It's obviously human hubris to think we can destroy the planet, can destroy life. It's just another exaggeration of ourselves.
A kind of bottom line is that all human activity is as trivial as anything else. We can humbly acknowledge that and excuse ourselves from exaggerating our importance, even as a threat, and also recognize the scale and the beauty of things. And then go to work. Don't imagine that we're doing ecological politics to save the world. We're doing ecological politics to save ourselves, to save our souls. It's a personal exercise in character and in manners. It's a matter of etiquette. It's a matter of living right. It's not that the planet requires us to be good to it. It's that we must do it because it's an aesthetic and ethical choice.
Those issues are all real, but they're not total. And the power of the universe far surpasses any damage we can do to it.
Gary Snyder, Tricycle Magazine interview, adapted from Nobody Home: Writing, Buddhism and Living in Places, by Julia Martin and Gary Snyder
If you're like me, you feel a rising panic about the state of the ecological world. You feel inadequate to the task and perhaps even complicit. You feel like your thoughts are free-floating and ineffectual. Your attempts to reduce your carbon footprint, to tread lightly, to support environmental causes seem paltry in the face of population explosions, oil-slicked animals along the coast, a contaminated food supply, and an over-medicated population whose urine and feces are laced with chemicals that are then flushed into the water and recycled, squirted from our breasts into babies' mouths and onward. That was a hellish sentence, no?
I read Gary Snyder's provocative words, excerpted above, and felt, if not comforted, then galvanized. I'd love to hear what you think of them -- even if you have no Buddhist leanings.
Here's a Gary Snyder poem -- one of my favorites:
Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidityof bark, leaf, or wall
riprap of things.
Cobble of milky way.
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles -
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like and endless
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.