Spin and the Gulf Oil Spill

It’s time, says Zen teacher Ian Prattis, to examine our minds, consumption patterns, and personal culpability in the BP oil disaster. “Guidelines are necessary,” he contends, and here he provides them by way of the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

It is no surprise to discover that BP deliberately underestimated the amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from its destroyed Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Any surprise is due to the powerful PR arm of not only BP, but also of Haliburton and TransOcean – its partners in this ill fated venture. Their spin has not, however, fooled the stock market, as the share values of these corporate giants have plummeted down. Yet BP ads touting their environmental sensitivity continue and can no longer be taken seriously by any thinking person. But do people actually think? Or do they prefer to be caught in a whirlwind of spin from business, government and other stakeholders in an environmental disaster the like of which the US has never before encountered. Not only are ocean ecosystems and wetlands at risk, vital economic sectors – fishing, tourism and real estate – are now at risk in all Gulf states. And that includes Florida. The tons of toxic oil dispersants used to break up the surface oil slick has by now settled on the ocean floor. There, it contaminates the oceanic ecosystem. Not only are fish, marine mammals and other wildlife being killed – the industries their harvest supported are also being killed.

The US administration’s threats to put its foot on BP’s throat and even take over the operation to halt the oil flow into the Gulf is further spin and quite ludicrous. The federal agencies with a stake in offshore drilling permits and environmental protection are scrambling to deflect their culpability and “cozyness” with oil giants. Further pointless spin, particularly, as the US federal government does not have the technology or the expertise to cap the oil spill. If the US administration was truly serious, why do they not freeze the financial assets of the three corporations in order to foot the cleanup bill?

CNN, FOX and other media have their own spin doctors to amplify the volume – so spin becomes a norm for everyone. How do we get off this mad carousel? We must stop, locate ourselves in the present moment, pause, and make different choices – examining our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the creation of such a huge disaster. Guidelines are necessary. They can be found in the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – particularly the Fifth Training about mindful consumption. Here it is:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or any other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in such a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

It takes us right back to what we do with our minds. I apply this to walking meditation, taught to students and friends who come to Pine Gate Meditation Hall, where I have the privilege of being the resident Zen teacher. When we concentrate on our breath and focus in slow walking, we have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body and be present. When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice designed for our times. We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe. We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – we make a contract with Mother Earth to walk more lightly and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint. All from walking with awareness. Our conscious breath coordinates our steps and we notice how our feet touch the earth. The energy of wellbeing that arises from this practice is stronger than our habit energies and mental afflictions. And so the latter falls away. The insight and clarity that also arises guides us in the direction of what to do. Nobody requires a lecture from me about that. We know what to do. We know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. Begin it now, for the future is not some way ahead – it is shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

Ian Prattis is Zen teacher in residence at Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa and author of Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.

See also:

Thich Nhat Hanh — A Spotlight of his best teachings from the Shambhala Sun

Our July 2010 issue, featuring an all-new interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as a feature profile by the Sun’s Andrea Miller.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Reader comment via Facebook:
    Vivian Tisevich writes:
    This is a very good article with many good ideas. One additional consumption idea, that is very hard for us all to put in place, is to drive slower. 60 mph uses less gas than 70 and 50 uses less than driving 60.

    Using less gas saves us money, but it does mean we have to give ourselves more time to get where we need to be. And it requires us to … See Moreslow down internally and not need the feeling of 'speed', the feeling we need to keep up with other drivers.

    That actually gives a benefit of actually noticing what I am driving by. And I wonder how the ego is involved. When we are racing to get somewhere, is it b/c we are so important and have so many important things to do?

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