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Global Warming: some considerations for UUs based on the Six Living Traditions

Ainslie Kincross PhD AIA January 21, 2007

      Reading of the poem "Bestiary" by Joanna Macy http://www.joannamacy.net/html/work.html , who will be speaking and giving a day-long workshop at the UU General Assembly in Portland in June. A bestiary, Bestiarum vocabulum is a compendium of beasts. Bestiaries were popular in the Middle Ages where they appeared as illustrated volumes describing animals, birds and even rocks. Each description was accompanied by a moral lesson believed to be represented by the animal. This reflected the belief that the world itself was literally the Word of God.

      Scientists are estimating that species extinction rates may be 1000x the normal "background" rate as the climate warms, habitats change, and those species that can, are on the move.

      This past week, in moving the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight, eminent cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking spoke on the perils of "unprecedented climate change", and the potentials for setting into motion unknown and unpredictable feedback loops that will accelerate the effects of climate change beyond anything we have yet imagined.

      From the Buddhist Kalachakra Tantra, written in the 8th century comes the Shambala Prophecy http://www.joannamacy.net/html/great.html :

"There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Great barbarian powers have arisen. Although these powers spend their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable destructive power, and technologies that lay waste to our world. In this era, when the future of sentient life hangs by the frailest of threads, the kingdom of Shambala emerges"

I use these "reports" from widely differing sources to set the stage for a consideration of Global Warming: its urgency, its dimension and scale, and its potential to completely alter life on Planet Earth. I’m not going to talk about the scientific evidence for global warming, or its already-observed impacts; that is the subject of a different presentation. In the context of this service, I think it’s more important to delve a little deeper.

UU’s have adopted a Statement of Conscience on Global Warming, and I will read you the introduction:

"Earth is our home. We are part of this world and its destiny is our own. Life on this planet will be gravely affected unless we embrace new practices, ethics and values to guide our lives on a warming planet. As Unitarian Universalists, how can our faith inform our actions to remedy and mitigate global warming/climate change? We declare by this statement of conscience that we will not acquiesce to the on-going degradation and destruction of life that human actions are leaving to our children and grandchildren. We as Unitarian Universalists are called to join with others to halt practices that fuel global warming/climate change with just and ethical responses. As a people of faith, we commit to a renewed reverence for life and respect for the interdependent web of all existence".

I think the questions for UUs are two:

How did we get here? and How do we get ourselves out?

I want to propose answers to both questions that draw (or at least touch on) most of the Living Traditions.

How did we get here?

First, two of the Living Traditions deal with listening to the message that Global Warming is real and that we are already seeing the impacts. UUs are counseled to "heed the guidance of reason and the results of science", and to "draw on the words and deed of prophetic women and men that challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil…"

When we have the likes of Stephen Hawking, the Union of Concerned Scientists, scientists from NOAA, NASA’s James Hansen, and many, many climate scientists from institutions all over the world all coming to the same conclusions about the human causes of accelerated climate change, we should be listening.

Personally, I include Al Gore among the "prophetic voices" challenging us to confront, in this case the denial and lack of leadership by the economic and political powers in this country. As a presenter trained by The Climate Project http://www.theclimateproject.org  , I am now personally acquainted with the depth of his commitment to maintaining the conditions for life on this planet.

In fact, what I experienced in Nashville of Mr. Gore’s commitment brings me to this answer to the first question: We are "here", on the brink of destabilizing the long term balance of weather patterns on the entire planet because we have lost the ability to directly experience Nature. The "future of sentient life hangs by the finest of threads" because we have completely disconnected from Nature …including our own.

There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes "As without, so within." It is often cited as the basis of the practice of feng shui (which itself means wind (unseen) and water (seen)). In feng shui, a more up-to-date Western translation might be "Your consciousness is splayed out all over your living room", for all to see! A bit more seriously, the idea is that the external world, the world of physical form, is a manifestation of the unseen Consciousness from which it arises.

So our present predicament, in which we are looking out, as it were, on melting glaciers, disappearing species, catastrophic weather events, and drowning polar bears, is the outward expression of our individual and collective inner state.

And our inner state is one of disconnection from (our) Nature. Very few people on the planet today experience Nature directly, especially in the developed countries. We THINK ABOUT Nature, we study it, categorize it, we recreate in it, we buy a piece of it, we put a dollar value on it, we dig, pump, cut and otherwise extract its so-called "resources", but rarely, if ever for most of the population, to we simply experience it.

When is the last time you experienced a tree, a sunset, pine needles underfoot, a deer, without having that experience mediated by thought? Our "monkey minds" jump in in a nanosecond with labels, judgments, comparisons, worries, projections, identifications…. and we’re off onto the next thought/label/projection/judgment without really connecting to anything "out there". For the most part, our "experience" of life is literally "all in our minds".

