Interbeing with the Environment

The spirituality of a sustainable lifestyle

The environment. It is a big issue these days. Our society lags behind in coming up with the right answers. Even in our own lives it is not easy to become aware of all the problems involved and live a life that is wholly sustainable. These issues are so deeply rooted in our society and it would take such a radical change to break away from all of them. It is easy to be acquiescent and just settle for second best. It can be even easier to just lose hope and settle with resentment. However, I think it is worth the effort to try and live a life the is integrally sustainable, for I belief that is not only good for our planet, but it is also a deeply mindful life, one where every action we take connects us with all living beings on our planet.

The restoration work of Sadhana Forest

I will share with you my story of how I try to live a life that is fully sustainable. It made me quit my job back home in Belgium and move to India to go and live in a hut in a forest, and plant trees. My little hut in the forest is made of wood and leaves. It has no A/C, no running water and no electricity. It does not even have doors or windows, just a floor and a thatched roof. I am miles away from the nearest village, but I feel more connected to the world than ever. When I wake up in the morning – bugs zooming around my mosquito net – and look at the trees growing right outside, I smile and realise we are all connected. Opening the window, I look out onto the Dharmakaya. How wondrous is life!

I live in Sadhana Forest, a spiritual-ecological community in the South of India. Sadhana is Sanskrit for spiritual practice. We work on water conservation and reforestation, and on raising our consciousness. We belief that sustainability is also a matter of mindfulness. We have to realize that every act we do impacts all living beings and can be done in such a way that all benefit from it. Interbeing all the way. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at beings with eyes of compassion.

Hand washing station

And so we live a very simple life. (Plum Village is a 5 star hotel compared to life here!) We are self-sustainable for electricity and water. We rely on our own solar panels and on the water we are able to pump up – partially by hand – through our own water conservation work in the area. No leaving taps open or watching tv all night. Power is strictly limited and water taps can only be used for maintenance, otherwise we use the hand pump. Water runs deep in the Earth. Miraculously, water comes to us and sustains all life.

We eat only vegan, non-processed, largely organic and locally sourced food. I could go on for a while with this list. We reuse our waste water to irrigate the forest and have dry composting toilets. All our hygiene products are biodegradable and the little waste we do produce, we try to reuse or recycle. Defiled or immaculate – these concepts exist only in our mind.

It is funny, the feeling I get when washing my hands at our sustainable ‘water tap’ – just a cup with a small hole in it, letting out a small trickle just enough to do the job. I use our local biodegradable soap, and see how the water flows back into the forest and makes our community a little oasis of green in an otherwise near desertlike area. Water flows over these hands. May I use these hands skillfully to preserve our precious planet.

I always understood interbeing in a more theoretical way. Philosophically it made sense to me that everything is connected – and I never really was a fan of gathas, I do admit. It is only here, living in this forest of spiritual practice, that I am really starting to feel it, to live it. I have to be honest, life here can be quite inconvenient. It takes a lot more time to shower when you first have to pump a bucket full of water, then carry it to the shower hut and then just use a cup to splash the water over yourself, or when your phone is out of battery and there is no charging power until the next day. But all these inconveniences really force me to stop become aware of how all my actions affect all of life, and how everything I can do can be an offering to this world. Watering the Garden, the rain of compassion and understanding can transform the dry desert into a vast fertile plain. It is true, I experience it here every day. 

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