In April we celebrated Earth Day, an occasion that generates renewed focus on the great need to be mindful and loving stewards of this planet that sustains all life. Much of the focus translates into myriad initiatives to clean up our polluted environment, and those initiatives are noble, worthy and essential. There are countless programs and activities that need our attention and support, and we are called to step up and provide them.
I honor these programs and initiatives, and the visionary people who lead and participate in them. I also honor the simple acts of courage, discipline and mindfulness each of us choose in the day-to-day living of our lives. From volunteering to clean up a local steam to buying organic fruit, from avidly recycling to marching peacefully in Washington to end global warming, from using cold water in our washing machines to composting – every choice we make for life and health is a choice that counts, and it is worthy of our celebration. And thanks to the valiant effort of so many passionate environmentalists, more days each year are becoming “Earth Days” as more people become enlightened to the wisdom of caring for our environment. Our outer environment, that is.
But what about our inner environment, the one we create and live within 24 hours of every day? Are we becoming enlightened to the wisdom of caring for that as well? I’d like to think that we are, but believe passionately that more attention is needed here. There is simply no way to have “too clean” an inner environment! And what I mean by a clean inner environment is a peaceful and open mind, a loving heart and a healthy, thriving soul. Can we truly accomplish anything of lasting significance in our outer environment without acting from a life-affirming inner environment? I don’t think we can.
As I write this the immortal and oft-quoted words of Gandhi spring immediately to mind: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” What an eloquent and powerful expression of the truth that all change originates from within, from our very state of being. In the absence of shifting our internal state from judgment and chaos to peace and harmony, we may take actions to “fix” things outside of us but those actions will lack the sustaining power of love. Even as those actions generate temporary and visible results, the invisible energy of judgment behind them perpetuates the very state of consciousness that gives rise to the imbalances we are seeking to fix to begin with.
This concept can be difficult to grasp, but it is so profound – and so profoundly important – that any effort we make to understand and integrate it is a worthy one. Here is an excerpt from Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling book, A New Earth, which speaks to the relationship between our inner state of being and our outer results:
“Let’s say that you are a businessperson and after two years of intense stress and strain you finally manage to come out with a product or service that sells well and makes money. Success? In conventional terms, yes. In reality, you spent two years polluting your body as well as the earth with negative energy, made yourself and those around you miserable, and affected many others you never even met. The unconscious assumption behind all such action is that the end justifies the means. But the end and the means are one. And if the means did not contribute to human happiness, neither will the end. The outcome, which is inseparable from the actions that led to it, is already contaminated by those actions and so will create further unhappiness.” (pp. 270-271)
In this example the businessperson is seeking to fix a problem in the outer environment: the perceived need for greater sales. His inner environment is one of stress and struggle, a feeling of “having to” come up with a best-seller. That inner state promotes an unbalanced preoccupation with developing the product, generating ill health and strained relationships. So even with the so-called success of the product, there are still problems to “fix” – the challenges of regaining physical health and restoring harmony in personal relationships. And so the cycle will continue until the realization emerges that life-giving and sustainable results can flow only from a peaceful and life-affirming center.
Although not directly related to environmentalism, perhaps, this dynamic can be seen in the larger example of animal rights activism. I have a love for animals so deep that I can’t even put it into words; I want them to be treated with respect and to live full, healthy and peace-filled lives. There are many animal rights organizations who want those same things. And yet the way some of them go about achieving that vision is often completely at odds with the vision itself. They have turned those who do not share the same views into the enemy, and from that internal stance of anger and blame have resorted to desperate and sometimes violent actions that can do nothing but perpetuate defensiveness and hostility. They seem to believe that the end justifies the means, but as Eckhart so eloquently states, the end and the means are one. Throwing fake blood on a fur coat, for example, does not promote the openness, respect and trust that are essential to a whole and lasting solution.
Another way to look at this is by considering intention: if, in my fervor to protect animals, my intention is to educate, to communicate and to restore balance and harmony, then my ideas and actions will flow from that place and will not create further division. But if my intention is to make you wrong, then my actions will be infused with the energy of judgment, and that energy will give rise to defensive actions that will generate even more cause for judgment. It is an endless cycle that can only be transcended by my willingness to shift my focus from all the wrongdoers “out there” to the state of being “in here.” If I am in conflict within myself, I perpetuate a consciousness of conflict.
In reality most of us harbor both kinds of intention, and so our actions are muddied and our results are inconsistent. Yet the willingness to ask, “What is my real intention here?” creates an unparalleled opening for transformation, an opportunity to come into alignment with our highest and best selves.
But let’s be up front about this: it is immensely challenging to look within and be willing to acknowledge the fear, chaos and judgment that live there. It is perhaps an even greater challenge to refrain from acting from that place, especially in a culture that values action and immediacy above reflection and restraint. This process takes great courage and the deepest level of compassion we can extend to ourselves. (After all, we don’t want to create even more inner conflict by judging our judgment!)
To be honest, I find it almost impossible to feel anything but outrage towards those who would hurt or kill an innocent animal, but I know that if I act when I’m feeling outraged, I step outside the very innocence I am seeking to protect. My task becomes one of acknowledging that outrage without acting on it, and seeking always the higher ground of acceptance, compassion and insight. My task is to clean up my inner environment so that I am truly empowered to clean up the outer one.
I hope you will join me. Let’s create an enlightened form of environmentalism that recognizes the primary need for inner peace as a foundation for outer action. We can suspend judgment in favor of curiosity, and choose to inform and inspire rather than blame. We can seek out safe and healing outlets for our frustration, hatred, outrage and despair. We can focus on what is possible rather than dwelling on what is wrong. We can practice compassion.
We can create a whole new day for celebration: Inner Peace Day. I think Mother Earth would be glad to share her special day with us for this worthy cause. Then again, why not make every day Inner Peace Day? I say, let’s go for it. Let’s become “inner environmentalists,” willing to clean up our polluted thinking and toxic fears. Let’s declare peace within, and open ourselves to a new world of inspired action.
Copyright © 2010 Suzanne E. Eder