Nature, God, and styrofoam

My sweetie and I met two recent Buddhist acquaintances at a “fast world-food” place last night for dinner, just before the start of their meditation meeting. By way of getting to know one another better, one of our new friends turned to me and asked, “So what goes on in that PhD brain of yours?”

Forking my luau pork with rhumbi rice and beans, I found myself replying about my spiritual practices, especially my early morning meditation ritual of lying in bed relaxing and contemplating dreams.

“Do you learn anything from watching your dreams?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. I explained how watching dreams over the course of a couple of decades has alerted me to some inexplicable connection between the inner and outer worlds. It’s as if dreams are a gateway not just to my own subconscious but also to the everyday world I share with others—the noisy world of humans, with our endless chatter and communication, and also the quieter world of rocks, magnolias, and mountain lions. “Watching my dreams is one of the routes I’ve followed to contacting nature,” I said. “It helped lead me to viewing all of nature as imbued with mind.”

“Are you a panpsychist?” he asked.

“Why, yes, I am,” I said, delighted to meet someone who actually knows the word. In my experience, there are a lot of panpsychists out there—people who think Descartes with his mind-is-separate-from-matter doctrine got it all wrong but who don’t have a word for their own deep feelings of connection with nature and their conviction that we need to credit nature with more intelligence than we’re used to doing. “Nondualists” and “animists” are terms also used to describe such folks in my biz, the scholarly world of religious and spirituality studies. Most likely such folks merely think of themselves as “nature lovers.”

The conversation continued, deep and satisfying as the foods we were consuming. At the end of the meal I got up to find a doggy bag for leftovers and was dismayed to discover the only one offered at this restaurant is Styrofoam. I try to remember to smuggle an old Styrofoam food box into a restaurant whenever I eat out, but last night I’d forgotten.

I was spooning up my leftovers and grumbling at myself for forgetting when our new friend observed, “You’re flagellating yourself.”

“Why, yes, I am,” I said again.

“Because Styrofoam is against nature, and nature is God,” he grinned.

His simplicity was compelling. I stood up and gave him a hug. “You got it!” I said.

I still have trouble believing a city as progressive as Boulder allows restaurants to peddle Styrofoam. A few progressive establishments offer cardboard doggy bags, but the bulk of restaurants, in a town where people eat out as eagerly as they supported Obama, offer only those pernicious plastic containers that will outlast us all by a few million years. Styrofoam, or polystyrene, languishes in landfills taking up space instead of composting, like nature intends all things to compost, in order to feed the following generations.

Not to mention the rest of the health hazards—from producing, using, and destroying the stuff—that have been well known for decades. Styrofoam is truly against nature.


One Response to Nature, God, and styrofoam

  1. Gail Storey says:December 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Priscilla, this is one of my favorites of your posts, and I have many! I especially loved your explanation of the commonality in the terms panpsychist, nondualist, and animist. Here’s a Styrofoam story: when Porter and were married 23 years ago, friends gave us hundreds of Styrofoam cups imprinted with our names, a popular wedding gift at the time. I don’t even know how to dispose of them, hundreds of cups in a landfill labeled “Porter and Gail”?