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Comfort in Discomfort

The idea of “getting comfortable being uncomfortable” is a familiar one. It’s the idea that in order to grow and change and make personal progress in our lives and towards our goals, we need to get uncomfortable. The first part, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, means that we need to get used to being in a moderate state of discomfort (at least at a surface reading). It’s a challenging concept for me, because I think living in a constant state of discomfort is a bit too much. What I think is important to glean from this saying is that in order to grow and change, we must go through a period where we are uncomfortable before we get to our next level of growth and being.

Let’s take a muscle as an example. When you go to the gym or workout, what you are actually doing is tearing muscles down. You are ripping your muscle fibers. The next day, when you are sore, you are uncomfortable. Your muscles are actually rebuilding themselves stronger than they were before after the tearing. In order to get stronger, you have to be uncomfortable, and you have to be ok with something that is just a little bit unpleasant. This gets you to your desired result.

I am currently in a strange place. I just moved into my first apartment by myself. It’s new to me, so it’s uncomfortable. (It’s also a bit comfortable because I think I was mentally ready for it in many ways, and it’s enjoyable to have more freedom and come and go as I please. I even get to decorate it however I want!) The discomfort comes from having all this independence and deciding what to do with it, (since I’m not used to it), budgeting, making important decisions like what insurance company I want to choose, etc. Plus, it’s new! Anything new is uncomfortable and unfamiliar at first. But, in order to grow as an adult and move into the next stage of life, I have to learn that it’s okay to be a bit uncomfortable for a few days or a week as I get used to this new state of being. It’s really fun, and completely worth it!

I think that this same principle, being comfortable with discomfort, can also be applied to being an activist. Think about how uncomfortable it is to tell your conservative uncle that you disagree with his views on climate change, and the resulting friction as you try to change his mind. That is an uncomfortable situation! And he’s your uncle, someone who you love and respect. Now, imagine trying to change a stranger’s mind. Or an important government official! Sometimes, standing up for what we believe in is not easy. However, it’s where the most valuable change can occur. These are the people we need to talk to, whose minds we need to change. It’s well and good (and a wonderful thing) to talk amongst ourselves as environmentalists and agree on everything and work together for change. However, when we put ourselves out there and talk to people whom we know disagree with us, that is where it gets difficult. But, in order to reach a new paradigm in those people, and win more people over to our cause, we have to be ok with a little bit of discomfort. After all, that’s how our movement gains strength.

It’s not easy. I fail sometimes. Sometimes I keep my mouth shut in the presence of those who disagree with me (although it’s not often, I can be pretty obnoxious with my views sometimes.) However, it’s what we all need to do. Let’s all wade into uncomfortable waters together. It is only be doing so that we can reach a greener, cleaner, healthier, future shore.

 

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Lessons from a tree

 

I have been frustrated with myself lately. I have been, admittedly, playing that game of “should have, could have, would have” in my head about some of my decisions through the course of my life. I have also been pushing very hard in my own personal and career development, and getting annoyed when results don’t come as quickly as I’d like.

It is, admittedly, one of my biggest attributes, and also one of my biggest flaws: impatience. On the positive side of this coin is drive. I am self-motivated and driven in all my endeavors to almost an absurd degree. If I want something, if I set a goal, you bet your boots I will everything humanly possible to get it (short of breaking the law or hurting others, of course!). In many cases, it has generated success and lead to a great deal of fulfillment and joy with the results.

On the flip side of the coin lies impatience. Sometimes, I get so annoyed and frustrated with myself for not making things happen faster. I blame myself, when, often, it is not necessarily my fault, or even anyone else’s, that the desired result has not come yet. I should make this decision, I should go to that thing, I should check those items off my to-do list, walk faster, speak better, learn faster, you name it.

The impatience lately has come from my recent self-inquiry into what the heck I want to do next on my life’s journey, what my next step is, and where I’d like to direct my path. This requires a lot of soul searching. Although there are a lot of really wonderful and fruitful action steps that can be taken, I have not had measurable results yet. This results in doubt, and also annoyance that I can’t figure it out already and get there.

Today, during yoga class, I positioned my mat near the window. I needed to be at yoga because I needed to let my mind take a break, and I needed to release a lot of tension. However, I also needed to be in that corner of the room where you can see the sunset through the window, and where the last rays filter through the slats of the blinds and onto my mat. What can I say? I am a predictable creature and I need my sun!

Halfway through class I looked out the window and saw two trees planted in the parking lot. I realized in that moment that I could really take a lesson from trees. (At which point I got very frustrated with myself for not realizing this sooner, given the book about trees that I’m reading.) Many trees grow very slowly. Do trees yell at themselves and beat themselves up about this? No. They just grow, with confidence that their roots will find the correct nutrients in the soil to thrive. The roots seek out the path that will lead them to the most nutrients and water. They grow where they are planted, towards what they need. The results: stunning.

