What is at the heart of saving the planet?
Do we live in the most disastrous age of all time, or is it just our focus on today’s world that makes it seem that way? It remains to be seen. But from climate change to economic disparity, mass migration to a global pandemic, we do, no doubt, face many pressing issues.
We need to look for material solutions to the world’s problems. Material solutions will only take effect, however, if people make some fundamental changes in themselves—changes which we might call “spiritual” in nature.
Simply put, spirituality in the way to which I refer to it, pertains to the things that are not physical, but are within us. Spirituality is that domain where psychology shuts its doors, that thing that religion circles around but sometimes smothers. If anyone has ever wept at the sight of injustice or felt their spine tingle at the sight of beauty, then they have had a spiritual experience.
So, how does spirituality come into making the world a better place?
Well, looking at the environmental catastrophe we are facing, we need to stop producing so much CO2 and other harmful gases. To do this, we need to drive less, fly less, buy less, use less. Many of us know this. But knowing this in the head, frankly, doesn’t cut it.
No. This knowledge has to penetrate our beings so that it elicits a response deep down in our conscience—in the “soul.” When this happens, a person’s actions will be guided by his or her vision for a better planet because it will come from deep within.
Without an inner shift, we will continue to produce copious amounts of carbon and bring about more environmental destruction unless our governments legislate otherwise. But we can’t wait for that to happen.
We need to make changes now. And to transition into creating a cleaner planet means earnestly seeing the need for it and earnestly wanting it from deep within.
To make a lasting shift, a sense of selflessness is required.
Often, we are driven by the ego, and the ego wants to protect and promote its own needs and wants. But to act selflessly is to ignore these egocentric attachments—to place our concern on the “other,” the environment, humanity, and animals ahead of our own egocentric desires.
Saving the planet entails a sacrifice. If we want to preserve what we have left of our home, we need to sacrifice our carbon-centric habits.
However, this “sacrifice” ought not be what we think of when facing what is needed to preserve our planet.
We are often focused on how we might be forced to give up something we don’t want to without reaping a reward, but we must recognize that this thought pattern is simply incorrect. In fact, our renunciation of the things that we desire that are destroying our planet is repaid tenfold. By giving up our conveniences and indulgences, we are safeguarding the future of the world and all its living creatures—including us. We are giving up the lesser for the greater—sacrifice.
What this probably turns out to look like is something a lot like minimalism—just spiritually upgraded.
The minimalist movement is growing in popularity but is not always motivated by altruistic intentions.
People can downsize to save money for themselves, to declutter their homes and heads, but often the desire to downsize does not originate from a desire to save the planet. But if one does set out to accomplish this end, they may end up leading the same life as a minimalist.
But what exactly does sacrifice or minimalism have to do with spirituality?
Well, for someone to give up their most cherished pleasures and comforts, there probably has to be something deep inside of them pressing them to do so.
Many of us may have had the experience of trying to give something up, whether it be smoking, junk food, or binge-watching. Often, the change doesn’t hold because our heart wasn’t in it. Perhaps we didn’t have a deep thirst within for something more meaningful.
True sacrifice then is an act of devotion to something higher. In terms of the planet, spiritual sacrifice might look like letting go of a certain level of comfort and convenience because of our reverence for all life, both present and future.
This sense of sacrifice also requires discipline.
Just as a monk must renounce the things of the world before entering the monastic life, we too need to give up many of the indulgences that stand in the way of our devotion to mother Earth.
The monk must choose who he wishes to worship—his pastimes and pleasures, or the Divine—and we, too, must make this choice. Are we devoted solely to the fleeting pleasures of the moment or to the well-being of the world and all it contains?
I’m not promoting some kind of asceticism. I think it’s fine to enjoy the beauties and benefits of the world, but only so much as they do not stand in the way of our deeper purpose and our core values.
Spirituality is not only taking away that which holds us back; it helps us build what is of most value.
In all the spiritual traditions of the world, we see an emphasis on the development of one’s most noble qualities. When these qualities are developed, our actions are guided by them. We choose and do what is most noble instead of just sheepishly following our every whim and mindlessly trying to satiate every passing pleasure.
Perhaps because of our sense of justice and determination, we join that environmental action group picking up fetid trash from the muddy riverbank. And this action further deepens the soul’s resolve. The work of bettering the world itself waters the soil of the soul and purifies it of ego by helping and giving to others. Through working to protect the environment, we overcome the ego that wants everything for itself.
For world-saving solutions to be deep and lasting, the enactment of these solutions has to be a manifestation of the soul itself.
Sure, policies and consequences are essential crutches to help us both wean ourselves off carbon-carrying cravings and balance economic disparities, but it is also a transformation of the heart that must occur. When that happens, change will be more achievable and lasting.