No Impact Man – Film Review – Is Individual Change Enough

Marc and I have just finished watching a documentary film set in New York about a family who decide to live a year making as little impact on the environment as they can.  They live in New York city and give up electricity, cars, buses, elevators, clothes buying and eat local seasonal food.  The documentary follows their family through the highs and lows of their experiment. The film was  released in 2009 and I only recently found out about it. Have any of you seen it?

The project was criticised for

  • Being a promotional stunt for his book, no impact man, which of course it was.
  • Some environmentalists felt that the extreme nature of the experiment was giving them a bad name.
  • It goes against the consumerist mindset of the modern world and I think people possibly felt their lifestyle was being judged.

I loved it because

  • It made me think about my own choices and the impact they have.
  • It made me think about what impact one person can have.
  • It challenged belief systems and I think it’s always good to question.

Ethics is something I have been giving a lot of thought to recently.  I have always been a firm believer that you need to be the change you want to see in the world.  This belief is really useful to me because it stops me getting overwhelmed by the problems of the world and moves me into a state of action.  I am aware that with all the efforts that I make there are always so many ways I can improve.  I also feel that I don’t have the right to tell others what to do, every action has all sorts of positive and negative consequences. Who am I to tell others what to do? One person can only do so much, efforts spent in one area is time and effort that could be spent elsewhere.

 

One of things that I love about yoga is that it gradually makes people to be more aware of what they do.  With that awareness comes personal choice rather than just flowing with the whim of others.  We live in  a society where consumerism is everywhere we are bombarded with it. Advertisements tell us if we have blah blah we will be so happy, so sexy, so successful.  The gap between the rich and the poor in this world is staggering:

The richest one fifth of the world

  • consumes 45 per cent of all fish and meat, whereas the poorest fifth consume 5 per cent
  • consume 58 per cent of total energy, the poorest fifth have less than 4 percent
  • own 87 per cent of the world’s vehicles, the poorest fifth own less than one percent.
  • consume 84 per cent of the world’s paper, the poorest fifth 1.1 per cent

The statistics are from Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, Bread for the World, 2007.  I found them in the wonderful book Yoga for a World Out of Balance by Michael Stone.  This book is brilliant and I will write about it in more depth once I have finished reading it.  Despite these staggering polarisation in terms of how we consume we are all interconnected if I pollute the air you have to breathe it, whether you polluted it or not.

 

When I read statistics like that it makes me wonder not only if my own actions are enough but if my belief that all I have to do is be the change I want to see is enough.  When I first stopped drinking a few years ago, I realised that other people found it really challenging.  I don’t mind if other people want to drink at all as long as that’s what they want to do and they’re not harming anyone, who am I to judge?  Yet people get uncomfortable because it makes them challenge their own beliefs.

As a vegan, I experience the same thing, many people seem to want to argue with me about my choices. I have never tried to force my beliefs about veganism on anyone.  I don’t want to be the annoying person that rants at people while they are eating.  I feel that lacks compassion for my fellow man.   I don’t have that right and as passionate as I am about it I believe we each have a right to make our own informed choices.

I have been wondering recently if individual change is enough and if it isn’t what should I be doing about it.  I think it is not about telling other people how to live their lives or acting superior for all the great things we are doing.  In many ways I am very fortunate to live in culture where I have so much choice that I can learn about where my things come from and what impact they have, that I am not starving,  I have so may choices, I can read and learn at the touch of a button, I have so may things to be grateful for. There is also so much that I am not doing, I often leave lights on, I don’t always eat organic or seasonal, I sometimes forget my bags for life and there are many things that I have no even considered.  There is so much more I can do, I know I am not perfect.  I think what I am realising is that it is not about telling people what to do, I don’t have that right, however maybe there is a need to open a discussion to share what we can do and how we manage to make our own impact or tread a little lighter on the planet so that everyone can benefit.

Do you believe in the power that one individual can have to make a change?  Has yoga made you more aware of the impact of your actions on others or the world?  Do you feel empowered to be the change you want to see in our world?

 

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron a Book Review

The week before my holiday I was very busy.  I had to make lots of decisions which involved making a leap into a future that I couldn’t possibly imagine. Amidst all this business, I saw a quote from Pema Chodron on Facebook, on a page I follow updated by one of her students.

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground- something predictable and safe to stand on- seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.

What a predicament! We seem doomed to suffer simply because we have a deep-seated fear of how things really are. Our attempts to find lasting pleasure, lasting security, are at odds with the fact that we’re part of a dynamic system in which everything and everyone is in process.” Pema Chodron
(Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)

 

I laughed in recognition, when I read this, what a wonderful reminder and how true.  It seems like such a human trait to want certainty and reliability when in truth no-one knows what will happen next. I shared this on Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Facebook Page, I am sure many of you saw it.  I then looked up the book and decided I should read it on my holiday.

