Sustainability & Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem”

in the healing circle amongst the fruit orchards at work.

Sustainability. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary sustainability is: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Some synonyms are: justifiable, maintainable, and supportable. Some antonyms are: unjustifiable, unmaintainable, and unsupportable.This word sustainability has been on my mind a lot the past few days. I have been charged as the new “Sustainability Coordinator” for both campuses at work. To say that I am excited about this new role is an understatement; I am beyond ecstatic to start this work of honoring our Mother and working in conscious relationship with her. Pacifica’s motto, animae mundi colendae gratia (for the sake of tending the soul in and of the world), embeds a deep sense of connection with Mother Earth and this connection is felt in our Organic Gardens and campus grounds.

Sustainability. When I think of this word I am immediately humbled by Mother Earth’s forgiveness and resilience, for she provides so abundantly even though she is relentlessly abused with pollution and toxicity and waste. She has shown her power and what sometimes feels like rage through devastating tsunamis and earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. She supports us, she nourishes us, and she awes us.

When I think of sustainability I think of the environmental policy class I took two quarters ago (I am almost half way through my grad studies in Public Policy and Administration). Expanding on Merriam-Webster’s definition above, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. I like this idea of a “productive harmony” as it makes sense to my rational, logical brain and my idealist, tree-hugging soul.

Operationalizing sustainability. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to not shop for new clothing in the year 2013. The motivation behind this resolution was environmental. I could not reconcile my desire to shop for new clothes when I already have closets and dressers overflowing with things I never even wear, and knowing that my unnecessary desire for more & more impacts the environment so greatly. I see the direct correlation between my over-consumption and the over-pollution of our Earth. And of course, over-consumption plays out in so many different ways, with food and factory farming, with the latest and greatest gadgets and industrial pollution and waste, so my meager New Year’s resolution is in no ways an attempt to fix the world’s environmental issues, but rather a challenge to myself to be more conscious and aware of my own environmental footprint. Now, with my new charge as Sustainability Coordinator, I will expand my own footprint to that of the Institution’s footprint.

(And, in case your wondering, I have stuck with my New Year’s goal thus far. I have not purchased any new clothes and I haven’t even perused the consignment stores in search for a quick fix.)

Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

Every morning

the world

is created.

Under the orange

sticks of the sun

the heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —

and the ponds appear

like black cloth

on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.

If it is your nature

to be happy

you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination

alighting everywhere.

And if your spirit

carries within it

the thorn

that is heavier than lead —

if it’s all you can do

to keep on trudging —

there is still

somewhere deep within you

a beast shouting that the earth

is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies

is a prayer heard and answered


every morning,

whether or not

you have ever dared to be happy,

whether or not

you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver

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