(This article is dedicated to my friends and colleagues working tirelessly to make this world a better place. May you respond to the crises of our world from a place of deep love.)
Environmentalism, sustainability, being green – they don’t matter. Not only that, but they are actually a part of the environmental crisis that we are facing on the planet. In fact, they are just as much a part of the problem as the multinational corporations producing coal-fired power plants, toxic chemicals, deforestation and social upheaval.
By the way, this is coming from someone who has had a strong environmental ethic his whole life and who dedicated six years of his career working on the cutting edge of the environmental and sustainability movements.
I say this not because I believe environmentalists are bad people or because I’m disillusioned by or in denial of the continued decline of all the earth’s major ecosystems. I say this because after being at the forefront of this movement for over six years, I realized that we were operating from the same paradigm as those we were trying to change. The biggest mistake we made is that we were actually trying to preserve the current system that is destroying our biosphere. We simply used the euphemism “change” to refer to preserving the current system. Can you imagine? We could not accept the undeniable truth that the system could not be fixed – that this system has to die for any real change to occur.
Why could we not accept this obvious truth that stared us in the face every day – the truth that jumped up and down and said “Hey, look over here! Here I am!” ? (And let me tell you, we were a brilliant bunch by most standards.) Because to accept that the system has to die means that we have to allow certain very cherished ideas to die – ideas like things always get better; my children will have a better life than I did; I will leave a legacy for future generations; all I’ve worked for will be “worth it” in the end; I will retire in comfort; I will make the world a better place along with many other dearly held notions.
Most fundamentally, to accept that the entire system in which we live is terminally ill, we are also faced with the reality that we too have to die. Consciously or not, we are confronted with our own mortality not as some vague, distant event, but as an immediate reality. This shakes the very foundation of our worldview, and, for most people, it’s just too damn scary. So, we go on holding our meetings, talking about how to “crack the code,” how to make change and how to get “the non-believers” to convert. But we ourselves aren’t willing to face the deepest problem at the root of everything – attachment to our closely held beliefs, worldview and identity.
The fundamental shift that will lead to a sustainable society (if indeed we ever create one) is a shift in consciousness, not simply a shift in political agendas, policies, financial instruments, carbon markets, and the other million ideas to put an organic chicken in every pot and a hybrid car in every driveway. The state of the world and the collective consciousness dance with and inform one another. It is a two-way dynamic, and at some point, the next stage in our outer evolution will require a major shift in our inner evolution. All the dreams, all the plans, all the hopes, all the anxieties – we must let them all go. We must allow the idea of who we are to dissolve and drop into what feels like an abyss – an abyss of confusion, meaninglessness and fear. If we are brave enough to take this leap and move through this territory, we eventually come to a sense of freedom and clarity that is indescribably beautiful. It’s a perspective that simultaneously accepts the difficulty and pain of the situation and yet isn’t afraid of it. Somehow, love, compassion and even playfulness arise. We know deeply that all is well, and yet we also acknowledge and respond to the suffering of the world.
If we admit that we are facing a major inevitable crisis, what really matters, if anything? I would offer that how we do what we do is much more important than the tangible results of our actions. The focus shifts from what we are doing to the quality of being that is manifesting in our actions. We begin to be less attached to the outcomes of our efforts and more focused of the quality of our presence while performing them. This shift to focus on our state of being, paradoxically makes our actions more effective. We tap into a deeper wisdom within us that somehow knows the most appropriate action to take in a given situation. We no longer cling to a fixed idea of how the world should be, and we begin to open more consciously to life’s flow and innate intelligence.
So, how should we respond to the environmental crisis of our planet? I’m not advocating that we all buy gas guzzling cars and start spraying aerosol cans into the air because “the world is coming to an end.” I do think we will experience in a major “correction” in human civilization in the near future, but I don’t think that means we should just say, “screw it,” and party until that day comes. Neither, however, should we lose ourselves in a frenzy of activity trying to prevent the collapse from coming. Paradoxically, slowing down and doing less may be our most powerful response.
Consider Mother Teresa. Her focus was not to eradicate poverty all over the world. Her focus was to care for, be with and love the person right in front of her in each moment. She and her nuns emphasized the quality of their response to an immense suffering, not only the tangible outcome of the situation and whether poverty would ever be eradicated once and for all. They accepted that it would likely be a part of the human situation for a long time to come, and yet they chose to respond to this situation with love. Their impact has been massive both in the number of people they have helped, but even more in the way they have profoundly inspired and transformed people around the world. This is true power. This is the kind of power that the environmental sustainability movement desperately needs.
I believe a more helpful response than the current war-like paradigm is to look within, to face our attachments to our fixed ideas about how the world “should be,” and to begin letting these notions go. Once we have established a connection with our center, our inner stillness, we simply act from this place – a place of integrity. When connected to our center, we genuinely want to help others, but do so from a much different place than when we have an agenda. It’s not done to win the fight and is not motivated by fear. Instead, it begins from a place of genuine acceptance of how things are and focuses on the love, kindness and consciousness that are generated through our efforts regardless of the results. We consciously become part of the dance of life. This is real change, real transformation.
What to do next? Try doing less and loving more. Try meditation or just slowing down. Consider what might change in your life if you stopped fighting to preserve or modify the current system. What beauty might lie beyond the world as we’ve come to know it? Keep asking these questions in a place of inner stillness and see what happens. You’ll be amazed at what you find. A true rebellion is at hand, and it starts with you.