Lonely Planet

Backpackers be warned. The planet has just gotten a little lonelier today.

Remember the days of yesteryear? When “Lonely Planet” stood for that dog-earred guide that led dusty travelers to the farthest corners of the Earth? To places of discovery and wonder? To waterfalls and arid deserts? To exotic temples and camel rides?

The Paris Agreement, an accord signed by 195 parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020. The whole world, which is clearly impacted by climate change, came together under the agreement to combat its effects. To do something about it. To move from denial to definite action. It was a monumental decision and recognition that we are in this together. The environment does not recognize titles or boundaries or politics. It only knows how to do what it is designed to do.

Nature has unbounded intelligence. It can adapt. It will survive.

We may not.

The only exceptions to the signatories? The Holy See (Vatican) as it is an observer state; Nicaragua, whose emissary claims they are doing climate change on their own; and Syria, a country embattled in a civil war.

148 of those parties have ratified or acceded to the Agreement, even China and India, the countries with three of the four largest greenhouse gas emissions of the signatories’ total (about 42% together).

Where is the United States on the scale of greenhouse gas emissions? The country spews out 17.8% of the world’s greenhouse gas. And yet it represents only 4.34% of the world’s population. Hmmm….

And yet Trump, whose delusions of grandeur as he peers from his perch at the top of his world seem to grow with each passing tweet, has decided to poop in the world’s sandbox by withdrawing the United States from the agreement. He wants to push the coal industry and “save American jobs”. What he is doing is not only short-sighted, it also won’t work. The clean energy industry has surpassed traditional sources in jobs and innovation. China is spreading its green technology throughout Africa, for instance, a profitable opportunity the United States is missing completely.

According to a recent Sierra Club report based on the Department of Energy 2017 jobs data, “[c]lean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors. That includes jobs in power generation, mining, and other forms of fossil fuel extraction.”

The US President claims he works for the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris. For starters, Paris was the location of the conference where the agreement was adopted on December 12, 2015, then entered into force November 4, 2016, just four days before the tragedy that is US politics unfurled with his election win. The best part is it was actually signed at the UN headquarters in New York City, just paces away from his place of residence.  If the man would take just a moment to cursorily review the document, and I mean just the title, he would see that it pertains to the whole world, which includes Pittsburgh, unless the city decides to secede from the planet, which could get interesting. Perhaps Trump would join them then. And we can finally put this whole thing to bed.

In other worlds, Trump is speaking to a handful of constituents at the expense of 7 billion other people.

It is yet another demonstration of the perils this fine nation intends to inflict upon the rest of the planet. And the deep, deep selfishness that fosters hatred in the hearts of those who despise his ignorance.

Yes, Trump, it’s lonely at the top. And as you alienate the country you claim to lead from everyone else, your fall will be even harder.

Uprooted, upended, upside down

Change. The thing you find lying randomly on the sidewalk. And that other thing that defines what being alive means.

My one and only daughter turned eighteen the other day. I experienced a mixture of sadness and elation. Sad that her childhood is slowly coming to a close. And elated that she is now responsible (at least legally) for the actions she takes.

“I can shop online now!” she said.

“You can do your own paperwork now.” I said.

“I can drive a car now.” she said.

“You can look into how much it will cost. And pay for (most of) it.” I said.

Image used with permission (c) 2013 Klaus Polkowski

Image used with permission (c) 2013 Klaus Polkowski

Her younger brother congratulated her and said in the same breath, “Now you are no longer under Mom’s thumb. You can do whatever you want!” he said.

“I’m still under her thumb,” she said. “You’ll see.”

Ah yes. That pesky financial dependence thingy.

This past week we looked at a one-year college prep program. It is as far away as she could possibly get and still be in a German-speaking country. I duly took note of it, but then realized how perfect it all seemed for her. She will attend for a year, then see if she might apply elsewhere.

And when her birthday — in the midst of our college tour — came around, I felt the swirl of her roots, the tangle and gentle sprouts, twirling in a new direction, branching out farther away than I felt comfortable with and yet so appropriate to gain the nourishment they need to sustain themselves away from the Mother Tree.

I felt upended and it wasn’t only the grueling 1,000 mile drive that did it. It was the sense that freedom comes with a cost. She may not know it yet. But she will. And, speaking from experience: living in a different country will indeed be the best thing for her to experience what being on her own is really like.

I may never get over it. Neither will she. And that is exactly what is supposed to happen. Even when the tree topples.

Upside down and all.

