If why this is so important it is not immediately clear, perhaps it can be made more so by comparing the behavioral changes that take place as consciousness rises up to the way water's behavior changes as it evaporates. When water is in a liquid state, its natural behavior is to settle to the lowest places. In contrast, it is vapor’s natural behavior to mix with the gases in the space around it.
A state of consciousness sees itself as separate from everything and everyone around it behaves differently from a state of consciousness that views itself to be one with everything around it. The distinction that is relevant to our current need to preserve the environment is that, over time, it is the natural behavior of a consciousness of separateness to create social structures that over-consume the planet’s resources. In contrast with this, it is the natural behavior of a consciousness of Oneness to create social structures that operate in balance with the needs of the natural world, thereby preserving the planet.
This is a bold claim. But is it true? Please consider the following four pairs of questions:
1. Does the idea that human contentment is achieved through possessions and experiences of the world around us lead us to over-consume the planet? Does the understanding that human contentment is achieved through inner connectedness lead us towards less consumptive practices?
2. Does our discomfort with the intensity of the present moment, and the resultant desire for situations and experiences that are not present lead us towards overuse of the planet’s resources? Would a person at peace with the intensity of the present moment be led to reduce their use of the planet’s resources by their ability to leave present conditions as they are?
3. Might a person for whom temporal and community horizons are reduced to the immediate gratification for oneself have difficulty engaging in the long-term thinking needed to plan for a sustainable future? Would a person motivated by the long term well-being of others, instinctively engage a long-term perspective needed to plan for a sustainable future?
4. Would a society that holds a materialistic philosophy, which views each person to be a material being separate from all others, be inclined to construct competitive economies that pit interests against each other along national, religious, ethnic and other lines? Would a society that that recognizes the radical interconnectedness of all of life be inclined to build collaborative economies that take into account the needs of each and the well-being of all?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be recognizing the importance of the inside-out approach to social change. Indeed it seems that states of consciousness with an attachment to outside sources of happiness, with an avoidance of the present moment, with shrunken temporal and community horizons, and with a materialistic outlook, will inevitably create divisive and destructive societal structures that will ultimately over-consume the planet. It is its natural behavior to do so. Likewise, when higher states of consciousness that look inward for sources of contentment, that embrace the present moment, that have broad temporal and community horizons and that understand the Oneness of creation, will naturally create societal structures that will ultimately preserve the planet.
Trying to ask lower states of mind to create social structures that preserve the planet is like asking a liquid to mix with the gasses around it. We can sprinkle it around the room, but it will fall back to the ground. Its nature is to do so.
This insight, in one form or another, has been prominently voiced in recent decades. The statement, “The pollution in the atmosphere will not be transmuted until the pollution in the mind is transformed.” has been echoed by Buddhist Teachers from several traditions. More recently, we heard a similar sentiment expressed by Pope Francis when he wrote that, "The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.” Today, the understanding of the environmental crisis as a spiritual crisis that was expressed in the Papal Encyclical, is increasingly expressed and accepted.
If we are hesitant to put this insight into action, it may be due more to a lack of confidence than to a lack of understanding. The important step for us to take as environmentalists is to develop enough confidence in this insight to be able to put it into action. Today, using an inside-out approach to guide and execute our strategy for environmental action may be crucial to our survival.
To say this is not to devalue the work going on in other spheres. Today, the focus on technological solutions, such as wind turbines and solar panels; geopolitical alliances, as when the global leaders gathered in Copenhagen at the COP21; and legislative solutions, such as blocking the XL Pipeline is greatly needed. But if we believe that what we have is ultimately a spiritual problem, it would follow that solutions that address only the problem’s technological, geopolitical and legislative dimensions may not be getting to its root cause.
So we need to ask ourselves: What would happen if we try to treat a spiritual problem in ways that administer only to its material dimensions? . . . Is it possible that this wouldn’t work?
It is quite possible that it wouldn’t. Whenever the cause of a problem is left untreated, it must resurface in new and undesirable ways. Said another way, trying to solve a problem at the same level of mind that created it is like trying to make water behave like water vapor. Conventional mind is not likely to think its way out of this one.
Fortunately, methods for promoting societal transformation through raising consciousness at personal, group and societal levels are now surfacing with a breadth and frequency suggestive of a budding social movement. At CTP, we like to call it the Transformational Movement. Understanding, developing and advancing these methods is what CTP is here to do.