It is so very, very easy to get lost in despair about the state of our world. Those of us who are passionately in love with the natural environment can become overwhelmed and hopeless or alternatively very angry as we witness the great upheavals of change and loss that are occurring on earth today. Often these changes also bring with them new waves of human suffering. Global warming, pollution, deforestation and extinctions are all increasing and the effects are seen and heard with increasing intensity in the lives of those who care to notice.
I am one of those people who feel most at home while out in nature. It doesn’t really matter what sort of environment. I love being in the sea, walking through the arid landscape of Central Australia or watching birds deep in the forest. I feel most peaceful and alive when I am surrounded by rocks, plants and water. I feel safe, connected and filled with joy when I am alone in a wild landscape.
My time of suffering with the world
In the past my wellbeing has been profoundly affected by environmental change. I have felt devastated and enraged by the clear-felling of forests. I have felt despair at the shrinking numbers of much-loved animals and the pollution of rivers and the sea. I have followed the emerging evidence of climate change with a heavy heart and a sense of hopelessness.
I have reacted to this environmental change in many different ways over the course of my adult life. My first response, in my 20’s, was to work harder and learn more. I embarked on a demanding five-year double-degree course in Science and Law in order to become an environmental advocate. During this time I also became very angry about what I saw as environmental catastrophe and I turned to activism. I joined a small and committed group of protesters and became determined to take direct action and to fight environmental damage. I learned about and immersed myself in the world of political, social and legal struggle for environmental protection. The issue that held my attention at that time was the destruction of the tropical forests in Borneo and the dispossession of its indigenous peoples. It was a huge issue in my mind and one that I seemed to have little ability to change. And yet was my focus for years.
I discovered early on that I wasn’t cut out for front-line activism, even in the relative safety of Australia. There were others that were more angry, more highly motivated and more confidently assertive than me. After my first few years of intense focus on this particular issue I also learned about failure. I learned about the strength of the companies that were driving environmental and social change and the government support that was behind them. I learned about the weaknesses of legal and political systems. I discovered that I was not well adapted to be an eco-warrior. Not only was I sensitive to environmental change but I was also sensitive to human suffering. I connected with the suffering of those affected by the logging of tropical forests and I also connected to the suffering of my friends who were protesting alongside me. The intensity of it all started to overwhelm me.
My reaction to the emotional intensity and lack of any “success” as an activist was to fall back into working harder and learning more. I moved interstate to start a career as a lawyer only to find the work boring and horrifying in equal measure. I opted for the safer environment of academia instead. I taught environmental law, I focused on environmental politics and I started a PhD on biodiversity conservation. I was determined to use my mind to find a way through. I spent the next fifteen years determined to think my way towards solutions to species loss and environmental degradation. I came up with what I thought were some good ideas for legal and social change but I didn’t find relief from my own suffering. Instead, I experienced a slow emotional breakdown. My intellectual and practical achievements were shadowed by a chaotic personal life and a growing self-loathing and despair. I sank into emotional neediness and confusion.
A life change that opened new doors
I dropped out of being a “greeny,” an academic and a politically active person when I finally finished my PhD. By then I also had a child and another followed soon after. I left an intellectually demanding job as a university lecturer to take up an emotionally and physically demanding job as a full-time parent. My world was shaken up and turned on its head. In the 10 years since my retirement from my professional career I have been unlearning most of what I learned in the first 40. My world view has changed completely. It was not just having children and being a stay-at-home parent that brought about this change, although they were significant factors. Dropping my focus on activism, politics and law opened new doors. It opened the way for spiritual inquiry and exploration.
As a mother with two young children I spent hours sitting in the park and the backyard watching and playing with my children. I walked more slowly. I thought about things a lot less. The challenges I faced were emotional, physical and spiritual rather than intellectual. I found myself drawn to spiritual exploration as both an interest and a necessity for my own sanity. This exploration took me right back to my roots as a lover of nature. And it allowed me to perceive the environment around me from a new perspective.
My spiritual search was one of rediscovery of long-forgotten knowings. What it reclaimed for me most powerfully was the experience of Oneness. It opened up a gradual shift in identity. I no longer see myself as an isolated individual in an environment that is separate from me. I know myself as a focal point in a field of conscious energy. Instead of experiencing myself as “I am this person” I have a strong sense of I AM. I am aware Beingness, Presence; an aspect of the energy of Life.
This changes everything. There is no longer an environment “out there” that is being destroyed or harmed. There is no longer any “out there” out there. What I am seeing in my world is aspects of myself.
My spiritual inquiry also took me deep into my own suffering. It insisted that I take responsibility for all of it; that I notice how my thoughts about my circumstances create my reality, not the circumstances themselves. I challenged my own long-held identity as a victim. I was drawn to question my belief that bad things had and would continue to happen to me. I investigated and questioned everything I had come to know about myself and the world. I made inner peace and my own happiness my top priority. I continue to do this every day.
I can see now that my young-adult focus on environmental damage and human suffering had been a mirror for my own suffering and capacity for self-harm. The continuing environmental collapse was as inevitable as my own eventual emotional breakdown.
A new reality
I see a different reality now. I see a world that is fizzing with opportunity and possibilities. One filled with inspiration and creative ideas for an exciting future. I am joining my children in a place where the virtual, fictional and “real” worlds merge and dance together; where reality is fluid and malleable. I now know with certainty that the best thing I can do for the Earth is to be happy and follow my bliss; to be guided by what brings me joy. This comes from a deep inner knowing and my own lived experience. The more I trust this knowing, the better my world becomes.
A large part of what brings me joy is sharing what I have learned on this spiritual journey so that more people can let go of their attachment to suffering and experience peace and joy in their lives. I get excited about helping others dissolve the stressful, limiting beliefs that bring suffering into their lives. I also get excited about continuing to unlearn my old worldview and see new perspectives and opportunities. I love to hear about great ideas and projects that care for and rejuvenate the natural environment, support human wellbeing and make sustainability a reality. I see people all around me lovingly caring for animals, plants and people and exploring innovative new ways for humans to live in and relate to the world around them.
Environmental destruction and human suffering has not disappeared from my view. I still see it in my peripheral vision. It serves as a reminder of what I don’t want. It remains there in my awareness to act as a catalyst; to urge me onwards towards a deeper experience of my truth. My truth is a reality where psychological suffering is optional and always created by me. It is a reality where the more I love myself and see myself as worthy of the very best care, the more I see the natural environment around me renewing itself and flourishing in beautiful and surprising ways. My focus is on knowing my true self and the experience of creativity, joy and inspired solutions that comes from this knowing. This is a new way of life and a new kind of activism. This is an exciting time of great change and awakening. I would love you to know this and to trust that all is well.