You must read this book

Only in rare instances, have I read a book cover to cover in less than 24 hours.  These instances are usually marked by three things: having a lot of time on my hands, having few distractions in my immediate environment, and having a book that I find absolutely compelling.  This was the case with Mindfully Green by Stephanie Kaza.  I’ve been meaning to read it since I saw it in the hands of one of the teenage lifeguards at our pool over the summer.  I picked it up from the store on Wednesday of this week but did not being reading it until about 1:00 PM yesterday.  (I’m sure of the time because I was waiting in a courtroom for a case to be heard.  I was dismissed as a witness in the case thankfully and won’t be needing to go back.)

I read a lot on issues related to the environment.  On average, I’d estimate that a good 70% of what I read either in print or on-line has to do with the environment.  Much of the current “green” hype is just that, manic greenwashing in an attempt to catch part of the wave that Al Gore unleashed with his 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth.  Sometimes though you find a real gem.  Dr. Kaza’s book is one of those gems.

The book approaches environmental activism from a Buddhist perspective of following a green path, rather than simply making small yet important changes.  The intention is to move the reader from the current vogue of green to a more holistic approach to caring for the environment.  The discussion is split into three parts:  Seeking Green Principles, Following the Green Path, and Acting on Green Values.

While I am not well schooled in Buddhist traditions, I found this book to be fascinating on a number of levels.  First it challenged some of my assumptions about life.  For example, in a discussion of systems thinking, Dr. Kaza introduced the concept that human beings are part of a larger system and also a system of systems themselves.  As such, the Western notion of free will becomes questionable.  The argument is not that individuals do not make their own decisions, but that by virtue of the fact that we are part of a larger interconnected system we are influenced by external forces that have impact on our decisions.

Secondly, the book introduced me to concepts that I had previously not been able to name.  I have spent a lot of time over the past 10 years taking notice of and thinking about the interconnections that exist in my life.  Seemingly at random I have made connections between things that I’ve been experiencing that are not necessarily obvious.  I’ve also noticed with increasing frequency that I will find myself drawn to articles and books that do not seem to be initially connected only to find that in fact they are about very similar topics.  After reading about systems thinking in this book, it has become clear to me that this interconnected web that I’ve tuned into is a system.  Further, it will be very interesting to study the theories of systems thinking in the future.  Had I not read this book, I would still be struggling to name this strange web of interconnections that I’ve been noticing over the past 10 years.

Thirdly, there is an incredible chapter devoted to the concept of desire.  I found this chapter particularly interesting because it deals with consumerism in a way that is fresh and engaging.  The opening paragraph of this chapter is simply stunning:

The desire for life is the single most hardwired drive we have been given.  Every organism thrives according to this desire, investing energy resources to find the necessary requirements for survival.  The central message of this desire is:  Look out for me!  Look out for me! Meeting our own personal needs is topmost in our evolutionary instructions;  if we fail at this, we die.  Because this desire is so core to our well-being, we will do everything we can to make sure we have what we need.  Behind this drive is a deep insecurity based on our own fragile vulnerability.  Our concern for ourselves and our fundamental insecurity play perfectly into the hands of profiteers who exploit our desire, urging us to buy our way to a better life. (Kaza, Stephanie, Mindfully Green, Boston, Shambala Publications Inc, 2008, p. 120)

Finally, I found that the principles for engaging in environmental activism can be applied to life in more general terms.  In fact, many times during the reading of this book I found myself taking note that a given principle, say seeking out wisdom from others, could easily be applied to life in more general terms.

I have only finished the read about a half hour ago.  I have not completely ruminated with this book yet.  I know I will be going back to it for another more thorough and studied read.  Probably in the very near future.

Bill McKibben is quoted on the cover, “I can’t recommend this book highly enough.”  And although I sometimes find myself disagreeing on some of McKibben’s arguments, I would have to concur completely with this statement.

Put simply, you must read this book.

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