A few years ago I had a booth at one of those Mind Body Spirit expos in a large, coastal town, so I booked into a hotel near the seafront. I got there the day before the expo started, in the late afternoon. Later, just before the sun went down, I went for a walk along the esplanade. It was not beach weather but there were lots of people on or near the beach, many of them just sitting around, doing nothing-in-particular and mostly staring at the water. For an urban crowd, they seem unusually relaxed. It was as though they were waiting for something, like a theatre audience waiting for the show to start.
At first I was puzzled. Was there some planned event that I had not read about? I sat down on some steps and stared out to sea, just as everyone else seemed to be doing. Then the sun, already very low on the horizon, disappeared from sight and very soon the sky began to glow. There was a peaceful hush. From some of the people around me, I could hear quiet murmurs of appreciation. We watched as gold turned to orange, then to red and then slowly darkened.
Once the show as over, the crowds began to thin out and drift away. That is when I realized that dozens and dozens of people had taken time out of their day to come down to the beach and indulge in just that one, simple pastime that humans have probably indulged in for hundreds of thousands of years: watching the sunset.
And not only watching it but obviously savouring the experience.
I often find myself in conversations about things like peak oil and climate change and all the other environmental problems that beset us. And my friends and colleagues wring their hands in despair, speculating endlessly about why it is that the necessary changes are not happening fast enough and asking each other how they can get the message through to the population at large that we all need to be doing something towards fixing the problems before it is too late. “Sometimes I think people just don’t care,” someone said to me yesterday.
But they do care. I’m sure they do. I am utterly convinced that at least 80% of human beings alive on the planet today appreciate the beauty of natural places—and some human-made ones too—as much as I do. After all, people in their billions feed garden birds, weep when their pets die, thrill at the sight of a soaring eagle, a snow-capped mountain, a waterfall. They walk in the woods—or the park. They visit the beach. They watch Nature programs on TV. They watch sunsets. They love the Earth. The thought of its potential destruction makes them sad and fearful.
All they need is a little nudge, an explanation of how we all have to tweak our lifestyles a little now, to make them greener, especially those of us in the West whose eco-footprint is currently much higher than it should be. All they require is some encouragement and some guidance in finding out how they, too, can become part of the Great Work of learning to live sustainably on the Earth and of safeguarding its two greatest treasures: its beauty and its biodiversity. So that our grandchildren and their grandchildren can sit peacefully on their turn to watch the sun go down and know that it will rise again on a world bright with promise and possibility.
That is why I write books and articles and blog posts about simple living and green issues. It is why I offered to edit the wonderful new anthology 'GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness' just published by O Books and currently being launched around the world. Because I believe that living green is not just about changing your light bulbs. It is about linking spirituality and lifestyle and letting your deep love of Mother Earth guide your every step.
Somewhere, deep in the human brain, is the neural pathway that connects sunsets and sustainability and that’s the one I want to locate. Or die trying.
Marian Van Eyk McCain is a columnist and free-lance writer who has published articles on many subjects, from mind/body/spirit and women's issues to environmental politics, organic growing and alternative technology. She is the author of three non-fiction books, including ‘The Lilypad List: 7 steps to the simple life’ (Findhorn Press, 2004), a primer for living simply and lightly on the planet.
Long retired from her former career as a psychotherapist and wellness educator, Marian is Co-Editor of the GreenSpirit Journal. Her new book,'GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness'(O Books, 2010) is an anthology of writings by thirty contributors who all believe that a deep love of the Earth is necessary if we are to survive as a species and to live in a peaceful, sustainable world.