest elder wisdom. Death is coming.  And what we make of ourselves with it is the greatest learning.