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Conserving Energy: One Thing At A Time, June 2010

I read something by a Buddhist monk once that expressed the virtue of doing one thing at a time. Well, that might be well and good for slow moving monks, I thought, but the notion of 'one thing at a time' wasn't taking into consideration my knack--my special talent--for multi-tasking. It seemed unrealistic and highly unproductive to do one thing at a time.  

The older I get and less energy I have to expend on unwanted distractions, the more I WANT to do just one thing at a time. At the same time, I have a competing desire-- culturally induced-- to do everything. It's been a small heartbreak of mine to realize that I can't. So where do I want to point my energy? How much energy do I want to expend?  

Interesting what you notice at a diminished speed.  I found a single butterfly wing on the trail the other day. I picked it up and was struck by the structure of the wing, the sturdy ribs and precise architecture that held the thin, light canvas of the wing together. That small, delicate wing with microscopic colored scales was resilient, able to carry the butterfly thousands of miles.

Just seeing the ripped wing reminded me of the story, "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury, in which a hunter who goes back in time to hunt dinosaurs, steps off the trail in a panic and crushes a butterfly. In the story, this small damage changes the trajectory of the future.  

Now it feels as if we've stepped WAY far off the path with the oil spill, that gaping wound in the Gulf of Mexico.  "Spill," by the way, is too dainty a word. The oil which is coating everything is actually a mirror of modern life. Just looking at the objects on my desk--the paper, pens, hand lotion, glasses, tea--I can't find one thing that has not been touched by the petroleum needed to manufacture or transport it, not to mention the energy needed to make my computer function and my lights stay on while I write this.

Unfortunately, these giant oil disasters happen in other places in the world, too, though it's inconvenient to think about. In Nigeria, according to the New York Times, an average of 11 million tons of oil (the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill a year for the last 50 years--no, that's not a typo) has had the effect of completely coating and killing the environment and the livelihood of the people who live there. This can't be right, can it?

I don't feel like an overly consumptive person, and yet, because I drive my car and live my life with heat and air conditioning, computers, plastic around my food in the refrigerator, I feel like a contributor to the problem. If we are all connected to each other and to the environment, didn't I also have a hand in this? No, I didn't cause the explosion, but my small needs were bound together with millions, billions of other people's small needs which spurred the oil company to dig in deeper and deeper water. Meanwhile the earth is hemorrhaging oil and it's no wonder this hurts my soul.

The question is, what can I, in my little life, do? We recycle. We have a water barrel to catch the rain and a composter where we throw our stems and rinds and cobs and eggshells to cut down on the amount of trash we produce. We turn off the lights when we're not in the room. We turn down our heat in the winter to 65 degrees and wear heavy sweaters; we use a wood stove to heat most of the house. In the summer, we only use the AC on the hottest days. We pick up our dog poop (most of the time.) I pick up other people's trash on the trail. We try to condense and consolidate the number of trips we take in the car. I've started walking more.  We support local agriculture and get most our vegetables from a CSA or grow it ourselves.  It's comfortable and natural. I'm sure there's more we can do. 

But what we can't do from home is clean up the oil in the gulf. One British critic, who is afraid-rightly so--of his own retirement pension disappearing in the steady decline of BP stock said, "Since Americans use so much oil, they should clean it up." I thought, "He's right."  Of course, I don't know the first thing about cleaning up an oil spill. Seems like the people who are supposed to know don't actually know either.

I'm frustrated and angry because I feel so powerless being at the mercy of a big corporation and the government. I know BP is charged with the task of cleaning up and the government swears that it will get done, but quite truthfully, I do not trust them to do it well.  I don't trust them to care about it as much as I do. This kind of disaster provides a great opportunity to wake up and change. Instead, there's a lot of posturing, dickering and finger-pointing going on. This very paragraph is my own finger pointing. 

I wish there was a way for ordinary Americans to go the gulf and clean up some of the mess, as people did after Katrina. Volunteers could be given the equipment and instruction to clean the shorelines and rocks and plants and habitats. The well-trained among us could rescue wildlife. I'd do it. I bet many other people would too. 

So what to believe in? Albert Einstein said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." On April 19th I had a dream in which my grandfather (who's no longer living) and I were looking out the window of a cabin at a giant orange-gray-black cloud that was taking over the whole sky and tumbling toward us like lava in the sky. It was very apocalyptic. There was nowhere to run to, so we stretched out on the floor and looked down hoping it would pass. I peeked up occasionally to see how close the firestorm was getting. We turned on the TV to see what the news said about it, but there were only pictures of the giant eruption coming toward us. It seemed inevitable that we were going to die. Then we looked up and it was gone, had somehow passed over us. But we didn't feel safe because we assumed we were somehow in the eye of the storm and more was to come. It all felt so real and terrifying. It haunted me and I wrote down my dream that morning. 

Turns out it was real. When I saw pictures of the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, I recognized the fiery clouds from my dream. Intuition is a powerful thing. I believe we're being given answers all the time to questions we don't understand. The best way to access that inner knowing is to slow down. Listen. Conserve energy by doing one thing at a time.

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