Awakening consciousness in the time of climate change
When the heat is upon us, coolness of the mind is the most enlightened response.
I speak literally of the heat waves currently visiting the global scape: the forest fires in California, to the extremely high temperatures in Japan, London and the rest of Europe. We need not even leave our own shores; even in this monsoon season, people complain feeling as if they're “being baked inside an oven.”
While it's easy to fall into the trap of complaining about these conditions, several individuals and groups are now scaling up the issue by bringing it to a higher level of consciousness – from a mere crisis of ecology that Al Gore hyped up in “An Inconvenient Truth,” to one that is ultimately bound to the psycho-spiritual dimension of our lives. For the very state of our thinking, being and doing will ultimately ripple across our web of relationships with people and the life force of our precious planet.
And yes, coolness of the head, which comes from objectively stepping-back from the “heat” of the moment's issues, rather than being drowned by its immensity, is a valuable response nowadays.
Eco-spiritual educator Duane Elgin points out the very 'consciousness-shift' needed in responding to the disasters of our times. The practice of regularly pausing in silence to take a “witnessing and reflective stance,” he notes, allows us to find better solutions that can generate inspiration and deep-seated action. This allows for a change of habit in one's very modes of thinking and doing and allows us to embrace self-reflective growth as we adopt the elements of simplicity in these complex times.
Voluntary simplicity, he shares, comes from a practice of self-checking and quieting, stopping the way we mindlessly rush and push our ego-based habits that tend to generate more carbon footprints into our fragile ecology. Our thoughts are energy. Generating self-reflective thoughts that will conrtibute to healing the planet, rather than creating angry and fearful thoughts that bring nature's energy down, is key here.
It's also been instructive to come across a statement by environmental lawyer James Speth, former head of the US Council on Environmental Quality, who opined that responses to ecological conundrums goes beyond the political stop gaps we have created:
"I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and eco-system collapse...but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation."
The “spiritual-cultural transformation” that Speth speaks of rings a bell in mind.
As an educator who has included values-based awareness in my Humanities syllabus, I have long realized the importance of shifting gears from a mere cognitive-based pedagogy of liberal arts education to a lived practice of the often unhighlighted values in the Humanities discipline.
Awakening a sense of “the value of values” among university students can be a challenge at a time when their lives are ruled by the phantasms of the speed of gadgets and fast food culture. How many of my co-teachers have complained how students nowadays aren't keen on the value of doing diligent archival research, used as they are now to the easy habit of “copy-paste research” from the worldwide web?
Instant research with instant answers that make them rely less on their own capacity to analyze and even interact with the actual world and people who might be regarded as sources of knowledge, even inspiration. Virtual chatting and texting have become such habits, they seem to have forgotten the value of communicating face to face, person to person, life to life.
We figured that students of this generation require a sense of re-enchantment in life, a deeper consciousness of the value of nature and art, one that would allow them to take a self-reflective stance while looking at the bigger issues we experience globally. In response, I have incorporated Social Artistry projects as a final activity for my students for the last few years now.
We've used readings related to slow culture and the slow movement that began in Europe, a practice of going back to nature, local traditions and the agricultural produce of one's cultural locality, a way to literally 'slow down' against the tide of high-speed consumption. A main highlight is that slow culture is not really new to the Philippines, being an agricultural country with attendant valuation for the simple, basic life.
The virtue of voluntary simplicity is another thematic topic that we discuss, via a reading by Charty Durant, “The Tyrrany of Trends,” which critiques the ecological and economic issues that hound the fashion industry, dictated by a media machinery on a global scale.
We also enjoy savoring the virtue of silent contemplation, to further heighten the experience of slowing down to the moment and being an awakened presence to the presence of the natural world. We peruse Anthony Strano and Thomas Moore on the spiritual aesthetic of a silent mind; the mindful simplicity of the Japanese Wabi-Sabi aesthetic; the meditative photography of Machon; the penetrating insights on life of eco-spiritual advocate Satish Kumar. All these round-out our learnings on how we might respond to the world by first being more aware of our own inner ecology of thoughts, feelings and habits.
Our learning area isn't just the classroom, but “life” outdoors. Haiku writing by the lagoon; leisurely, reflective walks in the University of the Philippines (UP) sunken garden; and outdoor games and fruit picnics that allow us to appreciate the enchanting presence of our inner and outer ecologies, mindful that we do not add damage to an already ailing world. Somehow, in the integration period, we end up realizing that we are the same healing presence that the world has been longing to see, feel and hear.
I say 'we' because all these learnings are as much for me as for the students whose boundless enthusiasm have perked up my own hope for the future of this world, even in these most perilous times.
For the global crises we face will need such cool minds and warm hearts that know how to come from action filled with the reflective spirit. – Rappler.com
Rina Angela Corpus is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Art Studies, University of the Philippines-Diliman. Her department has been pioneering discussions towards the institution of a course on Arts and Ecology. Her research interests include dance, spirituality and ecology. You may visit her reflections in Dance of Stillness.