Awareness and Sustainability

lotus seeds

In my botany class, we are completing a six week inquiry into food and agriculture, examining what we eat, what it offers us, where it comes from, how it is grown, who worked to harvest it, and how its production has affected the ecological and socioeconomic systems to which we are all connected. It has been a wonderful place to use an all-quadrant approach to reflect on the many different dimensions and perspectives inherent in that most basic aspect of our own sustenance. During one week, each of us recorded faithfully every item that we ate or drank, making careful notes on all of the specific elements of our diet. Then, using this list as a starting point, we reflected on what we learned by paying close attention not only to what we ate, but also where and how we enjoyed it. It was a study in many ways of awareness and of appreciation, and in some cases there were unexpected realizations that were brought to light – some were surprised by how their eating habits changed at different locations or times of day, others were surprised by how often they were not paying attention to what was actually being consumed. In almost every case, we were struck by how little we could actually know about where and how the food was produced, or how far it had traveled to reach our plates. Almost everyone expressed a desire to eat more consciously and to try to support systems of food production that were in closer alignment to personal values.

Everywhere we turn, we find opportunities to examine the interconnectedness of our lives and the larger universe. I have been sitting a lot this year with thoughts about how we teach sustainability. How do we open the space of reflection about sustainable futures with our students, with the next generation of thinkers, leaders, writers and teachers? I am struck by how eager all of these students are to make a difference:

“In the long run, though, I hope that I can become more of a cocreator of the systems that feed us.”

“The solution I see is that it is our generation’s job to invent new sustainable ways to make [our food] come to our plates…”

They show such deep concern and give me such a sense of hope and optimism about where we can go from here. I enjoy a similar sense of gratitude when I take students into the mountains or the desert and we have the chance to really come to know some of the intricate and delicate life forms that live in very specific ecological relationships to each other and their environment. In coming to recognize the extraordinary adaptations, behaviors and structures that characterize the life forms that surround us, we are left with a sense of awe for the beauty that is found in a sage flower, a piece of sandstone, a tiny emerald moth. Seeing how our existence is interwoven with the continued flourishing of these other entities calls us to live in the light of the fullest possible awareness and a level of real engagement.

Witch hazel in February snow

Witch hazel in February snow


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