A few years back scientists were warning that if CO2 levels rise above 350 parts per million we would be seeing much stronger weather systems more frequently. Evidence of this is the recent hurricanes that charged through Texas and Florida. While we could spend energy pointing our fingers, it remains the case that our nation is out of harmony with the planet.
If we take this disharmony seriously, then we need to look at what we can do to balance ourselves with the planet. On first glance this may look like a task that is beyond our undertaking. I believe it is beyond the scope of any individual to take on, and that we need to work together with other individuals and communities to do this. My work with Iowa Interfaith Power and Light is one of my ways of trying to make a difference at the State level. Policies certainly need to reflect the desire to reduce carbon emissions.
However, even if we don’t feel comfortable working on the State level, there is much we can do – and what we do can bring a deeper sense of peace and contentment to our lives.
Here is a story of disharmony on a personal level, and my own means through Buddhist practice to restore harmony. Like the issue of climate change, as a new father I often feel totally incapable of doing the “right thing.” I am continually dealing with feelings of inadequacy. My feelings of inadequacy don’t prevent me from taking care of my son, though. In the same way, why should these feelings prevent me from doing something about taking care of our planet?
Recently, my 9-month-old son, Malcolm woke up around 1am and was fully charged raring to go. Our sleep cycles were out of sync, a symptom of the larger dissonance with our planet. My wife and I tried several things to help him go back to sleep but nothing seemed to work. So, I got my clothes on and took him outside for a little stroll. The air was warm and the sounds of the night quite pleasant, so it was a joy to be sharing this experience with my son, so early in the morning. It felt really intimate to be observing the darkness in this way.
I first walked with him a little holding him close to my body, keeping each other warm. We enjoyed looking at the stars all around us and hearing the crickets. I put him down on a grassy patch and watched him as he took in the wonder of his immediate surroundings. Then we began to walk again in earnest. Holding him close to me I began counting the number of footsteps I took with each in and out breath, a practice I used to do with my teacher when we did outdoor walking meditation. I focused on my breath and the bottoms of my feet as I walked. I felt Malcolm’s warm body melt into mine. I began to feel the rhythm of my walking as my feet made contact with the ground at a regular pace. The vibration created from my steps encompassed both Malcolm and I, and at one point I could feel my heart rate abruptly change. It was as though my heart energy level down-shifted. At that moment, I knew Malcolm had fallen asleep.
As I continued my walk back into the warmth of our home I reflected on how much we need to come into sync with our breath and to balance our breath with the movement of others, especially those right around us. We may be able to change CO2 levels, or we may not. I don’t know if we can get our act together on that on a national and international level. But I’m going to assume that we can, and I’m working at the State level to make policy changes. Regardless, linking ourselves with the planet needs to include having a felt sense of accord with our breath and our movements, as well as the movements of others. Malcolm’s teaching is that the re-harmonizing with our planet must start from a place of joy and intimacy with our own breath and with our children.