Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Listening to the Dalai Lama

Many years ago, W and I attended both a lecture and a talk given by the Dalai Lama. At that time we were practicing (or at least attempting to practice) meditation. Both events that we attended absolutely blew us away. I was literally awestruck. I look back at my notes from those two events and cannot make sense of them. And yet I know that I was profoundly and deeply moved.

I came across this post at one of my favorite blogs. It is a description and a Q & A with the Dalai Lama when the author of the post (Noah Weil) attended a talk at the University of Washington in Seattle. Two things amaze me about this post. First, the depth of feeling it arises in me as I remember the lessons I learned from the Dalai Lama all those years ago. Second, how wonderful Noah's notes are considering I couldn't even write a sensible sentence when I saw the Dalai Lama. Anyway, I hope you will enjoy reading the post.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I can change your life

"I can change your life." That is a bold statement, don't you think? But I actually think I can. My life was changed dramatically because of my interaction and participation with an organization called the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI). Because of the NWEI, I changed my job and changed my impact on the earth in many ways. I made new friends and deepened my connection with some old friends. Here is my story...

In the late 1990s, a friend invited me to join a NWEI discussion group called Voluntary Simplicity. The group was made up of co-workers and we met during our lunch hour. The mission of the NWEI is "motivating individuals to examine and transform personal values and habits, to accept responsibility for the earth, and to act on that commitment." Think for a moment about that mission. Think about a time when you examined something in your life and realized that you wanted it to be different. The only way it changed was by accepting personal responsibility. The class was like that - it opened my eyes. And once you "see", it is really hard not to take personal responsibility.

I enjoyed that first class and followed it up with two more: Choices for Sustainable Living and Neighborhood Sense of Place. I continued to learn and to grow.

Then in 2000 I had a crisis of faith. I was working for a high tech firm in the marketing department. My job was to create collateral (i.e. paper) to teach people how to sell more of our products. My emerging care for the earth and my job collided. I ended up taking a leave of absence from work to try to figure out what I wanted to do next. During my leave, I was attending a talk given by Paul Hawkin at Portland State University. Jeanne Roy, one of the founders of the NWEI, had organized the talk and she was running around getting things set up. I cornered her and said something like this, "You need to help me find a new job. Because I took the NWEI courses, I can't stay at my current job." She asked me where I worked and when I told her she said, "Then you need to stay there. We need people like you in big companies." And then she walked off.

Boy was I ever mad! That was not what I wanted to hear. Honestly, I was mad for several months until the truth of what she was saying really sunk in. Then I went back to my big corporation and found that I no longer had a job. They paid me for three months to find another job inside or outside the company.

A few days after I returned I saw the man who hired me into the company. He told me he hadn't seen me around and wondered what I was doing. I told him that I had just gotten back from a leave of absence and was looking for a job. He asked me, "If you could do anything, what would you do?" I told him I wanted to help my company be a better global citizen and be more environmentally friendly. "But there are no jobs like that," I told him. He replied, "Yes, there are and that person works for me. Why don't you go talk with her." I ended up shadowing her and working on some projects for her and came to the conclusion that the job would be a really good fit for my skill set. In a strange turn of events, the person doing the job took a medical leave of absence and did not return. At the last possible moment, the company offered me the job. I changed my life dramatically.

Can I change your life? Honestly, only you can change your life. And if you are interested in changing your life (and I am guessing you are since you are reading this long, long post), take a NWEI class. You can organize a class at work, at your place of faith, with your friends or even with your family. Don't live in the Portland, Oregon area? Not a problem, the NWEI has many sister institutes. Click here to find yours (or start your own!).

P.S. The Choices for Sustainable Living class is my favorite - it is informative and give lots of actionable ideas.

Friday, May 16, 2008

5 Minute Showers

Last year W found a cool resource online. It turns out that if you are a customer of the Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau, they offer a variety of free water conservation devices. W went crazy and ordered a whole bunch of devices including a 5 minute shower timer. Of all the things he ordered, this was the one that confounded me the most. We put it up in our shower and occasionally, I would try to take a 5 minute shower. I never even got close! On a good day, I took a 10 minute shower!

But the shower timer continued to stare me in the face...and I kept thinking about how I could get to a 5 minute shower. It wasn't until I read about Jennifer Aniston's three-minute showers in The Green Book that I actually got serious about making a change. I mean, come on, if Jennifer Aniston can take three-minute showers, certainly I can do better than 10 minutes! She explains why she made the change in the book. Here is a quote:

"I found out that every two minutes in the shower uses as much water as a person in Africa uses for everything in their life for a whole day - drinking, bathing, cooking, and cleaning...everything!"

Think about that for a moment. A whole day's worth of water for someone in Africa going down the drain every minute we are in the shower. This may not inspire you to change, but it definitely inspired me.

How did I get down to a 5 minute shower? I changed the order that I shower and I cut my hair very short. I am happy to say that both these things got me under the 5 minute limit*. And do you know what I have figured out? If my shower is rated at 2.5 gallons per minute, and I cut my showering in half, I save 12.5 gallons of water every time I take a shower. I take a shower about 6 days a week (perhaps the next thing to work on?) which means I save 75 gallons a week. In a year, what will I save? A whopping 3,900 gallons! That is enough water to fill more than 10 hot tubs!

What about you? How long are your showers?

*Over sharing moment: I cannot get under 5 minutes if I am shaving my legs. But since that happens so infrequently (once per quarter?) I am not that worried about the effect it has on my water usage.