Understanding Resilience: Core Connections that Sustain
In your beautiful continent of Africa, which has seen the dawn of human civilization, and has, in modern times, been torn by so many deep conflicts, any conservation work must require tremendous resilience.
As of 2011, according to http://www.globalissues.org/issue/83/conflicts-in-africa, there have been over 9 million refugees and internally displaced people, and hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered in conflicts and civil wars. Such scale of destruction, comparable to a World War III, provides the context in which conservationists, scientists, policy-makers, project managers, community members and students are working together to conserve the ancient sea turtles for future generations.
Because you are so dedicated to the conservation of these magnificent ancient animals, and to the preservation of the beauty and dignity of nature, you may not have set out to do the work of your hearts in full knowledge of what you are up against. So many of you must have found out along the way just how dense the confusion and incoherence is in the social and cultural contexts in which you try to do your work. You must have encountered all kinds of absurd roadblocks and barriers. Many of you must have had times when you have been heart-broken, when you have felt helpless and hopeless.
What can sustain you and your work in our troubled and incoherent world, controlled by the forces of consumerism and crude materialism, global corporate corruption and failed governance? What can help you persevere in your quiet courage and daily self-sacrifice, as you work to restore sanity, care and responsibility for our natural resources in a world running amok? You meet with disconnect, poverty, conflict, in post-war areas, corrupt institutions, ruthless businesses…
YOU ARE UP AGAINST A LOT!
We are social beings, hardwired to connect, and nothing sustains and boosts our resilience in the face of significant obstacles and systemic challenges, like meaningful connections do. In fact, new knowledge in quantum physics, field theory, and energy medicine shows increasingly clearly the extent to which our natural healing and life-promoting resources are activated under the influence of deep positive emotions such as the experience of love and connection. Such positive emotions appear to be optimal for the human heart even on a physiological level – they appear to induce coherent rhythmic vibrational patterns in the heart.
The heart organ has been shown to have its own intrinsic nervous system that can process information, sense and feel. Therefore, its vibrational patterns fluctuate, with widely varying degrees of coherence/incoherence depending on what is experienced. Furthermore, the heart has been shown to respond faster than the brain to external stimulation. It appears to be the master organ in the human morphogenetic field, as it generates a 10,000 times stronger electromagnetic energy field than the brain, and sends signals to the brain that then get distributed throughout the body’s nervous system (see documentary The Living Matrix, http://www.gaiamtv.com/video/living-matrix ). Hence, when the heart enters into coherent vibrations under the influence of loving and meaningful human connections, it sends signals balancing out the whole nervous system, and activating optimal regenerative life forces.
What does this mean in terms of resilience in conservation work?
Your resilience depends on core connections that can sustain you. It is enhanced by your conscious awareness and cultivation of these connections. Intention is communicated by quantum emissions and has the power to structure energy fields.
So, toward the cultivation of what core connections should you orient your resilience building efforts?
Resilience – the sense that we are not helpless, but that we have the power to overcome – is fostered by our conscious connecting to our purpose, to self, to the other, to our contexts, and to our resources.
Connecting to Your Purpose
Your purpose, which can easily get lost in the immense logistical challenges of your on-the-ground daily work, is not just to conserve turtles, but to connect meaningfully the conserving of turtles to the lives of local communities, to the purpose of businesses, and to the policies of local governments. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that, in doing this work, you are in effect weaving the tapestry of change across the world – change toward more coherent thinking about our environments, about our livelihoods, about our governance, about our education. Even further, in doing so, you are changing consciousness and building capacity – slowly, modestly, with no assumptions and big claims, yet steadily and effectively, engaging hearts and minds. And consciousness change is the most critical work in the world right now. As you know much better than the rest of us, it is going to be the difference between a sustainable world for our grandchildren or the destruction of our green planet.
When your daily work is so demanding, and you have to do so much with such limited resources, you may hardly find the time to stop and think in these big terms.
But when we are working against a huge tide, as you are, large-perspective understanding is critical. It can steel our will. It can restore our resilience. It can make us see new possible paths in the darkness. It can renew our purpose to persevere.
You are path-breakers. You have to persevere.
Connecting to the Larger Systemic Context of Conservation Work
Your work has in many ways been made possible by the fact that we live in a rapidly globalizing world. Instant communications and networking, the ability to summon assistance from across the globe, international advocacy and support on issues that matter – all of these make your work possible.
Yet, globalization also has its underbelly. It produces a highly unstable world as it rapidly spreads Western commercial consumer culture across the globe, challenging centuries old values, traditions, and identities; uprooting families, cultures, societies. Corporate globalization is undermining the very fabric of the ethic and morality by which people have tried to live for many generations. It is breeding ruthlessness, callousness, greed, deep confusion about what matters. It is intensifying conflict and the war for resources. It is allowing the most scheming individuals to gain power over decency.
And all of these realities you encounter in your work in the field every day!
