Volunteering at the Free Farm Stand this Sunday reminded me of how right it felt to be giving away food, especially locally-grown produce. And watching Food Inc. last week reminded me of how much the current U.S. food production and distribution system is unsustainable and damaging to all life forms - humans, animals, and the ecosystem.
I cannot make a paid career out of giving away food, nor would I want to. boyziggy currently makes enough money to sustain both of us, even in expensive San Francisco, since we have rent control, but we need more savings to be secure. So I still need to find some source of income-producing employment, even if temporary. I'm hoping that he will join me in following the steps of Your Money Or Your Life, a comprehensive program I keep letting slip but is directly in accordance with my values of living sustainably.
The texts on Buddhism and Jainism I've been reading have been inspiring, but have also reminded me why I can't in good conscience currently identify as a member of one of these or of any other religion. I find a lot of wisdom and useful advice in Buddhist ethics and metaphysics, and can even see devoting myself to following the path and precepts much more strictly than I have been. Jainism has also appealed to me because of its focus on nonviolence and strict vegetarianism.
But in both of these religions, escaping the cycle of death and rebirth is the ultimate goal. In Jain monasticism, this is taken to the extreme of denying any worldly pleasures at all - not only sex, but also friendship, music, and laughter. This level of asceticism is something Buddhism sought to avoid - seeking a "Middle Way" - but the end goal as I understand it is still to transcend worldly existence and achieve the perfect state of Nirvana.
I don't see life this way. I don't believe in reincarnation, or in an eternal soul. (There is no soul in Buddhism, which appeals to me, but there is still, somehow, the concept of reincarnation. In Jainism, all living things, even plants, have souls.) While we are all interdependent (another Buddhist concept), for practical purposes I believe we have one life, and when we're dead, the individual body and mind are gone forever. But the impact of our words and actions lives on and affects other lives for generations.
I don't believe it is necessary or desirable to escape the world. Life can be "nasty, brutish, and short" - which is the way I've been seeing it much of the time - or it can be wondrous, fulfilling, and eternal (in terms of our impact on the future of the planet) - which is the attitude I'm attempting to adopt. Fighting against often overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, and frustration at the differences between myself and others has hindered me from trying to acknowledge the common bonds that I do share with humans and other life forms, and using those to help improve my own life and the lives of others.
I have a lot of work to do, and much of it will be beyond my comfort zone. And that's OK. I know there are a lot of other smart people out there who are concerned about the planet and feeding the world, and I've connected with some of them here. I will be seeking others. I'll be focusing on the local, though the situation in other countries is far more dire; if and when I have a decent income again, I'll likely be following the advice of philosopher Peter Singer and donating a reasonable portion to fight extreme poverty. For now, my body and mind are what I have to give.