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The Unselfish Spirit at Work
Mick Collins looks at the deeper meanings of our everyday actions, and how our ‘ways of doing’ can become pathways for emancipatory action.
In my book The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis I discuss the deeper meanings associated with our everyday actions. I explore how our modern ways of living are unsustainable, and propose that our everyday ways of doing carry immeasurable potential and opportunities. Indeed, our daily actions can bring forth a much-needed transformation to tackle the global ecological crisis before us.
It is not an understatement to say that our modern Western lifestyles (now being adopted by many non-Western cultures) are out-dated and outmoded. We only have to look at the pressures we are placing on the Earth’s resources to see that our insatiable appetites are causing untold damage to eco-systems. We have been treating the Earth’s resources as a commodity, and we appear to have lost a sacred relationship to nature. To be sustainable it is clear that humanity needs to do more in terms of our outer adaptations, such as reducing carbon emissions, using more renewable energy and recycling etc. But, in order to live more harmoniously with other species and nature, we also need to do more in terms of our inner adaptations, such as increasing our awareness and raising our consciousness, so that we can activate our human potential to co-create an improved future.
Environmental Scientist, Professor Tim O Riordan says in the preface to my book that: “sustainability is examining our humanness”, indicating that we are not only part of the problem; we are also part of the solution. For example, there is a relationship between the vast scale of global food production and consumption and our everyday dietary appetites. Experts have identified that humanity will need to make a 70% increase in food production by 2050, yet, each year one third of all food produced worldwide is either wasted or lost. It is also sobering to realise that three quarters of all agricultural land worldwide is used for raising livestock. If we are serious about working for a sustainable future, all of us can start to become eco-activists when doing our grocery shopping. A shift to a predominantly vegetarian-vegan based diet will support a better use of land to grow enough food to feed a burgeoning world population. Estimates of population growth in the coming decades are set to rise from around 7 billion today, to around 9 billion by 2050, and possibly as high as 12 billion by the end of the century.
We need to be prepared to face up to the impact of a warming climate, which includes expected increases in extreme weather, loss of arable land due to desertification, reduced levels of fresh water in aquifers (as is happening in some parts of California), as well as acidification of the oceans, and increases in climate refugees and health problems. One thing is clear, we cannot carry on living in denial or ignorance. The global crisis is a wake-up call for all of us to start co-creating a more just world, where the rights of all people, other species and nature are taken into equal consideration. Next time we go shopping for food, we might pause for a moment and spare a thought for the thousands of children who die everyday due to malnutrition and starvation.4 Moreover, without a change in the way we produce and consume food, the situation will get worse with a warming climate. This will not only put a spotlight on our appetites, it will test our willingness to adapt and create a fair world for all. What actions we take today will shape the world we live in tomorrow. We are living in a time where radical change is set to become the norm, or we will have to face the consequences of our inaction.
Humanity has an incredible opportunity to tackle the global challenges we are facing, where we can become more empowered to start living in renewed ways. It is here, as global citizens that we can actively participate in collective transformation through our ways of doing to bring about an occupational shift in our daily lives. Engaging this shift is paramount, because modern life is based on an unsustainable mode of consciousness. Collective change will happen when more of us start engaging these transformational actions at home, in our neighbourhoods and communities. The question is how can we be inspired to act and connect to a re-sacralised vision for living?
Eco-philosopher, Henryk Skolimowski has highlighted the need for an eco-spiritual consciousness, where we are inspired to cultivate our being and actions through practices like eco-yoga, thereby becoming more spiritually aligned to the global situation.5 Yoga has much to offer us in terms of our transformative potential, especially in the ways that we can make an adaptive response to climate change. For example, the practice of karma-yoga reveals how our everyday activities, social connections, careers and vocations can be transformed into a spiritual path. In this way, karma-yoga is a process of selfless action in the service of freedom, or Self-realisation. It is this spiritual connection to doing, where we find that our everyday activities have tremendous power and potential.
What we do in our everyday lives could be a potent force for collective change. In my book The Unselfish Spirit I discuss how doing has been at the heart of our evolutionary journey and transformational heritage. The occupational shift that is being called for today to meet the global crisis is about a renewed relationship to technologies of transcendence (such as yoga, chi kung, meditation, prayer or dream work etc), which can help us to expand our consciousness and inspire new ways of living, connected to doing with depth.
Doing with depth
Over the past two decades I have explored how our eco-psycho-spiritual potential can be engaged through everyday actions.6 The notion of doing with depth can be related to Carl Jung’s concept of the archetypes (symbols and images that reside in the collective unconscious), which also carry a numinous, divine spark. I developed the idea of archetypal occupations to illustrate how our everyday actions can tap into a rich stream of eco-psycho-spiritual potential to bring greater depth and connection to what we do. For example, when we are meaningfully engrossed in our work or doing an activity we love, we can lose our sense of time, or experience a feeling of oneness in our actions, and we can even feel that our actions are connecting us to our ancestors and our evolutionary heritage. In this way, doing can be deep, and can lead us to experience actions as sacred. It is here that even mundane actions can be revelatory and full of spiritual blessings, and it is where we can discover a living sacrament in all that we do, which also fosters a sense of belonging to an interconnected world, linked to the collective unconscious.
It is fitting that I conclude this short essay with a reflection on the word Advaya, which means non-duality, oneness or unity. The need has never been greater for humanity to find ways of living together with a sense of wholeness, peace and justice. How we bind together (yoga) and co-create an improved future is set to become the great challenge of this era. As Professor Tim O Riordan says, “sustainability is examining our humanness”, which means sustainability will test our collective resolve to be less greedy or selfish, and become more altruistic and compassionate. In this way, karma-yoga, exemplifies how a technology of transcendence can inspire us to engage a bit more deeply with what we do in our everyday lives. If we understand that doing with depth can connect to an archetype of action – tinged with the sacred or numinous – we may even find that grocery shopping can bring us into a deeper, more spiritually nourishing relationship to living.
The global crisis is an opportunity to not only become the change, but also to do differently and create an occupational shift in our daily lives. Here, our ways of doing can become pathways of emancipatory action, working in the service of an improved future.
Dr Mick Collins has worked as an NHS Occupational Therapist and in a psychological therapies team for 12 years. He was a lecturer for 10 years in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, where he was also a Director of Admissions. Mick's focus for his research publications, doctoral thesis and conference presentations are mostly focused on the actualisation of eco-psycho-spiritual potential. His award-winning book, The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis explores how humanity can work together and co-create an improved future. He was interviewed about his book at this year’s International Hay Festival. Mick currently works as a Holistic Coach, specialising in eco-psycho-spiritual transformation and action.
Note: Mick donates all the royalties he receives from his publisher to ‘Mary’s Meals’ a charity that feeds starving children worldwide.