Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shifting Consciousness, Starting With My Own

Sitting in my post-vacation inbox was a very tantalyzing email inviting me to join a  distinguished group of sustainability thinkers and doers, including some old friends I'd dearly love to see and some folks I've always wanted to meet.The agenda looked inspiring, all expenses were paid, and I've spent the past few days badly wanting to reply with an enthusiastic "count-me-in" while simultaneously thinking how crazy that would be, having already committed to workshops and conferences in Burlington, Boston, Geneva and San Fransisco between now and November.

The allure of the invitation is a strong combination I'm somehow deeply susceptible to – a mix of intellectual curiosity, gratitude for being recognized and included, and the hope that somehow maybe this group could make a big difference, change the world, halt the damage, open the way to new possibilities. If you tell me I could do something to accelerate the shift toward sustainable human communities on this Earth,  I will be putty in your hands.

But, this time,  I haven't sent that enthusiastic reply, at least not yet.

Instead I left the computer long enough to walk a little in the wet late summer day, breathe the moist air, and think about all the not-so-glamorous things I need to do this fall, from finishing some scientific writing projects, to planting the winter greenhouse, to helping a ten year old adjust to a new school, to helping a new team at a new organization find its stride.

None of that is likely to be the unitary key to a global shift in consciousness, but some of it might be a small part in a greater shift that is already underway. The scientific paper, if done well and met with receptive conditions, could help expand the time horizon of climate decision makers. The growing team, with the right mixture of hard work and good luck,  has a chance to help people understand the urgency and the possibility of the shift to a low carbon economy.

I still I haven't hit 'reply' but I think the answer is arising for me, in me. I think I'll be staying home that week in September, a week that is among the most beautiful of all the weeks of the year on a farm in Vermont.

I can't say for sure whether the faint voice I am hearing is the voice of wisdom or the voice of exhaustion, but one principle of complex systems is coming to mind, finally after all the soul-searching: systems work because of the diversity of their parts. Each part has to do its part, but no part has to do the whole job. The heart cell just has to do the work of the heart cell, the aster in the meadow just has to be an aster, not a milkweed, not a grass.

There's something restful in that idea, and something that leaves me grateful to know that such a fine group will be meeting in California, without being desperate to be there myself. And that's a new kind of acceptance for me, one that just might qualify as a shift in consciousness.

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