A few weeks ago I accompanied my friend, Laurel, to Vermont. I’m always one for an adventure, although long car rides can be most undesirable. We packed our bags with long underwear and wool socks and set off to the frozen North. The map we used to guide us was made of paper instead of circuits and satellite signals. My fingers scoured the smooth surface, finding places like Magic Mountain and Mohawk View. We were both game for going off the beaten path, looking for something, anything, out of the ordinary.
We made the 8 hour drive interesting by listening to unmarked CDs, catching up on the lives we lead and stopping for a whiskey tasting, because we’re ladies. We happened to get lost, distracted by who knows what, and passed Lake George, a magical fairytale lakeside community that resembled something from the Jersey Shore. Once or twice we used our gut instinct, or intuition, to question our direction then consult the map and discern the best route to take.
As dark came upon us, we followed our host’s directions past the country store, up a long, winding hill flanked with snow banks, and made our way to Todd and Cathy’s. A cute mountain home greeted us, along with Jack, a gigantic Shepard mix. After brief introductions and a few curious sniffs, we made our way down to Poultney. We went to the only bar in town: Taps Tavern. There was live music, gluten free bread and delicious burgers. Laurel and I clinked our ciders together to celebrate our good fortune of being somewhere new.
The days ahead were filled with walks and cross country skiing in the bitter cold, warm breakfasts and in-depth conversations, trips to Green Mountain College where Laurel was attending a residency. We suddenly found ourselves surrounded by people who think similarly; who are passionate about building community, saving the environment and having a higher quality of life for not only others, but for themselves.
I was on vacation but that couldn’t stop me from thinking, from taking it all in. I was invited to be part of the residency program, to attend lectures, share meals and participate in conversations. I told the group what I was up to, what I had started, how I build community and the challenges I faced. Each and every person listened intently, interested, understanding and complimentary. I began to feel more secure in my path, more relaxed and less completely insane.
The visiting scholar for the residency program was Bill McKibbon, a name I had never heard, a face I had never seen, but a leader in a global movement to protect the planet. He shared his journey with us; once a writer, now an activist called to spread the message of Mother Earth. He told us that travelling around the world for this cause wasn’t what he wanted to be doing, but it’s what he had to be doing. There was part of me that could relate, and I respected him for being so blunt about it all.
After our first meeting with McKibbon we saw a film titled “Economics of Happiness.” Through various cultures, ideals and realities, it explored why happy communities make a better world. It explained the impact of Globalization and localizing economies. It explained the downfall of indigenous cultures once they were introduced to consumerism and the impact the globalized free market has had on the world population and the planet. Throughout the film, the stories showing the importance of building happy communities kept repeating, flashing in front of me. Again, it made me feel a little less insane and that there was a call in this larger world for the work I was doing.
Now I hear you saying, “But Jocelyn, this was supposed to be a vacation for you.” And it was, my friends, it was. I slept in, I sat by the fire, I read. I filled my heart and head with ideas.
I came away with a few things I learned in Vermont…
Beginning the journey with a map, I realized that at any given moment, technology ruled my life, that I was accessible at any moment. The longing to be unavailable, to not be on call to answer the problems of others or worry about the artificial deadlines that loomed over my head. So I checked out of my current world and tapped into myself. Off switch turned.
So often we forget the importance of being available only to ourselves, to what we need.
No music, no social media, hardly any text messages. It was glorious. It made me think about the amount of time that I exist outside of silence, the amount of time that I block my thoughts with music; the music I play to not feel alone, the music I play to distract myself. So I learned to listen and appreciate the silence, to contain my thoughts on my own.
Most of us can argue about climate change all day, but what resonated with me was the idea that people are the protectors of the planet. We have been entrusted this jewel, this beautiful planet with its animals, its people and its natural wonders. McKibbon spoke of policy, of shaking things up on a larger scale. When I go down the rabbit hole of all the ways things need to change and all the environmental urgencies we face, I’m glad someone else is answering that call.
I do believe change has to start somewhere, that there is a lack of understanding of how we as humans are binded to our earth: where the things we buy come from, where the go when we’re done with them. The powers we have as consumers and the behaviors that impact the environment around us. There are small ways to change that can lead to bigger and better transitions. But you have to start somewhere.
So before you change your lightbulbs, conserve water or recycle, I ask you to think, to just start thinking about what ways your lifestyle impacts the environment. Begin there, and please, don’t get too depressed about it. Many hands make light work.
I gained perspective on the work that I’m doing, on myself. My happy, loving, wonderful self. I loved myself, I felt beautiful in sweaters and jeans, no make up and messy hair. I felt like myself, I felt that others could see the beauty resonating within me, and I realized I had done the work for them to see it.
There are ways we can love ourselves, cultivate our inner self, tap in to our spirit to feel grounded, at home and complete. Because it’s true: We can’t help others before helping ourselves. In a world that is constantly changing, one that is begging for positive change and influence, it can all start within me, within you. This may all seem a bit hippy dippy, but then I ask you, Are you happy? Why not? What do you want? What will make you happy? If you don’t know the answer to those questions (which most of the time I don’t even know myself) then it’s time to turn off the radio, to check out of social media, to stop distracting yourself and look inward.
Love and admiration, utmost respect.