Generally speaking, I am an optimist. My glass is half full, and I truly live in a state of gratitude for all that I do have. I am a happy person, living the rules of happiness. Nevertheless, I am not a happy idiot.
There are some very troubling facts circulating out there about our environment that many people seem to be glazing over, not terribly interested in and/or think that these facts just can't be real. Denial is a wonderful thing.
I was so troubled by the way we are treating our precious Earth and ourselves that I sought out Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies (the largest adult center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity), and author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and A Seeker's Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure, hoping that she might help me make sense of our collective consciousness or unconsciousness, depending on how you look at it, and to learn about the progress that Omega is making in the field of sustainability.
What gives? Are we human beings on a self-destruct mission? Are we so attached to large piles of money, big houses, big cars and large portions that we can't see the forest from the trees? How much longer can we go on this way without imploding?
Here follow the facts, followed by the highlights of my conversation with Elizabeth Lesser.
The Hard Facts
The majority of the world's scientific experts agree: the environment is in trouble. The amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere annually will have catastrophic effects on the earth's climate. As global warming escalates, more extreme weather patterns will emerge.
In addition, World Bank reports that 80 countries are already experiencing water shortages. The worldwide demand for water doubles every 21 years. As the population increases and our cities grow, our water supply simply cannot keep up with this demand.
Action is needed now. The Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL), a state of the art education center and natural waste-water treatment facility leads the way.
Slated to come online in summer 2009, the "Eco Machine" will treat more than 5 million gallons of waste-water annually. The OCSL will offer visitors a direct experience with the most recent, cutting-edge technologies in green building and sustainable living, and will show, in an experiential, accessible way, how we can move forward together.
Omega is reaching out to the world, reconnecting people to their every day decisions that impact on the environment, but is the world ready to listen?
Planet Earth: Difficult Times, Insatiable Appetites, Doomed?
a conversation with Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Water: Wars Will Be Fought
JT: Elizabeth, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today about Omega's leadership role in environmental sustainability and spiritual fulfillment.
EL: Happy to be here. We at Omega have been working on personal transformation and sustainability since 1976, our beginnings. The Omega Center for Sustainable Living continues this tradition. It gives me great pleasure to know that the world is beginning to wake up.
We are saving what is going to be the most precious resource on earth -- water. With global warming and the population explosion, people say that water is going to be the most valuable resource in 20 to 50 years. Oil has always been thought of as the traditional cause of war in the Middle East, but the water wars will be far worse.
JT: The fact that water scarcity already exists in California and Arizona and that the Colorado River shows up dry in Mexico is terrifying. Admittedly, I am only first coming to grips with the magnitude of the problem. Are people 'getting it' enough to make real and lasting lifestyle changes ... before it's too late?
EL: No. Not enough people are getting it, but that doesn't mean that they won't get it in the future. I think that everyone here on Earth is at different levels of personal evolution; learning what they need to learn in this lifetime. We are an evolutionary work in progress, but we haven't learned the meaning of "enough."
Insatiable Appetites: Filling the Empty Void
JT: So interesting that you use the world, "enough." As a Weight Loss Coach, the concept of "enough" often surfaces in the guise of food. What does it mean to be full, to be satiated? When is enough, enough?
EL: You could draw a parallel. It's the same in the environmental issue. We human beings are pretty crude creatures. We want more, more, more. We have insatiable appetites. We do everything in excess, in both our personal and collective lives. The fruit of this appetite is now spread out in front of us.
Just as we have not taken care of our bodies, we have not taken care of the body of the Earth. What we have now is a plea from the Earth, itself, to recalibrate. We have to do a deep reckoning of what is enough and what is the cost.
JT: Where does this insatiable appetite come from? Why are we compelled to "fill up" way past full?
EL: At the crux of it, we are in denial that life is difficult. We rush to fill every moment -- to move away from the discomfort we experience with life itself and ourselves.
Our biggest difficulty is accepting the fact that we die. Life is a series of cycles within a big cycle. Creation leads to demise and destruction. This may sound gloomy, but it's not. It's real. We grow through pain. Women who are 'laboring' experience enormous pain and out of that pain comes a baby. When we work consciously through life, when we are not in denial, we grow the pain and we come through it.
We can cultivate a spiritual attitude and know that we will leave our body and something new will be born. We can fear less and have faith that change can always bring with it rebirth. We can consciously participate in life or kick and scream and go into denial.
JT: Well, I do see your point and agree with you, except to say that I gave birth to my son in the car. No labor pains, just joy!
EL: (Elevated voice; laughter) ... Oh My! You blew my whole thing.
Be the Change
JT: (Laughter subsides) ... Okay, so let's see if I understand this. We are in denial. Our need to fill every moment, to run away from our discomfort, leads to excessive behavior, and we are using up the limited resources that the Earth offers. We need to change.
EL: Ultimately, change happens as people do. "Be the change," as Ghandi said. It is very important that we walk our talk.
We need to ask ourselves, "What is enough is my own life? In the material world? In my psychological and spiritual world? Am I satiated? Am I full? Do I really need another helping of food, attention, clothes, car, vacation?"
There are billions of people on earth who need to be kept fed, clothed and warm, but there are limited resources. If each one of us doesn't ask, "Is this enough?" ... We are going to be in trouble.
Those who have ecological consciousness do have a duty to raise the consciousness of other people.
The Spiritual Plane: The Practical Plane
JT: What specifically can one do on both practical and spiritual planes? Small steps to get us going in the right direction.
EL: On the practical side, we can conserve water. We can drink tap water (instead of bottled water). We can turn the water off while brushing our teeth, take shorter showers, maintain smaller lawns, and run full loads of laundry and dishes, rather than half loads.
Spiritually, the tool of meditation is a powerful teaching tool that can help you to make peace with the moment just as it is. It is only when you can rest peacefully in a string of moments that you can stop long enough to know why you are doing something. Rushing through every moment leads to unconscious decisions and excessive behavior.
JT: Thank you, Elizabeth, for your time, thought provoking words and for your amazing work at Omega.
EL: You're very welcome.
I'd like to end with a quote from Wendell Berry, writer, environmentalist.
"The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and foster its renewal is our only hope." ~ Wendell Berry
More about planet Earth and our relationship to it:
Is the Food Industry Changing Your Chemistry: An interview with David Kessler, MD
Food Inc.: What is the industry hiding from you?
Your Life: 10 Ways to Fill Up on Happiness
Spread the word ... NOT the icing,