Time without Meaning

Western understanding of time is that it is a commodity to be exchanged for money. Our entire system, including institutions, commerce, systems for governance and lifestyle, is based on our time-is-money definition. It creates an environment in which clock combat is king. We immerse ourselves in a pressure cooker and wonder why our heads and hearts hurt so badly.

A sign found in Jaipur, India.

A sign found in Jaipur, India.

Our preoccupation with time is further intensified through our alienation from the natural world. Who has time to dally about, reflect or pause? It is too costly, we argue. We can’t afford it.

But Nature and the time we spend with it is as essential as good nutrition. We are natural beings. We need Nature to remember who we are and why we are here. Our communion with the natural world has been forgotten. And yet it is as important as the air we breathe.

For the past few weeks I have been traveling about Nepal and now India, feeling at one with all things and wonder how I could feel so comfortable in a place so foreign to my usual surroundings.

And then, as I strolled through the desert amongst camels and nomads, it suddenly hit me. The people here mill about towns just as casually as the cows and dogs and monkeys that inhabit the places we have seen. The co-mingle, co-exist and co-inhabit with Nature. The food they eat is real food. It is Slow Food that actually doesn’t need capitalization. They don’t eat processed foods geared toward saving time in its preparation because time and nature are the same.

When we return next week, I hope to remember the lessons I have learned here and, to my very best ability, uphold the same understanding I have gained during my travels to these most exquisite places.

I am humbled by the experience. Blessings to you all.

Tug of War

It is so very tempting to split the world into us versus them. And if you examine yourself closely, you will recognize that there is a part of you that doesn’t look away when passing the scene of an accident. You might not physically look, but that 2% of yourself that wants to take a peek cranes its neck to look at the horror. So even in your “us”, you are a part of “them”.

Our fascination with the ugliness of life seems to be at an all-time high. We digest the diatribes, shake our weary heads at the injustice of the world, toss our hands heavenwards at the nasty behavior of a Delta Airlines passenger whose rants cost him a lifelong ban to ever fly with Delta again and feel sorry. So sorry. For ourselves and the state of our world.

Admittedly, I too have joined the lurking legions who read blog entries, newspaper articles and opinion pieces of those so deeply infuriated by the results of the US election. I am a part of the none too little fraction that is truly up in arms about the blatant lying and unfounded claims of Orange Boy. As I watch our society split into fractions, I realize that our anger is fueled by something even deeper than fear. It is fueled by hateful revenge on both sides.

You can’t build bridges by pointing fingers toward the other side of the river. You’ve got to make a plan, find common ground, view things from different angles and understand that together we are stronger. Apart we are broken. Apart we build walls. Apart we tear down cities, break hearts and destroy human dignity.

I am in no way condoning injustice or favoring acceptance of that which is utterly unacceptable. I am fighting for a collective spirit that is quickly evading my grasp.

(c) 2010 used with permission, Georg Sander, Flickr

(c) 2010 used with permission, Georg Sander, Flickr

A few years ago a boy in my son’s class was bullying my son. And so I went straight to the bully and said:

“You are far greater than this. What is going on? I mean really going on?”

The boy burst out in tears, saying his parents were separating and he was miserable. I gave him a big hug and told him his pain wouldn’t get any better by passing it on. Instead, it sounded like he needed a friend. And my son? He became that kid’s friend, easing his pain and letting him know he is not alone.

It may be hard to believe, but I truly do think that even that hillbilly on the Delta airlines flight loves his family. And if he does cry, he sheds salty tears like every other human being. His behavior was disruptive, grotesque and positively unacceptable. His outbreak frightened people. He has no right to do that. He should be prosecuted.

But he remains, as we all do, a human being. And we know human beings are capable of both good and bad. In fact, every human being is capable of both. Does a mean act justify an even meaner retaliation? If we lower ourselves to that level, we risk getting caught in a bottomless pit. When Orange Boy makes baseless claims, we retaliate not with meanness, but with cold hard facts.

As we tisk-tisk our way through Facebook, we may be frightened because we see our shadow side, that 2% we try so desperately to hide from the world. If you are human, you are able to build bridges or tear them down.

During these turbulent times, I am reminded of a beautiful Native American story. A grandfather tells his grandson that inside each one of us reside two wolves. One fights for goodness, justice and beauty. The other fights for evil, anger and wrong-doing. They are in a tug of war with one another at all times. When the grandson asked which one wins, the grandfather simply said:

“The one you feed.”

It takes the same amount of time to commit an act of kindness as it does to commit an act of meanness. How will you spend that time today?

 

Summer’s Farewell

The sun raskyys pierce through the open sky. The smell of decaying leaves fills the air. Summer gasps its last breath as we say fare-thee-well for another year.

