Coming Full Circle

As I sit down to write this, my household is still feeling the effects of an emergency cross-country trip I paid for months ago.  We’re catching up and while we’re not yet at the point to being able to save money, we’re also not stretched as thin as we had been.  For a while, the food quality for everyone was forcibly downgraded more than I would care for.

The situation has led me to reconsider our living choices.

In October of last year, we sold our house, packed up our household, shipped it cross country, and put down roots in Eugene, Oregon.  This was done for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason for me was simply that my spirits and gods supported the idea, even before we came to check the place out.   It’s not a perfect place, by any means, but it’s a heck of a lot better than where we had been living.  People — and not everyone, no, but many — are aware, here in the northwest, about the impact we have on the environment.  This is a city that prides itself on being creative, proactive, involved.  If there’s a cause going on anywhere hoping to better the world, someone in Eugene knows about it.   Its a town were people are encouraged to recycle and reuse and reduce waste.  We’re all about canvas shopping bags and local, organically grown produce, about humanely raised and slaughtered meats.  It’s a town that wants to support its local artists and craftspeople, wants to foster substantial living, wants to provide food for the hungry, wants to reduce its carbon footprint.   Public transportation and carpooling is encouraged.  Many companies here are “green”.  More often than not, corner stores are stocked with bulk sections filled with organic foods, vegetarian options – some are exclusively vegetarian, in fact – and local products.  We have extensive bike paths connecting the city, a huge assortment of public parks ranging from woodsy areas to meadows to picnic areas.  Enviromentalism is a big, big deal here, as is humanitarian efforts.

Ideals are hard to live up to.  As a teenager, I didn’t even have ideals, exactly.  I knew what we were doing was wrong, that the way we approached the world was unhealthy and unrealistic – a disposable thing to be used  at our discretion – but I wasn’t bothered with wanting to change how we approached things.  Simple solutions seemed best: we were like so many fleas upon the back of Mama Earth.  Like fleas, we ought to be shaken off.

When Poseidon first initiated contact, a lot of time was spent dealing with that.  I won’t make it sound as though from day one there was constant contact.  The night I met him was the night a lot of foundation was laid, but at the time I had a lot going on in my life and there wasn’t time or desire for any sort of constant contact with a god.  Hell, at the time, I wasn’t yet even polytheistic and was still influenced a lot by the God-and-Goddess duality paradigm of Wicca.  But the conversation we had that night was life-changing, and it centered around humanity, our place on the planet, and the ideas I had about our species I needed to step back from and consider more objectively.

What did Poseidon help me to see anew?  First, I had to set down the inherently-evil conviction I had regarding our species.  This was hard for me.  From a personal standpoint, I had been hurt, a lot, by people who should have protected me.  I’d felt more honesty and stability from non-human beings – animals and spirits – and so I was more inclined to see thing from what I thought of as their point of view.  And from their point of view, humans take and don’t give, destroy and don’t build, lord power over and do not take up the responsibility that comes with that power.

Second, I had to set down my anger.  I had to give up the feeling of helplessness, had to give up the feeling of hopelessness.  I had to dare to allow myself to be open to possibility, to change.  You have to understand, up to this point in my life I relied on masks, on inner fortresses, on keeping people at bay.  They weren’t trustworthy, even when they meant well, and while I did let some people in, at least part-way, most people couldn’t touch me beyond where my anger and distrust started.

The conversation that Poseidon and I had the night I met Him focused on some simple things.  I was convinced that we were destroying the earth.  He insisted that while we could very well render the planet uninhabitable to life as it is now, we couldn’t actually destroy the planet itself, and that, with time, the planet could be purged of our touch, our damage.  He took some of the awesome power I was giving our species, and made me see that that power actually belonged to the earth itself.

I was convinced that we were utterly evil, inherently evil, cruel.  He pointed out the good that we do, and while it never negates the bad, he also pointed out that evolutionarily speaking, we weren’t that different from other species.  Creatures adapt their environment is ways when they live there, and they aren’t removed from it.  And therein, I think, lies the root of our problems with the earth, with how we treat it – we think we are not part of it, rather that we are separate. That we’ve tamed nature.  Poseidon helped me to understand that, at a basic level, we’re not really all that different than others – we use what we have to our advantage, and that in and of itself is not evil.  We are not inherently evil. These were the first steps I took, baby steps, that started me down my path toward compassion.

