This Life Is Not Yours

A month ago, the founder and sensei of the karate school I belong to, Hidy Ochiai, turned 80. As a relatively new student, having started just a year and a half ago, I never saw him as a karate master in his prime (some students have been with him for 40+ years). But during his birthday celebration at his dojo headquarters, I watched videos of the young him slicing an apple in half off his son’s neck while blindfolded, heard about how he’d climb high in different trees to surprise his sons when they got home from school then jump down limb to limb back to the ground, and listened to tales of many other remarkable physical feats.

But what was more valuable was hearing a bit of his wisdom. He is a small, quiet man that forces his listeners to strain to hear his words. And his stories are somewhat broken—whether from his English or his age it’s unclear. But gems of wisdom rippled out as he spoke—like pebbles dropped in a pond. Some were little stones. Relax your shoulders. You can get no power and you hurt your body holding your shoulders up all day (a position that has been normalized by our computer-centric culture). Look in the eyes of people, connect with them before trying to help them. Obvious statements but essential reminders—particularly today, when our eyes are increasingly focused on our phones’ screens instead of others’ eyes.

But then he dropped a big rock, the ripples of which reached all the way to me standing a bit removed on the shore. He said, “This life is not yours.” Truthfully, I do not remember the context of this statement. But as I try to make sense of being a Gaian, these words are of paramount importance.

Your life is not your own. We are entrusted to these lives. For what? Certainly not to achieve the consumer dream—a big house, meat- and junk-food centric diets, high carbon holidays, etc. Do these things really bring joy? Temporarily, perhaps, though they also come with many health and financial costs. And they certainly do not provide meaning. No one will remember you for the stuff you had in your life, though you might be forgotten because of it: if you spent all your life earning money to afford the consumer luxuries, or playing with those luxuries, instead of spending time with your family, instead of participating in your community, instead of working to heal the Earth, then you wasted your life. (Even if the majority of media, marketing, and cultural messages tell you otherwise.)

One of many Internet memes telling you it's your life, do with it what you please.
One of many Internet memes telling you it’s your life, do with it what you please.

It’s not your life to waste.

You—with your consciousness that the world is burning and racing toward irreversible tipping point after tipping point—have the opportunity, no, the responsibility to take action. In some way or another. Whether that be engaging with global environmental campaigns or neighborhood efforts, or anything—or everything—in between.

Of course this is not a new sentiment. For example, you can find this in Hinduism in the concept of dharma or duty. The famous dialogue between Arjuna, a warrior, and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, reminds Hindu readers that they must follow their dharma even if they don’t like or understand it. Now I might argue with that example, as Arjuna then goes off and fights a bloody war, and without context of whether the war is just or not, perhaps he was right to question his dharma. (According to Wikipedia, the war was one of dynastic succession between two groups of cousins, so Arjuna may have had a point in balking at his role in this.)

But in the context of life on a sickened planet, we have certain, undeniable, incontestable duties. This life is not yours to do with what you please. Rather:

  • You are here to care for any children you birthed or help raise (and prepare them for the difficult times ahead).
  • You are here to care for the parents who raised you (especially if thing unravel in their lifetimes).
  • You are here to care for, wake up, and prepare others in your community (for most remain asleep).
  • And above all, you are here to heal the planetary being that has nurtured you every moment of your existence and has made and continues to make your life and all life possible.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life (in reasonable ways). Or practice self-care—no one should encourage activism or activity that burns out the actor—but at the end of the day, if you are not helping others or Gaia in any measurable way, you should reassess your life. Not so you feel bad and not make any substantive changes, but so you take action and return Gaia’s favor and ensure that your children and grandchildren also gain Gaia’s favor and receive the opportunity to return it and pass it on to future generations.

That is how I interpreted the simple statement that ‘This life is not yours.’ And I hope you will too.
life not yours-rectangle

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4 Responses

  1. Jason Merrill

    Hey brother. It’s been many years since we shared some good times at Dartmouth. I hope you and your family are well. I just wanted to thank you for sharing these very insightful thoughts. Society so often pressures us in meaningless directions, and it’s truly a blessing to gain perspective, realize what’s going on, and try to do something about it. I still think the yard farming concept is truly revolutionary and necessary, but communities can be slow to adopt these things that require lifestyle changes and change the community aesthetic. I applaud you for all the outstanding work you have done in your life with all these initiatives.

