Taking a cue from a good friend, I decided to start the day by drawing a Tarot card — something I’ve not done in ages, but that’s another discussion.

I was hoping for something light and airy, inspirational. A card that would stimulate my creativity and help me launch into a particularly productive and joyful week. But that’s not the card I drew. Instead, the card that came into my hands was Judgement (20).

Yeah, I never have been one to start with the easy stuff.

The Judgment card is about a day of reckoning. It speaks to self-judgment, and how our own real freedom comes from the choice we make to forgive ourselves. This is a card about making difficult choices, about how we meet the challenges and opportunities that come our way, and about the Final Judgment of our lives as a whole — how we have chosen to use our time here on Earth.

So what does a Tarot card have to do with living a sustainable life?

There are times that I don’t know how to start a project and so I end up wasting a lot of time considering each possible approach from every angle — not actually trying any of these, but just examining them. I’ve spent too much of my life being afraid of “doing it wrong” or making a mistake or unintentionally offending someone, and I’ve often missed out on real living. This includes my efforts to bring myself into greater harmony and better symbiosis with the planet I’m living on.

I get overwhelmed with choices. If I sign up for renewable energy through Portland General Electric, what does that really mean? Aren’t they still burning coal to generate most of their electricity? Is it a scam, or does it make a positive difference? Or should I build a small electric generator with an exercise bike, and then run my laptop computer and printer off a car battery that I can charge up? Am I really using the best power strips to help conserve electrical usage? Mine are kind of old, but should I replace something that still works, even if a better model exists?

And so on. I spend way too much time worrying about making the wrong choice, both in environmental terms and in life in general. With so many questions and concerns competing for attention, it’s easy to get exhausted just considering the possibilities, and then not have any energy left over to actually do anything about them. The result is that I don’t make as many changes or as much progress as I can, and then I judge myself — often rather harshly — for not doing better.

The Jewish High Holidays are fast approaching. Last year, I wrote about making Yom Kippur a day of “green atonement,” of recognizing where I’d failed the environment during the previous year, and deciding how I could do better over the next twelve months. I’ve not completely failed in my efforts to be a better “eco citizen,” but I don’t know that I’m a shining example of hope and inspiration either.

The good news is that each new year — and every new day — brings another opportunity to try again, not only to try to do better in my relationship with and my impact on the environment, but also to lighten up on the self-judgment so I don’t end up paralyzing myself into inaction and futility.

And if I decide to take another shot at drawing a morning Tarot card tomorrow, maybe I’ll get one that’s a bit gentler and more cheerful.


The environment and the Law of Return

I had been thinking of offering a list today of my favorite “green” folks on Twitter, until I got this message from Astrology.com’s GreenScope:

The law of karma gets restated in a hundred different ways. In environmental terms, it’s simple: whatever you do will literally come back to you. So look for cleaning products that can go safely into the water supply system. Baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice work on almost anything and are completely biodegradable.

I’d written previously about green cleaning products — and yes, baking soda, white vinegar and lemon juice make for some excellent “mean green clean.” Apart from the elimination of toxic chemicals from your home environment (commercial cleaners are full of the stuff) and the fact that make-at-home cleaners are also friendlier to your wallet, it’s absolutely true that homemade green cleaning products are easier on our landfills and water treatment centers.

Instant karma’s gonna get you.
—John Lennon

We do reap what we sow. The impact of our chemically-dependent — for lack of a better term — lifestyles is showing up in our waterways and fish populations, in everything from algae blooms to reduced fertility rates. And I don’t have a comprehensive list of all of the chemicals and other materials that waste water treatment facilities are able to filter out, but I don’t imagine they’re able to scrub the water of absolutely everything.

In Wicca and other branches of Neo-Paganism, the Law of Three states that whatever you send out into the world will come back to you three-fold. This admonition is aimed against the practice of questionable spells — usually curses and the like — but can also be effectively applied to day-to-day living.

Do I want to treat the Earth with respect, and then have this same consideration returned to me three-fold? Yes, please. Do I want to trash the planet and then have three times that level of destruction visited upon me? Not so much, no.

There’s a split in the scientific community over whether global warming is a reality — which I don’t understand. There’s also a split amongst those who recognize that climate change is indeed happening, between those who attribute environmental impact to human beings and those who believe it’s a natural, cyclical phenomenon.

I’m in the “yes, climate change is real, and humans have contributed to it,” camp. And I believe we are dealing now with the consequences of the quick rise of industry and technology from generations past (alongside rampant consumption of natural resources) with no heed given to environmental impact — and that future generations will continue to deal with those problems as well as with whatever additional damage we do today. The results of the solutions that we come up with now may not really be felt until after our lifetimes, but that’s the environmental legacy we leave for those who come after us.

Karma can be a bitch, but it can also be a blessing. You get back from it what you put into it. We just have to figure out what kind of environmental return we want to have visited — perhaps even three-fold — upon our descendants.

Gemini moon and reclaiming the mind

Yesterday’s new moon — 8:11 a.m. EDT / 5:11 a.m. PDT — is in the sign of Gemini.