The Better Party

A friend of mine once told me, “My mom once told me that it should be easy to get people to care about the environment. She says, ‘all you have to do is throw the better party.’”

Now of course, that’s not necessarily all there is to it. But the more I thought about the words of this wise matriarch, the more they rang true. People may care about the environment, and they may care that the climate and the planet are going to hell in a handbasket, but they’re not going to show up to pitch in to save it unless a) it’s affecting them personally, by which time it’ll already be too late, b) it becomes part of our law to incorporate sustainable practices, or c) we make it a whole lot of fun.

There are a few of us who are affinitive to the cause through life experiences, interest in the sciences, schooling, or the way our parents raised us. We are the genesis of much needed change. We are the center point, the rock thrown into the pond that creates the ripple, and the epicenter of the earthquake. But when our ripples stop, we need to have the ability to bring others into the circle. What better way to do this then by throwing the better party?

Imagine: A lecturer standing at the front of a room of starched, white collared and white-faced aging old men with greying beards and sad eyes. He uses a laser pointer to coldly explain stats, charts, facts, and figures. He ends with the conclusion that the world will end unless we live more sustainably. As you look out at the window at his flashy red BMW, you can’t help but allow a bit of judgement to creep into your mind, as you wonder if he’s ever tried to live in an environmentally responsible way in his whole life.  Probably not.

Now imagine: A gaggle of happy hands gathered in a garden at dusk. Muddy feet and sweaty brows coupled with smiles on every face as amicable chatter fills the air. A community of people, busy about their own small corner of the world, doing what they can, where they are. These folks are friendly and kind, and they do not judge you. They do not lecture you for your lifestyle. They show you the way, as you work together in a small, organic, sustainable community garden. You harvest food and gather on a blanket in the fading light, sharing stories and smiles, fresh food and good drink. The wisest among you share stories of how they have managed to create lifestyles that show respect for our planet, it’s people, and our shared future. You are inspired, rejuvenated, and energized.

Which would you rather attend? I know which I would. I volunteer at a local community garden, and that second scene is a familiar one for me on Thursday evenings. People don’t get inspired by doom and gloom, and the vast majority of people, in my experience, are only truly motivated to bring long-term change into their lives by things that create emotional connections in their brains. Facts and figures provide great support and reasoning for why should make changes, but behavioral change is hard, especially in adults.

Nothing motivates people like a party. So, let’s throw the better one, especially given what we compete against.

We compete with the easy, fast society of fast drinks, fast food, fast sex, fast cars, fast fashion, and the easy, sleepy, comfort of our television sets. These things are so easy, because they are ingrained into our culture, and provide false security: that everything is going to be ok. They put people to sleep and provide comfort from the stresses of everyday life. But these things don’t renew us, they don’t renew our world. They provide, at best, a fitful rest. I think that deep down, we know there’s something just a bit off about turning our brains off this way. We have to wake people up and compete with this.

There is such joy that comes from purposeful living, and such fulfillment that comes from learning to live a life that has a lower impact on the planet. Today, I choose to believe in the good in people, and that, if we throw the better party…people will come.

Wrinkled Old Beech

I can’t quite explain why, but lately beech trees have been catching my eye. Maybe it’s something about their trunks, which remind me of elephants (which I love.) Maybe it’s that I recently learned they are related to oaks and that fun fact has them on my mind. No matter the reason, there’s a copper beech and a weeping beech right next to each other on my walk into work, and every day I have been downright entranced by them. So, here is a little poetic tribute to that copper beech- and a picture. Enjoy, friends.

Wrinkled Old Beech

 

Wrinkled old beech, tell me your story
Tell me the things that you’ve seen
Wrinkled old beech what has passed by your roots?
Leaving traces my eyes cannot see

Wise old beech, what years have you known?
What hands have reached for your leaves?
Tell me the mysteries that hid in your truck
With cracks and crevices, elephantine?

Do you remember what feet cross your path,
Like the elephant, whose skin looks like you?
A silent strong sentry you brood on the road
Shade for road weary travelers there.

Nutty old beech, with fuzzy young seeds
Like your brother, the oak’s capped young brood
Dropping and grey, are your memories gone,
Do the years take their toll as you age?

Your grandeur above speaks to what likes below
Neath the path, your true magic unseen,
Your roots span the distance, past what I can know
Through distance, through time, and through space.

You’re reaching for something, oh please, tell me what lies
Beyond that your branches seek so?
Growing outward and outward, to the canopy there
Mirrored by the network below

Hospitable beech, do the birds make their home
Nestled among your branches and leaves?
A world of live connected by you,
And multitudes more, I can’t see

Wrinkled old beech, with elephant bark
Grand and proud and with wisdom of age
I wish you could speak to my ears, like my soul
Of your story, in which I’m just a page.

