Why the world needs spiritual leadership to reverse climate change
We need leadership and guidance to act as one, as a global community, to effect climate change. But corporates and world governments alone cannot provide this. It will need spiritual leadership, that awakens and appeals to our higher selves, the ‘connected’ self that sees us not as superior beings but part of creation, the responsible self that recognizes we not only need to take care of other human beings but also our environment, the evolved self that respects nature as our context.
One of my most enduring memories as a child, is a story told to me by my grandad about Mother Earth. ‘She is the most humble being’, he told me. ‘Every morning when we wake up, the first thing we do, is put our feet on her. And the next thing we do, is relieve ourselves. She tolerates all of this, and only gives love and life to us. So, the first thing you must do when you get up, is to thank her for her generosity, that she allows this, and still sustains you and all forms of life.”
The story was inspired by a family pilgrimage to the town of Shri Mushnam in Tamilnadu, home to a rare temple that houses Vishnu in the avatar of ‘Varaha’ – the boar that dived into the ocean to rescue Mother Earth where she had been assaulted and hidden by Hiranyaksha. Hiranyaksha, a worshipper of Bramha, was intoxicated with his power after receiving a boon of immortality from Lord Bramha, and attacked Mother Earth at the time of her creation, when she was undefended. Varaha killed Hiranyaksha and lifted the earth goddess on his tusk, bringing her back to her rightful position and restoring the order of nature.
The parallel between the myth and the condition of the world today, are startling and disturbing. Intoxicated by our power, sense of immortality and greed, we have exploited our ecosystem beyond our own understanding and probably, beyond repair. We have assaulted Mother Earth and unleashed extreme climatic shifts that are believed to be man-made and not part of Nature’s original life-giving cycle. Like Hiranyaksha, will it take our destruction to restore the earth to her rightful condition?
“We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation to live with its consequences,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank at the UN World Climate Summit, 2018
Belatedly, we are waking up to the consequences at all levels – governmental, individual and corporate – and seeing how we can take responsibility for the damage we have perpetrated – and whether we can reverse at least some part of it.
So, we have businesses like Patagonia which defines its purpose starkly, “We are in business to save our home planet”
We have brands like Everlane that pledge to eliminate every ounce of plastic from their products and manufacturing pipeline (a huge task but one that the company is committed to)
And we have individuals like Afroz Shah, Mumbaikar who inspired thousands of fellow Mumbai citizens to come out and clean the beaches by picking up trash, while educating local dwellers to not litter.
The world needs more Afroz Shah’s, more Yvon Chouinards (Founder of Patagonia) and more Michael Preysman’s (Founder of Everlane). We simply don’t have enough.
Why are we short of people who are inspired to save the planet?
One answer, is that it requires an extraordinarily enlightened soul, who can prioritise a silent presence (Nature) over his own and other’s real human needs and demands.
At a more universal level, it is a malaise that affects all modern urban city dwellers. Our connection with Nature as an entity, a force and even a deity that we worshipped in ancient days, has been destroyed or disrupted. We see glimpses of this connection in ourselves – in our love for house plants, the pictures of green nature we post on Instagram, our travels to the mountains and our nostalgic quest to visit and capture in our memory, the distant places of pristine beauty. We understand that we yearn for this connection with nature, but many of us do not know how to restore it, unless we have had some guiding force to help us – a teacher, an environmentalist mentor, or simply that we come from a family with a love of the land and we grew up close to it.
We understand the importance of connections with other people, but our connection with our context, has been lost.
Meanwhile we continue to buy, and throw plastic in the trash, or on the road. We continue to drive cars, when at least a few times in the week, we can walk or use public transport. We generate vast amounts of waste daily that the over-burdened civic infrastructure struggles to dispose of. We are paradoxically, highly conscious of the problem, yet in our actions we appear to be unconscious of it. A lot of us look for answers as to how we can live better and more responsibly, but the answers are fragmented, initiatives are diverse and the governmental authorities are often apathetic or pre-occupied with fire fighting more basic issues, handicapped by inadequate infrastructure and resources.
We need leadership and guidance as a community and a planet, to effect climate change. But the corporate world and government world cannot provide this. It will need spiritual leadership, that awakens and appeals to our higher selves, the ‘connected’ self that sees us not as a superior beings but part of creation, the responsible self that recognizes we not only need to take care of other human beings but also our environment.
When I say spiritual leadership, it could be any of the following;
- World Religious leaders reaching out to followers with not just words of wisdom from scriptures, but simple daily principles that can reduce the burden on the planet.
- Respected Life coaches and spiritual influencers – people like Gaur Gopal Das or Jay Shetty - making this a central agenda in their discourses and interactions with the public.
- For many of us, Non-profits and social workers, who have dedicated their lives to betterment of others, have a higher stature and we respect and listen to them, as do their beneficiaries. Leadership of moral stature can inspire change in others.
- Retirees, many of whom are volunteering or doing good in their communities, and will be listened to as elders if they share their wisdom with people around them. The story that my grandfather told me has stayed with me long after he passed on and helped me to understand the importance of respecting nature.
- Last and most importantly, spiritual leadership guidance needs for environment conservation needs to start young – with kids in school. Only then, will we create the next generation of leaders, with a zest to protect nature.
- Literally anyone else, who experiences this connection with nature, has solutions and is ready to invest time and ability to share their gift with others.
The nature and depth of the spiritual guidance will be varied, but I believe that the purpose would be the same – to reconnect people with Nature in spirit, and to bring back the respect towards our context, that seems to be missing.
We have a civic sense that leads us to show respect to people in daily life, and a highly evolved sense of how to engage with others professionally in our corporate roles. Where is this respect and awareness, in how we engage with nature?
The other important purpose of ‘spiritual guidance’ would be to give us some simple rituals to practice this connectedness, which benefit both themselves and the planet.
I use the word ‘rituals’ with an intent. Rituals are things we practice daily, unthinkingly, unconsciously, until they become a practice. Brushing your teeth as soon as you get up, has become a ritual. For some, meditation or prayer every morning is a ritual. For people with an orientation to health and wellness, a glass of warm water first thing every morning is a ritual.
My point is, actions towards environment protection needs to become codified into daily rituals, such that they become a practice. Whereas today, for a lot of us, they are only gestures, they are not measurable or consistent. When something becomes a practice, it has a lot more power to effect change.
Only when respect for our context becomes part of our ‘unconscious consciousness’ will practices that are good for our planet become part of our daily routine. Like brushing our teeth when we get up, like eating meals on time, like bathing everyday. We perform these daily rituals unconsciously, while being conscious that they are necessary for our daily well being.
And when more and more people start doing this collectively, the impact gets amplified. It’s not just about how much plastic or water we save, or how much less we waste. It’ about everyone becoming more mindful, all the time. Small rituals often add up to much bigger shifts in each of us. For instance, if you start avoiding sugar, you also become more mindful about what you are eating at an overall level.
Imagine the scale of change, if a lot of people become much more mindful than they were earlier.
I believe that this is imperative because the future of our planet is too crucial an issue to be left to the variable agenda setting of others. It needs to be on everyone’s personal agenda, irrevocably, permanently, everyday.
It’s our personal spiritual duty to the earth that we live on. And if we need to go out of our everyday comfort zone to save her, then, that’s what we got to do.
Spirituality shows us ‘oneness’ of all creation. When we don’t see the difference between nature and ourselves, we will be moved to action. We will believe that saving her, is saving us.
When we don’t see ourselves as different from our context, selfish consumption and convenience will give way to co-existence, to a truly symbiotic relationship with our context.