In Appreciation: Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is always with us, though we are elaborately and profoundly adept at masking it under layers of practices and to-do lists to keep the uncomfortable, frightening feelings that come with uncertainty at bay. But for me, this past month shattered many of the illusions of certainty to which I was clinging. I was suddenly cast into a deep discomfort and fear of the unknown that I had never before felt so strongly or across so many aspects of my life, as well as the lives of many people whom I love.

When I first began to study mindfulness and Buddhism years ago, it was because on an impulse, I purchased the book Comfortable with Uncertainty by the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. I really liked the title, because I was young, insecure, and totally not comfortable with anything. Since in the immediate days after the election, I have been googling how to move to Canada, compulsively cleaning my house, and spending hours composing long, eviscerating responses to comments on Facebook that I would never actually post. I was clearly once again not comfortable with uncertainty. I pulled Chodron’s book back off the shelf for a refresher course on mindfulness when dealing with uncertainty.

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Coffee & Conversation with Senator Downing TODAY (May 15th, 2009) in Chesterfield

Senator Downing Offers a Public Form in Chesterfield, MA

State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) comes to Chesterfield, MA (May 15th, 2009)

Senator Dowing in Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

To further his goal of being fully accessible to constituents from all cities and towns in his district, State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) is bringing his rolling series of open monthly meetings, dubbed Coffee & Conversation to Chesterfield, MA on Friday, May 15th. Downing hosts these public forums in rotating communities across the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin Senate District ten months out of the year.

Downing will be hosting Coffee & Conversation at the Hilltown Community Development Center (CDC) at 387 Main Road in Chesterfield on May 15th from 2:30 – 4:00pm. During that time, Downing will provide free coffee and open, unscripted conversation to all people interested in speaking with their state senator face-to-face about issues ranging from housing and economic development to human services and health care and everything in between. All are welcome to drop by Downing’s Coffee & Conversation to register their thoughts, ideas and concerns, or to simply say hello and share a cup of Joe.

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Victory Garden at the White House

Obamas to Plant White House Vegetable Garden

Harvesting Yellow Beans (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Harvesting Yellow Beans (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Scheduled to break ground on the first day of Spring, the AP reports, “The White House is getting a new garden. First lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to break ground Friday on a new garden near the fountain on the South Lawn…” Michelle Obama envisions the organic garden on the White House lawn as a means of educating children and communities about healthful eating and as a source of fresh herbs and vegetables for the family and guests.

Eat the View Campaign

100,000 people signed a petition asking the Obamas to replant a Victory Garden at the White House, and recent news reports indicate that they are about to reap what they sowed.

For advocates of sustainable and healthy foods, this harvest of good news was as welcome as the summer’s first red-ripe tomato. “I’m thrilled for the Obama family and for all who will be inspired by their example to grow gardens of their own this year,” said Roger Doiron, founder of the nonprofit Kitchen Gardeners International and leader of the successful petition campaign, “Eat the View.”

Launched in February 2008, Eat the View proposed that the Obamas replant a White House Victory Garden while planting a few extra rows for the hungry.  Over the course of the past month, the Eat the View campaign has touted the economic benefits of home gardens as part of its pitch to White House staff members. (Read “What’s a Home Garden Worth?”) As proof, Doiron and his wife spent nine months weighing and recording each vegetable they pulled from their 1,600-square-foot garden outside Portland, Maine. After counting the final winter leaves of salad, they found that they had saved about $2,150 by growing produce for their family of five instead of buying it. “If you consider that there are millions of American families who could be making similar, home-grown savings, those are no small potatoes,” Doiron said.

History of Harvest at the White House

While the Obamas’ garden and the online technologies that campaigned for it might be new, the idea of an edible landscape at the White House is not. Throughout its history, the White House has been home to food gardens of different shapes and sizes and even to a lawn-mowing herd of sheep in 1918. (Read: A Short History of America’s Garden.) The appeal of the White House garden project, Doiron asserts, is that it serves as a bridge between the country’s past and its future. “The last time food was grown on the White House lawn was in 1943, when the country was at war, the economy was struggling and people were looking to the First Family for leadership. It made sense before and it makes sense again as we try to live within our own means and those of the planet.”

