by Alexander Volfson
There are many ways to look at life. This lens through which we perceive reality affects how we feel and how we act. Elul, a time of returning, is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our lenses. Is our outlook truly helping us be the best self we can be?
Sometimes we can get into phases where we're caught up in one particular lens. You might notice a particular pattern of thought you're reenacting, along with some habits. For example I noticed that I was in an "afraid of the world" phase where I was checking the national news multiple times per day. I was stressing about how the economic turmoil of our country is and will affect me and my community.
This certainly wasn't the only line of thought I had, but many of my thoughts were pretty grim. At the same time, you can't entirely dismiss this as some unfounded fear. The cost of living, food and energy continue to rise and though the financial experts keep talking about a recovery, real incomes and the rate of employment are not keeping up. On top of this we're getting more extreme and unstable weather from climate change. You can see how this might shape my outlook.
We can get stuck in a specific outlook, but there are alternative ways to approach at the world. When I recognized this phase I paused to connect with the specific emotions that came up for me: fear, mostly. Meditating on this, I soon remembered another outlook were I see my actions as the "Earth acting through me". In this frame, I feel connected to the world around me (instead of afraid of it) and focus on asking, "at this very moment, how can I contribute?" Notice how this opens me up to options. Suddenly I'm thinking about the solutions to our economic woes. Thinking about what could make our communities more resilient I start asking open-ended questions: How many different ways can I support local agriculture? Low-energy and low-cost transportation? Healthy living? Connection to the physical planet and real ecosystems of which we are a part? You can probably see how this approach is more likely to help me find a meaningful way forward.
In fact, this reminded me of why Tikkun Olam initially pulled me into the Transition movement (a grassroots, community-level-focused effort to transition beyond fossil fuel dependence to a world of renewable energy and local resilience). The Transition approach is to look at change as an opportunity. The other key element is that we act in groups because it can be overwhelming on our own. Ultimately a few of us got together and co-founded our local initiative,Transition Framingham. Look around, you might find a group in your town (Wayland, Ashland, Sudbury and more) or maybe you have the opportunity to start such an effort!
So in this etude I leave you with two lessons for the price of one.
- What outlook have you adopted? Is it creating outcomes you like or behaviors you'd like to change?
- How can we return to a stewardship relationship with the Earth we all call home?
Alexander Volfson, a humanist and Earth-ist, loves finding way to bring folks together toward sustainable lifestyles. When he's not fixing thing (from appliances to bicycles to computers) or planting them (for a permaculture designed garden), he's biking somewhere or learning something new. Alex is one of the founding organizers of the Framingham Sierra Club and Transition Framingham.