As an air sign, Gemini is concerned with all things intellectual. Symbolized by the twins, Gemini is associated with dualities and pairs of opposites. The Gemini moon is a time of sociability and curiosity but can also be marked by distracted superficiality and nervousness.

Any New Moon is a time for new beginnings. Productive magic — building toward an intended goal — is worked during the waxing moon, and this New Moon in Gemini offers an opportunity to let go of rigid thinking that may have us stuck in bad or stressful habits. This is when we can get out from under the influence and admonitions of others and come back to the heart of our own ideas.

This has me thinking about the media barrage of “green.” It used to be that environmental issues were considered part of the kooky or radical fringe of Western society, but now “eco-consciousness” is fashionable and looks to be establishing itself at the other extreme of the spectrum. I prefer this level of attention to having environmental concerns ignored, but I know a lot of people who are frankly quite confused by so much eco-friendly advice, climate change warnings and vague “green” labeling on products at the store.

Eventually, the hype will diminish and we’ll come to a more balanced understanding of what it means to live in harmony with our planet, and to truly do no harm to our home. In the meantime, however, maybe we each need to take a time-out from what everyone else is telling us to do, and to sit with our own thoughts and ideas instead.

In other words: What does living in balance with your planet look like to you? When you think of nature, what comes to mind? What makes sense to you — where you are, right now, in your life and your world — in terms of living a more conscious life?

With the onslaught of “green this!” and “eco-friendly that!” so prevalent on television, in newspapers and even on the sides of city buses, it can sometimes be difficult to see the trees for the forest. It’s not a bad idea every so often to take a break from the big picture and to focus in instead on our own ideas. What feels right to you may not be the next big green thing to revolutionize environmental protection worldwide, but if it makes a difference in your immediate space, that’s pretty huge, too.

For more information about the New Moon in Gemini, swing by the About.com: Astrology page.

Dust to dust: green burials

An interfaith gathering in the United Kingdom on May 15 helped dedicate the country’s largest woodland burial park.

Green burials — ranging from simply foregoing embalming to home funerals, woodland burials and sea reef memorials — are becoming increasingly popular, with good reason. To start with, embalming uses chemicals that pose health risks to morticians and which can seep into ground water, and the casket industry uses a tremendous amount of lumber, copper and other metals every year.

Much as many of us struggle against it, death is a natural part of life. No amount of body preservation, concrete grave liners or casket grandeur can change that. So why not release the remains to the natural process of decay?

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” as the text of the Book of Common Prayer goes.

I’m heartened to read about the Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Humanists and Pagans who gathered together to dedicate Chilterns Woodland Burial Park, and to honor death as a very natural — and necessary — part of life. We have similar properties here in the U.S. in California, Texas, South Carolina, Washington, New York and Florida, with additional sites planned in other states. It will likely be several generations yet before green burials are more mainstream, but at least we’re headed in the right direction.

Shabbat in the park

Since I missed yesterday’s Green Soul Guide posting and am a bit slammed today, I am borrowing content from another blog of mine, thoughts from the spiral. This entry — from last summer, about celebrating Shabbat in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park with Havurah Shalom — is particularly appropriate, now that the weather is turning more favorable and we’ll all likely be spending more time outdoors. It was this “shabbat in the park” experience, and blogging about it, that prompted me to start the Green Soul Guide to begin with.

shabbat in the park
23 June 2008

When it comes to shabbat services, I’m more of a Friday evening gal. I enjoy the smaller gathering, the lighting of the candles and the more meditative feel of winding down the week and welcoming sacred time and space. It’s a peaceful and relaxing way to let go of whatever has been weighing on me and to make room for reflection and some degree of serenity. It also sets the stage for spending at least part of the weekend enjoying the outdoors — which is my true temple.

I was all set to head to the shul this past Friday evening, when I discovered that the Saturday morning service was to be celebrated in a local park. Perfect timing for the summer solstice. I made a quick call to Mom — who was going to be in town anyway — and brought her along to her first Jewish service ever.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. There was a brief sprinkle of rain in the early morning, but the clouds quickly gave way to warm sunshine. A group of picnic tables under some trees had been reserved for us, and folks trickled in — on foot, on bikes, with strollers — as we set up camping chairs and picnic blankets.

Plenty of passerby stopped to watch us as we started singing — I guess a bunch of Jews in the park isn’t something you see every day — and I slipped off my shoes and pressed my bare feet into the grass. Children laughed and played throughout the service — one of the things I love about going to temple is that the kids aren’t commanded to sit still and be quiet, as we were always instructed in chapel growing up. It’s very family-friendly, and gathering in the park only emphasized that.

It was so freeing to be outside in spiritual community — and in the company of flowers and trees — to feel the sun on my skin and breathe the clean air, rather than being inside while following the same order of service. I prefer natural surroundings to man-made ones. The earth beneath my feet and the open sky overhead create the most sacred space I know of.