“An Angry Earth”- Poetry!

I am going to be honest and forthcoming: this is not a nice poem. This poem was born from my anger from my anger about the United States deciding to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Yes, it does contain several cusswords, which are utilized to make a strategic impact and stand out from the rest of the prose. This is a literary choice I made, so if you choose not to read these words, please continue scrolling to a different blog. If you are still interested in reading, enjoy!

 

 

Goddamn this fucking bullshit.

Do I have your attention?

Stop shitting on me.

Fuck this godforsaken capitalist garbage.

I’m at the end of my rope.

Time for you to notice.

Notice your mother.

Notice this place from whence you

Crawled out of the sludge

The dust, the purest of clean waters-

Before you too aim with your waste

And turned those waters into toilets,

Than distilled it into the liquor you sell

To bored children

So they’re too docile and confused

To understand their impending doom.

 

They’re waking up.

Waking up to see the rape of the dusty cracked soul, crying with thirst

Violated

Day after day after day by fracking sledgehammers.

As the ground coughs forth gas,

Mixed with the dust and poison.

Blackening the sky and the lungs of the children of earth.

A bitter price to pay for a drink of oil,

A high of money and power.

 

Drink up.

Drown yourself

So the drink in your veins

Replaces your red blood,

Too heavy to move

Fat on the flesh of the bespoiled future.

 

We will rise.

We will rise from the sewage

Of a land spoiled by chemicals

And we will till the soil anew.

We will heal the land with new farms, new respect.

The hands of the man will provide

Enough for each need.

 

The liars and imposters,

The talking heads

Will topple

From the seat of power

To be trampled by the dirt-starved feet

Of a generation awake

Who demand satisfaction

For the burning of this house.

 

We will rebuild this home.

We are prepared for war.

We pray for peace.

We will accept one, for the other.

 

Be ready, for change is in the wind.

What force will you fight for?

Guest Post!!! The Environment and Veganism

It is an honor to share the following post with you. It was written by Chris Picciuolo, a friend of mine from the environmental club at North Central College. We also had a few classes together there. I know Chris to be a person of deep integrity and dedication to his ideals. He agreed several months ago to write this post for the blog, and I am so excited to share it with you now! It is with the deepest respect for Chris and his choice to live a low-carbon impact life through his vegan diet, that I share this post with you.

I know objectively that veganism and vegetarianism are the best choices when it comes to our diet impacting our planet. However, for my own reasons I cannot live that lifestyle. It is far more impactful and respectful I find, to honor the voice of someone who makes a positive choice every day for our planet. Here is Chris’s post and his words. Please be respectful in your comments or I may delete your post. However, as always, I welcome thoughtful respectful discussion.

Thanks!


 

I’ll start this out by saying you’ve found the vegan. Now that we have that out of the way, veganism is not for everyone. Native peoples and the low-income areas across the world are just some examples of instances when the complete eradication of animal products is not exactly humane or possible.

 

Having said that, I’m not going to delve too deep into the moral case for rejecting the status quo’s consumption and exploitation of animals. I’m here to talk about the environment.

 

Mainstream veganism is often mistaken for a plant-based diet, which is accidentally vegan and coincidentally much better for the environment than vegetarian diets or diets with moderate to high animal consumption. When we argue with a vegan on the Internet, we often wonder why they even bother abstaining from eggs or dairy because we don’t think the animals suffer in any way. Perhaps we just don’t know how much waste is produced in the animal agriculture industry because we haven’t wondered that either.

 

The egg industry is certainly guilty of a little “poke” at both. The truth is male chicks don’t lay eggs and, therefore, have little value to the egg industry. In fact, around 260 million are killed each year in a grinder upon hatching. Not only is this not humane but it creates a lot of waste. United Egg Producers has made the commitment to stop this practice by 2020.

 

If you aren’t the type of person who loves animals but you happen to really love the environment, perhaps you should know that every minute, animals raised for food in the US produce 7 million pounds of excrement. That one hurts to know, especially because we know that methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 and has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame.

 

While many couch environmentalists have boasted about saving water by showering less, perhaps they are still contributing to water waste in ways that may not be obvious at first gulp.

 

What we eat is a touchy subject, and not everyone is ready to hear about the negative consequences of consuming our favorite foods. When I heard it through the echo chamber that it requires 23 gallons of water to produce a gallon of almond milk I was temporarily disheartened to the core. I found out later after doing a little digging that it takes around 30 gallons of water to produce a gallon of cow’s milk.

