As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I have been fully engaged with the importance of being #present, mindful and awake to each flowing moment of life. That life is temporary and precious, is a felt insight born from being willing to be alert to our present experience. They say, this is not only the key to being happy, but to avoiding the judgements that form when we are 'in our heads'. Presence encourages us to not hold onto interpretations that form resentments and asks us to see more fully so that we don't miss the nuances, details and glances that make up the beauty of our existence.
But recently, I have found a potent and disturbing problem with presence.
It is all we have.
We, as we know ourselves, have always been, are and will be, ever and only present. Where ever we were, weren't we? The renowned author of 'The Power of Now', Eckhart Tolle describes how being present allows us to be free of time. The practice of yoga encourage us to breathe into presence to dissolve the binds that have formed in our bodies. It is as though we could be somewhere else?
Bringing our minds back to the present moment is the practice of meditation, with the promise of happiness and peace. As a yoga teacher and human being with a busy agenda, this makes sense. However, as a teacher and environmentalist, my imagination is wild, yelling, calling me to go to other places, other times, and see within, beyond appearances, into the fuller story of things and into the bigger picture of each moments context.
My present self replies, 'but I can only be here now!'
'Let your mind go! Be free!' calls my rant of images, stories and visions of other needs, wishes, plans and goaly dreams. "Let your empathy and vision take you!'
This turned into a longing, drawn by the hand of sustainability, which is a future, or just an idea, something yet to become... They both call me, promising understanding, they sang, "Come! there is understanding and purpose here".
That is a risky truth, can imagining promise understanding? I'm not sure, but I feel there is a problem with presence. The idea of sustainability demands of us, something more, the more real, that the limitations of our presence cannot allow.
We can only ever be here, now. Trapped, limited, locked in this scale of time and space. I don't mean our feet are tied to the ground. I don't mean we are immobile, or that we can't catch a plane to Paris at free will. I mean that we can only ever be in the place that we are, and in the moment that we are in. As the scale of the world has become global, and our knowledge has reached the nano, the quanta, we really are locked in this space/time scale of being human, nevertheless.
Being present is a problem because sustainability demands of us to understand the origins of things; where did my food come from? Was in farmed organically? Food Miles. Is this recycled paper or from a rainforest? Where did this power come from? How was is made?
Sustainability demands of us to understand things that are beyond our abilities. We need to incorporate the global picture in our understanding, how plastic waste, fossil fuels, carbon emissions. water quality and deforestion affect others in a global sense. How our personal and local output affects the bigger picture - this is sometimes hard to imagine. We can put out our recycling in to the kerbside and be 100% Zen present, but shouldn't the presence that informs the choice to act environmentally responsible include awareness of that which is beyond and other to oneself?
Sustainability also demands us to consider the future. The later than now requests planning, consideration of impacts, consequences, possible and alternator futures, assessment of benefit. Under the umbrella of sustainability, we should consider the consequences of our actions not only our illusive immediate, convenient and disposable present experiences. Are we breeding a society of now-interested citizens who value fast food, moment-to-moment entertainment, immediate gratification and convenience? Surely that is an over-exaggeration. But this is the problem of presence.
Perhaps these demands ask us to expand our presence to include a wider sense of our self, so that the ground on which we stand, and its history can be included in presence. Or the future that is certainly involved in our choices, be infused into our sense of presence. Perhaps sustainability education needs to include practicing these embodied presences within the apparent presence of objects and consumables.
Perhaps the demands of sustainability are asking us to grow our presence by educating our awareness, so that we can see a cloud in a piece of paper. We see the cloud, the rain, the crop, the field, the family, the ideas... because we can perceive the embodied life of the whole planet in one morsel.
I wish for us to be so imaginative that we could infuse our present experience with that rainforest in the paper cup holding our coffee. It's fair trade laughter still heard inside it as we sip, the drip of warmth is the communities that benefit even as they are as unseen as those that were destroyed were unseen. I wish for us to see the ocean in each other's eyes, bathe in metaphorical association, play with language, flip over coincidences like our water percentages, drink the air filled with histories of dinosaur's breaths and quantum physics.
I wish that my children can be educated in a school of imagination, to give them the images, stories and imaginative muscular agility to deeply consider, conceptualise, visualise, experiment, plan, propose, reflect, and reciprocate the call that I heard a few years ago.
"Imagine: let your empathy and vision take you!"
#presence #education #imagination #environmentalimagination #environmentalimaginationeducation #sustainability #sustainabilityeducation #imaginativeeducation #educationforsustainability
Sally Jensen is a Sustainability Educator and facilitator of the ResourceSmart Schools program in Victoria.