We weren’t the only people celebrating in the park that morning. Two different groups of Neo-Pagans set up their own circles within sight of our gathering to mark the midsummer holiday of Litha. The rabbi commented, “Well, we’re all pagans, aren’t we?”

Talking about the service later, Mom shared how much she had enjoyed the event and the people. I’m so glad her first visit with my shul was a positive one, and am grateful for those few hours spent with my spiritual community in natural surroundings. I held this experience up to Mom as a more tangible example of the “roots and wings” I’ve been yearning for.

I’m not sure I’ll join them for next month’s “Shabbat in the Pool”…. Perhaps I’ll instead head over solo to the grove of trees not far from my home, and mark my own observance there.

It’s the beginning of another work week, and I’m already looking forward to Friday evening — when I can sit outside, light candles and take time to enjoy and appreciate the ready-made sanctuary just outside my door.

Healing month of the Hawthorn tree

According to my datebook, today marks the beginning of the Celtic Hawthorn Tree Month.

The Hawthorn month is a time of fertility and power — in perfect alignment with the festivities of Beltane/May Day, celebrated earlier this month. From a magickal perspective, this is a good time to banish bad habits or to work spells to build protection, promote intuition or effect cleansing and purification.

Spring leaf buds are a substitute for smoking tobacco, and the berries can be harvested in the fall for use in tinctures and extracts. Herbalists use Hawthorn to address cardiac concerns. From an astrological standpoint, people born during the Hawthorn month are said to be innovators — shrewd and stable business people who are full of new ideas. The Hawthorn tree is thought to be sacred to the faeries/fey, and wands made from this wood can be used in workings for healing and guidance.

It’s this last bit that has me blogging about the Hawthorn tree today.

There are many beneficial plants immediately available to us in the natural world, if we just know what to look for. I don’t. The few edible plants and berries I can identify in the wild still make me nervous — though I’ve not yet gotten sick from picking blackberries on hiking trails.

When I grew my own basil and oregano for the first time, it struck me that I was hesitant to put something from my yard into my food. I was so used to buying food from the store — getting everything out of a jar or a box — that introducing an actual plant made me worried I’d accidentally poison myself. Crazy, considering that for thousands of years, there were no grocery stores. People got their food from the source.

It took me a while to get over the idea of putting something fresh, green and direct-from-the-ground into my mouth. But soon I was snacking in the garden. When I got hungry, I could just step outside and pull a few cherry tomatoes or snow peas off the vine, and eat them right there.

Besides offering sources of food, plants and trees like the Hawthorn also provide medicinal ingredients. But they don’t do us any good if we’re reluctant or too ignorant to use them. I’m reminded of a story about a dieter who looks at a piece of cake and only sees the number of calories — but those high calories only come into play if you actually eat the cake.

Same goes for natural or any other kind of healing. It only works if you use it.

I don’t have a Hawthorn wand, nor am I aware of any Hawthorn trees around from which I might harvest berries for healing tinctures. Truth is, I wouldn’t be able to identify a Hawthorn tree if I saw one. But the beginning of this Hawthorn month has me thinking about paying closer attention to the healing resources available all around us — sometimes literally right in the back yard. Hawthorn holds out the promise of healing and guidance, but only if we make the choice to embrace it.

For more information, visit Crystal Forest’s Celtic Tree Month of Hawthorn page, or surf over to About.com Paganism/Wicca section to learn about all the Celtic Tree Months of the year.

Flower Moon Magick

When you think of “full moon magick,” images of people in pointy black hats dancing around a bonfire might come to mind. Many Pagans do mark the phases of the moon with rituals and other observances — though rarely with the bonfires or pointy hats — but Neo-pagan traditions aren’t the only ones with ties to the moon.

The evening after the first full moon following the spring equinox marks the beginning of Passover, and Easter falls on the first Sunday after that (i.e., on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox).

The Hindu holiday Hanuman Jayanti — the birthday of Lord Hanuman — is celebrated on the night of the full moon in the month of Chaithra (the first month of the Hindu calendar, beginning in March or April).

In Islam, Laylat al-Bara’ah — remembering the day the Prophet Muhammad entered Mecca — is celebrated on the night of the full moon in the month of Sha’ban and marks a time of repentance and forgiveness.

Now deep into spring, the full moon in May — the Flower Moon — derives its name from the many blooming plants and trees. Reaching its peak at 12:01 a.m. EDT on May 9 this year, the Flower Moon is also a heady time of romance — maybe it’s the flower-fragranced air, or the sacred union of the God and Goddess that is believed to happen with this month’s full moon.

Also known as the Planting Moon, it’s a great time for getting out into the garden to take advantage of the warmer weather, longer days, and the season’s burgeoning fertility.

The full moon of any month is a powerful time for spellwork for witches of all stripes. Working magick for divination, protection and prosperity is appropriate at this time, as are any rituals or spells that require an extra power kick. The Flower Moon is a traditional time for spells concerning love, fertility, wisdom and growth.

To learn more about Flower Moon Magick that you can do, visit Patti Wigington’s About.com Flower Moon page or Trish Hoskin’s article on Suite101.com.