There was a lovely blog on the Guardian from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh who has been visiting the UK about, he talked then, as he does throughout his life, on the importance of reconnecting to nature at depth that elludes many people today.
Our country, Wales, is leading many of the global discussions that have stemmed from the work of TEEB, The Economics of Ecoystems & Biodiversity, to put a value on the services that we take from nature, and the impact we create. Whilst this may represent a huge step forward compared to the largely externalised models of classical economics, it is nowhere near a big enough step, according to Thit Nhat Hanh, who comments : “I don’t think it will work…we need a real awakening, enlightenment, to change our way of thinking and seeing things.”
Rather than placing a price tag of our forests and coral reefs, Thay says change will happen on a fundamental level only if we fall back in love with the planet: “The Earth cannot be described either by the notion of matter or mind, which are just ideas, two faces of the same reality. That pine tree is not just matter as it possesses a sense of knowing. A dust particle is not just matter since each of its atoms has intelligence and is a living reality.
“We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love, to be at one. When you love someone you want to say I need you, I take refuge in you. You do anything for the benefit of the Earth and the Earth will do anything for your wellbeing.”
In the world of business, Thay gives the example of Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, who combined developing a successful business with the practice of mindfulness and compassion: “It’s possible to make money in a way that is not destructive, that promotes more social justice and more understanding and lessens the suffering that exists all around us,” says Thay.
Writing 2500 years ago, Confucius stated “only the man who knows the meaning of the word enough can ever be rich”. If we learned to apply Conficius’ insight, we might start to see new possibilities of rearranging this increasingly mad world, in ways that might include:
1. Secure the base of Maslow’s pyramid for resilience by creating locallly owned renewable generation and food production resources, and reduce waste in both areas to reduce demand.
2. Develop localised pension schemes that connect investmen directly to the benefit, rather than via the obtuse, ineffective mechanisms of the trading floor.
3. Support the creation of more relatively small businesses such as Chouinard’s Patagonia, which do not depend on ever-increasing quarterly returns to keen investors happy, and slow down our facination with ‘big business’
4. Build quality time in nature into every child’s education. Dirty knees, mud under fingernails, exuberance is OK for children, not dangerous.
5. Celebrate our childlike, naive ignorance, and recognise how little we understand about how to be part of nature, and learn from the 3.8bn years of trial and error that’s got us this far.
The combination of gentle awakening and the need for speed at which carbon reduction and biodiversity must happen can be daunting, and certainly is for me. As I pause writing this, from time to time, and watch a flock of starlings cartwheel across the blue sky in front of my window, I remember that the eithor-or perspective was never that helpful in the first place.