No Impact Man's Advice for Making a Difference
Lately, I've been giving a lot of talks and answering a lot of questions and, often times, people ask how they can help. This is a wonderful question, but waiting for someone else to answer it is not quite as wonderful.
Let me say why. The other day, one woman raised her hand and said she was a second-grade teacher and that she wanted to teach her kids about recycling. What should I do, she asked?
This brings to mind a wonderful Zen story from a book called Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Zen Master Seung Sahn:
When Dae Ju first came to Zen Master Ma-jo, the master asked, "What do you want from me?"
Dae Ju said, "I want you to teach me the Dharma [the Truth]."
"What a fool you are!" said Ma-jo. "You have the greatest treasure in the world within you, and yet you go around asking other people for help. What good is this? I have nothing to give you."
Dae Ju bowed and said, "Please, Master, tell me what this treasure is."
Ma-jo said, "Where is your question coming from? This is your treasure. It is precisely what is making you ask this question at this very moment. Everything is stored in this precious treasure-house of yours. It is there at your disposal, you can use it as you wish, nothing is lacking. You are the master of everything. Why, then, are you running away from yourself and seeking for things outside?"
When I started the No Impact experiment, many people said it was crazy. But no one seemed to be able to give me any other good ideas about how I could really help when it came to the climate emergency. Deep inside me was this big question, "How can I help?"
Since no one had a good answer for me, finally, I had to rely on what Ma-jo called my "treasure-house"—the very same thing (whatever it is) that caused me to ask the question, "How can I help?" I had to give up asking questions about whether I could really help or not and whether I would do it right. I had to stop checking.
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I had to trust my "treasure-house."
To put it in more Christian terms, I had to have faith that the Kingdom of God was within me.
To put it in Nike's terms, I had to "Just do it!"
And so I started No Impact, even though some people said it was crazy.
It is because we don't trust ourselves that we follow other people's directions. Further, one could argue that it is because we have all been following other people's directions that we are in the middle of our joint crises of climate and quality of life.
So when the second-grade teacher asks me what she can do to teach recycling to her students, I tell her to trust the place her question comes from and just do it. There is a saying I love: "Follow your situation." That means, since you know your situation better than anyone else, you are the best qualified to figure out how to help within it.
In my situation, I know no other way than to trust myself. In your situation, I know no other way than to trust you. I hope you will trust you, too. If you're wondering how you can help, just follow your situation. Trust your treasure-house. The Kingdom of God is within you. Just do it!
Colin Beavan and his family spent a year trying to live in New York City without causing negative environmental impact. That experiment is the subject of his book No Impact Man and an accompanying documentary of the same name. Beavan blogs and suggests follow-up actions at NoImpactProject.org.
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