These challenges do not just characterize Africa. They play out right here, where I am writing this piece – in nearby Washington D.C., in the heart of the very institutions that in your eyes and in the eyes of many in your countries, represent the hope for democratic assistance and support for meaningful work. Bureaucracy, people in power, who think they know best, who do not respect those who do the hard work in the field; whose rigid ideologies and power games are ready to undermine and destroy dedicated work of many years…
And do you know why?
Because the will to do the right thing is strengthened in the fire of tests, in the work in the fields of the world where the real battles are fought. Your battles are not just what challenges your resilience; they are also what steels your will and your resilience. Some bureaucrats play games, and they quickly forget what it is all about. You cannot afford to forget because you live it and breathe it every day. That’s why your will is strong and it will prevail.
And that’s why, no matter how hard it is, you have to keep coming
back to those bureaucrats and reminding them, helping them reconnect to
their own hearts, clear their vision, and become inspired again.
We are all up against rigid defensive mindsets; out-of-touch people in power; and systems of governance, which still allow these realities to continue unchallenged.
You are changing the ways we think about the use of resources, about our relationship to our environment, and about governance. Such changes are a labor-intensive educational process. You are changing a pervasive capitalist attitude of exploitation of resources for fast gain at the expense of generations to come. Indigenous cultures understood about the circle of life. We considered them uncivilized. Yet our civilization prides in ruthlessness. Now your work is seeking to restore to a technological civilization its soul. This systemic large-perspective understanding will sustain you.
You have to keep reconnecting to your clarity because consciousness change requires clarity. So at the break of every day, take a few minutes to think not just of the immediate tasks ahead. Meditate on the qualities of character and spirit you are trying to call forth – caring, thoughtfulness, responsibility, hard work, steadfastness, faith in goodness, love for our planet. (For more specific suggestions on daily mindfulness practices, you may wish to use Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing, as well as the Virtues Reflection Cards of The Virtues Project, www.virtuesproject.com )
Reconnecting to Moral and Spiritual Meaning
The global culture, in which we all live and work, feeds on unsustainable economic practices and lifestyles, and is rapidly creating a domino effect of fast-mounting disasters. It is becoming more and more driven by greed and lack of any moral inhibitions or principles.
The human toll and the environmental toll are the two sides of the
same process of the unraveling of life on this planet. (In the quote
below, substitute environmental health for mental health)
There can be no mental health where there is powerlessness, because powerlessness breeds despair; there can be no mental health where there is poverty, because poverty breeds hopelessness; there can be no mental health where there is inequality, because inequality breeds anger and resentment; there can be no mental health where there is racism, because racism breeds low self-esteem and self-denigration; and lastly, there can be no mental health where there is cultural disintegration and destruction, because cultural disintegration and destruction breed confusion and conflict.
Anthony Marsella 1997
In this context, what are the moral and spiritual meanings of your work?
The health of this planet is a unitary phenomenon, it is the health of body, mind, and spirit, and all the systems, natural and ones we create to sustain it. So where people are bitter and disenchanted, there can be no healthy environments. And where the environment is abused, there can be no healthy people and communities. As you work to save the physical aspects of this planet (turtles, forests, oceans) you are also working to protect, honor, and uplift the human spirit, which is the keeper of material life on this planet.
In this process, we all increasingly recognize that this planet and this life are a spiritual trust, one that we need to protect and pass on to our children. In developing through our work the spiritual qualities and capabilities to do so, we fulfill our simple responsibility on this planet.
One way to connect to the moral and spiritual significance of your work, then, is to see that you are helping people and communities reconnect to their spirit, to their caring, to their empowerment to find creative solutions. In this way, you are not just helping turtles, but you are helping communities heal from the most degrading aspects of poverty – when we feel we have to betray the truth of our hearts, and go against ourselves and against the environments that sustain us for the extra buck. You are helping restore to people their self-respect!
Connecting to Partnerships
Building partnerships is essential when you are combating large systemic forces. The local and global partnerships you weave through your sea-turtle conservation work give your individual voices a platform, supporting them with the authority of both science and collective experience on the ground. In building these partnerships, you are also modeling much more viable forms of governance.
Each aspect of these connections has to be continuously cultivated. We need to keep revisiting them and reflecting more deeply on them. It is a mindfulness practice. (For a deeper understanding of mindfulness practice, you may wish to read Thih Nhat Hahn’s Peace is Every Step.)
Reconnecting to our hearts moment by moment, and restoring faith
Attaining and deepening our internal coherence is the most essential source of resilience. It allows us to reconnect to the courage of each other’s spirits, to all the many stories of change, of making the impossible possible – and that will sustain you.
As the song of St. Francis of Asisi goes in the movie Brother Sun Sister Moon:
If you want your dream to be, take your time, go slowly.
Do few things but do them well. Simple things are holy.
If you want to live life free, build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends. Heartfelt work grows purely.
Day by day, stone by stone, fill your secret slowly.
Day by day, you’ll grow too. You’ll know heaven’s glory.