Judgment

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.

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Green Atonement

The Days of Awe — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between — give us an annual opportunity to examine our words, actions and intentions of the previous year, and to make amends for any wrongs we have committed — to ensure that our names are written and sealed into the Book of Life on Yom Kippur, to begin the new year with a clean slate.

Green geek that I am, I decided instead to spend these ten days looking at some of the ways I’ve failed my planet in the past 12 months.

* I’ve gotten lax about taking canvas bags with me to the store. Sure, those plastic grocery bags come in handy when walking the dog, but many of them are torn after carrying food and so cannot be repurposed.

* Several times when I’ve found a jar of ancient pickles or old spaghetti sauce at the back of the refrigerator, I threw it out instead of emptying the jar into the trash (no garbage disposal) and then recycling the glass.

* I didn’t bring my worm composting bin inside soon enough when the summer weather turned hot. Most of the worms died. Same goes for my potted herb garden, which got burnt up in the sun.

* I’ve thrown away several used printer cartridges instead of saving them for recycling. My dog likes to eat them, and I don’t want her ingesting plastic or ink. But instead of finding a safe place for storage, I’ve chucked some of them instead.

* Putting out food for two stray cats is attracting raccoons and possums into my courtyard and is messing with the wetland ecosystem my neighborhood occupies.

Yes, I only buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, recycle my newspapers and magazines, and use both sides of the paper when printing. I often choose to walk or take mass transit instead of driving, and I don’t let the water run when washing my hands. But some mornings I cringe to discover I’ve left a fan or external hard drive running overnight in my office. I know I can do better.

My boyfriend laughs at my assortment of decorative ribbons, which had adorned gifts but now collect dust on a bookcase. The ribbons are still good, so I won’t throw them away, but the pieces are too short to be useful. I’m trying to be a good steward, and find myself in nearly constant conflict.

Maybe “green guilt” will soon become a speciality of psychotherapists. I have collections of damaged-but-repairable items I no longer want — like a leather belt with a worn-through notch — but which I can’t seem to rehome. No one on Freecycle or Craigslist wants this stuff. If I give it to Goodwill, it will just end up in the trash. So it continues to clutter my space instead.

Part of my green atonement needs to be about balance, so that I can enjoy my life and my home while still being part of the environmental solution.

Thinking globally and acting locally isn’t always easy. It’s a lot less painful, say, to buy a handful of carbon offsets for an upcoming trip or to munch on an organic bean burger at an Earth Day festival, than it is to pay closer attention to our mundane habits — even when it’s precisely those little every day decisions that make the biggest difference. Or so the green advocates keep saying.

As Yom Kippur approaches, I’m wondering how to make amends to the Earth, with more consistent actions that are small, uneventful and immediate. On the Day of Atonement itself, I can fast in recognition of dwindling global resources and wear white in hopeful honor of a cleaner planet. Moving forward, I can shop more often at local farmers markets. I can be more vigilant about making my own green cleaning products. I can set up a secure container for recycling printer cartridges.

And I can take a breath and forgive myself when I stumble. I am an eco-conscious yet imperfect human, and I’m afraid the Earth and I are both going to have to live with that. To me, that’s one of the most reassuring and inspiring messages of the High Holy Days: that we can make mistakes and make amends, and then we can try again.

I just hope global warming is as forgiving.