A few weeks ago we decided to go kayaking on Lake Minnetonka. For those of you not familiar with this member of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, it lies west of Minneapolis and is the center of the lake version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

A few weeks ago we decided to go kayaking on Lake Minnetonka. For those of you not familiar with this member of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, it lies west of Minneapolis and is the center of the lake version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Crowded with multimillion dollar homes and condos, its waters bustle with boats so large they really belong on the ocean, as well as every manner of upscale water toys. These oversized boats seem particularly out of place because, while the lake is fairly large in total surface area, it is divided into many small bays, and lobes such that you are never on a body of water that could be described as a ‘big’ lake.

We headed to one of the public water access points and paddled off into the lake. Immediately we noticed that the water quality was seriously compromised. Invasive species of water plants filled the lake and algae clumps floated everywhere. Each stroke of our paddles resulted in some bit of plant matter flying onto the deck of our kayaks, or, worse, into our hair or faces. Meanwhile we were also dodging the gigantic yachts who’s wake waves are so large that they are constantly eroding the shorelines of the mansions from which they come.

When we returned to the boat ramp, I commented to the guy who was checking boats that the water quality was pretty bad.

He said, “Oh this is good. In a couple of weeks when we get the algae blooms it will be solid green from here to that island (pointing to the island a few hundred yards from shore).” So I was not surprised when, a week later, on July 4, over 120 people became ill while swimming at one of the lake’s beaches.

I can think of no better image of our highly disordered relationship with the rest of the natural world than Lake Minnetonka. What does it reveal that million dollar homes sit next to an open cesspool? And what does it say that people in that home can ignore the cesspool and continue to think that they are living a ‘good life?’

Our materialistic lifestyle, and the economic system which drives it, proceeds apace while completely ignoring the effect it has on our world. Furthermore our minds are capable of suppressing our innate wisdom such that we can get on our giant boat, zoom through the algae and the E.coli that our septic systems and toys dump into the water, not see the waves that just destroyed the shoreline, get drunk with our friends and family and call it a good day. Multiply this spectacle by millions and you have the conditions for runaway climate change.

All spiritual traditions talk about the alienation of the human being as the fundamental problem facing the human race. We are alienated from ourselves, from each other, and from the rest of the universe which, depending on your tradition, can include God. This alienation, or primary ignorance, creates in us a delusion that we are separate selves, isolated entities that can be petty rulers of our small worlds. But this of course is nonsense.

The elements that make up my body have been part of billions of other bodies and at every moment we are exchanging matter, energy, thought and feeling with everyone and everything around us. This is the sense in which all of nature is a living, conscious, being, fully united, totally integrated. And this natural world speaks to us, tells us of the results of our actions and the consequences of our choices.

The very waters of Lake Minnetonka, and close to 50% of ALL the lakes in MN, are crying out, telling us of the sickness of our way of life and the deleterious effect that we are having on the planet that is our home. The trouble is, and again this is a basic teaching of the spiritual life, that if we listen, we must change. We must put away the boats, the toys, the oversized houses, and design a way of life that restores harmony and balance across the entire ecosystem.

Or we can party ourselves into oblivion. Our choice.

Wolpert is co-director of the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing (MICAH), located northeast of Crookston.