I just read Michael Pollan’s amazing article in Sunday’s NYT. *

It’s a long article, mostly devoted to challenging what he calls the “cheap-energy mind”, and what Starhawk has called the politics of disconnection. Briefly, they are both talking about the tendency in our culture to seek answers outside of ourselves to the problems we create.

Most Witches embrace some version of the charge of the Goddess, which says “And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”

Pollan is basically saying this with less poetry and more facts. His point is that we cannot expect to change the world without changing our lives, and that many of the mechanisms for “going green” – buying carbon offsets or “green” gear, giving to environmental organizations, voting for “green” candidates – are fundamentally external solutions. We’re waiting for someone else to fix the problem of our consumption.

He offers up a frightening challenge: to make one change in each of our lives that does not involve giving, shopping or voting, and that reduces our impact on the planet.

His three wonderful suggestions:
– give up eating meat
– observe the Sabbath: take one day a week in which you do not drive, do not shop and do not use electronics
– plant a garden to produce some of your own food

I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood and the garden project is complicated by the fact that my current house is on the market and I can’t move into the new place until the end of August.

But the notion of a Sabbath, that vibrated right through me. It thrilled and scared and angered me. Who could possibly do that? I thought, and then quickly thought of several people I know who do. I could never do that, I thought. I have too much to do. But do I? What do I really do with my time? And the big question: what would I do with an entire day of no car, no money and no electricity? How would I get through a day without my laptop?

I’d go for a walk. I’d read. I might do some chores I’ve been putting because they’re boring, like painting the porch. I’d play with my kids. I’d spend time with my partner. Maybe have sex. Eat some good food. Maybe I would do yoga, or ride my bike to the gym and work out? Find some space to do my sitting meditation and spiritual practice?

Turns out there are a lot of things I often tell myself I don’t have time for that do not require driving or spending or looking at a screen. Things I would like to do. Things I think would make my life richer and more joyful.

I immediately started wondering how seriously I would have to take this. Like, no electronics can’t include my laptop if I use it just to write or read the newspaper, right? I could make an exception for electronic music, couldn’t I? What about children’s toys that require power? Surely I could at least use my iPod?

Apparently I am terrified of being bored. The thought makes me squirm. Wow, this is powerful stuff. And as Starhawk says, where there’s fear, there is power.

Far from being ready to dive into observing a weekly Sabbath, I’m wondering if I can do it once. If for one day I can not spend, not consume. I’m shocked at how frightening that concept is; observing my responses is teaching me a lot about how entrenched I am in systems I often think myself distant from – the culture of materialism, of conspicuous consumption, of rushing. This Sabbath, a day without driving, spending or electronics, would never happen by accident in my life. Can I bring it about with intention?

I’ll do it once, see how it goes, and consider trying it again. I’ve long learned the lesson that the most valuable activism is the sustainable act. I’m a vegetarian. I always have been, I probably always will be. I’ve periodically tried to “go vegan”, and I can’t sustain it. I get hungry and cranky and whacked – it’s not Right Action for me. It may be that this notion of a Sabbath is like that, something I don’t have the will or means to sustain over time.

But there’s enough power, enough fear, tied up in my response to it that I think I must try. Maybe a life with a weekly Sabbath is not how I want to live, but I’m planning a visit.

*There are few public figures of any stripe (authors, activists, politicians, pop stars, etc) that I admire as deeply and universally as I do Michael Pollan. Every time I encounter him writing or speaking I find his words thoughtful and wise. I want more people like him in my world, and I want to be more like him. I only realized he’d written this article after I read it, but I’d found it powerful and inspiring without the need for name recognition.