Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Woes of Water

Water shortage has been on the news lately. Neighbors are ratting out neighbors in Atlanta if they are illegally watering their lawn. Will it be a harbinger of things to come for sunny Southern California where I live? I hope not. I hope we can learn the lessons beforehand before it gets to that. For me, it’s about paying attention. Hard not to, I think, when the Water Board is running ads on the TV that, according to them, the water infrastructure in California is near collapse and the water tables are at an extreme low. The environmentalist in me wants to say, ha, ha – we told you so! And for pete’s sake, we live in a desert climate and people plant (and water things) like we’re living in England! But I digress.

The fact is, we are in draught. But I don’t want to focus on the word “draught.” It can be a scary word if you let your mind wander to the parched lands of Africa. Maybe the word itself here simply means that we don’t have as much anticipated water as we’re using currently. We are asked to “conserve.” That’s a few steps away from restriction. Then scarcity. I don’t want to have a scarcity mentality. If the Universe is full of abundance then how can we have a scarcity? And yet, here it is. So why? Is it because we are so unconscious in our use of things? Is the amount of water consumption we use really necessary? Is this water shortage just based on an anticipated need? And if so, do we really need what we are using? Hmmm.

I hate to be the water police. And yet, when I walk into bathroom at work, see someone brushing their teeth while the faucet is running at high blast, I have to say something. You only need the water to wet the toothbrush in the beginning and to rinse it off, and the spit out in the end. Why keep it on? How can they not realize the waste – that when you open the tap halfway or even all the way, you’re wasting more water by the second? For what? It simply isn’t needed at that point. I tried to say it nicely, pass it as a joke, like, ohmigosh, how silly of you. Yet I’m seething inside because I can’t believe someone is that na├»ve or unconscious. Especially when she’s part of the group that does PR for the environmental defenders. Try reading the literature. But like I say, that person is unconscious. But is their unconsciousness a choice?

Just because I say I hate being the water police, doesn’t prevent me from continuing. When I walked into the kitchen, saw another co-worker rinsing out the sink at the fullest blast, I have to admit, I shrieked. I could see gallons going down the sink! How can you waste water like that!,” I told him. “What? I’m washing out the sink,” he said in his defense. (A weak point, I would have to say). “Don’t you know we’re in a water crisis!,” said me, still shrieking. The culprit said, “What crisis?" My other co-worker standing next to me validated my point. “Don’t you watch the news?,” said I, incredulously. “No, too depressing,” he retorted, like that would make a difference. The sink water, during this exchange, remained on full blast. Did it get any cleaner? No. Did my co-worker learn anything? I’m not sure. To me, he’s willfully ignorant. Perhaps he does have deep-seated reasons for not watching the news. Well, I gave him some and he chose to ignore it. He didn’t want to change his behavior. To him, he was acting just ducky.

That brings me to the behavior of the Atlantans who continued to water their lawn? Why? What purpose does having a lawn have? From what I understand, the genesis of having a lawn in this country was a status symbol. Showing off to your neighbors that you could have a lawn meant prosperity. Does it still mean that? Are people really aware of it? When people see a dried out lawn are they thinking, “Well that’s a conscious neighborhood saving water!” I think actually people criticize that person, thinking they are a lay-about who doesn’t care or have self-respect. But then again, I don’t know what people are really thinking. I just know that when I see someone who has replaced their lawn here with a xeriscape lawn, I get very excited. I may even frighten the neighbors when I enthusiastically tell them, “way to go,” and “that looks really cool!” I also may frighten the ones that I glare at when I pass them on a walk just standing out on their property watering, in this middle of the draught…. Oh, wait, not draught – in this water challenged time.

In Los Angeles proper, (I live outside the city), they have begun restricting when people can water their lawns. You can still water but it’s on select days. Why are people so attached to their lawns? Why the maintenance, the expense, the fuss? Okay, if people have kids, I guess they want a lawn for their kids to play on. Wait, aren’t parents these days even afraid of letting their kids play outside because of predators? I might be more hesitant to let them play on a lawn full of herbacide. What if they pick up sprayed grass and put it in their mouth? Here I go, digressing again. But I do want to continue the point about what people spray on their lawns, to keep them green and weed free. These poisons kill things like dandelions which are actually beneficial plants, not only medicinally but nutritionally. It’s the whole unconscious thing. Do they know why they are killing dandelions? When did dandelions become bad, and homogenized green lawns good? Did someone say, “Go on! Get those terrorists weeds and get a real man’s lawn!” It just seems like a pointless struggle to me.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just to plant native species, that don’t need high maintenance and care? And if people have backyards, and kids, they can designate a space for them. And if they really want their kids to experience nature, why not plant an organic vegetable and herb garden that can be more than just an ornament? It can feed their family. I see people already doing this, using their front lawn to plant a vegetable garden. Maybe the new status for the future is being able to have the free time to grown our own food again. Not all of us seem to have the time – caught up in the business of our lives - to have the time to even stop and think, why do we have lawns? What is necessary? Can we do this before the water stops running?

