Sustainability has been a passion for us since the Zen Monastery Peace Center began. Key awareness phrases such as “leave not a trace,” “not to lead a harmful life,” and “not to take that which is not given” are interwoven throughout our days. When meditation is over, we leave our sitting place pristine, as if we had never been there. We take only the amount of food we know we can comfortably eat so that we don’t waste any of what so many have given so much to make available to us. This is the attitude of mind that we attempt to bring to every aspect of our lives.
At a recent conference on environmental education and global awareness, Bioneers, many excellent speakers made the point that if human beings don’t change our relationship with planet earth, we will cease to exist. We heard statistics on global warming, deforestation, extinction of species, water pollution, as well as great solutions such as alternative energy, water conservation and organic farming. In the midst of horror stories and dire predictions, one speaker in particular caught our attention. He said that information about the little things one can do to make a difference (recycling, composting, changing the type of light bulbs we use, buying organic) are readily available. But perhaps the most profound, essential approach would be to make cookies and take them to your neighbor.
In other words, sustainability is a process. It is a “how” not a “what.” We could use all the solar, wind, and water power generating systems on the planet. We could compost, recycle, pedal to work, and drink only organic shade-grown coffee. But if we did it with the attitude of mind that this makes us “the good, right-person,” or if it causes us to hate people who are not doing “the right thing,” or if we do it because we feel guilty if we don’t—well, we would actually have the world we have right now. And this is not sustainable.
The attitude of mind we bring to sustainability must be the attitude of mind that we bring to all aspects of ending suffering. Sustainability is the compassion that sees all life as interconnected, essential, valuable and beyond “you and me.”
Sustainability comes from center. Conscious, compassionate awareness is the only thing that is sustainable. It is inclusive. It is kind. It is respectful. From conscious, compassionate awareness, we don’t focus on what’s wrong and not enough. From oneness, we want to make choices that support and sustain all of us—from the tiny spider crawling across my desk, to the thousand-year-old redwood trees, to people in far-away places we will never visit, to the neighbor that I haven’t made the time to meet.
by Cheri Huber, founder of the Mountain View Zen Center and Zen Monastery Practice Center and author of 17 books.