Friday, 18 September 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Of Service?

Everywhere we are talking about a peaceful humanity, a peaceful world. This is not from prayer, not from technology, not from money, not from religion, but from mother. This is my fundamental belief. Mother, I consider, our first teacher. (Women of Tibet, The Great Mother), Dalai Lama

My sister in law Munia lives with the poor in Ecuador. “I am not necessarily a good person,” she says. “I was just born fortunate. I had a good mother, a good father, food, education, and love. It is my duty to give it back.” Not everyone is called to live and work with the poor but everyone is indeed called to something greater than themselves. Whether or not we hear the call, or even recognize the call is another matter entirely.

So what does it mean to be of service? Is it volunteering your time to a local charity? Calling in on the sick? Tossing the proverbial 10% at the collection plate on Sunday morning? We all periodically do this throughout the course of our lives, but this is not what it means to be “of service”.

Being of service is a relationship, a state of mind, a way of life. (Which might in fact include the above, volunteering, visiting the sick, etc. but not an end unto itself). It is a meditation of unending gratitude for those of us who have to keep us ever mindful of those who have not. I believe that in this gratitude, this eternal state of gratitude lies grace and out of grace is born compassion and compassion gives rise to empathy. “Why do we complain all the time?” asked Munia this morning over coffee. “We have so much,” she said. “Yes, but still wanting more, still incomplete,” I added.

She was only here for one night, visiting Cottarton with her beautiful daughter, Anita and her twin girls, Teresa and Margherita. It was as splendid as any ballet to watch the two of them in concert with each other, laughing, singing, sharing the responsibility of the babies. I got the feeling that they knew each other so well they didn’t even need words to communicate the next step. Like Nureyev and Fontaine they glided across the floor from cue to cue. The hungry cry, the sleepy cry, the wet cry, and the frustrated one they responded artfully, intelligently with humor and fatigue.

It is truly a remarkable occasion to witness the numinous in the domestic. The numinous at table, in a small kitchen feeding a hungry baby and then the peace that comes with the last bite.

Not all of us are favored with the presence of a good mother, in fact some of us are actually injured by the birth mother who was never taught or never learned how to mother herself. I have a small photograph in my collection of framed pictures on top of the china cabinet in the hallway that very few ask me about, which surprises me because it’s obviously antiquated and doesn’t look anything like my family or friends, but Anita did – she asked. “Who’s this?” “That’s a picture of the fantasy mother and me,” I said. “It’s a picture of the way I would have liked it to have been. An image.”

I’m sure you’re wondering now the link between service and mother and it’s this.

If mother is the point of entry, then mystery is the point of exit. It is the relationship between the good mother and the Great Mother, the mystery that beckons us to be of service. Like Munia and Anita in the dance of the mother at my kitchen table last night, the good mother reflects the magnitude of the Great Mother in her attention to that what is vulnerable in all of us. It is our cue as humans to listen for the call from the Great Mother, the mystery to listen for what we should be giving back. We must give back – it is the road to home.

PS Munia is Rose’s daughter and Anita is her granddaughter. I have been gifted in the company of women that have come into my life through marriage; Theresa, Basia, and Ciocia Renia….how fortunate am I.

Friday, 4 September 2009

10 percent in 2010

In the UK global warming is seen as real, and not a left wing conspiracy, supported by radical scientists. The summers of 2007 to 2009 saw unseasonal rainfall and flooding, people losing their houses. The affected County Councils are spending money to shore up flood defences to prepare for rising seas. Latest studies of Greenland glaciers show those glaciers are melting at a much higher rate than predicted by current climate change models. If they melt, sea level could rise within the next 100 years by several meters.

A natural Earth cycle or a result of human activity? No argument will silence all doubts. The debate will continue until the last debater is shot. As a geologist I can see that natural climactic cycles, visible in the rock record, are part of our Earth's history. Regarding the present changes, I defer to scientists who have studied the data. With few exceptions, they speak with one voice, that the present climate changes are due to the human impact on natural ecosystems --- burning fossil fuels and deforestration being the chief activities. This has become particularly acute because of our growing population.

Politicians talk and debate. In London, they discuss whether to cover the island with wind generators or put them all offshore. In Copenhagen, they bluster about who should make the first carbon dioxide cuts --- Americans, Chinese or Europeans who caused the problem in the first place? The Brits propose that we pay third world countries not to develop technologically, so that Brits can go on, business as usual. A convenient solution. One can conclude only one thing from the debate--- that we'll all fry before policicians come to an agreement that's likely to make any difference.

Or, the people can take action and show the bastards how it must be done.

Last week, "The Guardian" daily newspaper threw its support behind a grass roots movement, for every household to cut its carbon footprint by 10 percent in the year 2010. So far 10,000 people have pledged their support including many multinational corporations, all of Gordon Brown's cabinet, movie stars etc...According to the climate models, an immediate 10 percent global cut in carbon emissions is what is required to avoid an increase of 2 degrees celcius in our global temperature. Such an increase is likely to cause ecological changes that will result in further temperature increases. The carbon cuts have to start somewhere. Given that the UK only produces 3% of the world's carbon emissions, a 10% cut is not a large portion of the global budget. But it may generate the political impetus for other countries to follow suit, and for politicians to take meaningful action.

We may be too late. Arctic ice is melting more rapidly than predicted. Are we past the point of no return, where the Earth will grow warmer regardless of what we do? Nobody knows. To accept this scenario as true and to do nothing, will make a disastrous global warming of several degrees celcius an inevitability. Or, we can bury our heads in the sand and hope that none of this is real. That God will come to our aid, or that the sun will cool off. We can hope we'll all be dead before the disaster comes to roost.

I think about my children, the legacy we are about to leave them. Will they see scenes of mass starvation, wars fought over scarce resources, and mass migrations all because our generation was unwilling to make the right choices? The latest scenes from Bangladesh where 20 million people will have to move from areas inundated by rising seas, are a sample of things to come.

Amber and I are taking the 10:10 pledge. We are not sure how we will make good on the pledge but we will do what we can. We may cut down on car journeys, take the train more often, install more home insulation or fly less. We have more options than many people. We will keep you posted.