Just Breathe

Woman covered in birds“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ~ Arundhati Roy, War Talk

I remember reading Gaia by James Lovelock as an undergraduate at New York University.  I was changed by that book, as I was changed by all the books I read then.  In it, Lovelock wrote of the earth as a living, breathing, sentient being.  His contention was that humanity and all plant and animal life is not blasting through space on a dead rock; rather, we are swimming in a sea of numinous and numberless living creatures that are wholly dependent on their hostess. Everything from krill to shrimp to parasites to scorpions depend on the earth as their home, their mother. Lovelock’s book was celebrated for its recognition that the earth is alive. It changed the way many people saw this planet, but, unfortunately, it didn’t do much to change our behavior.

Still luminous, still spinning.

When I read that book, I was 26 or 27.  I am now 53 and the earth is still alive and still luminous and still spinning through space.  The question is, will we still be here in another year, or decade or century?

Or will Gaia give us the heave-ho?

I wouldn’t blame her if she did. After all, collectively we don’t seem to give a shit about elephants or rhinos or polar bears or wolves. We seem to think it is OK to over-fish and dump garbage in the oceans (to the point that there are garbage floats in all of the oceans, some as big as the state of Texas).  We shrug our shoulders after we spill millions of gallons of oil (most recently on the Gulf Coast) and kill everything within several hundred miles, as well as poison the food chain well beyond that perimeter. We allow petrochemical corporations to blast our crops and lawns and trees with enough poison to make sure every baby born for the next two hundred years will have the residue of that poison in their cells and DNA.

Many among us don’t seem to understand how to live softly or sustainably. We mow through resources and guzzle water and pollute like there’s no tomorrow — to the point that there may be no tomorrow.

So where’s the hope in all this?

The hope — for all us — lies in the fact that we are beginning to realize we are all connected. There is no separation between us and the environment. We are this world and this world is us. If we don’t change, if we don’t wake up, if we don’t remember to treasure this beautiful planet, we will be the ones who are gone. The earth won’t go away. We will.

What can we do?

Make one small change every day. Shop locally. Stay home. Drive less. Start a garden. Read to a child. Take shorter showers. Teach someone to cook from scratch. Avoid all processed foods. Eat less meat. Join a book club or a peace group. Volunteer at a food bank. Give away belongings we are not using. Clean our homes with baking soda and vinegar and water. Put out water for the birds. Feed feral cats and get them neutered or spayed. Teach someone to read. Pick up trash. Clean up a river or stream. Use less water. Make art. Sing. Celebrate small joys. Write letters. Talk to each other. Really talk to each other.


Listen to school children and lions and tigers and bears.

Listen to the tide and the rush of the ocean.

See each other as collaborators rather than competitors.

Our whole economy is based on the idea that more is better. Consume more. Buy more. Eat more. The problem is, we are running out of space and resources. We cannot just continue to rapaciously consume. We must become conscious, awake, moral, ethical, responsible stewards for this planet.

And I believe we can do that. I believe we can change. I see it happening. I see the capacity that my students have to be shaped, to be changed by a good idea, a good plan, or a good cause. I see it in the openness that some among us have toward others. Not everyone possesses this level of tolerance or this ability to embrace change, but more people are waking up every day.

So, these days, I remind myself when I am hyperventilating in fear: Just breathe.

Just take one step.

Just take one action.

Reach out to one person. Open your heart. Cook one lovely meal.

Just breathe and consciously and carefully focus on the present moment and listen for its call. Listen for what to do next. If enough individuals awaken in this very way, there is nothing that is impossible.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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