Takes some doing, right? To turn off all the noise all around us. To be present, with ourselves. Right here, right now, we are challenged as never before and its hard not to capitulate under the burdens of grief, fear, outrage.
As a species, we are blessed with the capacity to feel empathy and compassion but this is our curse, too. Because sometimes it can feel like the well of understanding and grace has run dry. We brush our hands across our eyes and feel the scratch of sandpaper.
We are surrounded by images, of fear and tragedy – environmental collapse, natural disaster, human aggression and violence. It can be truly suffocating. But this is not what we are here for, in these times. In each moment, we have a choice. We carry despair in one hand and hope in the other and we must choose between them, step by step, breath by breath, thought by thought.
Thich Nhat Hanh used the idea of a toothache as a perfect parable for how we look at our situation in any given moment. When I have a toothache, I discover that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. That is peace. I had to have a toothache in order to be enlightened, to know that not having one is wonderful. My non-toothache is peace, is joy. But when I do not have a toothache, I do not seem to be happy. Therefore, I look deeply in the present moment and see that I have a non-toothache, that can make me very happy already. Thich Nhat Hanh
Geneen Roth is more direct and asks the question: “What’s not wrong?” And it is mindblowing to stop and think of an answer to it. What is not wrong? Well for a start I am breathing, and I am guessing, if you’re reading this, you are too. From there, I can expand my list of things that are not wrong, like ripples around a stone dropped in a pond. I have food in the cupboard. I have a roof over my head. I have family to love. I have cats.
Looking for what is right in our lives, even the tiniest drops of goodness, brings us back to a place of serenity, a place where we can shore ourselves up and step out into the world undaunted. It lends us the spirit to offer kindness to others, who in turn might notice what is not wrong. So here’s a challenge, borrowed from Geneen Roth – before you go to sleep at night, ask yourself “what’s not wrong.” I’ll start: My heart is still beating and if I stop a moment, I can hear it.
Live the Change this Christmas
How to spread the love without breaking the bank or damaging the planet.
It’s that time of year again. The music is blaring in all the shops, streets and front yards are awash with tinsel and fairy lights – ‘tis the season to be jolly. Yet with so much going on in the world to dampen the mood, it’s hard to feel festive and even harder to square the usual gift-buying fest with the growing recognition that it is neither sustainable nor affordable.
So I’ve put together a list of ideas for alternatives to the socks, the gift sets of bath bubbles, the cheap, jokey tat from the online stores. Here’s your guide to 10 alternative gift ideas:
1. Plant some trees. Only One are running the Million Mangrove Challenge, aiming to plant a forest of 1 million superpowered ocean trees that fight climate change and protect wildlife. For as little as €5, you can invest in the project as a gift for someone else. Alternatively, Tree Sisters is a social change and reforestation charity that places tropical forest restoration into everyone’s hands. A donation will fund planting trees and replenishing and restoring the world’s forests, one of the most powerful and life creating solutions to climate change.
2. Buy handmade gifts from local artisans. Check out your local Christmas Craft fairs – schools and faith centers often hold events at this time of year. Or perhaps you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there are open studio weekends. Handmade soap, candles, jewellery, and knitwear are just some of the items which make perfect gifts. And an artisanal hand made gift is one that gives twice – helping support an individual maker while making your recipient very happy.
3. Make a donation to your local foodbank. Fill a trolley with groceries (you can find out what is most needed by checking with the foodbank first) and donate them. You could take a photo, too, to send to your gift recipient. Or consider buying a slow cooker or electric blanket to donate to the food bank. Many people who rely on the foodbank, are also struggling to pay for fuel for heating and cooking. A meal cooked in a slow cooker costs a fraction of the price of conventional cooking and an electric blanket over your lap costs just 1p an hour to keep you warm as opposed to 70p for an electric heater.
4. Donate to Shelter on someone else’s behalf. At this time of year, charities like Shelter and Crisis at Christmas are at full stretch reaching out to the people who are homeless this winter. A small donation can be the difference between someone going hungry and having a hot meal. You could make it a regular donation for the year, too, if your budget can run to it. A subscription to a digital magazine – a gift that lasts all year.
5. Offer the gift of a subscription to a magazine. Two I love receiving in my inbox are Resurgence and Orion. Both are available as a digital subscription. Orion, currently celebrating it’s 40th year, is known as “America’s Finest Environmental Magazine”. And Resurgence & Ecologist magazine provides “a voice for change that is driven not by fear, but by a love of the Earth and its many life forms”. Plus, when you buy a subscription to Resurgence, you automatically become a member of the Resurgence Trust, which organises lots of great events (online and in person) throughout the year. Now, I wouldn’t normally advocate actual printed matter, because of the paper, ink and energy involved in their production. However, these two magazines are also available as high quality, sustainably produced print versions, which are well worth preserving and curling up with for some inspirational writing.
6. Give an inspiring book about Climate Change. Two I recommend are: Dr Louis Keal’s A Gift for Conversation: Let’s Discuss Climate Change. A ‘gift book’ for starting climate conversations, it’s a powerful book for people who care about Climate Change to give to people they know who don’t get it. In a similar vein, How to Save our Planet: the Facts by Mark Maslin is a call to action, guaranteed to equip everyone with the knowledge needed to make change. Both books lay out the facts in simple terms and both carry the message that there is still hope, if we act now.
7. Make up a hamper of locally sourced food. You might have access to a farmers’ market, or your local supermarket may stock locally produced items such as honey or beer. Foodie items make great hampers. Find a suitable cardboard box that you can dress up with some recycled wrapping paper and ribbon and fill it with whatever takes your fancy.
8. Or make it yourself. Jam, biscuits, truffles, sloe gin are just some of the edible treats you can make at home. Or you might try your hand at making candles in old tea cups found in a charity shop, or plant some hyacinth bulbs in a bowl you no longer use.
9. Offer your services. Make a pretty voucher for the gift of your time. Offer to cook a meal for someone, walk the dogs for a week, help with the spring cleaning, do some ironing. There are countless ideas for things you could offer to help with. Get creative – what help would you love to receive?
10. And finally, a gift voucher with a difference. Give the gift of a course or a retreat (or a contribution towards one if your budget is small). Look for ideas that are a bit different. Ruby Taylor at Native Hands runs gorgeous courses in the woods in pottery, basketry and bushcraft, sourcing materials from the land. Moon over Willow hold Wild Art weekends foraging natural materials to make inks, paper, tiny containers and copper vessels. Or look up Carbon Savvy who have an online course which makes reducing your carbon footprint actually enjoyable!