Extreme Unplugging: Why I Go Dark

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. —Blaise Pascal

I started to write this post during meditation. I know, I know…that’s not what you’re supposed to do when sitting. But as anyone who has meditated has discovered—thinking happens.

I was a few days into a monthlong retreat at the Zen Monastery Peace Center, and I was happy. Not the kind of happy you feel when you’ve won the lottery, but happy like when you’re a kid on summer vacation.

This, I realize, is not the reaction most people would have when staring down 30 days of silence with no phone, computer, family, friends, or even eye contact. But I love being on retreat, and people often ask me what it’s like, so it occurred to me to try to articulate why I like to go dark and unplug in such spectacular fashion.

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Coming at It Sideways

Ecologist Jerry Jenkins is working on a project that would send most reasonable people over the edge: a 9-volume atlas of Northern forests.

While his approach—an elaborate field guide that includes ecology—is fascinating and worth a nod for its ambition and integrated structure, it’s Jenkins’ practical philosophizing that captured my attention at a recent talk a the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

A researcher who spent years observing and quantifying ecological changes in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, Jenkins authored two books he assumed would change people’s behavior and attitude toward climate change: Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability, and Acid Rain in the Adirondacks: An Environmental History.

But despite the books, things seem to be getting worse. Jenkins had laid out the worst possible future scenario for the Adirondacks, yet it was business as usual. No one seemed to be listening. Continue reading

A Moment of Silence With 400,000 People

“Silence is a source of great strength.”  —Lao Tzu

I wouldn’t have thought you could get 400,000 people excitedly waiting to begin the largest climate march in history to stop, become still and silent, and raise their hands in solidarity. But it happened—and it was powerful.

As we lined the western edge of Central Park with a cushion of quiet, we had a moment to access that place beyond words, to get in touch with the bigger picture, to tap into the mystery that transcends but includes us all.

After filling up on the love, peace, joy, connection, or whatever each of us found in that moment of reflection, we brought forth that energy in a roll of sound that moved through the crowd like a wave in perpetual crest.

It was a roar of hope and frustration, of joy and anger, of optimism and sadness. It was a roar of love—the sound of a mother bear protecting her cubs and a parent whispering, “I love you” to their sleeping baby.

It was the sound of the Earth itself, saying, “I will not be denied.”

Find Pockets of Stillness

“Wonderful things happen when your mind is empty.” —Maira Kalman

I’d been struggling for many months with what to call this blog. I’d tried out a couple of names that either felt too ambitious or too obscure. I’d even written a handful of posts, but the blog (or maybe I) was suffering from Failure to Launch.

Then, as these things happen, I took a moment to watch this video where Maria Popova, the brain child behind the website Brain Pickings, talks about 7 things she’s learned in 7 years of blogging.

I was so curious about the person—or the force of nature—behind that prolific blog, I was busy marveling and barely paying attention by the time she got to #4.

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