April 1, 2022

Where Environmental Justice Misses the Mark, and a Hint of What Might Work Better.

by christopherabdo

Being in awe of a fuzzy African violet in a grocery store in Canada, sitting in wonderment underneath the dark underbelly of a Christmas tree where mushrooms grow, being delightfully addicted to smelling the fragrance of Fruit Loops cereal coming from an orchid blossom (wait what?! yes, orchids smelled like Fruit Loops before Fruit Loops were even Fruit Loops.)..these experiences bring a playfulness, an anti-fragile joy that weathers the storms of interactions, with humans and the earth. 

As I've interacted with many people in the environmental justice realms, I've noticed a heaviness brought to the act of gardening, and a guilt and flow of judgements that subtly undermine nature's natural process of helping you feel the addictively pleasurable qualities of living flowers, flavors, fragrance and colors that for millennia flooded our brains with pleasure chemicals that keep us coming back for more. That's a real issue, because its anti-nature. Its against how nature has pulled us into interacting for millennia. It was never about guilt. Guilting and shaming yourself and others slows down right-action. 

Guilt is excellent at poisoning pleasure, kindness and love. To test this out, the next time you make love, particularly when you're partner is really getting into it, mention everyone they did wrong this week,  how offended you are at what they did, see how that goes. 

An example: 

There is an indigenous tribe that has developed tremendous strength and agility to climb more that 30 feet up a tall tree trunk, and withstand a series of painful stings to gather precious honey from a hive at the top. The high of getting to the sugar powerfully motivates tremendous physical athleticism. It was not a guilt-driven trek up the tree to have sustainable honey, yet they live in deep harmony with nature, without "knowing" all the rights and wrongs. 

I see this all the time in gardening, and catch myself doing it and have to rewind and try again, and most especially see this with those who care about the environment. Instead of celebrating with someone who finally got their container rose to bloom with enough Miracle-gro, they berate them on using chemicals to grow a flower, rather than join them in the joy and when ready, wonder with them what it would be like, to have even more life in the little container, by adding compost instead. 

Here's an another example: 

A Zinnia you've grown with love and wonder is bursting with blooms eager to share with you a flower so that you might bring it indoors and entice the "indoor people" to come out in the sun to see more, and bring more and more people back to the garden, to find a part of their soul there, and cry happy tears of being a whole human again. 

There is an unspoken agreement between your soul, your enchanted eyes and that glowing red Zinnia. This feels right, to pick this bloom, to give it to someone you love. Then you listen to the environmental justice judge in your head... and the simple act of cutting a flower you love to enjoy indoors,  becomes the weighty, heavy, guilt-laden murder of a flower that could have been feeding bees, beneficial insects or just continued on its way. You now are the enemy of (and separate from) nature, and you no longer listen to your pleasure. 

So you cut yourself off from that pleasure, but you also cut yourself off from giving that flower to someone else, who would have felt that love emanating from you and from the flower, who may, in return, give love back, maybe to the next person, maybe to you, maybe to their own garden space. 

In this way, when environmental justice looms over you like a dark cloud, you miss the point of being alive, and end up separating yourself from life itself. 

This weighty, guilty style of gardening makes it difficult to enjoy it. It also makes it more likely that if you see someone else enjoying themselves, but not following your rule book of what is "right for the environment", that you might squash their own joy, because you found their particular way of interacting with nature, offensive to the judge in your head. 

So what do we do about this? Do we pick the flower? Do we leave it be? Do we stop caring about the environment because it gets in the way of actually enjoying and interacting with nature? Or do we let our care for the environment dictate everything we do and how we do it, leaving an emptiness, a guilt, with those we meet and with ourselves along the way?


Or do we sometimes let that care be set aside, so we can be nature, instead of constantly trying to save it? 

Or do we sometimes give space around that care, so that we can slow down and not find ourselves unconsciously judging ourselves (and therefore others) based on our perspective of their (and therefore our) actions, on an environmental-moral report-card we've cooked up for them (and for ourselves)? 

This feels exhausting after a while. 

I don't know the answer. This is key. Those who can be with me in the not-knowing, and us venture together with curiosity and courage, can make an environmental difference, without creating a lot of shame and blame along the way, which undermines and poisons the staying power of the environmental justice movement, and also the love of flowers. 

And there is a hint towards an answer, that I love to play with: for millennia, nature has helped us stay in connection through pleasure. So when you find yourself thinking a whole lot, slow down, smell the Miracle-grow rose, enjoy it fully. Enjoy it with company. When you have the urge to correct yourself or someone else, slow down and make sure you aren't in the way of their pleasure...because that's nature working its magic in them, so that miracle-gro transitions to compost to miracle-growth in multiple dimensions...our hearts, our gardens...and all the mycelial-like threads that transform mental, emotional physical and spiritual health. Ok, I'm definitely gonna pick the flower! Which means I'll want to grow more 😉 


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