do-gooding w/o grasping

How grateful I was when I read on Laura’s High Desert holiday post Edward Abbey’s advice to would-be monkey wrenchers and Earth defenders:

One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there.

So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.

Dying at 62, Abbey may have not outlived all the bastards of his day — but his writing certainly has.

His advice reminds me of the Buddhist teachings on non-attachment: doing right without being bound to any particular outcome. Of operating beyond our individual aversions and attractions.

To get all metaphysical on y’all:

Grasping at things can only yield one of two results:
Either the thing you are grasping at disappears, or you yourself disappear. It is only a matter of which occurs first.

It is this mindset that allows one to fight the “unwinnable” battles against race-, gender-, and class-oppression, environmental exploitation and destruction, wars of every stripe and stitch, and on and on, without faltering. Emotional detachment (not to be confused with numbness or indifference) and the celebration of the pleasures of the moment are what allow us to engage again and again those challenges that most likely won’t be reversed in our lifetimes.

One doesn’t fight for the syrupy taste of victory or the (addictive) muscle-binding anger of defeats. One fights because it is the right thing to do. For the same reason we smile and kiss and dance. Hard work, that.

Ultimately, there may be no bastards or saints in this game. When we’ve run the course a few hundred times, we may come to realize the greatest change we’ve made has been to ourselves: That this transformation has rippled outside our awareness, creating innumerable minor shifts beyond our understanding.

And that just may be the whole point of our resistance.

2 responses to “do-gooding w/o grasping

  1. this is a wonderful blog.
    how many of us lose the will because our battle does not have the expected outcome? sad that we cannot learn from that and keep going.
    it takes a lot of courage, this non-attachment.


  2. These words and thoughts of Edward Abbey’s and also Greg’s
    have been pretty much my feelings and path. Of course, I have been a practicing Buddhist and Abbey reader for years.
    Keep these thoughts coming for enlightenment.


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