Yesterday, I gave a talk to a group of women who were studying sustainable food issues. They had worked through a book with lots of excellent readings, discussion questions and the like. I was the speaker that wrapped up the entire series. As I was giving my talk, I noticed that one particular idea kept getting the most nods and smiles from the group. I don’t know if they even realized it, but I sure did.
I simply gave them permission to be less than perfect, and to do what they could without guilt over what they could not do.
They had spent a couple months reading about global poverty, food production, genetically modified organisms, farm policy, organics, local foodsheds…and maybe they were a little overwhelmed. Most of them had also read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (excellent book, by the way), where she details her year of eating exclusively locally with tremendous personal effort.
There is a temptation to hold ourselves to impossible standards. None of these women in the group could possibly live like Kingsolver, and none of us (myself included) live a perfectly sustainable lifestyle. We all navigate that sticky wicket known as the REAL WORLD where choices are tempered by reality. If we hold ourselves to the standard of eating only local, seasonal, completely organic, 100% sustainable whole food prepared from scratch each and every day, we would likely go hungry on a regular basis.
Likewise, if we hold ourselves to the equally impossible standard of living a perfectly environmentally friendly lifestyle 100% of the time in all areas of life, we are pretty much guaranteed to fail. This does not mean that we should throw up our hands and drive our SUVs to the nearest McDonalds to pig out and do some recreational shopping afterwards.
What it does mean is that we need to give ourselves permission to do the best we can, and lose the self-imposed guilt. We can work at gradually doing better (and we should). But without the guilt!!
When our eco-efforts are a part of our spiritual life and process, they cease to become an unattainable goal, and instead become a comforting practice. Instead of lamenting that we cannot eat 100% organic, we buy what we can from the farmer’s market, bless it, and allow it to nourish our bodies and souls, without dwelling on what we cannot do. Instead of worrying that our electricity is generated from burning coal (and stressing about it!), we turn off the lights, offering a quick prayer as we do.
By ourselves, we cannot wave a magic wand and change the larger systems in which we live, but we can give ourselves permission to approach them in an entirely different way, to do what we can, and to leave the guilt behind.