Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reduce, Reuse, Rejoice: A Spiritual Guide to Waste Management

Several months back I published a post about the waste we humans produce due to our eating habits (Click Here To Read). A lot of what I learned while writing this piece has stuck with me, influencing the way I think and feel, and consequently, the way I eat. At times I'm overwhelmed by this knowledge; I struggle with guilt brought on in part by my own, and in part by my fellow species, decision to exist in a way not consistent with nature. But as I continue to ponder these decisions, I'm beginning to realize something quite extraordinary.

How can it be that out of all the infinite forms of life on this abundant planet, we humans are the only ones that produce waste? This thought alone consumes much of my mental resources and is the source for most of my guilt. I questioned why? What is wrong with us? How can such a seemingly intelligent species decimate our own mother and provider? Something doesn't add up.

Photo taken from
In the words of Winnie the Pooh, I thought and I thought and I thought. And as I thought, I wondered why our waste is waste, while the "waste" of other animals isn't waste at all, but is actually organic material that works to sustain life rather than destroy it? I wondered, was there something in us that craved death over life? And then I realized, it's just the opposite. We humans are petrified of death, we shun it, avoid it, ignore it, and pretend it doesn't exist, all to the detriment of other living beings and ourselves. As a species, we have tried our hardest to forget that death is part of life, that in the most basic form, death is life.

We have failed to give death its rightful place, both in our mind and in our world. As a result, we go to extremes to keep it out and we do this by creating distractions. Anything can be a distraction, but what makes it so is that we overuse it in an effort at avoidence. We depend on it like this distraction were life itself, but in reality, it's just the opposite. This is how obsessions are born and mindfulness is lost. This is how waste results, how decay begins, and how death creeps in despite our best efforts at ignoring it.

For us to live, for anyone to live,  life must be sacrificed. At the risk of sounding primitive, I would argue that no life can be sustained without many deaths. They don't have to be human lives, or even animal, but there is life returning to the earth every moment, all working to sustain our own. Think of plants, think of soil, think of food. And think of our own death; what will happen to our body when we go? We will fuse with the earth to create fertility for future lives, despite whatever coffins we may build. This is the nature of life, and the nature of death, there is no getting around it.

And so it is, that our tendency towards extremism is born out of ignorance, a false belief that we can somehow "conquer" death, as if it were conquerable in the first place. We fail to comprehend that nothing can stop death just as nothing can stop life. So does it matter that we waste? Yes and No. Our lives will come and go just the same. But our happiness, the worlds happiness, this moment is what's at stake. We have lost balance and until we begin restoring it, we can't be content. This will take time and effort, and faith.

But maybe our time, effort, and faith is enough. Maybe this will balance our psyche long before it manifests outwardly in the world. Balance isn't about perfection. It's about finding our core and trusting it so that even when we sway, lean, and fall, we want to get back up and know that we can. It's about moving in the "right direction" even if we never actually arrive.

Speaking of death, this is my Thanksgiving feast! Nothing extraordinary here, right?
By cooking "from scratch" we reduce needless waste, like plastic & others forms of packaging,
 not to mention we derive more joy & gratitude from our spoils.

In the beginning of this entry I asked why animals don't produce waste, but humans do. For the most part, there is nothing fundamentally different between human waste and animal waste, except perhaps, our belief that there is so. The difference, rather, manifests as a result of imbalance. As we fail to except the nature of life and death, our inner self has lost its balance, which has produced a very real physical imbalance out in our environment.

Waste is only "waste" when it fails to aid in the production of life, as is the case with human waste. Human waste/wastefulness has resulted not because of the waste itself, at least not initially, but because of the lack of balance between it and other environmental components. Like anything else, it is not stagnant, nor isolated; it is defined and determined by its relationship with the environment. This relationship is ever-changing. It is no secret that as a species, human beings have overpopulated this planet and consequently, so has our waste. What has not grown as fast, however, is our ability to comprehend the relationship we have with our environment and adjust accordingly.

Inherent in that relationship is our responsibility to self regulate. The universe has given us an extraordinary gift, the gift of consciousness. I know plenty who would argue that this is a curse, I've been there myself a few times, but most curses are also blessings when looked at from a different angle. We may feel a large burden on our backs and in our hearts, knowing that we are the only species responsible for the destruction of our once robust planet, but the very fact that we feel and know means that we possess the power to change and transform. And to do this we must begin with ourselves.

From the beginning, the earth provided us with ample resources intended to sustain life, and be enjoyed in the process. We feel and enjoy so that we can live and we are alive so that we can feel and enjoy. But I can't be the only one who has noticed many unhappy people walking around. Could it be this burden? This guilt, eating away at us? If you're able to read this, chances are that you are endowed with more than enough material sustenance, as are most of us in the modern (aka western) world. If anything, we have too much. What we're lacking isn't material, it's spiritual. It's the connection between our physical ability to do and our spiritual direction to guide us.

As a species, we have used our intelligence in ways consistent with immediate survival, and more recently, as our survival has become practically guaranteed and thus taken for granted, immediate gratification. Perhaps we have done so all too unaware of the devastating consequences (both to ourselves and the rest of the world) brought about by our "me first" mentality. And while this mentality serves us well when struggling to survive, it leads to needless waste and spiritual depletion when the challenge of survival has been vanquished. When the smoke has cleared and all that remains is empty space, the question is, what do we fill it with?

So far we have filled it with distractions. But we can change. If we really want to "conquer" our own mortality, the answer isn't to bury it in needless material possessions (i.e. eventual waste). We have to dig ourselves out of this toxic burial ground and "see" the transcendental nature of life and death in its organic form. In other words, life happens and death happens, these are boundless and unstoppable, can't we acknowledge this?

Only through this "seeing" death through life can we be made aware of our value in the moment, which is synonymous with the value of all beings. I believe that whoever realizes this value will be released of fear and guilt almost instantaneously; in its place, a deep sense of joy will emerge, much like when we were children and our spirits were unburdened by a rigid concept of reality. This is because we will know our own power and remember, once more, that anything is possible.

What is the purpose of this joy? What will it change?

The answer is in the joy itself.