A spiritual approach: environmental practicalities

This is guest post exchange day in the 2013 WordCount Blogathon. This story comes from the U.S. West Coast, courtesy of my friend Jennifer Willis.

oregon forest

Do you know what your personal environmental impact is? Really?

Nearly nine years ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon—one of the “greenest” and “crunchiest” cities in the United States. It’s also one of the most progressive and delightfully weird places I’ve ever lived, and it’s no surprise that Portland is a particularly Pagan-friendly place.

Combining a love of nature with explorations in spirituality, I found myself in weekly Priestessing classes led by a women’s Pagan organization just a few months after landing in Portland.

I’m a sucker for just about any spiritual practice that involves candle-lighting, discussions about primal archetypes, and meditations on finding my own magic in the mundane world. But one evening, the class conversation on ethics took a serious turn into environmental responsibility—a conversation that went way beyond carrying cloth bags to the grocery store and recycling every last scrap of paper.

“How many organisms do I kill simply by taking a breath?” one of the instructors asked. We talked about Buddhist monks turning over their sandals each night and asking for the forgiveness of all the tiny creatures they stepped on and killed during the day.

But this teacher stated the same idea in very practical, “Western” terms: “How much of the environment do I destroy every time I drive my car?” she asked. “Is it really worth it to contribute more noxious fumes to the atmosphere, to burn up more of the planet’s resources, to snag up insects in the car’s air filters, and to add that much more to global warming just so I can go buy some milk?”

Not one of the dozen students in the room had an answer. Our teacher smiled at us.

“There are no easy answers to these questions,” she said. “But this is what I think about every time I consider using a car.”

And now it’s in the forefront of my mind, too, nearly every time I reach for my car keys. But not every destination—whether the journey is born of necessity, convenience, or luxury—is within walking or cycling distance. Even mass transit has an impact.

Sure, I could say a blessing over my car and wave my keys through some incense smoke to ask for forgiveness for all the damage done each time I leave the driveway. But that doesn’t undo the damage, and it doesn’t change the fact that each one of us really does have an impact, down to the most basic choices we make every minute of the day. We can make better choices, but we can also demand better options.

Jen WillisJennifer Willis is an author and journalist in Portland, Oregon. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Oregonian, Salon.com, The Christian Science Monitor, The Writer, and other electronic and print publications at home and across the globe. Her novels—Rhythm (2001), Valhalla (2011), and Iduna’s Apples (2012)—are currently available both as ebooks and in print. Find her online at jennifer-willis.com, and follow her on Twitter @jenwillis and via her Facebook author page.

Creative Commons photo: oregon forest by McD22.

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