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Posts Tagged ‘ecopsychology’

We are social beings

Prad has been gone a little less than two days. I thought I would enjoy this weekend alone, and purposely did not schedule any social activities with my girlfriends. Fourty eight uninterrupted hours, that I could spend doing all the things I love most! Blogging, swimming, taking long walks, reading, vegging. With only a few interruptions from Catherine, on the rare occasions when she still needs something from me. The truth is, being alone sucks. And virtual connections are no substitute for flesh encounters with good friends, family, and even strangers. Every day, my eighty five year old mother goes out for grocery shopping. She does not need to go that often, but she ventures out, still, for the human interaction with the shopkeepers. “Otherwise, I would go crazy.” She lives alone, with only one neighbor she can visit. All her friends have died, and she lives far away from me and my brother. My mother has never been very good at making social connections outside of our immediate family. Over the years, her active social network has diminished to practically nothing. Her life is hell.

Socialization, the way it used to be

Being in the house, alone, I was thinking about all the ways that people socialize nowadays, versus, let say, fifty, a hundred years ago. And I went right back to my days on the farm, with my mother and my grandparents. Socialization was embedded in the fabric of our lives, then. Sunday was going to the market on the horse carriage to the nearby town. The market was a social event, where you got to meet all your friends from other villages. It took us forever to make our way through the whole square, so busy my grandfather was talking to one or the other. Then there was Sunday mass right after. The best part was sitting in the church, and feeling surrounded by the whole community, our community. Of course, the whole village was out and about during the day. Everybody knew everybody, and would stop at each other’s houses. At night, during winter, there were stories told around the fire. My favorite sitting spot was way in the far corner of the fireplace, real close to the flames. I had a little chair that barely fit. If I got too close, my face started to burn. Too far, I started feeling cold. I would spend my time, trying to find the right distance, while listening to the adults’ conversations. The highlight of the year was the batterie, a day of celebration for the whole village signaling the completion of a successful harvest for the wheat crop. Each year, the batterie took place in a different house, and I still remember the time whey we were the hosts. The women had prepared a feast and I had helped. The men, all sweaty from a day in the fields, were laughing and drinking wine, and everybody had something to say to me, la petite. We were pretty happy on the whole, back then. Our basic need for socialization was taken care of.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: an 8. Total carbon footprint: zero, with the exception of the wood burning.

Socialization now, and why it’s not working

Things are different now. In Silicon Valley where I live, there is a lot of socialization, but you’ve got to plan it. I am fortunate enough to live in a great neighborhood, with neighbors who actually talk to and help each other. But the bulk of our socialization centers around driving from place to place, from activity to activity. For parents, it often means chauffeuring a bunch of kids in SUVs, to sports events. I live very close to the Stanford campus. The other day, I was walking at night, and noticed the soccer field, brimming with activity. There was a night game, and parents had come cheering. What got to me were the bright lights, and the amount of electricity that’s required for that type of social event. Shopping is another big pet peeve of mine. Shopping is a social outlet for many women, and men, and teenagers. All driving to the mall, often without any real need for anything. Only the need to shop. And to go to a place filled with people, with guaranteed opportunities for social transactions. These are just two examples. I keep reading reports that our happiness is way down. Our lives nowadays tend to be fragmented between various networks, that are geographically dipersed. This requires more work on our part, and results in more superficial social ties.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: 4. Total carbon footprint: it’s going to kill us, unless we change our ways.

Socialization, as part of the green solution

In the search for a green solution, maybe we ought to consider strategies that address this fundamental need we have as social beings, for relatedness and community? It may not be all of the solution, but in my opinion, it ought to be a main part. Looking for ways to rebuild local communities, around non carbon producing activities, or even better, around carbon reducing initiatives. Recognizing that the deeper human need is not about consuming, but socializing instead. The emergence of virtual green social networks is a step in the right direction. It is only one step, however. Virtual connections can only go so far. Eventually, people need to meet, and feel physically connected to each other, around a common activity. The churches, the villages are gone. We need to find a substitute for the mall culture. To do with community, neighborhoods, nature, stories, rituals, work, play, and celebration.

Anticipated score on the collective happiness index: 8. Anticipated total carbon footprint: negative. What do you think?

