Musings on oil and vision quests

Oil spill devastationI have been feeling shocked, horrified, and deeply saddened by the environmental damage caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I am sure that millions of people feel the same way.  We evolved as a species along with the other species on this earth, and are deeply affected by the massive devastation the oil spill is causing to the ocean, seashore, and many creatures living there.

To quote from an article about ecological trauma on the Greenpeace website, “Regardless of prevailing conceits, we retain learned patterns from 50 million years of primate evolution, 5 million years of hominid development, and 500,000 years of fire-bearing, tool-making hunter-gatherer culture. During this long genesis, humanity grew within the comfort and constraints of an intact ecosystem that supplied sustenance, vital lessons, wonder, and a home. Watching that home fall under the blade of industrialism shocks our system, whether we know it or not

“In spite of our civilised ways, human psychology remains linked to our primal origins. As a result, we suffer the trauma of witnessing ecological abuse, watching wilderness obliterated, other creatures eradicated, and the Earth diminished.”

In 2004, I became inspired to study ecopsychology at Naropa UniversityCleaning up the oil spill because of my desire to do something positive with my life to help preserve the animals and wild places that remain. I was also motivated by my feelings of helplessness and hatred towards the human race for what we are doing to the planet. Fortunately for me, and for the many other students at Naropa, the education there is built on a contemplative foundation. Through meditation and other practices, I learned to bring presence and a deeper awareness to my studies and my life. Experiences of the deeper truth of reality helped me to see the beauty and inherent goodness of life. Without this awareness I think it would have been intolerable to continue living in the world the way it is today. It is a miracle to me that my feelings of helplessness and hatred were transformed into feelings of hope, a deep love for the inner journey, and a commitment to doing what I can for the earth in a way that I can offer lightly and with joy.

How is this possible? Partly it is from the experiences of the deeper truth of reality, which helps give me a bigger perspective with which to hold traumatic events such as the oil spill (perhaps better described as an endless eruption of oil). A commitment to this deeper truth helps me to make my inner journey the first priority. I believe that our first task is to mature as human beings into the majestic creatures of being that we are born to be. Or at least do our best in this task! The second goal for me is to do what I can to protect and care for the earth and her creatures in the way that best uses my abilities, energy, and love. To me this means choosing action that I can take from a place of joy, rather than despair.

When I graduated from Naropa, I chose the work of being a vision quest guide as the way I had learned that brought me the strongest sense of joy, excitement, and love for my people. I thought that by guiding others to undertake a vision quest, I would be serving through helping them mature as humans and connect with their love of the earth. In this way, however the participants might choose to serve their people after the quest, they would be nourished by their connection with the earth, and perhaps guided by their love for the earth at times when it is necessary to choose a course of action.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the path of the vision quest, seeking training with the School of Lost Borders and offering annual programs at BC Wilderness Visions. However, the results have been very modest! I have guided one faster per year, in addition to apprenticing on group fasts. This summer no fasters have decided to undertake this journey at Monkey Valley. It makes me wonder if not this, then what? Where am I being called to serve? I hold this as an open question, and am abiding in the not-knowing place of the threshold phase of the vision quest ceremony. Rather than rushing to fill the void with something new, I await deeper guidance and certainty.

It is so complex to be a human being living in North America at this time in history. We are dependent upon oil, like it or not. We all need to earn a living, and must spend a significant portion of our waking hours doing so. We can decide not to consume needlessly, and we can choose options that seem to cause the least harm, such as growing some of our own food or buying locally grown, organic produce (though many people cannot afford even this most basic choice for health). One of the things I needed to make peace with at Monkey Valley was that even though I was using solar power, I still needed to use my gas-powered car to get there. I continue to drive, too often and too fast, as long as I own that land and travel there, but also in my daily commutes around the city of Vancouver. I spend many hours a week engaged in earning a living as a technical writer, which is an effective way to pay the bills but does not help serve my planet or my people in a way that feels meaningful to me.

I feel my heart’s longing to do something worthwhile with this life. To serve my people and my planet in the best way I can, in the way I am meant to do. I guess today’s entry is my way of asking for guidance, and stating my intention. There is an excitement in the not knowing, and the longing, as I abide in this place. In the past I have shied away from direct environmental action, aside from financial contributions and participating in protests and petitions. I hold the possibility that I will be called to move into this arena more specifically.  At dinner time I often thank our dear earth mother for the blessings from her body, and pray that the nourishment may help me do her work. May it be so.