I have never been at such peace to bid the hot months goodbye as I have been this year. Something has awakened within me to appreciate the very moment instead of mourning the passing of summer. I have somehow grown wiser, or more accepting, of the Earth’s need to pause.

A predictable deceleration takes hold as the days grow slightly shorter. The pressure to “go do something” eases as we tap into our inner chipmunks that seek dark places to hide in the warm shelter of our homes. Pumpkin soup suddenly seems appealing. Cooking is a treat once again. The rhythm of life slows as we match the pace of the weather patterns lulling us into hibernation.

It is okay to take it down a notch. To retreat to the depths of our caves. To reflect on a most spectacular season. To be alright with the nothingness that more restful times bring. It is no longer necessary to keep searching. Everything we have ever needed sits quietly in our laps.

I am so very grateful for this life. For the pain. For the joy. For the ever-present moment of now. Every bit of it. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays a most significant role in our own becoming. The change of seasons grants us license to make our own radical changes where necessary. Such transformation, the Earth tells us, is the natural course of things. I find reassurance in its implicitness.

What used to feel like death to me is now merely a place in the cycle of life. It is so very beautiful to be a part of it all.

Would you agree?

 

To See the Light Again

Some days just can’t be helped. No matter how hard we try, bad days come. The good news is they go again too.

Yesterday must have been the worst day I’ve had in a really long time. Sages say to live as if this day is your last. If yesterday had been mine, my life wouldn’t have ended well.

Nothing a good night’s sleep and perspective can’t help.

Every day we get to decide how we will see the world. When several ugly events collide, it’s like a snowball effect. Our mood goes downhill, then lands in the toilet. If you are a human being reading this (and I’m going to assume that you are), then you know we can’t always be — or have — sunshine. But we can do something about it.

Self-soothing is a fabulous way out of the mess we sometimes find ourselves in. Laughter can heal, especially if we can laugh at ourselves. Inner joy is always humming beneath the surface even when we forget to look there. The trick is to find our way back to that place.

You might be asking yourself, But how? How can I recapture that joy I once knew?

Everyone has their way of rediscovering that dwelling place of inner peace. Yours might be connecting with Nature, your pet or your friends. If you know yourself at all, you will find it. Sometimes all it takes is a little push from the outside. Or the inside. Depending on where you are standing.

My mother taught me early in life to be resilient. We all have the capability to develop that bounce mechanism, but it is a learned skill. On days when I forget that anger and upset are a part of the human experience, I tend to believe I will disappear. That somehow I will die if I show my true feelings.

Not so.

This morning I woke up. The sun rose (behind the clouds). A flea market is taking place in front of my house. My son is giggling in the other room.

Life goes on.

The Universe is a place with no beginnings and no endings. It is like a circle and somehow we have found our way here.

We evolve. We transform. We make mistakes. We get up again. We apologize. We make more mistakes. Above all, we live.

Those who stay with us through the bad days are meant to be here. Those who do not are not.

And for those who have departed too soon, we mourn that loss too.

I am counting my blessings today for the chance to see the light once again. And to share the joy and love with all my heart.

 

 

 

Forgetting the Fear

The tops of the trees swayed. We heard laughter and a few admissions of fear. The ropes whirred like a Porsche on the autobahn. Feet dangling. Hands braking. Tree-top walking at its finest.

We had a brilliant idea today. Five kids. Two adults. And a walk through the tree tops.

The last time I did an obstacle course 30 feet above the ground was for a science show with the kids. We were hired to film the segment for a popular show (Galileo). And although we only got to do a few elements of the entire course, I was fine with spending two hours in a harness and hanging on for dear life in front of the camera’s lens.

In real life, doing such an obstacle course takes serious stamina and a tad bit of crazy to complete.

So today, as I climbed to the heavens with my love and all those kids, I completely forgot to be scared. I was more concerned about the littlest child clicking his carabiner onto the right wires. Then, as I mounted the ladder as the final participant, I realized — at nest level with most birds — that I was afraid of heights.

The truth was I had no time for fear. What lay before me was a job to do. I needed to keep up (and not keep everyone behind me waiting) so I clicked, changed, clicked, whirred, wailed and wheeled my way through the entire thing. There were easier obstacles to conquer, which gave us a reprieve, until the next physical challenge met each and every one of us. Upper arm strength here. Coordination and balance there. By the time we got to the final element, which was a free fall 12 meters down (that’s 35 f-ing feet for you English system folks), I was happy and tired. Five innocent faces peered at me from below. I couldn’t let them down. What was I to do? Remember the fear or simply free fall to the beat of my own heart.