In the meantime, I’ll continue what I’ve been doing for years. I don’t flush my own toilet after #1 ever single time I use the toilet. And I try to flush the toilet as often as I can using the water I’ve collected from the shower. When I rinse my veggies with plain water, I use that water to water my plants in the yard. My landlord pays for my water so I don’t do it to save money. I do it because I appreciate that I have water and that I don’t have to go to a well and fetch it. I appreciate the abundance that I have and I want to use it wisely. The real thirst I have is to live a life that is not wasteful and with this practice I quench that thirst.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sacrifices – are they necessary?

I’ve been thinking about sacrifices – things that I do that I would consider a sacrifice, but others might not see them as sacrifices at all. I guess each of us would have a different idea of what a sacrifice means.

My initial question is are sacrifices necessary? What are there purposes: spiritual edification, devotional expressions, practicality? I don’t have an answer. Just questioning the necessity, and their necessity for me. Do I do make them to better myself, the world, or is it a way in which I deprive myself of something I think I can’t or shouldn’t have? Is the latter a thinly disguised punishment?

Are sacrifices a form of deprivation? One wouldn’t look at an animal sacrifice that way; well, not a personal one – unless you considered that animal your property. But it’s the animal’s life you’re sacrificing ultimately. You gain from that animal’s death if you are of that mind that if you do, it will benefit you in that god’s eyes. I imagine that was the thinking of our ancestors (and for those who still practice…).

When Jesus made his sacrifice (I don’t know much about Christianity but from what I understand, isn’t that what Christians believe?) was that a turning point in human history? Taking it upon yourself to make your own sacrifice instead of choosing a victim – whether it be a human or an animal – did that set a new moral ground? I’ll leave the answer to theologians and sociologists. However, I wonder about it because I wonder how the notion of self-sacrifice, to live a good life, pervades our lives. And is it necessary?

Part of me says sacrifice is necessary when I unplug my coffee machine every day. What kind of sacrifice is that, one might ask? Well, it’s my programmable coffee maker. I initially bought it as a bribe to myself to get up early and exercise. Hearing the percolating, bubbly coffee brewing in the morning (I admit to being a coffee addict, that’s another story) as I tried to crawl out of bed actually got me out of bed. I love hearing it in the morning. I’m not a morning person, nor do I have anyone in house, besides me, to make the coffee so even though I set it up at night, there’s something about it brewing right on time that makes me feel like I’m being cared for. I don’t have to fumble in the morning to make it – it’s done for me. A coffee servant, if you will. But what do I love more – saving the environment or me? Like my VCR, I unplug my electrical appliances that I don’t need and I have compact fluorescent bulbs.

So, for now, saving electricity on things I really don’t need has won out. Not so much for coffee filters. For years I used the mesh filters – a good ten. But for some reason, in this apartment, something I cannot explain, the spray from the coffee filter when I dump the grounds in the trash gets everywhere. The coffee grounds get all over the entire cabinet underneath my sink and it’s pain to clean. I either ignored it when I lived in my Northern California home or didn’t notice it or it didn’t happen. Either way, I made the decision to go with paper filters. And I love it. I know, I’m wasting trees and adding to the landfill until whenever time the filters, if they do, biodegrade. However, I love the ease of throwing the filters in the trash without having to waste time washing them out – worrying about grinds going into my sink, backing it up (again, this didn’t happen up North – who knows why). I accept this level of wastefulness. I guess I could compromise and use the mesh filter again every once in awhile. But the mere fact I actually cut myself some slack in my rather strict eco-mindful living was something. So this is where I began to question sacrifice. Maybe it’s to ease my consciousness but there’s something about the scarcity mentality that makes me question it too. If I’m always sacrificing some kind of enjoyment because of lack of funds, it’s not good for the environment, etc., what does that mentality do overall to my psych?. This isn’t about going 4-wheeling in the forests with an SUV. That type of behavior I could never condone. It’s about what I won’t do for myself, like not buying anything new because I don’t want to be a materialist – or waste environmental resources – because all those “other” people are doing it and if we keep doing that, won’t we run out of everything?@!

