In our yoga speak, we acknowledge Karma – but do we understand it? The Buddha indicated that if you truly tried to understand Karma you could blow your brains to bits, so many layers of cause and effect intertwining in every action and response. We are very used to the phrase “Climate Change” and yet it often feels as if the recent strange weather patterns, global warming and environmental pollution have so many underlying karmic threads that we are left utterly bewildered and disempowered to take actions that could result in beneficial shifts to our environment and to our own personal lives.
On this personal level, karma and intention play a powerful role in adopting habits or patterns of living that lead to more harmonious, efficacious ways of being. Small steps that we take towards a saner universe is the only pragmatic and practical way to survive and not get completely bewildered by the enormity of the issue and as the Buddha indicated the intricacies of cause and effect. As they say “If you are going to eat an elephant, take it one bite at a time”, you have to start somewhere even if it seems such a mini bite-sized piece of this complex story.
For many of you reading this article, some effort has been applied to establishing a yoga or meditation practice that brings some positive clear effect to your day-to-day lives, if not an underlying understanding of your place in the universe. Yes, I confess to this habit! And yet other habits in our lives that are both self and planetary questionable, are often left unexamined. And yes, I confess to this ostrich type of persona also.
Recently I have been planning my first major trip in this year of no-flying. I made a decision not to fly for a year when my mother was in her later years and I was burning up vast amounts of fossil fuel zipping back and forth from west coast USA to the UK. The motive was to some extent my own personal health – I love flying, delight in traveling to the nether regions of the planet but it doesn’t—as I age—love me so much any more. To live a whole year at a slower pace with less jet lag, less delayed United planes, strongly appealed. But I was also curious to see if my dependency on easy flying for my work, like many of my yoga teacher colleagues, could survive not flying. Many of us who teach across the country have built up a career based on cheap air travel. We fly in for a weekend, teach a group of students, and buzz back home, often travailing many miles but with relative ease, convenience and income. It’s part of the way yoga has evolved in the last 30 years in this country and most of us – unless we are Hollywood status yoga beings - who work this way would probably be hard put to sustain our livelihoods if we had to restrict our travel. But if you think about it, it’s a strange way to make a living especially as one hears oneself inviting students to seek the natural, the simple, generally a less complex way of living.
There was no intention of setting myself up on a soapbox for this year. More than many, I have used my carbon footprint in other flippant ways than my work and am part of the small percentage of the population who we call “frequent flyers”. In the UK, it’s about 10% who use the airwaves in this way and most of us I would bet without necessarily concerning ourselves about the impact on the rest of the population and planet, especially the 57% of the population (UK figures) who don’t fly at all. So I was curious to see what it would do to my life if I simply stopped flying and used other means from trains to mules if necessary to get where I needed to go.
So far, it's been fascinating and as expected, frustrating. Fascinating in terms of the conversations that have occurred as friends, family and fellow yogis are either surprised, threatened or think I am completely deluded. It ranges from “So what about all the fossil fuel you and Bernie will burn up as you drive to your Tennessee workshop?” to “What are you trying to do, complicate your life unnecessarily?” to “That’s amusing considering your past history of flight profligacy!” Right now, frustration builds as I figure out my return trip from the East Coast could be 60+ hours on a bus and I am frankly daunted at the prospect. This fizzles into embarrassment when I recall that my niece is on the point of going to prison for her non-violent protest on an airport runway, attempting to bring attention to the fact that air travel could be critical in terms of the type of emission control being pledged at recent climate talks. Right now, according to journalist George Monbiot, if flight emissions are allowed to be as unregulated as they are now and air traffic increases as predicted by 2050, they will form 22%of all carbon emissions on the planet. He goes onto say:
Most importantly, international flights are free from all climate constraints. They are covered by neither domestic legislation nor international agreements. There are no targets, no timetables, no limits. Airlines operate in a legislative vacuum, a transnational, extralegal limbo, accountable nowhere and to no one. As a result they threaten everything that was agreed at December’s climate talks in Paris.
The press and discussion around this case—called the Heathrow 13—is in the fascinating and frustrating category. It helps bring perspective to my wimpy whines along with illuminating the Budhha’s statement around the complexity of the dance of cause and effect. The protest my niece was involved in was initiated by a group aptly named “Plane Stupid”, and was an attempt to question the need for another runway and further expansion of Heathrow airport in a very crowded area of a very crowded little island. The judge at their trial commended the 13 on their honorable altruistic intention at the same time as she forewarned prison time, an unprecedented penalty for this type of non-violent protest. Many of the defendants’ witnesses--that included Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party and the Shadow Chancellor--were not allowed to speak but as a result much of their comments have appeared in the press! Surprisingly, not always in more left of centre papers like Monbiot’s Guardian. In the Daily Telegraph, a paper I remember associating with those right of Genghis Khan, Natalie Bennett is quoted as saying:
Bigger airports make no climate sense. The UK cannot make its contribution to cutting carbon emissions whilst expanding its airports and increasing emissions from aviation. If this Government is in any way serious about delivering climate-sensitive policies then airport expansion plans must be immediately shelved and other measures - including encouraging short-haul flight passengers on to existing rail services and introducing a frequent flyer tax -must be explored.
So Greyhound, Amtrak, here I come with curiosity and reserve. I am much humbled by the Heathrow 13 and seeing so clearly my own inner comfort and convenience attachments. Thanks to all of you out there taking much bigger bites of this massive climate elephant. And if you go to prison, there could be some surprises there that completely flummox your normal understanding of karma and cause and effect--including perhaps no more runways at Heathrow. I’ll let you know what happens to me in the next part of NO FLY ZONE.
In the meantime…Karma, Dharma By Philip Appleman:
O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie, gimme a break before I die: grant me wisdom, will & wit, purity, probity, pluck, & grit. Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind, and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice-these little blessings would suffice to beget an earthly paradise: make the bad people good-and the good people nice; and before our world goes over the brink, teach the believers how to think.
Sentencing of the Heathrow 13 is scheduled for 2/24/16.