Author Cheryl Leutjen contemplates the dire environmental challenges of our time.
Driving the kids to school this morning, news of the eco-disaster du jour blasted me like Wile E. Coyote holding a stick of dynamite. How did this wayward missile manage to pierce my shields? Since the national Siege on Sanity began, I have honored a strict protocol, designed to protect my heart from surprise attack. Avoid the Internet as much as possible. Rely on the balanced tone of NPR reporting to get the news I need.
Then my beloved NPR station delivered this bombshell: The Arctic permafrost is melting. The polar deep freeze preserves a treasure trove of prehistoric life, from grasses to woolly mammoths. In other words, a vast storehouse of CARBON. Something like twice as much carbon lies frozen in the permafrost as what’s already in Earth’s atmosphere. All ready to decompose in the coming thaw, releasing enormous amounts of methane and carbon dioxide in the process. [i]Scientists don’t know what that might mean, but it could . . . I snapped off the radio, unable to bear any more.
As I drove home, steam of fury and despair shot out of my ears, cartoon-style. Fury that the national conversation on climate change has been so hijacked that we can’t even talk about what’s happening, let alone respond. Despair that there’s nothing I can do to stop the melting permafrost, glaciers or ice sheets.
Back at home, I seized my yoga mat and ran the six blocks to class like a felon fleeing a crime scene. The measured flow of class forced me to concentrate on every movement, every breath… down dog, plank, cobra, triangle…. angst seeped from my pores. A mind focused on the moment lends no quarter to despair.
Until I hit an unexpected brick wall. My teacher demonstrated a pose that my limbs refuse to emulate. My cheeks fired with a blush of frustration, too blistering to be explained by the inability to assume an asana. To my relief, we moved to the floor, and I clutched the edges of my mat, squeezing eyes shut to suppress tears.
“I can’t do it,” I moaned to myself, “and this is not just about yoga. I just can’t keep on pretending that it’s all gonna be okay, that if I just recycle, that if I keep hoping and visualizing, that somehow there’s hope for the future for my children.”
After a convulsive exhale, a loving presence, the kind with a capital P, wafted over me. A mother’s hands seemed to brush my cheek, then tucked an invisible, weighted blanket around me. I felt calmed, peaced, even, if that could be a word. The eco-tragedy du jour could not penetrate this cloak of serenity. I’d have spent the rest of the day there if I could.
Much as I intend to be informed, too much time in the company of Bad News and Awful Alliances leaves me curled up in the fetal position. If it’s too early for happy hour, that is. Tempting as it is to tune out the world with sitcoms, shoe sales or sangria, denial doesn’t help anyone. Not Earth, my children’s future, not my own psyche.
Sure, I do what I can, when I can. Switch out burned-out light bulbs for LED, tote reusable bags, and walk instead of driving when feasible. But the eco-sanctimonious glow of these devotions fails to bolster me when the next eco-travesty flattens me like a toon under the steamroller. There’s only so much I can do, given the time and resources at hand.
Only my spiritual practice uprights me when I’m careening into eco-madness. No, I don’t have time to run to the yoga studio every time my Twitter feed knocks me flat. That’s why I stockpile a variety of implements in my eco-spiritual toolbox.
Breath. The beauty of this tool is that it’s always available, even when I can’t find my purse, my phone or my car keys. Breath of fire (rapid breaths through the nose, abdomen pumping inward on the inhale) helps dissipate fury. Long, deep breathing settles jangled nerves.
Mantra. I’ve been muttering to myself for years. How vindicating to give this practice a more distinguished name. “This too shall pass,” a frequent refrain, alternates nicely with long, deep breaths. “Sa-Ta-Na-Ma” (Sanskrit for Infinity, Life, Death, Rebirth) is a more recent addition. I touch one fingertip on each hand to its respective thumb tip, as I utter each syllable, forcing my balled-up fists to relax.
Nature. Being present with Earth herself sustains me. While a hike in the hills is my ultimate therapy, just lifting my gaze from the computer screen to the tree outside my window inspires a fresh perspective. Walking outdoors to lay my hand on sturdy trunk roots me.
Music. Nothing transports me from despair to hope quicker than Roger Water’s “The Tide is Turning.” Cranking up any happy tune and dancing like nobody’s watching lifts my spirits out of the depths of eco-despair.
These Moments of Stillness may not prevent permafrost from melting or scrub greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But they deliver me from the paralyzing hopelessness that stops me from contributing what I can. And doing what I can is why I’m here. It’s why we’re all here. We each have our abilities to share and calls to action to honor.
We need all hands—and hearts—on deck to respond to the many assaults on the well-being of our beloved Earth. We are more than our technology. Mindful moments can help reconnect us to the small, still voice within that whispers the navigational guidance we need. May we call upon all our abilities to help manifest a more sustainable and conscientious human presence on Planet Earth.
What tools are in your eco-spiritual toolbox?
“Unexpected Tools for Saving Our One Earth” is excerpted and adapted, in part, from Cheryl Leutjen’s book Love Earth Now (Mango Publishing, 2018).
[i][i] “Is There A Ticking Time Bomb Under The Arctic?” Morning Edition, Jan. 24, 2018. Accessed Jan. 30, 2018 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/01/24/575220206/is-there-a-ticking-time-bomb-under-the-arctichttps://buff.ly/2ncbBh4?utm_content=buffer4d7fd&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer