First, I want to extend my sympathies to the individuals who may be directly or indirectly affected by the typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It is a tragedy to have lives lost and casualties abound. I see many people donating their money, their time, and their resources. Some openly talk about it and I think that could inspire others to action. Some are quiet about it and there is beauty in that humility. That said, please understand that I mean no disrespect and I have no intention of minimizing the suffering of the victims with the rest of this blog post.
The truth is, I was quite angry. It is sad that this typhoon has been so destructive but I was also not completely shocked. We have been warned many times that the way we live our lives cannot sustain the environment. Certainly the way that we consume resources with greed will have its consequences.
So if someone told me they are going to eat a cheeseburger to help the victims of the typhoon, I would tell that person she's deluded. Which I did. Not in those words. I tried as best I can to say it with more tact. What am I talking about? There's a campaign circulating around with a list of restaurant establishments who will donate a percentage of their profit to the typhoon victims. Most of these establishments serve meat, dairy, and eggs which environmental studies have emphasized contributes largely to climate change. The person who posted this being a good friend and someone I believe to have genuine concern for the environment, I expressed my doubts. The immediate response I got (from someone else, not my friend) suggested that I was not being helpful and that I was being negative by putting down the efforts of these businesses. Another comment said that it is not the right time to talk about "climate change yada yada". Those were the exact words. It made me even angrier because I felt that the problem of climate change has been minimized and personal responsibility dismissed. If we have time to go eat at a restaurant, I think we have time to talk about climate change. But I decided to just delete my comment and think about it some more.
I suppose someone might say at least they are trying to do something. While I appreciated the intention, I felt that intention with the vehement denial of truth that is readily available is egotistic. It only serves to make one feel good about himself or herself and does not contribute to the solution. Ignorance is one thing, but a flat-out refusal to have a real discussion is misguided at best, and counter-productive at worst. I also understand that many may feel threatened not only because they support these industries, but that they are themselves the owners of similar businesses. And when their livelihood is challenged, it may not be well-received. I also see that perhaps my approach is flawed. Perhaps I have to be more strategic in picking my battles. Perhaps my choice of words puts people on the defensive. Perhaps I am even more egotistic because I am convinced I am right. Everyone is emotional. The person who could not see my point of view was emotional and thought I was not being helpful. I was emotional and could not see this person's point of view and thought she was not being helpful. Perhaps as I write this I am still emotional and I am still not being helpful. I don't know anymore. Maybe I need to meditate and practice what I preach: Let Go.
As a yoga teacher, I struggle with the things I teach because I have yet to figure it out myself. What is the more compassionate action- to say nothing or to speak the truth? How can I take action and renounce the consequences of those actions? How can I let go of my ego, my need to prove that I am right? How can I speak the truth and not cause separation? How can I be courageous and sensitive at the same time? And so when I go in and teach a class, it is really not from a place of knowing, but from a place of asking and probing and poking and provoking. I have many questions and not a lot of answers.
I want to try my best to reflect on this, because this is what the practice of yoga teaches us- to pause, to reflect, to let go of personalizing things and see things as they are. The ones victimized most by this typhoon are those who are still there, those who are at the moment experiencing intense hunger and thirst and see no hope in the horizon. This puts things in perspective. A fellow Jivamukti teacher, Koryn Lloyd, posed this question "How do I serve them best?". This is not about me or my need to be right. It is about someone who is real and whose suffering is immediate.
These are my thoughts based on my assessment. I do not claim to be right. I only claim that I have given this a lot of thought.
1. Donating money directly is the best option. That way, the organizations we donate to can buy supplies in bulk at a cheaper price. They can also determine what is truly needed, not what we think they need. We can do our own research on which organizations are reputable. We can also look for those with matching programs so we can maximize the money that gets donated. I just read about V-Day setting up a V-fund in which donations will be matched and 100% of the donations go directly to victims. We can look into that as an option.
2. Donating time to sort and repack goods is great, but be guided by objectivity. Am I truly helping or am I just in the way? There are some situations where too many hands can be a liability because of the lack of organization. Be able to discern. Opportunities are aplenty. Choose.
3. The fact that I have written this and you are reading it means that we are in a safe situation. We did not have to go days without food and water enduring the smell of dead bodies around us. We cannot claim to know first-hand the state of mind of those who are suffering. The ones whom the media has reported to be "looting" are victims themselves, perhaps not only of the storm but victims of a profit-obssessed system of oppression (but that is another long discussion). If we cannot help them, I feel that the least we can do is not judge them. When we judge them, we hurt their spirits on top of the physical suffering they are already going through. Most of us do not own private airplanes and are unable to be physically there to help them. But we can heal our disconnection with them in spirit by not thinking that we are better than them.
4. Climate change is real. Yeb Saño's speech in the U.N. climate talks moved and inspired many. The time to have the conversation going is now. What is done is done. But if we act now, we can at least minimize future damage. Now is the time to be optimistic and acknowledge that we can change course now. Now is the time to take a long hard look at ourselves instead of pinning all the responsibility on to others. Does driving a fuel-inefficient car justify the damage I put on the environment? Is my preference for steak and ice cream more important than protecting the Earth? Can my shopping habits take a back seat so we produce less waste in the world? It's very easy to blame the government and big companies and the society in general. But we voted those people into the government. We bought those things that made these companies profitable. We are the society. If we want change, we have to be more conscious of our choices. It is estimated that 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat, egg, and dairy products that drive the animal agriculture sector, and the projection is that it will grow to 39% by 2050. If we truly want to help fight climate change, reducing meat, egg, and dairy consumption (eventually to zero) is an empowered choice that governments and big companies and society cannot take away from us. Talking about it and acting on it at this critical time takes nothing away from our other efforts. We can do both.
5. This may only apply to me so if it does not apply to you, well and good. We have got to get over ourselves. The crisis is not about us. If I am offended because someone disagrees with me, I need to find a way to get over it. I need to get over my own pettiness at getting worked up over the words "yada yada". It does not matter. My job is to do the best that I can. And if I err in my choices, I get over myself and move on. If I did what I think is best in a situation but others condemn me for it, it also does not matter. The ideal world that exists inside my head does not have to give me intolerance over the world that actually exists right now. I cannot be committed to a better world if I am constantly upset over what I think others are doing wrong. Walk away from senseless bickering. Let go. Get over yourself and your need to prove that you are right. (Emphasis that this is a note to myself.)
The world is not perfect and I am far from being enlightened. I share my thought process with you because I think we are all trying to evolve. When passions run high, we cling to our defense mechanisms and want to shut others out, even if we ultimately have the same goal of wanting to reduce suffering. As a yogi, I have to pause and re-evaluate where I am and where I am going, and ask myself that question "How do I serve them best?" I can get stuck in anger or judgment or hopelessness or inaction, or I can acknowledge that I am going through all of that and all of that shall pass. I can then pull myself together and act from a place of consciousness. Tomo Okabe, a Jivamukti teacher, asked me this question "Can you love everyone?" I can choose with complete awareness to guide my actions with that intention.