 

Crops like alfalfa and soy may take a lot of water to grow, but the crops are also being fed to the animals that we eat, who also require water to survive.  At least 50% of grain is fed to livestock globally. Global animal production requires about 2422 Gm 3 of water per year, with most of the total volume of water (98%) being the water footprint of the feed for the animals. It should be known that growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US alone.

 

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. There are more inconvenient truths than our need for speed on the road or our endearing commitment to recycling.

 

For instance, Tyson Foods Inc. and its subsidiaries dumped 104 million pounds of pollutants into waterways from 2010 to 2014 – the second highest volume of toxic discharges reported to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) during those years. Substantial portions of Tyson’s discharges are nitrate compounds, which can contribute to algal blooms and dead zones.

 

We have a finite amount of freshwater to drink and we have a finite amount of fish to eat. Our oceans could be fishless by 2048. Forget fish as food, fish play an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. In the U.S., fishing in general can seen as a harmless hobby or means of food for a quick meal. However, large-scale fishing, just as we see in factory farming, can cause many problems to our environment.

 

Attention to detail and concern for the lives of animals comes just about last when mass-producing for agriculture. Environmentalists should know that for every pound of fish caught, up to five pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill.

 

Fans of saving the rainforest and Ferngully are in for a real treat as you’ll learn that animal agriculture is responsible for up to 90% of Amazon destruction. You probably already knew this, but you didn’t know-know it: up to 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.

 

The environmental impact of animal agriculture on our Earth is astonishing, to say the least. Consuming animals and their bi-products directly affects our environment whether or not we see it or want to admit it. That delicious bacon came at a price that your wallet may not have known. Those eggs you got on sale on the cheap were that cheap for a reason. It is important to keep in mind that it is easy for many of us to live healthy lives without contributing to the animal agriculture industry as innovations in food science are making the transition to a plant-based diet (and vegan lifestyle) a lot easier.

Ubuntu

“We can only be human together”, so says former Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the Anglican Archbishop during apartheid in South Africa. He was an ardent advocate for nonviolence and peace during a time of great divide, anger, anguish, and violence between races in South Africa. Yet, he remained a devout believer in god and the teachings of peace and justice. The things he saw, the violence, the anger, were horrifying. Yet he still remained a firm believer in this concept of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu addresses an idea that is central to African philosophy, which is the essence of what it is to be human. According to a book entitled “Believe” which contains quotations and inspiration from the life of Tutu,

“The definition of this concept has two parts. The first is that the person is friendly, hospitable, generous, caring, and compassionate…because of this they express the second part of the concept, which concerns openness, large-heartedness. They share their worth. In doing so my humanity is recognized and becomes inextricably bound to theirs”

Essentially, we are only human because of our relationships to others, and we cannot exist in a vacuum. “A person is a person because of other people.” To explain this, think of a family. Without your family, without the love and care you were raised into, would you be the person you are today? Who teaches you how to be human? Other humans, whether it is your community, your family, or your friends.

Our humanness also relies on how others see us, and how we treat others. The compassionate Tutu, in his forward to “Believe”, states,

“Anger, resentment, a lust for revenge, greed, even the aggressive competitiveness that rules so much of our contemporary world, corrodes and jeopardizes our harmony. Ubuntu points out that those who seek to destroy and dehumanize are also ­victims, usually, of a pervading ethos, be it a political ideology, an economic system, or a distorted religious conviction. Consequently, they are as much dehumanized as those on whom they trample.”

It was this concept that allowed Tutu to see the perpetrators of violence and injustice during apartheid as victims of a broken system, suffering as much as those who he fought for. They were being as much dehumanized by the violence they were perpetrating as those they harmed. This is an incredible compassion which is almost impossible to conceive, and was wrought by the power of Ubuntu.

We are all human together, we are only who we are because of our relationships and love for others. Without that, we cannot fully realize our full human potential. This is so powerful, that it allowed Tutu to work for nonviolence and peace when he was in the midst of nothing but violence and anger.

If he can have compassion, and seek to see the humanity in those who opposed him, surely, we can do the same in these troubled times. We must seek to understand that those who work against the health of the planet and the health of future generations do not necessarily want to jeopardize the future—they are merely caught in a pervading ethos which prizes money, quick fixes, and power, over community. It is only by seeking to truly understand what drives those who seek to stop our movement that we can seek to win them to our cause. Tutu put It very well when he said, “My father always used to say, ‘Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.’ Good sense does not always lie with the loudest shouters, nor can we say that a large, unruly crowd is always the best arbiter of what is right.’” Let us seek to understand, rather than shout.

We can only be human together, Tutu says. I am keeping those words written on my heart, as I seek to move toward a beautiful future, together with my fellow eco-warriors and citizens of planet earth—and members of humanity.