Maulana Rumi said “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” His words were inspiring in the Persian Empire and they remain so today.
I have tried my best to let my life reflect these words. My work with animals, the local food movement, environmental education and the written word are all outlets that I am passionate about, and I get to use each of these in small ways to help our living world and the beings that share it with us.
I’ve rescued and nursed injured animals, taught children about the beauty and value of nature, signed petitions, marched for change, spoken up for equality, taken in strays, turned the water off while brushing my teeth, pulled garbage from our waterways and taken my groceries home in reusable tote bags. I’ve learned to grow my own food, I’ve lived small and tried to be a conscious consumer. And yet I have not done enough.
I couldn’t go help flood victims in Louisiana. I didn’t pull survivors out of Italian rubble. I do not have Syrian refugee children playing happily in my living room. Hell, I didn’t even make my own nontoxic laundry soap this month so petroleum distillates are leaching into my backyard as we speak. Poor damn amphibians… hang in there, I’ll get back on my game. Because that’s the thing, I want to do better. And that desire, I believe, is the first step to actually doing better.
I imagine that you may feel the same way. Perhaps you recycle or drive a hybrid to reduce emissions. Maybe you put money in Santa’s red pot at Christmas time. Your family may have even “adopted” a hungry child or helped your church build a hospital somewhere praiseworthy. I hope you have done these things, and I hope you’ve inspired others to do the same. But just like my little efforts, it’s still not enough. We can do better.
This is a big world we share, and there is so much wrong that happens beyond our 40 hour work week and favorite TV shows. We’ve got GMOs in our food, cancer in the body of someone we love, starving animals on our streets next to homeless veterans, rocket fuel in our tap water, refugees desperate for anywhere else, orangutans clinging to the last tree in a razed field, dolphins being slaughtered in the Taiji Cove – people and animals every day and everywhere suffering through unspeakable catastrophes. There are so many ways to be heartbroken and outraged, which means there are so many ways to contribute to the healing process.
But our mortgage is due, our car is not running right and the boss wants us to stay late. So here we are, doing what we can with what we have. We’re dropping a few pennies in the offering plates and pouring soy milk in our smoothies – because a dose of hormone mimics is better than the overcrowded conditions the cows suffer through in industrialized farms. We’re doing our yoga, discovering our mindfulness and bathing ourselves in aroma-therapeutic essential oils to find our balance – happy that we’re using natural therapies rather than popping a couple of Adderall – ignoring the fact that many companies that produce these oils are trashing delicate tropical habitats and harvesting threatened plant populations.
Hell, donating to charities isn’t even a sure-fire way to help the causes we believe in any more. You’d think we could clear our consciences a little by helping places like Kid’s Wish Network or the American Breast Cancer Foundation. But no. These and hundreds like them have been caught pocketing most of their donations, leaving a mere 4% to grant wishes and save the tatas. It’s disheartening and deplorable (and if you’d like to get really pissed off you can read more from CNN’s report on the 50 worst charities here).
Make no mistake, I am not here to discourage. Quite the opposite – we need to tackle the world’s troubles passionately and ferociously. We just have to make wiser choices as we do so. We have to educate ourselves and we must research everything – the foods we eat, the products we purchase, the charities we support, the ways we spend our leisure time, the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the companies we work for, the everything.
It’s infuriating that we have to question what we thought we knew when we should just be able to put on our work boots and get busy. But if we really want our efforts to heal the world’s troubles, we have to question.
We can donate our time building houses for the homeless and dishing out meals at the neighborhood food bank. But we also mustn’t forget the effect the food on our own plate has on our planet. We must be aware of the products we purchase, and how the companies that make them impact our world.
You and I aren’t purposefully harming anyone or anything simply because we want a good dinner on the table. But if our food animals weren’t raised locally and humanely, we are ultimately supporting the bad behavior of industrial agriculture giants – and we should all know the horrors and unspeakable conditions the animals in those environments face.
Herbivores also have to pay more attention to the synthetic world we’re living in today. A plant-based diet used to be considered a healthy alternative. But now, thanks to an unbelievable chemical load, this is not true anymore. And of course we also have GMOs to contend with, which remain unlabeled here in the good ole USA – home of rampant, unchecked capitalism, where dollars matter more than human lives.
Even choosing water over soda pop isn’t as simple as it should be. If we’re buying bottled water, we are supporting companies that are stealing water and adding tons of garbage to landfills that will never biodegrade. If we’re drinking tap water, we have to worry about the fluoride, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and industrial fallout that comes through the spicket.
It’s tough. But you and I happened to be born into a time where our impact matters more than ever. There are more people living today than there ever has been before and our lifetimes have become an interesting race between humanity and resources. We are consuming food and medications that have come from factories that are so far removed from accountability that bottom line profits easily outrank health and safety concerns.
And there’s more to worry about than just our food, garbage and chemicals. People are being bombed to death for the black sludge that flows beneath their feet. Many are becoming displaced by climate catastrophes that are only getting worse as our CO2 levels rise. People are losing their homes, and often their lives, because their prayers to God are said in the wrong language. People are being abused, enslaved and molested – as are our animals, our ecosystems and our natural resources.
The whole situation seems very grim. It’s easy to shed a tear and hide our heads and convince ourselves that the problems are too big and we’re too small. And yes, the negative impact our consumption practices have on the environment is more harmful than ever, but our positive impact has the potential to be more healing than ever before.
The solace is that the solutions are attainable. Hunger can be satisfied, thirst can be quenched, knowledge does breed power and we can help our world heal. There really are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. We just have to be diligent in our learning, and in the sharing of that knowledge. We have to remind each other that we all have the power to make the world a little better because we have lived.
And if we have a day where we think our hands are too small, we can reach out to help others help. Maybe you can’t solve hunger in your own neighborhood, much less a foreign land, but you can offer assistance to groups that are doing just that. Your support makes their hands bigger.
We all have different interests, passions and resources to work with, and that is the perfect way to span a greater distance. Use what you have and what you know. None of us can do it all, but all of us can do some – and most of us can do more.
- Support local farmers, artisans and markets.
- Eat food from ethical and organic companies.
- Buy (or make) chemical-free household products.
- Volunteer in your community – animal shelters, food banks, nature centers, citizen science projects, non-profit groups – anywhere your love can be what you do.
- Donate to legitimate charities – the kind that invite you to visit their facilities, look upon their work and show you their books. These will provide you the opportunity to make the biggest difference.
- Consume less. Rescue a pet. Spay or neuter that pet. Turn the lights off when you leave a room. Reuse and recycle whatever you can. Buy second-hand. Donate unused items to a shelter, children’s home, or reputable nonprofit group.
- Research every single company you give your dollars to. Make wise and informed decisions weighing their standard practices against your ethical convictions.
- Stand up. Speak out. Sign petitions. March. Run for office. Get involved.
- Vote every chance you get. There are policies in your hometown that need to be changed. Be that change.
Maybe most importantly, educate yourself and teach others what you’ve learned. Most people want to do their part, but many don’t know how. Be their example. Look to the doers, the change-makers, the ones who are truly of benefit. Let their fire be your fuel.
We need to rattle the world until the windows shake with our resolve. We have one precious Earth and one short lifetime to make a difference on it. There’s a lot of work to do, but plenty of us to do it. So let the beauty you love be what you do. Discover the hundreds of ways there are to kneel and kiss the ground – it may overwhelm and exhaust you, but there are ways that you can use your talents and passions to help heal the wounds like no one else can. Get involved. It will set your soul on fire, and that fire will light the world.