As a young woman of 19 years, I joined Friends of the Earth in Manchester in 1989 as joint Rainforest Group Coordinator. We had all the research about the link between the timber products on sale in our stores and the cutting down of the Forests. We were passionate, young, and had big dreams. It was an exciting and hopeful time, the first ever Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was held in 1992, when i graduated in Environmental Management. This lead to the adoption of Agenda 21, a wide-ranging blueprint for action to achieve sustainable development worldwide. You can never forget it, if you felt it.
“Working for the earth is not a way to get rich; it’s a way to be rich.” Paul Hawkin 2010.
I remember this now, because i want to acknowledge that people’s all around the world throughout time, way before the 1990’s, understood that our lives are held within a natural system, and their cultures reflected this fundamental knowledge. It is common sense. Thanks to so many people and experiences of places, this sense of life transformed from a seed into an organisation.
For the last 2 years Circle of Life Rediscovery has been hosting Salvatore Gencarelle – teacher and author of ‘A man among the helpers’. After listening to a recording of him speaking with Jon Young some 3 years ago, my interest was peaked and I ordered his book.
This story shares his own personal journey from being a young man of 15 years old who has an unexplainable experience (some would call a Vision), which led to him living in South Dakota with the Lakota people. Here he apprenticed for 17 years to Godfrey Chipps, an extraordinary healer, from the Woptura family lineage. He entered a paradigm that was both new and as old as the land itself. This kind of education was not handed to Sal on a plate, he had to learn by doing. Mentored through an unbroken lineage, to understanding how to help people to be healthy and happy. This knowledge has been preserved against all odds.
In our organisation, we have made a commitment to move people to a mature and respectful relationship to the natural world. This notion of maturity is significant. In my mind, the elder is peaceful (not passive), generous (not selfish), wise (not ignorant) and through experience is willing to share their knowledge and vitality to support the wider community. The young, are playful, see what is in front of them, but not beyond, are in their bodies, initially self-absorbed. Until, with the right support, they understand that the world does not only revolve around them. At this point the development can move from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’ and can make a huge difference to their community.
A mature person knows that the world does not revolve around them. He/she has a bird’s eye view of what is happening. They know that the earth and all the species are not only in service to humans, but vital to the health of everything. From experience of life, we begin to see that we are in fact a huge family – currently dysfunctional, but a family non the less. Our survival (and happiness) relies on healthy relationships to other families. The ‘nucleur’ family model has focused our attention and love on our immediate family, to the exclusion of any other living being. We protect who we love, who we have a relationship with – forgetting that the rest of life, enables that protection, health and happiness. We compete for a piece of love in our relationships, as if there was a limit to love. Perhaps as part of our development towards maturity, and indicator would be the capacity to feel love?
” The process of fulfilling our wants and needs is stripping the earth of its biotic capacity to produce life; a climactic burst of consumption by a single species is overwhelming the skies, earth, waters and fauna. Every living system on Earth is in decline. ” Paul Hawkin 1993.
Can we create systems – of education, energy, government, corporation that does not destroy, directly or indirectly the world around us? I think we can, if we want to. Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. I have sought role models from all walks of life. I understand that to have maximum influence everybody has a part to play. Yet as humans we need all our parts switched on (literally neurologically), our mind, body, emotion and spirit. Ray Anderson, CEO of a billion dollar carpeting industry felt it. This video is at the beginning of his journey. As one of the ‘mountain climbers’, his company’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 82% and are on target to reach zero level by 2020.
Through Sal’s teaching, I am beginning to see that for me to be effective and mature, I need to develop among many other things, the capacity to understand the niches of individuals and species, what each person or species brings to the web. To understand that humans are the great creators and caretakers, insects the great pollinators, for example. Each human has the capacity and choice to bring forward their piece of creation.
The planet has a very clear set of operating instructions – lets call that Natural Law. We need to collaborate, share expertise to create the conditions that are conducive to life. To have an education system, that mirrors what we know about healthy child development. An education that includes both an experiential immersion in nature, alongside a broad-based understanding of the environment. Encourage creativity and innovation, so that our children can come up with solutions that derive from connection not disconnection.
I have sat in meetings with key stakeholders of environmental organisations and charities, and concluded that we would be more effective if we shared a common vision, rather than our individual missions. It was once mooted that we would make more change if we could use technology and celebrity to be the voices of this vision – if they really felt it.
Last week, i was send a You tube video of Richard Williams, better known by his stage name Prince Ea, an American rapper and activist. I think like Ray Anderson, he felt it. We are approaching a Tipping point. Thanks to the ‘early adopters’, the ones that have not given up, the people who are on this journey. Our ancestors. When this applies to all our society, and all our governments, we would be winning, but not complacent.
We are never powerless. Never victims. Let’s have humility and bring forward the bit we can offer.