I believe that this inability to directly, and fully EXPERIENCE Nature, without labeling, classifying, judging, describing, or DOING anything, is at the root of our current crisis.

In the Buddhist view expressed in a current version of the I Ching (Book of Transformations) http://www.ichingoracle.com/institute.php  , Nature is the material form of the "transcending mystery" of the first Living Tradition. The physical world that our five senses perceive arises from a formless, planetary Consciousness that underlies and permeates all form. Nature, in this view, is a sort of "compressed consciousness", explained by physics as subatomic energy waves slowed down sufficiently to become particles, perceptible to the human senses.

Here’s a delightful quote representing the spiritual teachings of the Earth-centered traditions, from Ohiyesa, a Santee Dakota writing about 1890 (from McLuhan, Touch the Earth 1971):

"Everything as it moves, now and then, here and there, makes stops. The bird as it flies stops in one place to make its nest, and in another to rest in its flight. A man when he goes forth stops when he wills. So (God) has stopped. The sun, which is so bright and beautiful, is one place where He has stopped. The moon, the stars, the winds, He has been with. The trees, the animals, are all where He has stopped,,,," (p. 37)

Don’t you just love it when 21st Century physics is arriving at the same conclusions about the Cosmos that ancient traditions arrived at by different means?!

Here’s the thing: you and I are also physical expressions of that transcendent, formless Consciousness that gives rise to all of the myriad life forms on the planet. We are not, and can not be separate from it.

But we are pretending that we are, and that is the problem. We are pretending that humans are not "of Nature", that our brains and ability to invent advanced technologies makes us not only separate but by rights in a position to manage and control Nature. How did we get here, to the brink of ecological disaster? We got here by believing, by creating ourselves to be separate from Nature, and not inconsequentially, from each other as well. We got here by believing that we know enough to manage, control, subdue, and manipulate Nature.

There are 6.5 billion of us, going on 9 billion in my lifetime, locked in an inner drama of separation and superiority. That’s how we got here. The outer pending climate catastrophe is a physical expression of the inner dysfunction.

How do we get out?

The Shambala prophecy as it was taught to Joanna Macy by Choegyal Rinpoche says this:

"Now the time comes when great courage – moral and physical courage- is required of the Shambala warriors, for they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power, into the pits and pockets and citadels where weapons are kept, to dismantle them. To dismantle weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where decisions are made.

The Shambala warriors have the courage to do this because they know that these weapons are manomaya. They are ‘mind-made". Made by the human mind, they can be unmade by the human mind. The Shambala warriors know that the dangers threatening life on earth are not visited upon us by any extraterrestrial power, satanic deities, or preordained evil fate. They arise form our own decisions, our own lifestyles, and our own relationships."

We get out of this self-created predicament by changing our beliefs about who we are, where we’ve come from, and why we’re here. (These are often posed as the three questions of enlightenment in Buddhist thought; e.g. http://www.avatarepc.com/html/audio.html )

In his introduction to the I Ching, Brian Donohue tells us that true transformation (as opposed to change, which occurs only on the outer plane and is not lasting) is "movement on the inner plane, to which the outer plane responds spontaneously". So, while we are changing our light bulbs, taking fewer car trips, and making our homes more energy efficient, we must examine our deepest beliefs about Nature and who we are.

I’ll close with a passage from Living Deliberately, by Harry Palmer http://www.avatarEPC.com  :

"The Universe arises within awareness, not the other way around."

"Individuals sharing the same belief, whether created (deliberately) or indoctrinated, form a collective consciousness that can define and shape the world.

"The events that make up world reality result from a belief blueprint that is continuously redrawn from the vectoring sum of every belief held by every individual. The collective reality is the average of all intention.

Just as adding a single drop to the ocean causes microscopic changes in the volume, the temperature and the currents, every time an individual changes his or her belief, the blueprint by which the collective reality unfolds changes. Even for the most isolated individual, every moment of happiness, every moment of sadness, every kindness, every critical thought adds its consequence to the blueprint for the events of the world.

Tomorrow unfolds in accordance with the intention of our collective beliefs. There will always be as much conflict and suffering in the world as there is ignorance and intolerance in the consciousness of humanity." (p 112)

To confront global warming is to confront ourselves. We need to change the story we’ve been telling ourselves about the human species being special among creation. This is the time in which me must change our beliefs and create a new story, a story that reconnects us with our own Nature and with the transcendent Awareness that gives rise to this small, blue planet in an inconceivably vast universe that is home.

Copyright by Ainslie Kincross



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