Step Seven of the Green Bodhisattva Path
Humbly asked Earth to remove our shortcomings.
In order to “humbly ask Earth to remove our shortcomings,” we first had to admit that we actually had shortcomings. For those of us involved in ecological activism of one kind or another, this required a resolute step backwards—into our own lives and our own bodies. We’d grown used to thinking that the problem was all “out there.” If only the corporations weren’t so predatory, if only the government would enact and enforce environmental regulation, if only the average American were less materialistic and less wasteful—then things would get better. What a shock it was to discover that we could find no moral foothold in Ecological Recovery unless we started with ourselves.
In our first year of meeting as a group, sharing our stories of addiction to excess and the circumstances that had brought us into Ecological Recovery, we discovered that there were two broad groups of environmentally conscious individuals in the world today.
The first group was ambitious about what they could do to change policy, reduce consumption and pollution, and educate the public about what needed to happen regarding climate change, environmental regulation, and so forth. This group was reasonably well-informed about the issues (or at least about the ones they had chosen to address) and included among its numbers many well-known authors, filmmakers, and activists. Bold as they were, however, members of this group tended to shy away from the starkest, most unforgiving numbers about species extinction, resource depletion, and the accelerating timetable for global warming. They would quote such figures for their shock value, or sometimes to make a point, but they couldn’t metabolize them—they couldn’t take them in.
We knew that members of this group hadn’t taken in the full scope of the problem because they still believed there were political, social, or technological solutions to it. They tended to focus on limited pieces of the puzzle rather than looking at the whole. For instance, they would focus on reducing green house gas emissions, but wouldn’t look at the industrialization of China, a virtually unstoppable force that would more than offset any reduction in CO2 that could reasonably be expected from such efforts over the next 20 to 30 years. That was only one example.
The second, much smaller group was composed almost entirely of former members of the first. They'd tell you, to a one, that the scales had fallen from their eyes. Many could say exactly where they were when this realization struck. There came a moment when they looked at society, at the world, and at themselves, and suddenly realized: This thing is going to happen. We won’t stop it in time because it is not our nature to stop. Because, in fact, just the opposite is true. It is our nature to find ways of avoiding the ecological truth, even in the act of trying to do the right thing.
This group included back-to-the-land homesteaders, nature enthusiasts, and gardeners. It included a good many people who—in spite of what they knew of the state of the world and what its immediate future was likely to be—continued participating in various environmental action groups, holding their candle against the wind with pride of purpose and a kind of resigned existential peace in their souls. What they had in common was the belief that there were no practical remedies to the problem—or at least not any that people will be able to agree upon before it was too late. The worst would happen over the next century (whatever the worst turned out to be) and only then, in the midst of widespread ecological collapse, would humanity take the problem seriously, realize it had to change, and find a way to go on...or not.
And yet, as we gathered for our Ecological Recovery meetings each week, we began to realize that there was also a third group—or at least the promise of one. So far it had failed to coalesce into something as easy to recognize as the first two. If the first group was unrealistic, self-indulgent, and secretly frightened out of its wits, the second was without any real spiritual inspiration or direction, or any hope. This third group, which consisted of former members of the second, saw the future rushing toward them like the first two, but unlike the first it did not retreat into ecological busywork. And unlike the second, it did not lapse into quiet resignation or despair.
The third group welcomed whatever the future brought. The reason was simple: Its members had admitted that they were powerless over excess and, therefore, that only a Power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. For this third group, that Higher Power was Earth.
This was the basis for Step Seven of Ecological Recovery: “Humbly asked Earth to remove our shortcomings.” Those shortcomings (what we called “ecological defects of character”) could only come to light once we admitted that we, personally, were addicted to ecological excess—that our culture didn’t have these defects, we did. Once we had admitted that, we could ask to have those defects removed.
How would Earth remove these defects of character? This was a question we could not expect to answer on our own. We could only be ready to have them removed (Step Six), and humbly ask Earth to do so (Step Seven). But those of us who did this found that Earth could, and would, act on our behalf. How this happened was sometimes mysterious. A new, saner job opportunity would appear. Inspirations would strike out of nowhere. Environmentally high-impact products or activities that once seemed essential to our identities or our well-being suddenly seemed trite and unnecessary. A new way of life revealed itself in the living, with the planet providing the inspiration, the instruction, and the means.