This is a column I wrote for this season in 2011. With some minor changes, it still says what I want to say.
For thousands of years, the winter solstice and the return of the light has been celebrated in all religious traditions as evidence that faith and hope are warranted. I don’t profess an organized faith in a deity as such, but, for me, this celebration implies a faith in Life and the “natural order of things.” The cycle of light to darkness to light again is a hopeful and comforting meme. As a Buddhist, I am still trying to imagine and embrace the unchangeable wisdom and perfection of “All That Is.” As a human, I have to struggle every day to try to do and think better. Nothing strange and new there. As a professional harbinger, I have to continually fight the natural tendency to think that I know better than you do. Fortunately, all the ways that I don’t practice what I preach help me to subdue my messianic tendencies. So, what do I do to try to stay focused?
I meditate. Not as much as I would like, but I do it regularly. Also, any other time for idle reflection helps recharge the old batteries.
I write this column. I try to be objective and factual, so I need to keep reading and listening. As far as advice is concerned, there is really nothing new there to you or me, but I know that I need some reminding. I’m thinking maybe some of you do too.
I bounce things off other people, especially my wife, Elizabeth, to keep things in perspective. I bounce them off you, too; I get some response, but could use more.
I TRY to actively build trust and mutual regard by being trustworthy, dependable, and tolerant in everything I do, and don’t get beside myself when I fall short. Probably like you, I always intend to do it, but I don’t always remember. I really believe, though, that if I do it, others will see and do it too. In order to believe that, I have to come from a default position that all beings are basically good. Many consider that a naïve notion, but, for me, if there were a hell, then not having that belief would be it for me. There is a great ad on public TV where a succession of people notice someone doing a good deed, and they do the same when they get an opportunity. I like, as well, the reminder that you don’t have to go looking for good deeds to do; they will come to you and you merely have to decide to do them. I see it as not just a nice thing to do, but as something really practical and necessary if we are going to survive and remain resilient during the trials of the post petroleum, climate change era. We will need to have a strong community based on mutual trust and commitment. It doesn’t mean we will agree on everything, but solid ties will mean we can agree to disagree and still find common ground.
What gives me reason for hope? The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell posits that studies have shown that social change begins to occur after 10% of any given population has determined that the change is necessary. This is really hopeful because I know that most Vashon folks are not likely to readily accept the idea that we need to make some drastic changes in our lifestyle. But we have so many groups on Vashon interested in making sustainable, imaginative changes in the way we do things that I have to think that we can easily reach that 10% tipping point.
Another reason for hope is those very groups that are working hard to make us a tighter, more resilient community. To all the people that are working to promote energy and resource conservation, moving us away from fossil fuel dependence, protecting our local biosphere, making us more self-reliant, investigating and promoting local green businesses, improving our ability to find and act on consensus, and seeing that all of our neighbors’ needs are being taken care of, I extend a heartfelt thank you!
There may come a time when it will be a lot harder to do the right thing, or your family’s survival may depend on the good will of your neighbor. And even if things don’t get that bad, being a good neighbor is still going to make your life a lot richer.
Hoping the spirit of the season may set your course for the year!