Don’t scream, Christine, I told myself. So I squat into the fall (like I saw my daughter so elegantly do) and screamed at the top of my lungs all the way down.

I am certain there is nary a bird in those nests now. But I made it, shaking and laughing. With a small admission of the fear I had so thankfully forgotten until the very end.

Run (in the Forest), Run!

What does running have to do with the power of slow? There really is nothing Slow about running per se. With a minor exception of one blazing summer as a Washington, D.C. intern, I’ve never been the jogging type. But I do love my walks through the woods. I do them every chance I can get.

Run Phones meEvery now and then I’ll bring my iPhone with me to listen to music. But as I briskly jaunt through the forest, those annoying ear buds kept popping out of my ear. Dangling down to the forest floor, they seemed to mock me. I was about to give up every listening to music on my iPhone again until RunPhones contacted me. They offered me to try their product in exchange for a review on my blog.

So I agreed.

The headband comes in two types of styles — the warmer, fleecy type for winter and the cooler, thinner material for summer. Both are washable so you don’t have to worry about them getting funky after a while. I got the summer kind (thankfully). As the temperatures rise, I don’t really want anything on my head. I was ready for an itch-a-thon, but the headband is so comfortable, I soon forgot I was wearing it at all. It’s like having a portable stereo without the cackling ear buds to ruin the fun.

Another bonus is I don’t have to jack up the sound to have the high fidelity that the RunPhones provide. I always felt like ear buds were making me go deaf. Now I’ll be stylin’ whilst maintaining my hearing too!

I may never take up jogging again, but I’ll certainly be listening to my tunes  more often whilst traipsing through the forest.

Of Mountains and Molehills

Some days we get caught completely off guard by the littlest things. They suddenly become giants that loom large over us. Try as we might, we can’t quite see the mountain as the molehill it is. We are shrunk to the size of a pinhead, lost in the morass of daily living.

I would like to think of myself as a person of high tolerance, someone who isn’t thrown off track so easily. But when multiple little things pile up, all those molehills resemble Mount Everest.

Are you with me on this?

In times like these, I ask myself a simple question: “What can I learn from this moment?” It isn’t easy to find that question amongst the fumes in my head as I steam about the injustice of it all. Yet every time I pose the question, the answer emerges almost immediately.

Clearing the eyes to see and the ears to hear: it may be the greatest lesson of all.

Life is our grandest teacher; all those molehills are the learning tools to get us to see beyond ourselves to the greater Wholeness of All Things. They are the stepping stones up the mountain. Each pace forward has the ability to bring us more joy, more abundance and more gratitude.

So think of life’s challenges as your training ground to reach the summit. And when you finally get there, you will have the wherewithal to truly enjoy the view.

 

Junk in the Trunk

According to United Nations University, the world created 41.8 million tons of electro-trash last year. Who was at the top of the list?

The United States: A whopping 7.1 million tons of old computers, laptops, smartphones, television sets and more stemmed from US households in 2014 alone. The study argues that, per capita, the US created less junk (22.1 kg per person) than the UK (23.5 kg per person). But if we were to take that argument, Australia would be up there with them (20 kg per person, but with “only” 500,000 tons of electro-trash). And China, that behemoth of electronic gadget manufacturing, tosses 6 million tons a year out the window. With 1.4 billion people, China’s average drops to 4.4 kg per person.
Infografik: Jeder Deutsche produziert 21,6  kg Elektroschrott im Jahr | Statista

More statistics (in German) at Statista

The statistics are distressing for many reasons. Our behavior is not only bad for the environment, but it also presents a broader issue of our relentless consumption for All Things Gadget-Like. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I pine for the days when the only video games we could play were at an arcade. When your quarters ran out, you were done. Today we are on a never-ending cycle of data transfer from thumb to brain and back again.

I am just as guilty as the rest. My old PC is gathering dust in the corner. Should I sell it? Would anyone take it? Could I donate it to someone?

US-based charity organizations are emerging to handle some of the electro-trash we create. Hope Phones is a charity that safely recycles your phone to fund healthcare programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Phones4Charity is another organization that works with affiliate groups to donate cell phones for good. In Europe the European Recycling Platform helps organize compliance and recycling efforts for electro-trash and more.

So it’s not all doom and gloom. A lot has been done to reduce our electronic footprint on the Earth. But a lot more can be done. Recycle your stuff. Mindfully remove all that junk from the trunk. And think twice before buying more gadgets than your thumbs can handle at once.