It’s not easy being green. Among other things, it can mean feeling overwhelmed and grief-stricken and inadequate, with no end to the urgent issues everywhere you look.
You need ongoing replenishment if you are to have any hope of being effective in your efforts to make a difference. Besides that, you deserve to have someone take really good care of you. And if you don’t take care of you, then who will?
We want to protect forests so we’ll have a functioning atmosphere; to protect waters and oceans so we’ll have clean water to drink; to protect soil so we’ll have clean food to eat.
Those are the reasons we give when we tell others that we should take care of trees and waters and soil.
But those are fear-based motives. They belong to a story in which we’re driven only by self-interest.
I think that the first reason you became a tree-hugger is probably part of a very different story – one in which we care for trees not for what they can do for us, but just because we love them.
“…did anyone ever become a committed environmentalist because of all the money we’ll save? Because of all the benefits we’ll receive? I am willing to bet that … You are not an environmentalist because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t act. You are an environmentalist because you love our planet.”
Charles Eisenstein, “Fear of a Living Planet”
If as a child you had the opportunity to play near trees or in a garden or forest, then probably long before you understood that we need trees, you loved them – just because of how you felt when you were near them.
And that’s why it’s not easy being green.
The penalty for being in love with nature and being ecologically aware is that you’re piercingly, inescapably conscious of what there is to lose, of how rapidly we’re losing it, and of how little you personally can do directly to stop the losses.
When you care this deeply and feel this impotent, it’s tempting to look away or to come up with some way of framing the situation to make it hurt less.
“… Most people subconsciously collaborate in [an evasion of the truth]. It protects [us] from either grief or cognitive dissonance.”
George Monbiot, “The Unseen World“
Can you gaze into the abyss, without looking away and without losing hope? Can you keep exploring what is needed to live and demonstrate a story in which we care for life rather than exploiting it?
To be able to do so, and keep doing so, you must take care of yourself as your first and central calling.
The wood-cutter who forgot to sharpen his saw[i]
One day a man came to a wood-cutters camp and asked for work. “Sure,” said the foreman, “so long as you can maintain a decent pace.”
On his first day on the job the man worked fast, earning the respect and acceptance of his new peers.
But over the next few days his work slowed down no matter how hard he tried to keep up a good pace. He worked harder and harder trying to duplicate his good results on the first day, but the harder he worked the slower he went.
Finally, the foreman called him over and asked,
“How long is it since you stopped to sharpen your saw?”
Taking care of yourself is like sharpening the saw. It’s easy to get so caught up in the urgency of sawing that you forget to stop and take the time to do important maintenance work.
At the center of your life
The diagrams below are a repeat of some of the information from back in Part Three of this Series, to remind you of what is at the center of your life.
At the centre of everything
Taking care of yourself is right at the centre of your life, and everything else depends on it. In a sense, it’s at the centre of everything.
What does investing in yourself, so that you can be a better parent at 3am when you have lost count of your wakings on this night and you have a full day of parenting or working ahead of you, have to do with addressing social justice issues in the world?
What does your capacity to create a life that balances the needs of your family with the other issues you care about, have to do with slowing runaway climate change?
What does eating clean, ethically sourced food have to do with addressing species extinctions in far off places?
What does creating a better system for taking care of your laundry have to do with cleaning up the atmosphere or the oceans?
Maybe nothing measurable – but in my opinion, all of these things have a LOT to do with each other. Everything is connected, and all of your actions and intentions matter. They matter deeply, in ways that you may never be able to measure or quantify.
“What if human society [could] evolve beyond violence: towards justice, democracy, world peace and harmony with Mother Earth? And what if this [Neurosocial Evolution] has already begun and is gathering pace? And…what if you have a key role to play in [it]?”
“…What will it take to transform ourselves into a peaceful and ecologically intelligent society? Does it depend on the President we elect, or could this transformation be in our own hands…?”
The two quotes above are from discussions about the power that parenting has to re-shape our culture from a “dominator culture” toward a more “cooperative culture.”
How we parent our children does matter profoundly. But even more important is how we parent ourselves – everything else rests upon that.
Everything—caring for our children, each other, our planet, all the things that matter to us—rests upon how we care for ourselves not just physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually too – and this is where our first and greatest responsibility lies.
Your responsibility to yourself
We often think of self-care in terms of eating right, getting enough rest and enough exercise, keeping our toxic burden as low as we can…
Those things are important, and taking care of your physical needs is a good way to also take care of our planet.
(A focus on real food for example, results in better health for you and your family, and also in less food miles, agricultural chemicals, packaging, and disruption of communities and ecosystems on our behalf. A win for everyone.)
But there’s another part of self-care that’s less visible and less measurable. It’s how we take care of ourselves emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – how we parent ourselves.
If you’re a parent, you work hard to help your children develop a mental blueprint[ii] for life that includes such things as confidence, decency, honesty, openness, emotional flexibility, and the generosity of spirit that arises from knowing that there is purpose and meaning in our lives and that we belong to something larger than ourselves.
Foundational to your ability to do this work for your children—and any other important work you set out to do—is doing the same work, ongoing, for yourself.
This series—about claiming each moment and using it wisely to take better care of yourself and the important, central issues in your life—has been about some of the strategies and insights you can use for parenting yourself, for growing up to become your own wise and gentle guide.
So that you can grow up to be someone who not only wants to make a difference, but CAN make a difference.
Coming up next…
In the next and last installment for this series, we’ll look at how everything relates to everything else.
We’ll acknowledge that the most important work of our lives often comes without a road map or a cheer squad.
And I’ll share ideas for when things get wobbly, along with ideas for developing or strengthening your sense of satisfaction, meaning and purpose.
Kate writes at ARealGreenLife.com and is working on producing a free downloadable PDF of this Series and a Cheat Sheet to help you remember the main points and apply them in your day to day life.
[i] A version of this story appears in the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
[ii] By mental blueprint I mean a person’s identity and worldview or outlook. It’s your story of you and your story of the world, which I mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of this Series.