Always Well Within

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Why Honolulu Made Me Depressed



Dwarfed by the thunderous roar of the elevated freeway, I felt an urge to jump on a return flight. A busy metropolis, Honolulu instantly overwhelmed me with its overcrowded, unending expanse of concrete and construction juxtaposed against an innocent sky, sea, and smattering of proud peaks.  Houses, stacked one just above and behind the other, tightly lined every hillside.  High risers dotted the stuffed lowlands.

“Little Boxes” – The 1963 Pete Seeger hit – played in my head:

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”
-Malvina Reynolds

But now, it’s ever more toxic ticky tacky and they don’t all look just the same.  Unlike the Daly City, California sprawl,which inspired “Little Boxes”, many Honolulu homes are large, unique, and upscale.

Trapped in minutely moving traffic, I wondered,  “What did this island look like 100 years ago?”  Coming from the Big Island of Hawai’i, I could easily imagine a tropical green expanse.  Is this human progress or human travesty?

Density is the nature of large cities.  I’ve enjoyed living in San Francisco and have spent long stretches of time on the magical isle of Manhattan.  Why was it bothering me now?  In fact, city living is said to be more ecologically conscious.

Nevertheless, my heart hurt for the the land.

In this moment, Honolulu embodied – in my mind – the danger of short-term thinking, self-interest, greed, and ignorance.  Like the blob from outer space, humans seem intent on possessing every inch of beautiful earth no matter how harmful their impact.

Although Honolulu has it’s unique and charming characteristics too, a frightening panorama of unsustainable living had captured my heart and mind.

Perfect People, Perfect Fruit

After snaking through the city for an interminable length of time, we headed out of Honolulu up around the southern tip of the island catching only fleeting moments of spacious relief before more home-packed valleys and hillsides appeared.  We intended to take refuge at Lanikai Beach, on the windward coast of Oahu.  Consistently rated as one of the top beaches in the world, this white strip of sand, we discovered, runs adjacent to a neighborhood of tightly crammed upper class homes.  Even on the beach, everyone looked so perfect, pretty, and wrinkle-free.

Lanikai Beach, Oahu
Lanikai Beach, Oahu

Following our dose of sun, wind, and water, we stopped for lunch at Whole Foods, a gigantic natural foods super market.  A vast array of unblemished fruit and vegetables, gourmet meats and cheese, premier wines, and packaged goods lined an incalculable number of isles, promising to satisfy any culinary proclivity or possible taste desire.  Given my mood, the sheer abundance struck me as gluttonous.

Our return route took us through a tunnel conveniently carved through a small mountain, theoretically making access to Honolulu quick and easy.  But, the horrendous amount of traffic limited movement once again to a snail’s pace as we traveled past more rows of “little boxes”.  Ironically, the lion’s share of my time in paradise was spent in traffic.

What is Sustainability?

I didn’t have a chance to travel around the whole island of Oahu, and can only wonder if there is any green, open space to be found.  This visit to the big city shook me up, making me question whether the world is on a sustainable path.

What is sustainability?  Simply said, it’s not consuming more than our total resources can provide.  It means not just taking into account one’s own needs, but the needs of the world, and the needs of the future.   It’s logical, common sense.  Yet our everyday desires and actions seem to constantly override the need for sustainable living, threatening our very survival.

Sustainable development requires that we see the world as a system in which our actions impact one another, near and far, through space and time.

“Modern science speaks to us of an extraordinary range of interrelations. Ecologists know that a tree burning in the Amazon rain forest alters in some way the air breathed by a citizen of Paris, and that the trembling of a butterfly’s wing in Yucantán affects the life of a fern in the Hebrides.” – The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Our Actions Have An Impact

A spiritual person doesn’t think of their own benefit alone or go for immediate gratification.  They have a vast vision for the world at large.  They think beyond this life alone, considering the impact of their thoughts, words, and actions in every sphere, and on people everywhere.

Taking responsibility for our actions lies at the core of spirituality as well as the ecology of the planet.

Sometimes I wonder if we can ever repay our sins against the earth, the sky, and the seas.  But, even if the whole world is unconscious, isn’t it our personal responsibility to do our best and act with integrity?

The organizers of Earth Day 2013 tells us:

“The environment faces a multitude of challenges today. From climate change to species extinction, our planet and its inhabitants are continually facing man-made threats that must be averted. Lend your voice to a campaign, and help us work toward a sustainable future.”

Here are some steps you can take if you too are concerned about the future of this planet:

You don’t have to be a perfect environmentalist.  Just start with one step.  Then take the next.  Let’s see how far we can go together.

What are your thoughts about Earth Day?  Are you taking any special steps toward a more sustainable future?

