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Monday, May 24, 2010

Waking up on the beach

When people are asleep, the future is a repetition of the past.

I am sad, and sickened. I weep over the loss of our beautiful, fragile coastline and a way of life forever changed as a result of the worst ecological disaster in my lifetime. It serves no purpose now to blame and point fingers. We can only decide that we must work toward a sustainable future.

But first we must wake up.

We must wake up to thousands of miles of irreplaceable wetlands and beaches, fisheries damaged for seasons, fragile species wiped out, and a region and an industry economically crippled for years. We must wake up to the dead. We must wake up to the maimed sea turtles, birds, dolphins and other animals. We must wake up to the fact that our dream, our own insatiable search for "happiness" cost them their lives. Let BP’s massive, out-of-control underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico be our alarm.

Hitting the snooze button seems safe because waking up to the unknown is frightening to contemplate, that fear bolstered by anything that represents losing control and or a measure of our happiness. We are set in our "ways." Our way, we are sure, is the best way or we would choose another way.  Finding a new way means abandoning an old way, and nobody can predict what happens when both forces hit each other head on. It takes courage to discard what we know: the tried and true, the comfortable and reassuring to create a new world where we value all life.

In the end, arriving at the new world will come down to doing what makes us happy.

We use oil because driving our own cars and traveling at will makes us happier than being limited to bikes and mass transit. We lament that more people don't give up their cars and take the bus. When you think about why they don't, the answer isn't decades of cheap gas, ingrained American selfishness, or a crass indulgence in personal pleasure over the health of the planet.

We don't change to a new way of life because we are following an old way of happiness. Duty and guilt ( and common sense) tell us to save the planet. But another voice speaks louder, and it asks if we would be giving up our happiness. Global warming won't be solved by lecturing the human race about saving the sea turtles.

Here we face the most difficult challenge of all. And it is spiritual in nature. Our conception of happiness has to move away from materialism. Every wise teacher has declared that external comforts are unreliable and not to be trusted. They keep us sleepy.

The world's wisdom traditions inform us which way to go. Only time will tell if waking up was the way we chose. If so, peril will turn into a creative opportunity to create the infrastructure to support environmentally-friendly energy sources. And the infrastructure of heaven on earth.

In the past, there has been too much money to be lost by Big Oil, too much of the old way of happiness threatened. But perhaps the oil spill will be the catalyst to make our spirit's voices heard. Perhaps we will wake up now, together, on the beach.

The other way leads to deeper and deeper sleep.

Image credit: Greenpeace oil spill specialist Paul Horsman and activist Lauren Valle hold a BP sign up amid a mass of oil sludge in the South Pass near the mouth of the Mississippi River on May 17.

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