By Suma Varughese
We can shrug off the onus of keeping the giant economy of the world going. Stop thinking it is your sacred task to shop, and that without it you will be creating a recession. If we create a recession, let there be a recession, but for heaven’s sake stop sustaining a way of life that is destroying the Planet. Also, free yourself of the exhausting ritual of making more and more in order to spend more and more.
I have been talking a lot recently about the need to lead a holistic life. So what do I mean by that term? Leading a holistic life means to operate consistently from the Truth that we are One, and therefore interconnected. And who is this We? Every atom of Existence, including the lowliest clod of mud trampled by cattle on their way to the grazing grounds.
Knowing that we are connected means that we need to remember that our thoughts, words and actions have consequences not just for us, but also for others. And that the thoughts, and feelings of others impact us in the same way. Being connected dissolves the illusion fostered by the separatist worldview that nothing affects anything, and all of Existence lives in separate and impenetrable bubbles.
As they say, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Samoa can lead to a typhoon in Taiwan. Therefore, we need to consciously think, speak and act in ways that benefit the whole, because in that lies our own benefit. Why so? Because what we do to another, we are actually doing to ourselves. How this happens is that we ourselves will be affected by the shift in the Collective Consciousness that occurs due to our actions. Thus if I steal, deceive or betray another, I reduce the trust and goodness levels in the Collective Consciousness, which means karmically, I am setting up myself to be stolen from or betrayed. In the world of Oneness, there is no other.
Can you see how this relates instantly to our environmental crisis? For so many decades, we humans thought we could conquer and destroy Mother Nature, eradicate forests, drive hundreds of species to extinction, and there would be no consequences to pay. So blind was this complacency that we actually put poison in the soil growing our food in the form of chemical manures and pesticides, assuming with unbelievable naivete that we could get away with it. And now, we are learning that the poison has even entered mother’s milk, compromising the health of our most fragile and vulnerable section – our babies! Well, I am not going to push my point, lest I launch into a harangue. Let’s recognize, though, that each time we act selfishly, we are digging our own grave.
So, given that none of us are sages and we have a long way to go before we become one, how feasible is it to always think, speak or act for the larger good? Not at all easy, but at least the first thing to know is that being ethical is not just a question of moral hygiene, it is a practical necessity. If we can understand that much, we can start working on ourselves and gradually increase in awareness until it becomes easier for us to control our greed or impulses, and with that develop a greater capacity to act in ways that benefit all of us, and not only ourselves or a narrow minority to which we belong.
Unfortunately, all of us are so cemented into this present aggressively separatist mode that it is very difficult to pull ourselves out of it. So we do it step by step.
We begin, of course, with small things. Plastic bags, for one, are something all of us can learn to do without or use minimally. We can also reduce our use of plastic utensils, storage containers, or trays. Prefer natural over synthetic when it comes to fabric or any household good. Stay as low-tech as you can possibly manage. I don’t own a washing machine or a microwave (got to say I regretted not buying a washing machine after the maids were not allowed to come to our homes and I had to wash all my clothes on my own!).
Being holistic will also demand that we look for more holistic detergents, tooth pastes and shampoos. It also calls for us to free ourselves from the use of private cars (very painful), and return to either public transport or bicycles. And while you are at it, consider reducing air travel in order to minimize your carbon footprints.
We can also shrug off the onus of keeping the giant economy of the world going. Stop thinking it is your sacred task to shop, and that without it you will be creating a recession. If we create a recession, let there be a recession, but for heaven’s sake stop sustaining a way of life that is destroying the Planet. Throw to the dogs the heinous notion that we must spend and not save. Rubbish. We are not born to be slaves to the economy. As in the old days, shop only for what you need, though an occasional indulgence is ok, and save the rest of your money. When you have made enough to live independent of your job, leave the job and find something more satisfying to do. Free yourself of the exhausting ritual of making more and more in order to spend more and more.
Stop or reduce your dependence on packaged products including food stuff. Alas, the entire food industry is sustained by packaging, but none of these are in our best interests, because of the amount of chemicals that have gone into preserving these packaged goods. As in the old days, make your snacks, pickles and papads at home, or buy from housewives who may be running tiny cottage industries. At least their food will be wholesome, and unlikely to be adulterated with preservatives. Turning vegetarian or vegan is also in the interests of the Planet because it takes less effort and pasturage to grow vegetables than food for cattle.
Subscribe to the three Rs: Reduce, recycle, and re-use. Don’t worry. We are Indians. Thrift is part of our very DNA. We still squeeze every bit out of the toothpaste before throwing away the tube, we still sell old bottles and newspapers to the raddiwala, we still repair our shoes and slippers endless times before confining them to the dustbin, and we still use our old T-shirts as swabbing cloths. It won’t be that difficult to return to our old ways now that we know that this is the only way to save our Planet.
Nature’s self-sustaining cycles are an example on how we should progress. Nature wastes nothing. Dead leaves and branches become manure for growth. All life forms return to the soil, which in turn is the womb from which fresh life emerges. Water vapor from the sea condenses to form life-giving rains. Nature is a consummate guru. Let us study her to find our way forward.
As you can see, almost every one of the ways forward is painful and calls for us to give up a lifestyle that we have grown used to and cherish. But what should we do if our ladder has been standing on the wrong wall all this while? Should we continue the climb because going down is painful, or should we start the climb down because the more we climb up, the more painful is the descent?
Thinking only of the generation coming ahead and all the other species that have suffered through no fault of our own, let us choose to rewind through this false progress of ours and return to saner ways.
A few points may give us courage to make this return journey. One is, we were never meant to lead sedentary lives. The human body was meant to be used vigorously. Only through that will we preserve our health, not just of the body but of the mind and emotions too. Maybe that will give us the will we need to return to a life of fewer possessions and more hard work.
Secondly, we were never meant to be mere consumers and producers of goods. We are meant for higher purposes, such as serving Life, contributing our gifts and talents for the good of all, growing as human beings until we attain Enlightenment.
Thirdly, moving away from a consumerist society will enable us to question what progress actually means. Is it only about more and more money, or should it be about social justice and equity, health for all and happiness too? What about the arts and sports? Bhutan is the only country that has gone in for Gross National Happiness and not Gross National Production. We too can get off the economic bandwagon and look for more holistic parameters to define progress.
Fourthly, once we stop getting our kicks out of possessions and sensory pleasures, we will find where happiness really lies, in the simple and small joys of life. It lies in an integrated way of life that damages nothing and nobody (have you any idea how much stress you have been carrying about the lack of safety of the water, air and soil we use?), in our improved health now that we are eating organic food and breathing purer air, in community joys, in art and creativity, and in cultivating one’s personal growth. A simpler life may appear bleak, but it may actually have far more depth than we can presently imagine.
And finally, can you see that our present lockdown has actually been a dress rehearsal for what may lie ahead?
Suma Varughese is the founder facilitator of the Zen of Good Writing course and former editor of Life Positive and Society magazines. A passionate visionary, her focus is on helping to bring about a holistic way of life.