Updated: Jan 30, 2022
~ by David Inglis, February 2022
The multiplex of world problems that keep us awake at night are what social scientists call “wicked problems.” They are wickedly hard to solve because they have multiple causes, high-impact symptoms and competing solutions. They are framed in opposing ways by people holding different world views. They are embedded in cultural institutions, value systems, and norms that resist change. No one is responsible for them, yet most people reinforce them.
We can learn quite a lot about what creates global warming, why so many species are going extinct, how racism became institutionalized, what fuels our deep cultural divisions, and how democracies can give way to autocracies or oligarchies. We might even envision what a better world would look like. But when we try to figure out what we can do to avert the looming disasters that we have learned so much about, we are stymied. No wonder most of us are haunted by angst, despondency, powerlessness, cynicism, numbness, or even despair.
Someone asked climate activist Bill McKibben, "What's the most important thing for me to do as an individual?" McKibben answered, "Stop being an individual."
Let that reverberate for a moment.
I think Bill McKibben was putting his finger directly on the shift we need to make – as individuals, as a society, and as human civilization itself. Albert Einstein said, “The world we have made… creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them.” We can begin evolving out of our multiplex of problems when we stop seeing ourselves primarily as separate individuals pursuing our own wants and needs, and move up from a "me first" orientation to a "we first" orientation.
To help you do that, I invite you to open your awareness to a higher, wider sense of who you are.
Feel the weight of your body sitting in your chair. Feel the sensations of your breathing. Every atom in your body was created by the explosion of a supernova, which fused hydrogen and helium into the heavier elements and spewed them into space, where gravity coalesced them into our planet. (You are older than you look!) Before these atoms could become your body, they formed molecules that became rocks, water, and air, and eventually, mysteriously, sprang to life. This life has evolved into an enormous variety of forms, including your human body. Every molecule of your muscles, bones, brain, and blood were once soil, rain, or air (or the chemicals humans put into them), becoming food that was transformed by over 100 trillion bacteria in your digestive tract into the 724 trillion cells of your body, and giving you energy to perceive, learn, imagine, make choices, create, and ponder the magnificent mystery of it all.
So who are you as an “individual”? Where is the line between yourself and nature? And where is the line between your life and the astoundingly creative process of life that is gradually evolving into higher levels of complexity, interdependence, and consciousness (often spurred by major crises)? You are part of the astonishing story of our planet becoming aware of its 4.5 billion-year-old story, and aware that we humans have become major drivers of its future course.
As Thich Nhat Hanh taught, we are not just beings. We are inter-beings. We are each and all interwoven into one vast, intricate, evolving community of life that shares one planet and one future. We are not alone. We are all-one. As my colleague Mary Gleason eloquently put it, "We are even beyond radically interconnected… rather we are all of a piece. And that piece, that earth system, functions as one whole breathing body shining in multiple hues that gift the whole in multiple, beautiful ways."
What might it look like for us to retain your uniqueness as an individual, while living in a way that reflects the reality that we are part of the One?
Following the Haudenosaunee people indigenous to this region, we might begin each day with gratitude for the wondrous gift of life, sustained by the sun, water, wind, trees, plants, animals, and people with which we are inter-beings. This Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address helps us find our rightful place in the web of life, with “the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.”
Living in balance and harmony requires us to learn how our purchases, consumption, and waste poison pollinators and other insects, deplete our soil, destroy the habitats of endangered species, fill the digestive systems of marine animals with plastic, contaminate our water, pollute minority communities, increase greenhouse gasses, or jeopardize the health of workers in the supply chain. Rather than being paralyzed by guilt and anxiety, we can tap into our love and concern for the earth and its inhabitants and take one doable step at a time towards restoring and protecting the web of life. We can lobby our suppliers to provide better choices for consumers. And we can become trendsetters for earth-sustaining choices in our social groups. If we take this approach, we will find that it’s natural, fulfilling, and connecting to actively care for who and what we love.
Beyond daily lifestyle choices, each of us can make a life purpose choice. Rather than prioritizing our own comfort, convenience, security, and wealth, we can creatively, courageously, compassionately offer our very selves – our time, energy and gifts – to the service of the highest good of the whole.
When we look at the world’s problems in their complexity and vastness, it's hard to see the difference our individual actions could make. But as Hawken states in his new book Regeneration, "It's not your job to save the planet." Rather, we can think, speak, act, and contribute with the awareness that we and the earth are all one. When we do this, both Individually and collectively, we help create a new template for living that can be replicated on any level, in any place. This is how we help evolve our society out of our crises.
Even though offering our gifts can feel deeply personal, this is not about a lone hero trying to save the world. We need the sustenance, support, guidance, inspiration, and yes, corrections of others who are also in service to the whole. For example, I experience deep satisfaction from writing from my heart and soul in the service of personal and cultural evolution, as I am doing here. But my writing always improves when others offer their perspectives, ideas, insights, and corrections. This piece grew out of a dynamic email conversation with the other members of the Pachamama Alliance of the Rochester Area, my tribe of kindred spirits. Their input has become part of this blog piece.
It is sometimes said in Pachamama circles, “Whatever the problem, community is the answer.” Why is working in community with other culture changers so important? A stick of wood removed from a blazing fire goes out. But when it is returned to others in the fire, it quickly re-ignites. To keep the inner fire alive, we need companions who share the vision of a whole, interconnected world and a desire to help create it. Our world’s crises can feel overwhelming, so we need to support each other when pain, angst, and discouragement threaten to take us out of the game. Individual effectiveness is multiplied when combined with the actions of others. And being part of a network helps us see and experience that we are part of a growing movement that is gaining strength all over the planet. Community offers the experience of active hope – not passively wishing for a better future, but actively working together to help bring that future into being now.
This active hope is the spirit of an inspiring prayer of intention for 2022 by David Spangler, a co-founder of the Findhorn Community in northern Scotland. He wrote it as a personal prayer, in the first person singular. Our group wanted me to share this with you in the first person plural, so that we might add the combined energy of our collective voices to its compelling aspiration.
May we appreciate each day the presence of love in our world.
May our actions increase this presence.
May we appreciate each day the value of our lives and our power to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
May we act with this power.
May we appreciate each day the wonder of the world and all its life.
May our actions serve the wellbeing of this life.
May we appreciate each day Humanity’s efforts to unfold a global awareness that brings peace and nurture to the Earth.
May our actions support this unfoldment.
May the Light of our Souls be present to us each day, and through us, to all whom we meet.
May we make each day a chalice to hold and share the blessings seeking to manifest in our world.
May we make each day a seed of Hope.
May we live into this prayer, not alone, but as all-one.
If this blog piece resonates with you and you feel called to help create a more sustainable, just, and fulfilling world, grounded in interconnectedness, you are welcome to explore the Pachamama Alliance of the Rochester Area (PARA) as a community of mutual support. We meet on the third Wednesday evening of the month to inspire and support each other in our emerging intentions and projects, and to create new points of collaboration and connection. To find out more, email Dave Inglis, Sue Staropoli, or Tim McGowan.