As the wheel turns…(Imbolc Intentions)

Here we are at another turn of the wheel of the year.

Today marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Many who celebrate the seasons of the Earth call this day Imbolc, although it is also known as Candlemas to some and Bride’s Eve to others.

This is the time when winter may start to feel long, gray, and drawn out, but the spirit of this holiday reminds us to keep searching.  Just beneath the snow are the rumblings of spring.  Just as we look out to another gray sky, we also see the days growing longer and new buds on the trees. Continue reading

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We Must Be the Change

As I observe people around me, I’ve been noticing a trend –most everybody, in theory, wants to save the Earth.   The problem, however, is that far too few people are willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure a livable future.  The appeal of constant financial progress, of fast food and perfectly temperature-controlled rooms is too great.  The ease of processed foods, disposable diapers, and commuting by car to work is too alluring.  The abundance of cheap clothes, out-of-season foods, electronics, and toxic beauty products is too pervasive to pass by.  We have become perpetual children – looking to others to easily assuage our hunger, temperature, and state of mood.  We expect governmental regulations or some technological breakthrough to fix global warming and the ecosystem issues we fear.  We are unwilling to take the risk that moving toward a new way of living requires.  Continue reading

To Love This Land

Throughout my life, I’ve heard people complain countless times about the region of the world that I live in — it’s too cold, the economy is not good enough, there’s not enough city life, it snows too much, it’s too humid in the summer, it’s too on and on and on… Continue reading

We’re Not the Only Ones Eating the SAD

The Standard American Diet (SAD), or Western Pattern Diet, is a recent phenomenon, born of increased industrialization that allows for nearly unlimited access to high-calorie foods with little diversity in food choices.  Aspects of this diet have repeatedly been correlated with the chronic disease conditions that are so common in our culture including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers.

Continue reading

Opportunities to Connect with Nature are All Around – Does Anyone Notice?

Walking through the zoo today, an eerie cry from above caught my attention.  It was the long and ghostly call of a seagull in battle with a red-shouldered hawk.  Although it was unclear what caused the argument,  the gull was continually diving aggressively toward the hawk who appeared to remain unperturbed and gently swooped out of the gull’s way each time.

The gull’s screams seemed to become more forlorn and desperate as the hawk continued to glide toward its destination, ignoring each of the the gulls valiant attempts. Eventually, the gull gave up and turned to fly off into another direction, its cries continuing to echo throughout the area.  Watching all this, my hearbeat changed as I simultaneously felt the desperation of the gull and the satisfaction of the hawk, feelings that come from some far more ancient part of my body and that do not require words or detailed thoughts to comprehend.

This is part of what it is to connect with animals and nature — to have moments where we can share emotions, experiences, and to learn from them about how the Earth works — to know that it is always in a balance of giving and taking, of life and death. Beautiful, breathtaking, and heartbreaking all at once.

As I was having these thoughts, I glanced around at the zoo visitors near to me.  There I was obviously staring into the sky watching other beings in an intense moment of life experience and no one else had even noticed, despite the desperately loud alarm calls and all of the amazing aerial acrobatics.  The people were walking along pointing at lumps of sleeping animal masses.  They were showing their kids confined animals, trying to make a connection with the natural world, but missing the point and missing the amazing display of animal behavior directly above their heads.

Many people seem to come to the zoo because they want to connect with animals, they want to feel like they still have some understanding of nature.  They tap the glass trying to get animals to look into their eyes and acknowledge that they exist, but all the while ignoring the animal life that is going on around them.

Animals needn’t look into our eyes to remind us of a connection to nature because it’s already there, it has just been forgotten.  And the best way to remember the connection is not to try to capture the attention of zoo animals, but to reawaken one’s senses and notice that nature is everywhere and is always communicating.  Like, for example, this interaction between a gull and a hawk and all that this can teach us about the balance between perseverance and of letting go.

Do these life lessons come from watching confined animals at the zoo?  If not, what type of lessons do arise from watching animals at the zoo?

And when animals at the zoo do share eye contact with us, when we recognize them as individuals in their artificial enclosures and feel a connection, what does this reflect back to us?  What does this say about how we relate to nature currently and how we live our lives?  Are we living freely and in balance with the rhythms of nature, or have we created a system of captivity for ourselves?

What does this mean for our health and for the health of the planet?

Observing humans is often more interesting than watching other primates

There are a lot of loud noises in the primate building at the zoo, few of which actually emanate from the animals.  I often hear the loud thumps of people banging on glass, infants screaming or crying, and people yelling “Look here!” or “Ew!” to one another.

Today I heard the loud thud of banging on glass, but it was followed by startled humans.  One of the gorillas was the source of this noise and caused a group of people to jump and erupt into a flurry of alarm calls.  They then proceeded to retell the story of what had happened among themselves, and I could hear them explain that the gorilla had first made a chest beating display before pounding on the glass.

After their initial shock, the people changed to laughing.  Still staring at the perturbed gorilla, they were safely behind glass and could mock, laugh, and completely ignore his communication.  To me, this became a poignant example of what humans are often internalizing when at the zoo — a message that humans can do what they wish to other animals (/nature) with no repercussions.  We can dominate nature because we are above nature. And then we can stand back and laugh.

What kind of message about gorillas did this group of people receive?  Certainly they would have a much different impression of gorillas if they had witnessed this type of display in the wild.  In fact, they probably would be quite thankful for their lives (or for being at a safe distance quietly observing the display) instead of laughing.  But also, they did not really learn all that much about gorillas and their behavior through this experience – especially not about their fascinating social lives and how gentle they can be with one another.

