Love, Ethics & The Good Life

Today was an ordinary winter morning.

Alarm at 6am, dreamily recoil into warm bed for a few more moments, deal with unhelpful thoughts, and prepare myself to dress as quickly as possible avoiding the cold walls and floor.

Walk up stairs, make a cup of hot apple cider vinegar with half a lemon, light a candle and drink silently until 630am. With a candle flickering on a table, still I soften around the unhelpful thoughts.

As I settle into my stride, pushing pedals and guiding the handlebars of this old red and white bicycle, it runs almost silently down the quiet main road toward Newcastle. Thighs warm up, heart beats faster and I open my mouth to take a few deeper breaths, a thick white cloud leaves my mouth as I exhale – “it is the coldest morning of winter”, I think to myself.

I still have as a shadow in my mind the fading sentiment of Yvon Chouinard’s wife from the documentary 180degrees south, “you can’t love something you don’t identify with. We can’t want to save the planet unless we love it”. These words have been there ever since I heard them, inspiring me to look for the trees as I breathe in, and the clouds as I breathe out. But what hope does a society have, if its ideal for a better life is one of consumption and acquisition? If the trees are no longer living things, but messy things that drop leaf’s and waste our precious time?

If we do not see ourselves in the tree, in the other animals we share this planet with, in the ocean, in the earth, if we never appreciate her, how will we ever love her?

Ethics is not in vogue, its not sexy, its not ‘paleo’, a part from the few who make time to donate, to participate and to educate themselves, very few of us have the time or inclination to fall in love with the planet, to ask questions about preservation of the planets ecology, about changing the way we shop and eat and treat others? The pleasant life seems far more appealing when compared with the good life, or the meaningful life?

Peter Singer in his book ‘How are we to live?’ makes it clear that the pressure to re-examine our lives grows stronger, responsible scientific research shines light on our basic values and outlook and brings them into question, “we cannot continue with business as usual. We shall either change voluntarily, or the climate of our planet will change, and take entire nations with it…” But it seems we don’t really believe it, or at least we don’t think it is us who is responsible.

Why should we be the ones who live a disciplined ‘ethical’ life? Where is the fun in that?

Mr Singer goes on to propose some ultimate questions. “What do I think of as a good life, in the fullest sense of that term?”

“What kind of life do I truly admire, and what kind of life do I hope to be able to look back on, when I am older and reflect on how I lived?”

“Will it be enough to say: ‘It was fun?’ Will I even be able to say truthfully that it was fun?’ Whatever your position or status, you can ask what - within the limits of what is possible for you – you want to achieve with your life?”

One ordinary winter morning, my beloved Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh woke up and put some warm clothes on. While it was dark outside, he walked gently around the forest enjoying the stars, the moon and the sky. When he returned home to his hut, like an excited young man, his heart filled with joy, he realised that he had fallen in love with Mother Earth. Her beauties, wonders and virtues, her talents and all the gifts she offers us.

When you love someone, you want to take care of them, you want to embrace them and learn from them.

As I rode home that ordinary winter morning, I wondered how I would fall in love with someone who was not around. Proximity, and familiarity, common interests, and aspirations, I looked around and smiled.

I may not have fallen in love with Mother Earth, but I am willing to give it a chance. 

By Nathan Sutter. 

Nathan is a former Monk and resident of Plum Village Practice Centre under the guidance of teacher and zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a meditation teacher, Yoga teacher, Personal Development, Health and Physical Education teacher and Mindfulness practitioner. You will see Nathan guiding our Walking Meditations on Bondi Beach and you will hear him as the voice of The Happiness Compass guided meditations. Why not try The 7 Day Challenge; 7 Days of 7 Minute Meditations...