I guess what I’m trying to reform is the thinking that I can’t do something because everyone else is doing it – because they’re fucking up the planet – and then get resentful because I don’t let myself do anything. When I first moved back to L.A., maybe I relented to societal pressure, or maybe I just wanted to put myself first, but I actually allowed myself to go shopping again – for new things. I bought sunglasses that were more than 20 dollars (meaning not on sale) and I bought trendy purses knowing that they would be out of style in a year. What happened? The sunglasses never stayed on my face properly and I ended up selling them at a garage sale for 5 dollars. I gave the purses away to Goodwill after also trying to sell them at that garage sale. Since then, I invested, after many of hours of search, in a classic purse that I love and will use for 5 years. I bought another pair of sunglasses, about the same price as the other, that stay on my face and I’ve worn them for 2 years. What I learned from that experience is that I don’t really care about current trends. I’d rather buy classic things that will last. But if now and again, I actually splurge on something ridiculous, it’s not going to end the world. And I hope that person who got my Ray Bans for 5 bucks is really enjoying them and they aren’t slipping off her face. I guess what I learned also is that I don’t always have to be the person recycling, initially.

What I’m trying to get away from is fear based thinking, that if I buy something I like, the world will suffer because I thought only of myself. Is this really true? Is the Universe really set up this way? That's another discussion for another time. For now, I think now I’ll subscribe to the god of have – of freedom and happiness, abundance and success. You won’t see me driving a hummer now, nor will I – ever. There’s a good reason Gore won a Noble Peace Prize. But I’m starting to be less judgmental, like assuming the worst of people in trendy clothes and expensive cars. I wonder why they let others (designers, magazine editors) tell them what to wear and when. But that’s their choice, isn’t it. I’d rather spend time on things that interest me more. And again who am I to judge? I’m the woman who’s throwing away coffee filters. Ah, the freedom!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Self - Centered - Happiness

What is it that makes us truly happy? We can follow what the great sages of the day say – to give us a guideline. But the truth is, no matter what they say, it’s up to each of us to choose what makes us happy. Choice, based on free will, is the operative word.

Some of the sages say is that the best act is to help others. By doing so, we help ourselves. Noble thought but is this true for everyone? And what does that mean exactly? Is it doing good works for others? But what of the notion that we cannot help others if we don’t help ourselves first? For anyone of us that has taken a commercial plane ride and listens to the flight attendant acting out safety rules, we learn this simple rule. They tell us, “You must put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else.” Why? How the heck can we help anyone else if we are gasping for air ourselves. We may laugh at this but how many times have we said yes to helping someone when we’ve been tired, exhausted, all in the name of ‘being a good person.’ And how many times have we resented either the person who’s asked or for the more enlightened, ourselves for saying yes instead of taking care of ourselves first?

Have we been conditioned to believing that to be worthy of others, we must always help others first? If we act selfishly, we’ll be punished by whatever God we believe in or risk bad karma? Is this truth or just fear on our part? Should our sense of self worth always come from helping others – to jump in to save the day? And what does it say of ourselves that we always need to be “rescuing” others. I had a beloved dog that always wanted to be by my side. He hated water but more than having a hatred of water was his seeing me in it. One summer, I was swimming out to the middle of lake to reach a raft. He was right at my side – so much so that his nails were scratching my shoulder. It was becoming a bit painful so I swam faster. He trudged on to keep up with me. Finally, we reached the raft. I swam back to shore. He didn’t. He wouldn’t budge from the raft so my brother and friend had to row out in boat and drag our dog into it and row back to shore. In all of my dog’s heroic attempts to save me, he ended up needing to be saved. The truth his, I didn’t need to be saved. But his fear of water must of convinced him that I needed help and he went against his own needs to serve mine - even though I didn't want him to.

The other aspect of trying to help others is maybe they don't want you to. Maybe you're well intentioned advice isn't well received if you aren't walking your own talk. If your life is in somewhat of a shambles, shouldn't you be cleaning up your own mess? If not, why not? When we do that, are we avoiding our own lives? It's so much easier to see how to fix other people's lives. It must be a weird law of physics that perhaps should be called "The Law of Buttinsky."

After some painful reflection of all my "got to help others" attitude and many passive aggressive behaviors later, I came to an important discovery. The truth for me is, I keep asking for permission for everything. And resentful of the person who just walks in and just automatically expects it. I can spend hours tracing all the instances that led up to my lack of self-worth but the more important thing is to recognize that I can be that person - the person who gets what she wants. The last time I checked outside, the world didn't fall apart because I wanted my needs to come first. Just because I ask for what I want doesn’t mean I’m taking away something for someone else. Where did the belief come from that if there is a “have”, there is a “have not?” If the universe is ever producing, ever creating, which it is, then how is this possible? Can’t everyone have? They can. If we all serve ourselves, then there is no need to serve others. No one is lacking. What is lacking is the belief in ourselves that we create our own lives.

When I'm asked to help now, I ask myself why? Is this something I need or want to do? I'm much happier when I say yes because I truly want to rather than feeling "I should." The sky still hasn't fallen down because I've said no to things I don't want to do. In fact, the things I do are more meaningful when I say yes.