Every Day is Earth Day

Dear Students, Friends, and Colleagues,

Is Earth Day cause for celebration or mourning? Both? Earth Day’s creators back in 1970 warned of a looming environmental crisis. Hot-button issues included population explosion, world food shortages, and life-threatening air pollution. We talked about “ecology,” studying the relation of organisms to each other and to their environment. Interestingly, the term derives from the Greek word oikos, meaning “home”or “place to live.” Scientists realized back then that humans were disrupting if not destroying their earthly home (and the home of all other living species).


Fifty-plus years later, we face “climate change,” “climate crisis,” “climate catastrophe,” or, if you swing the other way, “climate denial.” Notice the subtle shift in wording: from a focus on learning about our relation to the Earth and its creatures to the environment’s effect on us. While big-picture, long-term phenomena like melting glaciers and sea-level rise don’t seem to engage the public, more visible and thus more alarming extreme weather that destroys homes and lives—scorching temperatures, runaway forest fires, massive floods, and devastating hurricanes—has finally captured our attention.

climate catastrophe

Out here on the East End of Long Island, all eyes are on the shoreline. Houses, hotels, and a sizeable portion of the local economy depend on the stability of the coastline: A beach resort can’t exist with beaches! Local governments are desperate to keep the ocean at bay (and the bay at bay during storm surges). Recent efforts include replenishing the beaches by vacuuming huge quantities of sand from the ocean floor and dumping it on the shore.

The shifting shoreline evokes our somewhat quixotic attempt to dominate (even subjugate) Nature, even as she resists our efforts with wild and often unpredictable reactions. Hapless swimmers plunge into the surf at their own peril, and humans often seem oblivious to the fact that we are literally losing ground every day. It’s all just proving too little, too late.

What is to be done? And what does all of this have to do with yoga?

Two camps actively confront our plight:  climate-change policy advocates/activists and environmental engineers. One is pessimistic, the other optimistic. We need both. And they are both yogic.

Earth Day

The advocates/activists warn that we’re in dire straits and need to make changes now—or face an ever darkening future. The engineers create remedies and solutions, promising brighter days to come.

Both use tools familiar to every yoga practitioner:

  1. Observation
  2. Analysis
  3. Experimentation

These three, repeated in an endless cycle of refinement, lead to more efficient and effective techniques. The early yogis observed the human body-mind, mapped out a theory of how to move energy through our systems, created techniques for us to do so, and invited us all to raise the bar of human experience.

Yogic energy paths

Yogis continue this exploration today, weaving in the contributions of modern scientific understanding of the body-mind from DNA and epigenetics to malleable and renewable brains to quantum physics.

DNA strand, brain

All fueled by the belief that more is always possible, that awareness can expand indefinitely.

Today’s activists and engineers similarly start by observing and reporting natural phenomena and mankind’s apparent effects on our planet. They analyze data with the tools and techniques of modern science. Activists alert the public and stir us to action; engineers proffer often ingenious solutions exploiting cutting-edge technology.

While activists seek minimally invasive solutions that draw on Nature’s innate capabilities, including long over-looked techniques developed by indigenous peoples (think oyster beds, marshes, and cyclical forest fires), engineers propose strategic interventions never before possible (cloud seeding, massive sea gates, floating islands).

shoreline marsh

Both approaches, like yoga, are deeply practical. “Practice” is by definition endless, a trial-and-error effort to find better ways of doing what we do. It’s not enough to talk or think about solutions: We have to get out there and take action. Yoga reminds us that in this karmic world of cause and effect, we’re responsible for the actions (causes). And we live with the results (effects), individually and collectively. “What you do to yourself, you do to the net,” says one Native American tribe. And likewise, I would add, “What you do to the net, you do to yourself.” We all live in the net of our common species and our shared planet. What you do today matters to us all.

DSC 0241

Whether that’s petitioning elected officials, letting your manicured lawn grow wild, or devoting valuable funds and intellectual capital to engineering new solutions, we’re all accountable. We, and our descendants, have only one home. May every day be Earth Day!






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