Maybe they’ll go and learn more about gorillas later because of this experience, but probably not.  I think it’s more likely that they’ll go tell their friends about the “crazy gorilla” at the zoo and perpetuate the myth that gorillas are vicious and always aggressive.  I’m pretty confident that they won’t spend much time thinking about the ways in which they bothered him, or what it would be like to be confined to a space where loud people are continually filtering past all day trying to get your attention.

The broader concern of this small incident, though, is that the zoo is perpetuating an even more deeply ingrained myth than the one that gorillas are always aggressive.  It is a myth that may cause us our demise.  The myth is that we are superior to all of nature, that we can control and dominate it, and that we can stand back and laugh when it tries to warn us of our inappropriate behavior (global warming? ha!).

We would be wise to start communicating better with nature.  There will not always be a thick sheet of glass there to protect us from our stupidity.

We might start by going outside to develop a real connection with animals and nature. Yes, much of the free space for us to do that is gone and many people argue that we must go to zoos to see wild creatures, but somehow animals are still all around us. Pay attention to them, respect them, and work toward a future where we can all coexist.  Nature has been speaking to us. Will we start to listen in time?

Enjoyed finding this today…

 

We have bigger houses but smaller families;

more conveniences, but less time.

We have more degrees but less sense;

more knowledge but less judgment;

more experts, but more problems;

more medicines but less healthiness.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,

but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbor.

We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,

But have less real communication;

We have become long on quantity,

but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;

Tall men but short characters;

Steep profits but shallow relationships.

It’s a time when there is much in the window

But nothing in the room. –Authorship unknown

Held Back by Others’ Expectations

“To those whom much is given, much is expected.”

This quote echoes through my being as I discuss potential changes in my life direction with my parents. Currently, it holds me back. Their opinion of what I am doing and how I measure up carries enormous weight. For it is true — they have given me so much and I should use the gifts that they have provided to create a meaningful life. But what if our definition of meaning is different? They seem more interested in titles, money, ensuring that I can live an American Dream…

What happens when my dream is so much different than theirs? Historically, it has led to a middle ground — I will succeed in the current system, but I will do it in my own way.

But these gifts: education,  critical thinking skills, a desire to do what is right, an impetus toward spiritual growth…they have led to different realizations about the way that the world works and my place in it than what they had hoped. They want me to live the actions of these realizations “on the side”, as my hobbies, which is what I have been doing, but what if that is no longer enough? I need real skills, I need to create change, I need to feel free…and I don’t know if that’s possible  in my current situation.  Maybe “on the side” will be enough as I finish 3 more years of a PhD (isn’t 4 enough?) because maybe this degree will open more opportunities to bring about the change I wish to see, and the title is certainly appealing. But why is this even appealing? It’s just some ego-feeding nonsense that creates a false hierarchy in society. While having a PhD is a good indication that a person can work independently on a project and probably possesses a certain type of intelligence, it does not say anything about one’s character, moral outlook, and ability to perform intelligently in a variety of useful ways. Of course, this is not to say that this is always the case. I have just been surprised by the number of supposedly intelligent people (PhDs and the like) I have met that are not more inspired to create change in areas outside of work (and how much impact will our work actually have in the world at large?).

As I look at the world and all the new directions that could be taken to create a more sustainable way of life (and how urgently they are needed!), I have to wonder if my academic course is truly the best one to impart change. I began this path believing in the conservation and education mission of the zoo (or at least believing that these stated missions might be a possibility) and that I could learn the skills and get the qualifications I need to live my truth through this course of study. It seems that a more radical plan of action is needed…

Will I break free?

Welcome

Market FlowersAs night closes in on this first day with theselightfootsteps, I am unsure where this venture will take me.  However, I feel optimistic about making some major life changes and using this venue as a way to share them.

I will use this blog as an outlet to connect with others who share my dream of living a life of balance (with nature, spirit, meaningful work, rest) and to provide support, guidance, education, and inspiration as I ponder what it means and how it is possible to break free from captivity.

What do I mean by “captivity”?

While I in no way mean to trivialize the situation of persons who truly live in confinement or inescapable situations, I have observed similar patterns of behavior and health problems in the animals I have watched as a zoo scientist and within our culture at large.  Although many of us in the Western world are technically free to do as we choose, there are major institutional and psychological blocks that prevent us from living the lives that our hearts most desire.  As I write this, I know that my calling is to live simply, to create the Earth of the post-oil age, and to share this dream and my love of nature with others. However, it is a serious struggle to take my first steps outside of the model that I have grown up with — what will it look like, what if it doesn’t work, how will I always make sure that my basic needs are met?

But what if I don’t?

Should I continue to live in a system that dictates my time and where I spend the majority of my life’s energy?  Will I end up with the same chronic diseases of Western Civilization that we share with our ape relatives in zoos — diseases which are likely to be caused by improper diet, sedentary lifestyles, and stress that are the trademarks of “captivity”? Should I carry on in my current haze in hopes that my future will be better?  Why don’t I begin living my authentic life this very moment?

And really, this is what we all need to do.  People like to talk about the little changes we can do to make the world “greener” and to offset environmental catastrophes. Although behavioral modifications like recycling and switching to CFLs are good, I don’t think they will be enough. We really need to change the way we live and approach life — for the sake of the planet, our future as humans, and for our individual health and well-being.

This will not be an all-at-once affair for me, but I intend to take my commitment to living a more authentic, balanced life to the next level starting now. In the process, I’ll share some of the projects I’ve already begun, new ones that arise, and what other people are doing (especially locally around Cleveland, OH) to live alternatively and in ways that promote the health of our planet.