As the winter months approach, at least one “Christmas” gathering will be on my schedule. As this holiday has been co-opted by consumerism as evidenced by my memory of the throngs of sales and shoppers in large shopping centers to get “the perfect gift,” I wonder how to give the perfect gift to Mother Earth simultaneously. At the December meeting of my local chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the members passed out a list of gift ideas for a “low-impact” season. Some of the items on the list include or have inspired the following:
Gift Coupons for Services – cleaning out a garage, taking care of someone’s kids for the day, a home-cooked meal for a family, showing someone how to set up composting, teaching someone to knit.
Memberships/Lessons – Yoga classes from a studio, membership to a museum or a gym, art lessons, music lessons.
Gift Basket of Sustainability-Minded Products for Cleaning/Bath
Donations in Honor of Someone
I am sure many of us are already creative in our gift giving. So hopefully you will all comment and share your low-impact gift traditions. For those of us who haven’t quite transitioned or have never fully thought of pursuing this course of action, there can be some resistance encountered in those who receive low-impact gifts.
When family members and friends are expecting their faces to light up with some desired item not on your list of low-impact gifts, they might not understand the creativity, effort, love, gratitude, cost, and spiritual healing behind what they receive. Often, communication is a part of these gifts to help them transform any misconceptions. The idea for many of the items on the list is to give people something they will actually need and introduce local, sustainably produced products. Other gifts can help get people out of the house and doing something different, giving them the gift of free time, helping with life’s tasks, or passing down knowledge. What gift can foster a relationship and potentially change someone’s life?
Every time an item is bought off the shelves or racks of a supercenter, our purchase signals to big companies there is an empty space needing to be re-filled. And everything we purchase takes something from the earth. If I buy an extra pair of shoes, I have to consider the impact of those shoes on the earth. Is it really worth it for me to have another pair of shoes? I want my family members to light up with happiness, but I also want to help preserve the earth where they live so that they can continue/begin to have a (more) healthy, sustainable earth-home. This can be a particularly fruitful time for discussions with children. I do not have children, but this is part of a story I have written to read to the children I tutor. It is entitled All that I See Comes from the Earth.
Cleo was a little kid who lived in the forest with her big sister and mothers. For many years, every day was an adventure. Cleo would wake up and eat breakfast. Then, she would take her knapsack and go off into the forest to spend all day walking alone along the rivers and studying plants. When Cleo got hungry, she would find a big tree to have a picnic near and read a book she brought. One morning, as Cleo was about to go out the door for exploring, her older sister stopped her. “Today is different Cleo. Today is your first day of school.” [. . .]
The story goes on to tell how Cleo attends school and makes lots of friends, many who have more than she does. Cleo is impressed with the big houses she plays in after school and especially one friend’s closet full of basketball shoes – eight pairs!
[. . .] Before long, Cleo started to notice that she had a smaller house than her best friends and no basketball shoes. During dinner one night, Cleo asked one of her moms, “Why don’t I have more things?” “What kind of things,” Mother asked. Cleo thought about it. “Blue basketball shoes kind of things,” Cleo said. Cleo’s other mom then asked if Cleo’s current shoes were too tight. “No,” said Cleo. “They still fit.” [. . .] Why couldn’t her family just understand? Cleo yelled and ran to her bedroom. “We are POOR! I HATE being POOR.” Those beautiful blue shoes would help her jump higher. They would make all her clothes look so fresh. Cleo would do ANYTHING to have blue basketball shoes. [. . .]
Cleo’s Mother takes Cleo on an evening walk in the forest. During this walk, they meet a talking tree.
[. . .] Suddenly, something behind them whispered, “Hellooo.” Mother and Cleo leapt high into the sky because they were so surprised. Slowly, they turned around and saw that a TREE was TALKING to them. “Cleo,” the tree said, “did you know it took TEN trees to build your house?” Cleo looked at the tree that spoke. It was actually one of her favorite trees. This tree had long branches for climbing and thick green leaves that changed to orange and red in the fall. If it took TEN trees to build her SMALL house, how many trees did it take to build Ryland’s HUGE house? “So what are shoes made of?” Cleo asked. The tree answered, “Well, the bottom of your shoes are made of rubber, which comes from the inside of a rubber tree.” Cleo thought about how much rubber would be needed to make one pair of shoes. Then she thought about how many people in the entire WORLD also wore shoes. That must be a lot of rubber for not only the NEEDS but the WANTS. [. . .]
Cleo, Mother, and the tree continue to have a conversation about the impact of their purchases. By the time Cleo arrives in her bed at night, she has come to the conclusion that she doesn’t need new shoes yet and says a prayer to the Earth.
My prayer is that I can be more mindful and courageous this year than I was last year. I hope to more lovingly communicate my reasons.
Click here for the complete list of ideas (though it is geared toward Oklahoma).
LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.