But I’m digressing, because this isn’t to be the article on Poseidon and Compassion. This is about coming full circle.

For a long time now, Poseidon has encouraged me to eat better, not simply in terms of real food over junk food, but also in terms of higher quality real food.  I’m not ashamed to admit, I love junk food. And I don’t just mean snacks and cookies. I mean, I prefer fast food over real food.  Fast food is some of my favorite comfort food.  I love McDonalds and Wendy’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I know all the horror stories, and these days I stay away from these places as much as I can, as I don’t want to support them with my money even if I buy non-meat options there.  I strive to eat real food, even when it’s junky real food like organic, humanly raised (pricey!!) hotdogs with no additives.  These days my biggest failing continues to be diet cola and candy bars. Cheap candy bars. Snickers and M&M’s and Nestle Crisp bars.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon http://plasticfree.blogspot.com and was inspired.  Then, I came across http://www.bestlifeonline.com/cms/publish/health/Our_oceans_are_turning_into_plastic_are_we_2.php and became overwhelmed.  The feelings of hopelessness came back. I’ve learned that I often don’t try to do things, because I know I can’t start out doing them perfectly.  But, that’s not the point. The point is to make a difference, as you can.  Not playing lip service to the ideals, but to actually make the effort.  Even if you fail to reach your goals, to at least try, to really try, to push past the comfort zone, to challenge the assumptions, to strive to make things better.

I’m not perfect. Living plastic-free has not become a goal of mine, because I don’t do well with “do this or else” goals.  I’ve made gradual goals.  I shop with reusable bags, either the “plastic or paper? Neither!” bags which are actually a type of plastic but are cheap and at the time, I was poor, or canvas bags.  My produce either goes directly into the bag, or into paper bags that the stores provide.  I’ve drastically reduced the amount of plastic that comes into the house, and I wish more of it was easily recyclable.

It’s difficult to navigate these waters.  Take the plastic bags issue.  Paper bags aren’t a perfect solution, not when you’re looking beyond the direct impact the plastic has on the environment.  Where does the paper come from?  What trees were cut to make the bags? Was it a sustainable tree farm? What about the damage that sustainable tree farms do to the local ecology?  In nature, forests are diverse, teaming with life, and the balance is delicate.  Planned, planted regrowth forests are the same type of tree.  There is no balance.  Yes, it’s better than cutting down old growth forests just to make paper, but, at some point, that tract of land was an old growth forest, and a whole ecological system was destroyed.

These issues are never black and white, never cut and dry, and it always comes down to choices.  To keep from being overwhelmed, we have to remember that one person truly cannot change everything all at once.  We can – and do – make a difference, however, and we need to keep that in mind.

So, right now, as my household is climbing back out of a down-graded cycle, as our food quality goes back to being the standard that we strive for, as the cats are taken off the cheap, drug-store cat food and put back on their highly screened, nutritiously rich, no-by-products-used, wholesome kibble, as the humans return to the local, organic produce and meats, I try not to feel too badly.  Living with high quality standards is costly – that, too, is another post – and for now, our toiletry items will continue to be products that don’t necessarily promise to be cruelty free – which was the first standard I incorporated into my life, before the organic, etc. – and don’t promise to be paraben free.  Right now, it’s what we can afford, and what we’re fueling our body with comes before what we’re putting on our body.  The balance is a delicate struggle, and we need to remember that it’s a process that is on-going.  We’re not set up as a society, as a culture, to support this kind of lifestyle, so it’s unreasonable to expect perfection.

Unlike the hopelessness and helplessness that I felt as a teenager, sixteen years later, I have the perspective that I need to face these choices, to make my decisions, and to be able to retain my compassion toward humanity.  This, I think, is very good.

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3 thoughts on “Coming Full Circle

  1. It is such a hard thing to make these choices, to know that you can’t save the world single-handedly and sometimes can’t even make the small choices you would like to make. But, one thing at a time, little by little, you can build up to a better lifestyle.

