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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --Margaret Mead

The Three Sacred Tasks: A Climate Scientist & Father Reflects

--by Peter Kalmus, syndicated from newsociety.com, Aug 19, 2017

The following is an excerpt from Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution

Our ecological predicament challenges us for many reasons, not least of which is that it calls us to examine how we live. It calls us to recognize that we are part of the miraculous biosphere, not outside of it or above it; to accept, deeply, that we will die, and that death is also part of this miracle. Our bodies arise from this spinning, burning biosphere, and we mix back into it when we die. There is nothing to hold on to, and nothing to be afraid of.

In my darkest moments, when faced with the uncompromising reality of global warming in all of its surreal truth, I come back to my body. I feel my breath going in and out, or I observe a sensation, maybe some mild pain somewhere. The present moment contains the realization of how short my sojourn in this body really is. Each passing moment contains my death—a cosmic relay race of passing moments. And I realize that living aligned with my principles and doing everything I can for a better world is more important than staying safe.

The deepest spiritual revelations are all trivial at an intellectual level. For example: I’m made of matter, and so are you. We are both made of protons, neutrons, and electrons recycled from stellar explosions. Those building blocks spontaneously organized into ever-more-complex molecules, rising and passing away, trans- muting from one form into another. Over hundreds of millions of years, the basic principles of encoding information into matter emerged. The biosphere began to produce a stunning stream of forms, billions upon billions of species—a process I feel certain is unfolding on uncountably many other worlds. Here on Earth, this awesomely beautiful stream of beings eventually included the first humans, and then my ancestors, and then my parents, and then me.

Yet what is this “me?” When I sit down and examine it carefully, dispassionately, it evaporates. I observe the matter in my body, and it is nothing but a flow, vibrating atoms, in a constant flux. I observe my mind and its thoughts, and they too are constantly changing.

The universe is your partner.
The lizard in the woodpile is your partner.

I observe the physical sensations that are the intersection of this mind and this body, and they also arise and pass away. I see how I crave pleasant sensations, and I see how the craving is misery. In the bright light of my calm observation, wanting dries up and blows away. I am not in control. I did not create myself. I am a calm observer with a front row seat at the greatest show imaginable: the universe itself.

How can I not smile as I watch this show? How can I be afraid when I realize how I formed? How can I feel separate from any other being when I am nature, when I am the biosphere, when I am the universe? How can I intentionally harm any being, once I’ve experienced the truth that all is connected? How can I put myself before others, when there is no “myself?”
To realize mindfulness in every moment is to experience that everything is sacred: the air we breathe; the food we eat. The stars and the oceans. Birds that fly and bacteria that decompose. A newly sprouted plant; a steaming pile of manure. The land we walk on. My body. Your body. This moment.

Learning to live respectfully within the biosphere is a sacred task. Learning to get along with each other is a sacred task. And learning how to be happy in our own minds, to be joyful on this Earth in the short time we’re here, is a sacred task. These three sacred tasks are beautifully interconnected.

I wish that I could share with you the peace and the happiness that comes from having this concrete experience of connection, of non-self. But because it’s a direct personal experience, I can’t share it. I can only point to it clumsily with words.

This excerpt is from Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution by Peter Kalmus, Chapter 16, “Love” Published by New Society Publishers, August 2017. New Society Publishers’ mission is to publish books that contribute in fundamental ways to building an ecologically sustainable and just society, and to do so with the least possible impact on the environment, in a manner that models this vision. You can follow them on Facebook here. Author Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University. At work he studies the physics of clouds in a changing climate, and at home he explores how we can address climate change while living happier, more connected lives. He lives in Altadena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, with his wife and two children on 1/10th the fossil fuels of the American average. He enjoys orcharding, beekeeping, and backpacking. Peter speaks purely on his own behalf, not on behalf of NASA or Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


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