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. “Read about the environmental challenges we face, and how to respond to them with mindfulness and awareness”

    Thank you for this thoughtful post Sandra. Being aware and mindful of our feelings for the environment are the subject of today’s post at Zen Presence.

  2. You’re welcome, Dan. Awareness is at the core, isn’t it!

  3. Hi Sandra,

    I must confess that I wasn’t always that concerned about the environment. As a youngster, the earth seemed to be big enough to function without my help.

    As I matured, had a family and began to pay more attention to my own health and well-being, I’ve learned the connection between sustaining the earth and sustaining me.

    Without making it a campaign, I’ve begun to eat healthier, work at reducing clutter (on and offline), recycling and reducing my consumption of things that would do damage to the earth and me.

    As I researched for my own post for Earth Day, I was especially pleased to see that I’m doing many of the things recommended, especially in my buying habits and car/home maintenance.

    • Hi Flora,

      I love the title of your post for Earth Day! The reality of the Earth was so different when we were young, but even then the signs were beginning to take place.

      I love your approach to a greener life: taking it easy and one step at a time. But all those steps do add up. It’s exciting to see that you are doing many of the things recommended, and you did so without a lot of tension or stress. Now that’s a fabulous approach to happiness and ecology too.

      • Yeah, so true, Flora. With age seems to come responsibility. I think it’s related to when you start to realize that you actually do share this planet with others you care about that you start to take the broader view.

  4. jean sampson

    I am encouraged by what Flora wrote because we can all make a few new practices everyday habits. I am also eating well and the biggest thing for me is that I live near most places that I go everyday and can walk a lot, leave the car sitting in front of the house. I drive to a store or to the art center several times a week, maybe get gas once a month and that is only for a half tank. I am very lucky that my life allows this—–I know folks who have to fill their tanks every few days. One friend has to commute to her job an hour and a half almost every day. I hope that those of us who are lucky enough to be able to walk or bike most places will help balance the ones who really HAVE to drive a lot.
    The other thing that is happening in my yard is a neighborhood garden! it is quite exciting and we have several expert gardeners (I am NOT one of them!) in the neighborhood!
    Happy Earth Day, Sandra!

    • Thank you, Jean! Happy Earth Day to you, too! I like what you said here because I think it’s really important to recognize that it’s not necessarily easy to be green. Our jobs create certain commute demands, like you point out. Life tends to be complex. But hopefully we can compensate in other ways. I’m not a perfect environmentalist either but I try to do my part by composting, gardening, and in other ways. How fantastic you will have a neighborhood garden! I hope you enjoy. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Sandra, I had a similar experience of being overwhelmed and saddened by out right gluttony. A few weekends ago, I went to one of those “Pampered Chef” parties only because a good friend was hosting it.

    While I really did not mean to judge or make assumptions, I found the whole thing distasteful. The recipes were unhealthy food cooked in the microwave, with the importance being on “quick and convenient.” “What about healthy?” I wanted to ask, but didn’t.

    Then, to see these affluent women get excited about a new meat pounder had me asking myself “What about the chicken you are going to pound? Do you even think that it was a living being?”

    The casserole dishes, accessories, and pots were exhorbitantly expensive, but these women seemed to think nothing of plunking down good money for the stuff. I wondered what difference that money could make in the life of an impoverished person or how it could benefit a charity.

    While I do also have compassion for the women and know that they are just living their lives, doing the best that they can with who they are, the whole scene disgusted me. Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything, eat anything, or drink a cosmopolitans. (Bet, I won’t get invited again!)

    • Hi Debbie,

      I know exactly what you mean! I don’t mean to judge anyone. You are right, these women are just living their lives and they haven’t yet had the impetus to see the broader scope. It takes a lot of insight to hold the compassion and awareness of reality at the same time. I think you did extraordinarily well. I would be so out of place at a party like that. But, at the same time, people are people and often there’s a way to connect underneath all the superficial.

  6. Like others, I find myself more aware of the choices I make and their impact. Food choices, purchases, how much I drive, choices about greener utilities — all these things matter. And as a parent, I try to model good choices for my kids.

    I live in Portland, Oregon, which has been at the forefront of many sustainable practices. When people visit from other parts of the country, they are surprised by some of the practices embraced in our urban life.

    Thanks for keeping this topic in our awareness.


    First becoming enormously aware of yourself naturally flows onto becoming aware of everything and everyone around you – yes it is that simple!

  8. This is how I felt in Malibu. The place was SO beautiful, but so were the people – and the people were EVERYWHERE. I kept saying it seemed like the people were like ants, and that every square inch of the beautiful land had been claimed.

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