Last weekend a group of Eco-activists, Buddhists & Buddhist Eco-activists convened for a three-day conference to discuss the intersection of "eco-dharma," sustainability, and "to look towards a future of spiritual communities that take the issue of the environment seriously."
But ... not TOO seriously.
Though the weekend had its share of horrifying statistics and policy discussions, a thread emerged about the importance of bringing joy, healthy passion and celebration into the work of being ecological and social justice activists.
This theme was most compellingly offered by Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man), founder of the No Impact Project who himself spent an entire year of his life attempting to live with "No Impact" on the environment. Of the revelations he shared from his year of freedom from consumption was the proposition that changing the quality of living in our society might not be to 'want less', but rather 'want differently,' and to use the energy of passion to connect with others rather than to "get more stuff" for ourselves.
John Crocket, a whale-lover and marine-life expert, shared his whale song adoration and the compassion he felt for marine life who are going extinct because their habitats are being destroyed. His deeply-toned voiced echoed the deep-sea world that he studies, a transmission itself of own his personal connection to nature.
Ven. Younge Khachab Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher living in Vermont, emphasized the importance of spending more time connecting with each other. "In general.." he said "Americans are very rich on the outside, but not so much on the inside...very isolated." His recommendation for overcoming this inner-isolation was humorously translated from Tibetan by Lama Willa Miller, the conference host -- "Rinpoche thinks we should have more parties," the room laughed in agreement.
(view from back porch of Wonderwell Retreat Center)
So what do parties, joy and passion have to do with saving the environment?
Well, nothing really, because there is no such thing as "the environment" to be saved. In an interdependent system, such as the one we inhabit, no single issue can be fully isolated from another. Personal well-being cannot be separated from the well-being of the environment, there is no "out there" to go and save. In short, we are the environment.
From this point of view, bringing happiness, contentment and well-being to the world, wherever we are, is just as vital as accomplishing target outcomes (which are VERY important too -- let me say it again, VERY important). This is part of "whole systems sustainability", which considers a balance between personal well-being, social justice, economic stability and environmental balance with equal concern. One dip too far on the see saw one way and the others will soon follow.
Jennifer White, a folk singer, sustainability coordinator and teacher of environmental studies at Colby college, underscored this point, speaking to the importance of bringing personal integrity into whole systems thinking. (She also sang some lovely tunes with her partner during our lunch break on Saturday)
This is the heart of "Eco-Dharma" -- to connect one's love of nature, of one's fellow humans, and one's love for future generations to our actions, which serves to naturally skew what we do in the direction of the "greater good."
So here is a call to get out there and take up your passion, in Mr. Beavan's words to "figure out who you are for the sake of the world." To "have parties" (mindful parties), connect with each other, and be fueled by your desire to connect to humans, animals, plants and whatever else it is you love.
You can start a transition town movement, a backyard garden, practice responsible consumption, start an interfaith eco-coalition, lobby for alternative fuel sources, Occupy Wall Street, and/or fail miserably at any of these. The view is that through this clear effort, solutions will emerge from YOUR experience, connections and intelligence, and that Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren will not have 99.9999% of the answers you need to lead a sustainable life (Though they'll have a lot of influence, so please do vote.)
So let's ditch the the 99% slogan. In these dire circumstances we must be the 100% -- not because it sounds better, but because all 100% of us are deeply intertwined. We have no choice about this, and to start from any other place will leave us missing the fundamental pieces of transformation.
Note: "Dharma" is a phrase used in Buddhism, which can have many meanings including "the laws of nature considered collectively", and "teachings of the Buddha" in relationship to these natural laws.
More notes from the conference available on Natural Wisdom blog.