Monday, April 6, 2009

Playing In Traffic

A friend of mine who lives in Boulder, Colorado recently bought a small house in a new neighborhood. Shortly after Mary and her two daughters moved in, they had a rude awakening. It turns out they are much closer to the freeway than Mary had realized when she was first looking at the house, and now she can hear the distant hum of the traffic all the time.

She has thought a lot about how to deal with this situation. In moments of extreme frustration, she has considered moving. Yet she likes the house and the neighborhood, and she finally has enough space for a garden. She’s shared her concern with her neighbors. One woman told her that she tries to ignore the noise and pretend it’s the sound of the sea, and she advised my friend to do the same. “But this is Colorado!” Mary exclaimed. “The sea is nowhere near here.”

Instead she has chosen a third alternative: she is exploring ways to live with the situation. When she gets distressed by that relentless assault on her stillness, she adjusts her thinking and considers what the noise says about the society we live in—how insistent we Americans are on our right to be mobile, how constant is the outpouring of carbon gases into the atmosphere.

Consequently, she is also adapting her behavior. She has started riding a bike wherever she goes, so she herself does not contribute to the problem. As she works in her small yard, she focuses on paying mindful attention to the beauty there instead of feeling that it is sullied by the noise.

Mary’s approach to living peacefully with the stream of traffic is a model for how we can live in a mindful, soulful way with many of the environmental problems that surround, challenge, and frustrate us. We can’t fix everything. Sometimes we must learn to co-exist. One way of doing so is simply to acknowledge what is happening and refuse either to turn our backs on it in denial or confront it in rage. We can love the nature that is before us and allow ourselves to be captivated by its persistent thriving. We can devote attention and discussion to determining how we want to be in relation to our changing Earth. And wherever we go we can look for—and find—beauty on that Earth.