I was sitting with a small group of friends, discussing climate change and the impact it has on our day-to-day consciousness.
I mentioned my whole idea of small sacrifices and imperfect offerings (which I wrote about at some length a couple of years ago in a few of these newsletters) and how – simply as a prayer, or maybe only a gesture, or a tiny act of hope that all our choices and actions matter – I had turned off my hot tub to save energy. (I still use it as a “cold tub” on hot summer days, which is guiltlessly luxurious.)
A friend responded by talking about how our energy fields affect each other, and how by calming his mind, or meditating, he can contribute to a field of greater serenity in his environment, potentially easing and balancing the energies of other people in close proximity to himself. He also noted that staying mindful of one’s own inner state and cultivating mental habits conducive to peace is a service not only to oneself, but to one’s community, and this could also be a means of spreading the kind of clear-headedness and broader perspective we all need in order to address and respond appropriately to the climate crisis and all it entails.
I agreed with all that he was saying.
Then he added, “I think big actions – like turning off your hot tub – if you’re doing them from a state of anxiety or grasping – probably don’t really help all that much.”
That took me by surprise! A part of me wanted to retort something along the lines of “Why are you assuming I was anxious when I turned off my hot tub?? And anyway, I think focusing narrowly on your own inner peace without thoughtfully engaging the outer world is just so much navel gazing …” etc. etc.
Instead, rather than giving that “voice” in me the floor, I quipped, “Well, giving up my hot tub is one thing but letting go of my anxiety might be a bridge too far.” And we all had a little chuckle over that.
An hour or so later, our circle discussion drifted to a close, and as we were all saying our goodbyes, I approached this friend and confided to him, in a friendly way, that I’d actually experienced a bit of a defensive reaction to his comment.
I thought he might reply with a smile and offer something like, “Oh, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to do that. I wasn’t saying that you …” etc.
Instead, he eyed me critically and muttered something to the effect of, “Well, I’m glad you worked it out.”
Now that really pissed me off!
So much so that I found myself still thinking about it the next day, as I was walking. It occurred to me that when he had made his initial comment in the circle, I should have responded right in the moment by pointing out that meditation and energy-conserving actions are NOT mutually exclusive. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, for God’s sake!
But then I caught myself. What exactly was I doing in THAT moment, walking and having this thought?
I was retroactively inflating and protecting my ego, in my mind.
And from the point of view of the issues we’d been talking about the evening before – and the scales of time we’d been contemplating in discussing the evolution of mitochondria and the development of the human prefrontal cortex and the momentum these millennia-long processes had ultimately brought to bear on the present-moment dilemmas of anthropogenic climate change and species extinction – against that backdrop, just how necessary and significant were the reflexively prideful machinations of one mortal man’s ego-brain?
Not to mention, a man with relatively little time left! I recently turned 65, which, frankly, is kind of another ego-blow. Somehow, in my imagination, I’m still 16. (I cling tenaciously to my immaturity. And I grow my hair long again during the colder months of the year, so when I look in the mirror, I can still see my 16-or-17-year-old self looking back. I do cut my hair real short though when summer comes — I even got it all buzzed off once a couple of years ago – so during the hot months, there is a different version of me in the mirror. But I digress …)
But though I stubbornly believe in my soul that I’m really 16, I have to admit that not only have I lived almost 50 years more than that, but I’ve gained some things from those years, including certain understandings and a more stable grounding in self-love. All of which has given me the ability to observe the turnings of my mind and to non-judgmentally ask myself questions like: Do I really want to spend the remaining time I have on this planet, in this incarnation, concerned with shoring up my ephemeral ego? Or do I have more interesting things to do?
Of course I should not pose this as a false dilemma. I can indeed walk and chew gum at the same time, so I can defend my ego while I also do other stuff. But still. This ego protection project demands so much energy, speaking of energy. And speaking of conservation, I only have so much mental space, so much cognitive fuel, so much creative juice.
And while I’m sure many people really do live out their entire lives in a state of ego reactivity, I don’t want to be one of them.
Like I say, I have figured out a few things since I was 16, and that is one. In fact, I kind of wish I’d understood the sheer pointlessness of egoic absorption at a much younger age, which would have saved me a lot of angst. But oh well. It was what it was.
And now – oh shit – I guess I’m an “elder,” so part of my role is to impart perspectives such as this to younger people who might benefit from them. So if you are 64 or younger, this newsletter is for you! And hey, if you’re my age or older, thanks for reading! I hope it was interesting, and if it was helpful too, well then I’m just honored and I bow to you. From a non-egoic place, I bow. I think.