Learning to Love Rain

“She enjoys rain for its wetness, winter for its cold, summer for its heat. She loves rainbows as much for fading as for their brilliance. It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”
                          –Morgan Llewelyn

I used to be very selective about which seasons I enjoyed. Spring was too wet and muddy, summer too hot and humid. Fall was perfect and Winter was endurable. When I got active and lost weight, suddenly my experience of the seasons opened up. I began to love summer and winter, as well as autumn. I discovered that I love being outside, that my body can do a lot to regulate its internal temperature so I don’t need to be inside a climate controlled environment to feel comfortable anymore. Turns out, I don’t mind sweating that much, and braving the cold presents a challenge and a gift.

But Spring is still a difficult season, primarily because of that pesky weather condition known as RAIN. Springs in Iowa are characterized by one of two possibilities: no rain or too much rain. Last year was a spring with no rain. We moved from winter almost directly to summer, skipping the renewing season of spring. Springs with no rain are characterized by anxiety about crops (or gardens and lawns, if you live in town). And drought weighs heavily on the psyche of a state known primarily for its corn and soybean production. I remember feeling a dismay akin to loss when, on RAGBRAI last year, we rode on highways bordered on both sides by dead or stunted fields, parched and thirsty.

The dry weather continued, right through most of this winter, leading to drought forecasts for another year, with cities and counties rolling out their drought plans – water conservation being a less common concern in Iowa than in California or New Mexico, where my family have routinely practiced water austerity measures. In Iowa we are, sometimes shamefully, profligate with water.

And then the rain started. And now, instead of drought forecasts, we are listening to flood warnings (and believe me, since 2008, flood is the “F” word in these parts). In the past 24 hours, rain totals have been high, 3-5″ throughout eastern Iowa. Many people love thunderstorms, but last night when I calculated that it had been thundering and lightening for the better part of 18 hours, I was pretty much over it. As I listened to my house, dripping water from a leaky roof and down the chimney onto the hardwood floor in my living room, I couldn’t bring myself to have cheerful thoughts about the rain. I’m tired of gray skies, tired of the hemmed-in feeling of fog and clouds.

I share all of the above to make the point that, like most people, I experience weather at the practical (if selfish) level of “How does it affect me today?” I like days when the weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans. It has been a lovely gift that, in recent years, the number of days when weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans has been broadened because my tolerance has broadened. But in regard to this earth we inhabit, it is my goal to become like the woman described in the quote opening this post: “It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”

As another Earth Day approaches, I am taking stock of my openness to the natural world and finding pockets of resistance, like my aversion to spring and intolerance for more than incidental rain. This is important, because our cultural movement away from direct experience of the natural world, away from stewardship, has led us to a place which is dangerous for the earth itself. It is also dangerous for our spiritual survival, as well. When I set out to lose weight, I didn’t realize that what it would take was healing the emotional separations I had fostered – between my head and heart, between my body and my soul, between myself and others. And as I reflect on what it will take from me, personally, to participate in the healing of our planet, I realize that I have to heal this unnatural separation between myself and the planet we all call home.

I often go out and troll the internet for information or quotes to support the theme I’m writing about in a post. This morning, I thought I’d look for a Joanna Macy quote to end this post. Macy, an environmental activist and scholar, has been thinking deeply about these issues for a very long time. Serendipitously, I came across the paragraphs below on the first Macy-related page I clicked on. She says what I mean in a much more eloquent and complete way, and I’d like to close with her words (apologies to my friend, Martin, who hates it when I use long quotations):

“In the first movement, our infancy as a species, we felt no separation from the natural world around us. Trees, rocks, and plants surrounded us with a living presence as intimate and pulsing as our own bodies. In that primal intimacy, which anthropologists call “participation mystique,” we were as one with our world as a child in the mother’s womb.Then self-consciousness arose and gave us distance on our world. We needed that distance in order to make decisions and strategies, in order to measure, judge and to monitor our judgments. With the emergence of free-will, the fall out of the Garden of Eden, the second movement began — the lonely and heroic journey of the ego. Nowadays, yearning to reclaim a sense of wholeness, some of us tend to disparage that movement of separation from nature, but it brought us great gains for which we can be grateful. The distanced and observing eye brought us tools of science, and a priceless view of the vast, orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury and the Bill of Rights.Now, harvesting these gains, we are ready to return. The third movement begins. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who we have been all along. Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again — and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before, in our infancy.”

Awakening The Dreamer…(part 1 of 2)

“I don’t think an authentic stand comes from your head. I think an authentic stand comes from your heart.” Van Jones

A couple of weeks ago, I flew with friends to Vegas for a long weekend. It was fun, but while we were there, our conversation returned several times to the artificiality of the environment. Vegas is about the least authentic place on earth. I remember one comment about the waste of both water and electricity in that city in the desert. But, like the hundreds of thousands of others there for St. Patrick’s Day (or March Madness or Spring Break), we were there to have fun. We didn’t dwell on anything as deep as what it meant to participate in the inauthenticity and waste that are the hallmarks of the Las Vegas experience. We were there to conspicuously consume, gamble, eat and gawk – not to think too much.

And so our three days in Vegas passed in an almost trance-like state. We ate when we felt like it, we drank when we felt like it, we slept as little as possible no matter what we felt like. Most of the time, I had no idea what time of day it was, nor did I track what I was spending. I was awake and moving, but a large part of me was asleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, to Saturday, April 2. 9:00 a.m. found me seated in a conference room, holding my Starbuck’s venti Americano in the iconic paper cup, ready for a symposium I was attending for work. The truth is, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I hadn’t really paid attention to what the symposium was about other than a vague idea that is was related to sustainability. I also was not thrilled to be spending another Saturday at a work-related event.

Five minutes into the symposium, I was crying. It would be difficult for me to tease apart the complex threads of emotion the symposium evoked, but it was comprised of shame, grief, fear, pain. In one of the symposium’s video modules, Joanna Macy says not to be afraid to feel the pain associated with what we are learning. She says we need to feel the pain, and follow it to what it springs from – which is love. Love of this earth, love of our fellow humans, love of our fellow inhabitants of the planet.

The name of the powerful symposium, “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream”, is now etched on my memory. As is the goal of the alliance who created it: “Bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet.” What resonates with me about this particular take on our environmental future is, first, the direct line of connection drawn between the environment, spirit and social justice. Second, the hopeful stance taken that we can, indeed, change the trajectory we are currently moving along.

“Awakening the dreamer” speaks to the idea that most of us in wealthy, privileged societies, are living in a kind of trance or dream which allows us to “not know” that our choices, our consumption, our distraction have real and damaging consequences in the world. The video modules tell a powerful story of this dream world we’re living in, and it rings true. My friends and I experienced it in a palpable way in Vegas, where it was so exaggerated that it actually impinged on our consciousness (most days in our normal routines, we never even notice we are living in a dream).

And here’s the thing: I think many of us have, for a while, been on the verge of waking up. You know, like those times when you are lying in bed and start to wake up, maybe you even crack your eyes open — only to quickly tell yourself to just close them again and you’ll get back to sleep. I’ve peeked at this world and quickly closed my eyes again because it is so much easier to stay asleep. I don’t have to recycle. I don’t have to make my own coffee or argue with the barrista to put it in my reusable mug. As long as I can continue to “not know”, I can enjoy the lights on the Vegas strip without thinking about the Navajo people living at Black Mesa.

But how authentic or just or spiritually fulfilling is that? Maybe we should just take a deep breath and open our eyes.

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

— Joanna Macy