  2. Healing Hawk

    It’s quite true that, morally, we owe all we have, all we are, to Gaia supporting us in many ways to get where we are. But more than that, we are morally required to know what Gaia needs from us, and to do that first. That’s a long way from a consumerist middle class muddling through meaningless crap at jobs that trace back to violating Gaia in some way. Meaning comes from knowing what we owe Gaia, the life system called Mother by our American Indian brothers and sisters, those honoring the traditional ways, at least. Where does what we breathe come from, for our next breath? Where does our shelter come from? The lumber store? Where does our water come from? Where does our food come from? Where does all of this come together, visible as Gaia, providing all of that for us, at no charge. We pay for Gaia’s largess by allowing the ecologically illiterate to bring her down even more, cutting her trees, the lungs of the planet, to make toilet paper. Cutting old growth redwoods who were already old when Jesus walked the land. Pooping in our drinking water. Ruining swamp habitat by dragging oil drilling barges into them by cutting very old cypress trees out of the clear water they made, so the critters left had nothing to do but fight to the death for the food that once was plentiful. Human ecology is what teaches us, in grad school, how to see what humans do to their environment, not dreaming anyone but them has a call on any of their profit. We human ecologists are sad people able to see, and grieving for all who were needlessly lost to profit. Now, profit won’/can’t buy what it took. The profound injustice of capitalism’s greedy reach can no longer be hidden, so the very rich must pay PR firms to spin convincing illusions that the very rich are the good guys. So we get here, in the late days of American Empire driven by capitalist expansionism to scrape away the last wildness for another strip mall. I don’t know how to be cynical any longer. It used to be easy, before today was true. If we face God in Heaven after our energy leaves our physical bodies and have nothing to say. Nothing worth saying to God. Or to our children, and theirs who won’t be born. Shame on us. Shame on us.

  3. Healing Hawk

    The worst part of it is the ignorance of what it is to honor Gaia, and the ignorance blocking us from seeing what we need to do to get Gaia, and our own dumb asses, out of trouble. We made the trouble, and we’re obligated to un-make it. We can. Part of Gaia is the carbon cycle, as bad off as the rest of Gaia’s body.

    The same amount of carbon cycles from, one carbon sink to another, from the soil to the ocean to the atmosphere and back. The ocean is now a net carbon emitter, and the soil has been under assault by farm machinery for about two millennia, and those guys are still doing what their ancestors did way back then because that’s what they did. It worked for them and they say it will work today. Only it won’t anymore.

    The work Gaia needs us to do now is to learn the carbon cycle and fix it by fixing the soil, by far the largest carbon sink on the planet that will hold all of the “excess” carbon in the atmosphere and in the ocean and in the soil where it’s not SuperFund sites. Such a mess that it’s called pollution.

    We are carbon, like every other living thing on this planet, and our overshot global population has made us a large carbon sink ourselves. We fix the problem by restoring grasslands that will slow runoff so it can sink in, and every time it does that, material forms taller runoff speed reducers, and the soil and dirt and everything else from uphill builds up and aquifers fill, and springs run again, and creeks and streams run again, and rivers run again, and the rains of old times return, and there is plenty of life to go around. Gaia is restored, able to reclaim her resilience, and if the economic collapse didn’t take the Masters, they will crank up the illusion machines in PR firms, to hold power for the sake of holding power.

    We are carbon, and we should know it. It should be the cornerstone of ecological culture birthing global ecological civilization, where exploitation is called by its real name – parasitism.

    We are carbon, and the soil can’t hold the carbon in the ocean, and the atmosphere, until we fix the damage we did to the soil layer. Few even know it’s The Problem. I didn’t, not long ago. I knew we were done, as a species, a failed species, but then something led me to study the carbon cycle. I’m still studying.

    Gaia, our mother, is carbon, too.

    • Erik Assadourian

      “It should be the cornerstone of ecological culture birthing global ecological civilization, where exploitation is called by its real name – parasitism.” Powerful words. Thank you Tommy.

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