    A suggestion on toiletries (though one I honestly haven’t yet embarked on myself) – there are a number of stores here that sell things like shampoo and moisturizer in bulk, from good companies. It’s usually cheaper that way, plus you reuse your plastic container rather than always getting a new one. Might be worth looking into.

    You can also refill old containers with other bulk goods – honey, peanut butter, etc. Again, cheaper, and less plastic wasted.

    As for the junk food – have you ever quit it entirely for at least, say, two months? I’m wondering if you might lose your taste for it. I’ve been phasing out junk for the last couple years, and the longer I go, the less I actually enjoy it when I do have it. My body is adapting to my new healthier input, and is recognizing the junk as junk (on a physical level, not just my mind knowing it’s junk) – now it mostly makes me ill. If you really do want to give it up someday, maybe you just have to suffer for a little while, and then your body will catch up with your mind?

    And btw, good for you for the compassion bit. I’m still of the opinion that the world would be better off without us in it (or at least, without maybe 90% of humans), but I would like to believe otherwise. I do believe in the potential of individual human beings, but less in the potential of humanity as a whole. Though living here certainly makes you hopeful sometimes!

  2. I forget about some of the bulk options. I’ve tried with things like peanut butter — and by tried I mean I switched over for months at a time. I think peanut butter may be the one place where I can’t. I rely on it as a food source — loves me my pb&j — and while I can handle the fresh-crushed peanutbutter on toast with butter, when it comes to the sandwich, the only kind I really like is Jiff. Which has me buying something in plastic and has me eating something with hydrogenated oils. And yet, I don’t even like other brands of typical peanut butter.

    I’ve given up junk food in the past. It’s been at least a few months since I’ve had fast food. I did a whole year without chocolate. I definitely eat way better than I used to — there was a time when I would have been comfortable eating the way my mother does, instead of craving veggies like I was when I was there last. I go through phases with that — when I want good chocolate, when I go by the whole “ingredients must be actual food” rule. Most of the time I’m good. This week has been especially hard, and it’s a delicate balance when I have to also factor in my food issues — because nothing makes me spiral out of control and dig in faster and harder than having a food a I want become something I can’t have. There were hunger issues in the past, not having enough food all the time, and that’s had a lasting effect. I’m happy enough that it doesn’t control me *all* the time. Edited to add: I have something of a disassociative problem when it comes to my body and my mind. For example, I’ve gotten to realize that caffeine makes me jittery and exascerbates my anxiety issues, so I mostly stay away from it. (except for right now, because it’s worse to need/want my comfort foods when I’m already stressing out over family crap) But then there are the effects of eating some junk food on my body, and while I can physically feel the lack of supportive nutrition, it’s easy for me to discount that, to not let it factor in to the decision making process of “should I eat that?” Heh. It’s also why, when I’m shivering from the cold, and someone remarks on my being cold, I can say things like, “No, I’m not cold. My skin is cold, but, I’m not.”

    I forget about the shampoos and lotions. I’m still so not used to that being an option. Yes, it’s almost been a year, but still. That’s after how many years when it wasn’t? Will look into that and see what they’ve got over at Friendly Street. We do reuse containers when we can. That’s been a rather awesome change. 🙂

    Re: compassion for people. Don’t get me wrong, I do still think that the world would be better off without us. But, we’re here, and most of us are unthinking, uncaring stupid idiots. For me, it doesn’t really address being here and dealing with the situation if I dwell on how better off the world would be without us. And it doesn’t do good things for me, for my spirit, if that makes sense.

  3. I’m like you, in that I’m an all or nothing sort of person when I make changes. Weird perfectionist streak and in a lot of cases has kept me from doing anything. Though that doesn’t apply to environmental or food choices.

    If you’re not ready to quit the processed snack foods, have you tried getting higher quality options? A few years ago I switched from hershey’s to organic dark chocolate. So now I can barely tolerate the conventional brands. Then of course there is now where I am cutting down even more on my refined sugar intake. (And also trying to not eat unfermented soy in any way. Trying to find chocolate without ANY soy is something of a challenge.)

    None of us are going to be ideal with whatever choices we make in our lives. The only person whose choices we can effect are our own, though. And sometimes others will change based on seeing the example.

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