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Green Guru will make three airplane trips this month. One this weekend for the Indian wedding on the East Coast, one to Hawaii for business, and one at the end of the month for the Homecoming at his alma matter, the University of Madison. Since he gives me such a hard time usually, I did not want to miss that opportunity to return him the favor. Isn’t aircraft traveling one of the worst offenders for carbon emissions? What was he going to do about his trips? We have had the same discussion before. And again, Green Guru brought up his greenness, the solar installation on top of our roof, all his daily green deeds, the solar project in Hawaii. Plus, he was planning on buying carbon offsets. That’s when it struck me. Buying a green conscience is a privilege of the rich.

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Every time I look up, the pile of dirty dishes is daring me with all its mess. I worked late last night , and have not yet summoned the courage to clean up. One day’s worth. Where to start? The kitchen is starting to smell. The kitchen is also my favorite workspace. I get lost in the computer for a while. Next time I emerge, the dishes are still there, and the smell, too. I realize the problem is not going to go away, unless I do something about it. The sooner, the better. The hardest is leaving what I am doing, and making my way to the sink. Once I turn on the faucet, I am committed. Of course, if I had not let all the dishes pile up in the first place, I would not have had to deal with such a mess.

I am bringing up the dishes story, because it feels so much like the global warming problem. With one difference. The planet is a big living space, and there are many of us, who do not have to stare at the emerging mess.

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The Green Bracelet from Simmons Jewelry is tempting me. It is hard to resist green malachite, rough diamond, and a little bit of gold, all thrown into a great looking bracelet, for a Green cause, and for only $125. Could it be that I can satisfy my shopping urges and do good, both at the same time? Green is becoming the new land of opportunities for marketers of all sorts. And a new outlet for the Green Wannabes like me, who still want to shop, but without the guilt. Which raises the question of, is it possible to be green and a consumer? Green citizen, yes. But green consumer? Sounds like the oxymoron of the twenty first century.

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Talking about ‘I’ versus ‘Us’, Gabriel Halpern, my yoga teacher from way back, used to have us meditate on the fact that we are all breathing the same air. I remember my first reaction to be one of disgust. You mean, I am actually taking in some of the air exhaled by the stinky homeless at the other end of the park! There was also something strangely comforting about the idea, to do with the realization that we are all bathing in the same communal ether. How is that for sharing? The illusion of being separate, and having our own space is just that, an illusion. Yet, it is how I feel. There is ‘I’, and there is the rest of the world. It’s called boundaries. It is necessary to retain a healthy sense of self. And it stops being useful, when it turns the world into a collection of closed individual systems. This mistaken reality is directly at odds with what we know from biology, that we are all interrelated and part of a series of related ecosystems, made up of other humans, animals, plants, and nature in general. I am left wondering, how come I feel so disconnected, then. What happened?

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The pain in my neck is still there. I try to go about my business, but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore. Last week’s massage seemed to have done miracles. The pain just came back, proving me wrong. I need to make some changes in my life, I know. Nature won’t quit, until it is made right.

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Long blog posts are scary. Very rarely, do I read them completely. At best, I will skim through them, and then skip commenting, because I am not sure I really got what the post was about to begin with. Give me a short post, and I will consume it in a second. I will even leave you a comment. This is not unlike global warming. Global feels big, which it is. And out of my league. I can’t process that much, all at once. You need to feed it to me in small bites, instead.

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In the Clouds, Sitting Watch Over Paradise‘, the front page article in yesterday’s New York Times, introduced me to the fascinating world of Mike Gates, one of the remaining 800 lookouts in the United States. Mr. Gates lives high up in a shack atop the mountain. His job is to spend most of his waking hours, scanning the Lake Tahoe landscape for possible fire smoke. Like him, I have been spending a lot of my time lately, scanning the landscape, and looking out for evidence. The only difference is, I am looking inside, trying to stay mindful of all the thoughts, feelings, that keep me in a state of Green Girl Wannabe.

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Definition of ‘inertia’: a descriptive term for that property of a body which resists change in its motion. I feel trapped in my physical body, weighed down by the force of inertia. And you are asking me to change? The law of physics, states that there needs to be a greater external force, in order for me to oppose inertia.

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Green Guru watches me, and can’t understand why I don’t just act. Why all this need to talk? and think? To him, it looks as if I have been going in circles. He is an adept of the straight way. You set a goal, and you just go for it. I, on the other hand, prefer to walk the path of the spiral, each time coming around to a higher vantage point, with more knowledge, and more conviction. Gestating, preparing to deliver my new green self.

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