What will it take to restore us to ecological sanity? If what we are suffering from in this hot, flat, crowded 21st century is an Earth-destroying addiction (and the sheer scale of our denial suggests that it is), then that is the only question worth asking. We might not know the answer right away, but at least we know what it isn’t. The answer isn’t us.
If the first step in our path of ecological recovery is to admit that we are powerless over our addiction—that our way of life has become unsustainable— the second is to admit that we can’t think our way out of the problem, no matter how hard we try. In fact, just the opposite is true. Our best, most innovative, most inventive thinking brought us here. That is the hard truth every addict discovers for himself. It is the nature of addiction that our best efforts to cure it on our own only make it worse.
That is the reason why programs for environmental activism so often end in despair. It is easy to blame governments and corporations when our efforts come to nothing. But what do we expect when we insist on treating the symptoms of others, rather than getting to the bottom of our own disease? We have lost our sanity and don’t know where to find it. If we’re honest, we don’t even know where to look.
There is a joke made popular by the A.A. movement that involves a drunk searching for his lost car keys under a street lamp and the cop who tries to help him. The cop asks the drunk if he remembers where he lost them, and the drunk confesses that he doesn’t. “Then why are you searching for them here, under this street lamp?” asks the cop. “Because the light is better,” answers the drunk.
The street lamp is the bright but extremely limited scope of our own understanding, the key is the cure we seek, and the cop is what is left of our sanity—largely impotent, but nevertheless still capable of posing an honest question now and then. The drunk is just a drunk. And, of course, the joke contains another, almost koan-like level, because the last thing a drunk needs to find is his car keys. Everything about his approach to the problem is dead wrong. What he needs is a radically different way of thinking—one that neutralizes his greater impulses toward folly, getting him to calm down and assess his situation, finally acknowledging that he ought not to be driving, even though he may still need to find his keys.
The second of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, adapted to treat every imaginable form of addictive compulsion and disease, reads as follows:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
In its imminently practical, openminded wisdom, A.A. never specifies what that Power ought to be. As countless Twelve Step followers have discovered for themselves, it hardly matters what you call it, as long as it makes you sane.
Which brings us back to our original question: What will restore us to sanity? What “Power greater than ourselves” is capable of steering an out-of-control species back on course for its journey through deep time? The answer is the planet, of course. God relieved A.A. founder Bill W. of his compulsion to drink, and since that initial recovery countless others have been saved from the heartbreak of all kinds of addictions in virtually every country around the globe—by Buddha, by Allah, by Avalokiteshvara, by Vishnu, by Nature, and by a plurality of other sanity-producing “Higher Powers”—but only the globe itself is big enough to cure a species. Where else can it turn for guidance and inspiration but to the mother who birthed it from the depths of her evolutionary womb?
Today I refuse to be frightened by global climate change. Even though I know it is supposed to be frightening. Even though I know it is frightening. The reason is simple. It was the thing that turned my life around. Reality is the enemy of the addict so long as he is actively addicted. But it will restore him to sanity if he will face it in the end.
Clark Strand is a contributing editor to Tricycle, founder of the Tricycle Green Bodhisattva Alliance, and the author of Tricycle’s weekly “Green Koans” column.
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To begin working through the Green Bodhisattva Alliances’s Twelve Steps of Ecological Recovery, join ourFriday 8 a.m. EST phone meeting by calling (712) 775-7400 and inputting the code 472474 followed by the # sign. Meetings are free and last for one hour, with time for sangha fellowship afterward.
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