 

I have read a few other books by Pema as well as listening to her teaching .  She is a wonderful teacher.  As I am sure you noticed from the above passage she has an amazing way with words.  I also love how honest she is able to be in her teaching, she admits to her own shortcomings and humanness with great humour so we can all learn from it.

 

Helen looking at extinct Volcano in Lanzorote

Montana Roja, Lanzarote

I read Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change whilst on holiday in Lanzarote with my partner.  I am so glad that I did because it a wonderfully inspiring and insightful book and it has helped me to stay more present.  I was able to let go of all the business back at home and enjoyed all we ever have – the here and now.  Sure I drift from time to time and that’s okay, Pema’s words, my meditation and yoga practice help me to come back here.

 

Pema is a Buddhist nun and her books and teachings are based on Buddhist teachings.  She was a student of Chogyam Chungpa who wrote Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism BookCutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which is absolute classic for anyone interested in a spiritual path.  I find her teachings are very compatible and useful for me on my yoga journey and I am sure you would find this too.  She has written a lot about how to deal with pain and suffering from the perspective of someone on a spiritual journey.

 

Living Beautifully with  Uncertainty and Change Book

In Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change she shares her wisdom about 3 Buddhist vows.  She explains how traditionally these vows would be taken formally with a teacher.  In this book she introduces them in a more general way, as three commitments, so that anyone of any religion or no religion could benefit from these teachings. I guess some people could criticize this approach, saying that it waters down the tradition but as I touched upon in my blog post  Why Do You Practice Yoga and Does it Matter? I think that if something benefits you in any way then that’s great and particularly when someone someone as wise and insightful as Pema is sharing.  The traditional approach is still there for those who want to take it and maybe more people will be inspired too after reading her book.

 

In summary the first commitment is about not doing harm to others and ourselves.  The second is about keeping our hearts and minds open to the suffering of the world, developing our compassion.  The third is about accepting the world as it is.  Although these commitments seem much like common sense they are very challenging for any aspirant to keep.  Pema gives excellent guidance for dealing with these challenges.  I think people sometimes struggle with change because they expect not to fail and yet this is often how we learn and develop the strength for our future. Sometimes we can’t cope with our own or others’ pain and that’s okay. Sometimes we mess up – I know I do and the important thing is to learn from this and recommit to change or to do what we can do today. In this holiday season when many of us have time to reflect on how we want to move forward with our lives, Pema’s new book offers some great ways to embrace life without agenda, to accept it just as it is.  You may have eaten too much at Christmas, you may be tired cold, poor or ill, but this is your world to embrace, don’t wait for everything to seem perfect.  If we cling to happiness and run from suffering in the search of a perfect world, we may find ourselves living our whole life in our minds.  I don’t think that this means you shouldn’t have goals, you are the captain of your ship, not the ocean.  Enjoy the journey, embracing your life just as it is.

 

Have you read anything inspiring recently?  Have you read any of Pema Chordan’s Books?

 

The Real Moment

As some of you know, a couple of months ago I stubbed my toe badly on a Hoover and had to take some time off work.  As I travelled back from my Mum’s house in North Wales, I began letting people know that I would not be able to teach on Monday.  I was a bit disappointed because I love my job but I could barely walk so that was the way it was.

Once I had sent some texts out to those of you in my text group, and made an announcement on Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Facebook page, I resumed reading a book by Brad Warner, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality

This is the first book I have read by Brad but I have been curious about him for a while.  Brad is a Zen teacher who is also into punk rock, he works at least during the time scale of his Hardcore Zen book in the monster movie industry in Japan.   He writes  about Zen in a direct, simple and humerous way.  He can be fairly opinionated which is unusual in spiritual teachers but I like his direct approach.  His blog can be found in the right side bar of this blog or here.

I was reading his book on the train, in pain and maybe a little frustrated I came across this line

“Suffering occurs when your idea about how things ought to be don’t match how they  really are.”  Brad Warner

Hmm, what a great one liner.  How true.  As I sat on the train I reflected that my suffering mostly came from my brains interpretation of the pain.  When I stopped and observed the pain for what it was, sensation and lost the stories in my head my situation wasn’t so bad.  I was on the train home after a lovely weekend with family.  I had the day off, I could have some me time.

Since that moment on the train, whenever I have caught myself sad, frustrated etc,  I have worked instead on acknowledging what the moment I am in is actually like, rather than what I think it should be like.  We could spend our whole lives waiting for that perfect moment in our heads or we could be in this one.  The above example is not a particularly challenging life event but if we work with minor problems I believe it will get easier to apply this wisdom to bigger ones.  Yoga and or meditation helps us to more present in these moments so that we notice them and stand a better chance of actually being HERE.

Have you read anything interesting recently?