Local Food, From the South Lawn

Click on image to see enlarged map.

Plug in, get involved and make a difference!

Another Way

Many people who have seen The Story of Stuff have asked what they can do to address the problems identified in the film.

Each of us can promote sustainability and justice at multiple levels: as an individual, as a teacher or parent, a community member, a national citizen, and as a global citizen. As Annie says in the film, “the good thing about such an all pervasive problem is that there are so many points of intervention.” That means that there are lots and lots of places to plug in, to get involved, and to make a difference. There is no single simple thing to do, because the set of problems we’re addressing just isn’t simple. But everyone can make a difference, but the bigger your action the bigger the difference you’ll make. Here are some ideas:

10 Little and Big Things You Can Do

  1. Power down! A great deal of the resources we use and the waste we create is in the energy we consume. Look for opportunities in your life to significantly reduce energy use: drive less, fly less, turn off lights, buy local seasonal food (food takes energy to grow, package, store and transport), wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, vacation closer to home, buy used or borrow things before buying new, recycle. All these things save energy and save you money. And, if you can switch to alternative energy by supporting a company that sells green energy to the grid or by installing solar panels on your home, bravo!
  2. Waste less. Per capita waste production in the U.S. just keeps growing. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a Zero Waste culture in your home, school, workplace, church, community. This takes developing new habits which soon become second nature. Use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace….the list is endless! The more we visibly engage in re-use over wasting, the more we cultivate a new cultural norm, or actually, reclaim an old one!
  3. Talk to everyone about these issues. At school, your neighbors, in line at the supermarket, on the bus…A student once asked Cesar Chavez how he organized. He said, “First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” “No,” said the student, “how do you organize?” Chavez answered, “First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” You get the point. Talking about these issues raises awareness, builds community and can inspire others to action.
  4. Make Your Voice Heard. Write letters to the editor and submit articles to local press. In the last two years, and especially with Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the media has been forced to write about Climate Change. As individuals, we can influence the media to better represent other important issues as well. Letters to the editor are a great way to help newspaper readers make connections they might not make without your help. Also local papers are often willing to print book and film reviews, interviews and articles by community members. Let’s get the issues we care about in the news.
  5. DeTox your body, DeTox your home, and DeTox the Economy. Many of today’s consumer products – from children’s pajamas to lipstick – contain toxic chemical additives that simply aren’t necessary. Research online (for example, http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/) before you buy to be sure you’re not inadvertently introducing toxics into your home and body. Then tell your friends about toxics in consumer products. Together, ask the businesses why they’re using toxic chemicals without any warning labels. And ask your elected officials why they are permitting this practice. The European Union has adopted strong policies that require toxics to be removed from many products. So, while our electronic gadgets and cosmetics have toxics in them, people in Europe can buy the same things toxics-free. Let’s demand the same thing here. Getting the toxics out of production at the source is the best way to ensure they don’t get into any home and body. Read the rest of this entry »

Video Review: The Story of Stuff

The Story Of Stuff: Online Film Details Costs
and Consequences of Consumer Culture

As the holiday shopping season passes us by, a lot of families were discussing their concerns about giving their kids more “stuff,” especially “toxic stuff.” The Story of Stuff, a new short film released online, takes viewers on a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture, exposing the real costs of this use-it and lose-it approach to stuff.

Last year Americans spent $456.2 billion during the holiday season, and this year sales are predicted to rise 4 percent to $474.5 billion**. “The Story of Stuff” reveals that holiday consumption is not a seasonal phenomenon, rather an American maxim that has devastating consequences for our environment, third-world nations, working class Americans, personal health and even the general state of happiness in America.

Here is a sneak peak at the first chapter of this short film. The entire film can be viewed for free at www.storyofstuff.com. Parents should view it first and decide how to share this video with their kids. Click here for a fact sheet (pdf).

Throughout the 20-minute film, activist Annie Leonard, the film’s narrator and an expert on the materials economy, examines the social, environmental and global costs of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. Her illustration of a culture driven by stuff allows her to isolate the moment in history where she says the trend of consumption mania began. The “Story of Stuff” examines how economic policies of the post-World War II era ushered in notions of consumerism — and how those notions are still driving much of the U.S. and global economies today.

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