This week, world leaders are meeting at the UN Global Assembly and as part of New York Climate Week. And Monday also saw the autumn equinox and the International Day of Peace. Will they achieve anything this time? I hope so.
We are so far away from peace right now. As individuals, communities and a global village, life feels more frantic than ever. We are in the middle of a pandemic and we don’t have a fix. We are on the brink of the worst recession in decades, if not centuries. Racism is rearing its ugly head at pace and scale. Protest is being stifled. Poverty is growing. Exploitation. We are a species in stress. And we seem to be running from one crisis to another. One worry to the next. Busy, busy, busy. Struggling to slow down and enjoy the moment. Reacting. Rather than knowing what we want and intentionally moving towards it. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed. But it doesn’t have to. After all, if we want to live in a peaceful, compassionate world where we can relax, pursue our dreams and enjoy our short time on Earth, we can start with ourselves, right?
As I take a moment to pause and reflect, I realise that for the last twenty years I have been on a personal quest to find my way to purposeful living in the world. It wasn’t intentional. Things just felt wrong and my part in that wrong made me hugely uncomfortable. Now I look back, I realise that I was intuitively reacting to how our society treats individuals, communities and the Earth. I could see and feel the imbalance in our priorities and our actions. I wanted to find a way to be part of righting the wrongs I could see.
So, as I pause and reflect, what I have learned? That I have made huge progress. But up to now, I have been focused on changing what’s ‘out there’. That I have believed that changing systems and other people’s behaviour is where I need to focus my time and energy. But now I know – until I truly become the change, I want to see then my contribution is a little hollow. So, it’s time to gather my confidence and step up to the next level. Learn to truly live on purpose so I am changing the world from the inside out. So, I have concluded that we need to change the way we think about change. Let me tell you why…
Our Earth Mother is struggling with our demands[i]. Our climate system is destabilising[ii] and the other species we share our home planet with are dying at alarming rates[iii]. More and more people live in poverty, misery and fear, whilst a tiny few get richer and more powerful[iv]. As a result, we can no longer accept status quo and wait for those vested interests to change. After all, as the HANDY study highlighted[v] back in 2014, civilisations have collapsed because:
- Human demands to supply resources and process waste exceeding nature’s ability to meet them.
- Big inequalities in wealth, which lead to
- The elites of a society not seeing the warning signs, therefore not acting in time.
So, I struggle to conclude anything other than that we have now ratcheted up the scale of our the problems that our model of civilisation causes, compared to the Mayans or the Romans, and face the same issues. Only this time on a global stage.
As a privileged, white British woman, I know I am part of the problem. Even though I work with business to inspire and challenge leaders to take action to tackle the climate crisis. I do my recycling, reduce my plastic consumption, cut down on meat and cycle/walk wherever possible. I sigh petitions, go on protests, give to charities and am renowned for my ability to tell people why we must change and what to do. But it’s not enough. None of it is enough, right now. As I sit here, whether we collectively smell the coffee in time, is a huge question. As is the likelihood of people like me, with nice, comfortable lives, stepping up to disturb the inertia that has us locked into this self-destructive path. And let’s be clear – this is not about saving the planet – she has been here and alive for billions of years. It’s about saving us and all we have accomplished in terms of art, science, philosophy and ingenuity. And, as a few spiritual commentators have suggested, I am beginning to see that what is needed is a shift in consciousness[vi]. A different way of seeing ourselves in the world. Getting a handle on what we have discovered in the last hundred years or so and what that truly means. How’s your quantum physics, Earth science or evolutionary biology?!
Coronavirus has shown us that nature is still in charge. That we are within the ‘laws of life[vii]’, no matter how clever we think we are and how much our technology has distanced us from them. I have realised that we can’t meet our own needs on our own – note my dismal efforts at growing food this year… And that most of the time we can’t even distinguish between what we need and what we want. We are disconnected from our bodies, our being and the amazing reality that we live within. We hide from this disconnection through consumption, on the promise that the next best thing will fill the void. Overeating. Obsessive exercise. Drinking a little too much. Binge watching TV. Compulsive shopping. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling on our phones. These are mine. Sound familiar?
Blaming others less fortunate than ourselves for the ill in the world and castigating those risking their lives to escape conflict, extreme poverty and a bleak future, does not mean we will avoid their fate. Rather, it is time to acknowledge that we are complicit in a system that has us on a hiding to nowhere and we are all at risk falling off the cliff. That our legacy will be one to be ashamed of. That we are creating a whole world of pain for our aging selves, let alone our children and grandchildren, who will have every right to be angry and averse to giving us the care and support we will need.
So, I conclude, that it’s time to take the red pill[viii] (and it appears reclaim the metaphor from the alt-right)[ix]. On this occasion, the truth is that change needs to happen from the inside out. It’s time to stop blaming others and unite so that we can preserve our ability to be part of this glorious life. In essence: to truly grow up. To learn to live on purpose and stop being prey to the insidious and enticing messages from society that all we need to do is focus on our own self interest and the market will sort everything else out. Reality couldn’t be further from the truth. We are one big community of life on this planet. The only community of life we know of in the Universe. And we are here for an amazingly short and glorious time. Realising this and relishing every moment; learning to love ourselves, other people, other species and the Earth herself is at the heart of overcoming the 21st century’s challenges.
So, as I return to my musings on the International Day of Peace, I am reminded of this quote from Vandana Shiva:
“We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.”
Which makes me shiver with a sense of the possibilities, responsibilities and the knowledge that our time is now. We have the power to make the changes we need to see. To restore peace within ourselves, our families, our communities and the Earth. We just need to believe it. Slow down. Learn to live on purpose. If we do, we can truly start to build a heaven on Earth, entirely of our own making.
[v] Montesharrei, S., et al (2014) Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies. Ecological Economics, v 101, pp90 – 102. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615.
[vii] Quinn, D (1995), Ishmael. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ishmael-Daniel-Quinn/dp/0613080939.