Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Tag: Thich Nhat Hanh (Page 2 of 2)

Change, the environmental crisis, and the average person

I dropped by Long’s Drugstore on Sunday – a rare event in my life – to pick up a few cartons of Epsom Salt for healing baths.

It was packed to the gills. Apparently, Sunday is the super-sales day.

In the States, Long’s – and her sister stores like Walmart, K-Mart, and CVS – offer one-stop shopping for all things toxic and plastic.

Waves of off-gassing fumes wafted through the air, emanating from the plastic products, their packaging, and the overload of people dipped in perfume and fragrance drenched personal care products.

When my long line finally inched me in front of the checkout counter, I noticed the last chance display of 4-dose packs of Alleve, Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, Pepcid AC, Benadryl, Claritin, and Alka-Seltzer Gold. At least they were packaged in paper, not plastic. Not that there are plenty of trees to spare. There’s really no excuse for unnecessary small-dose packets like this.

Why are all these really nice people buying all this really bad stuff?

The thing is all the people were really nice. The guy in front of me shared his friendly advice, “Oh yeah, you have to come on Sunday to get the sales.” The cashier could have won the award for Ms. Congeniality. In Hawai’i, “aloha spirit” prevails. But even outside of Hawai’i, most people in the world are nice.

I couldn’t help but wonder, “What are all these really nice people doing buying all this really bad stuff?” Besides trying to save money in these financially challenging times?

I couldn’t be mad at them. Like me and you, they just want to be happy and they don’t want to suffer – the prime motivator behind all our actions. And, they just think they really need this stuff.

The average person has no idea they are being poisoned

As my mind chewed away on the question at hand, two points became crystal clear to me:

1. The average person has no clue that they are being poisoned by environmental toxins. Nor do they realize they are in turn poisoning the planet and themselves by buying all this toxic, plastic, and/or chemicalized stuff.  Climate change is an abstract, faraway concept.

2. The average person doesn’t make the connection between the denatured food in their shopping cart (like packaged soups loaded with sodium and MSG) plus out-gassing poisons in the indoor and outdoor air and the need for all those headache, allergy, and stomach medications. All those pills and the “other ingredients” they contain have adverse side effects that feed into the cycle of ill health too. Goodness, even some anti-histamines get their start from oil.

It’s pretty well known that environmental toxins are one factor in the rise in allergies and chronic illness, but no one seems to be telling the masses. In case you don’t know, indoor pollution can be up to 10 times worse than outdoor pollution. In other words, being inside almost anywhere is not necessarily very healthy for you on the long run.

I use the word “average” simply to mean “typical” and “most of us.” It doesn’t imply any sense of better or worse, good or bad. A few years back, I was in exactly the same shoes as any average Joe or Jill – fairly oblivious to my personal environmental impact. I was probably more aware than many, but still far from green.

To be honest, in the face of all this “normal” toxic consumption, I felt disheartened for a moment.

You see, I rarely go to big stores so the experience can make a big impression on me.

How do we let the secret out of the bag?

I wondered,

  • How do you reach out and really touch the average person?
  • How do you let them know the environmental crisis is real?
  • Does blogging really make a difference at all? Is there a better way?
  • What’s the point of preaching to the converted anyway?
  • Are we really making a dent in the environmental crisis?
  • Even getting sick doesn’t seem to wake people up. What will?
  • How do we empower people?  Let them know what they do makes a difference?
  • In short, how can we make a real difference in this world of ours?

I left Long’s with more questions than answers. 

What do you think?  Do you have your own answers to these questions?  What gives you hope and encouragement?

In the meantime, “2010 is running neck-and-neck with 1998 as having the warmest first eight months of a year since the start of recordkeeping in 1880.” That means more Artic sea ice is melting. “…tens of thousands of walruses had flocked to shorelines because the sea ice they normally rely on this time of year was scarce.

And eminent Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh warns of an impending environmental catastophere unless we clean up the inner landscapes of our mind.

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much!  Sandra


A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology


When an eminent Buddhist master and human rights activist like Thich Nhat Hanh warns of impending environmental catastrophe, I sit up and take notice.

Thay – as he is affectionately called – is not alone among his peers with this urgent call to action. The Dalai Lama was the first to sign A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change.  Many other great Buddhist teachers have followed suit.

In no uncertain terms, Thay states,

“Without collective awakening the catastrophe will come,” he warns. “Civilizations have been destroyed many times and this civilization is no different. It can be destroyed.”

He believes that only an inner revolution and consequent change in our individual and collective behavior – not a technological one – will avert the potential disaster.

Inner pollution equals outer pollution

In Buddhism, the outer world is seen as a reflection of our inner world.  As long as our inner world – the mind – is polluted with turbulent emotions, our outer world will be filled with toxins too.  Our seemingly diverse emotional states can be boiled down to what is traditionally called the five poisons:

  • attachment and craving – “I want…”
  • aversion, anger, hatred – “I don’t want…”
  • jealousy and envy – “I wish I had…” or “I wish I was…”
  • pride – “I’m important, the center of the universe…”
  • ignorance – not recognizing our true nature

If we take an honest look inside, chances are we’ll find one or more of these emotions at the center stage of our life.

All our actions are driven by our thoughts and emotions, so naturally they impact our outer environment for better or worse. In addition, this constantly churning emotional fuel make us miserable, bringing a background sense of unhappiness and discontentment.  Almost like an itch, we’re never quite satisfied.

Even though we are good people at heart, most of us are plagued by emotional distress to some degree, on both gross and subtle levels.

In his recently published book, The World We Have – A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology, Thay says our current environmental problems are due to tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption:

“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.”

Thay believes that the world cannot be changed outside of ourselves. Instead, the answer is to look within and transform the fear, anger, and despair which we suppress with over-consumption.

Mindfulness is the antidote

Living consciously with mindfulness and awareness is the antidote to a world gone berserk.

Meditation is a powerful method for cultivating mindfulness, increasing awareness of self and others, and transforming difficult emotions.  The benefits of meditation are immense for both the mind and the body.

Another form of meditation is to water the seeds of joy by cultivating positive emotions as an antidote to negative ones.  For example,

Just like turning on a light in a dark room, when your mind and heart are occupied with love, there’s no space for anger and other harmful emotions.

Through looking inwardly, you discover your true self.  You come to realize that real happiness is only found within. A sense of interconnectedness and compassion naturally flows from a clearer mind and calmer heart.  Thus, the practice of mindfulness meditation leads to more responsible action for oneself and the planet.

Mindfulness doesn’t  preclude eco-activism.  It simply encourages activism born from a heart of love not one bitter with anger.  Thay cautions us to avoid separation and blame,

“The energy we need is not fear or anger, but the energy of understanding and compassion. There is no need to blame or condemn. Those who are destroying themselves, societies and the planet aren’t doing it intentionally. Their pain and loneliness are overwhelming and they want to escape. They need to be helped, not punished. Only understanding and compassion on a collective level can liberate us.”

Although Thay believes that it is possible to avert the ecological disaster that lies ahead, he accepts the possibility that our civilization may not endure.  This very act of letting go of our need to save the planet, he feels, is also an essential step towards doing so.

What do you think? Is cleaning up the inner environment of your mind just as important as taking steps to live green and reduce your oil consumption?

[The quotes in this article are from two interviews with Thich Nhat Hanh conducted by the UK Guardian newspaper.  I haven’t had a chance to read Thay’s book yet, so this article is not a review of the book, but simply reflections on points raised in the interviews.]

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If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks very much!  Sandra


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