My friend and colleague @RyanEliason often describes an experience that took place when he was nineteen years old and encountered a clear cut in a forest that he had enjoyed as a youngster. At first the nineteen-year-old Ryan was just shocked, as he surveyed the land now scraped down to its clay soil. As he observed the damage and stopped to let the reality of the situation sink in, the enormity of the loss hit him. The sacred place he loved was gone forever. He began to sob.
For Ryan this was a moment of deep truth, of profound awakening—and the experience changed him forever. Even today, as he tells this story, his authenticity shines through and transforms those around him.
In my own life, especially as a sensitive, young person, I braced myself against such a moment for years. To me, these losses seemed so painful that I pushed the experience away, even as I felt a pervasive sadness over the state of the world and worked to “save it”. This was more of a depression that a deep awakening. Then, after attending Sophia Center in Oakland, California, I traveled to Genesis Farm Center for Earth Literacy in New Jersey where my own awakening awaited me and the story of Earth finally sank in fully.
The day it happened day started innocently enough. I was engaged in a course on genetics taught by Harvard-trained chemist, Larry Edwards and was loving the deep knowledge of the genome. As we studied the magical evolution of life, I came to understand the story of how this genetic instruction code was passed to every being along the way to our becoming human. Our class walked through 3.7 billion years of evolutionary R&D and I was captivated. I experienced deep awe and thought: “This is so amazing… so elegant… and so very sacred.”
Then it hit me: the human, evolved from a pre-cellular creature into the thinking complex conscious being with these instructions. The physical evolution that took place over 3.7 billion years is re-created in nine months in the womb: from single cell, to multi-cell, to growing a tail, to evolving the cortex, all of it. We remember the instructions step-by-step. The human being remembers, within this special set of instructions, what brought us from molten rock to this day. Alongside us, the living systems of which we are an integral part, evolved as we did. We were designed to be here together—living together in a system with all of creation. We are preprogrammed to expect beauty and awe as part of our experience.
When I fully understood our current moment, I was filled with an awareness of what our species was doing to the genome in our short time on this planet. From accelerating and causing extinction events, to nuclear releases and genetic experimentation… I suddenly felt the enormity of our arrogance and the weight of the loss. Like Ryan, I too, and just as suddenly, began to sob.
Some may see these tears as weak or even ridiculous. I see them differently. These tears are a spontaneous response to desecration. It is what happens when you allow the pain of the world, the loss of the sacred, to really sink in.
This grief, like all grief, can change you forever. And like all grief, we walk through the denial and sadness and anger to emerge with a commitment and purpose.
It is as if Earth and the Universe are filling our human awareness with these sudden moments of clarity. That is why when I am asked to defend what it means to be “green” or am stereotyped as a bleeding heart or a tree hugger, I sometimes find it difficult to respond in words. Is a response even possible? Certainly not without recalling the story of how it came to be. I see the world so differently than how I saw it before that profound moment. There is no question about that. The transformation happened in a process that I can only describe as grace.
In my case, devotion to preserving, protecting and restoring living systems is not something I chose to undertake or even dreamed up; rather it is something that happened to me. If you spend enough time quietly studying or being with the natural world, and contemplating its beauty, its amazing science, and its interconnection, I predict it will happen to you too.
Science is not at odds with the sacred—it serves a doorway—the more we learn, the more awe is possible.
Do you have your own story of profound awakening? I’d love to hear from you.
My latest book, Entrepreneurs and the New Story: Essential Earth Wisdom for True Prosperity, is available via preorderon Amazon kindle now. December 31 at 10am pacific, I will be interviewed by Katie Curtin in the virtual Creativity Cafe.
Aligning with a “Big Why” – the dream that comes from your heart – is cited by many entrepreneurs as the biggest single factor in creating focus and taking quantum leaps forward. This was confirmed in my interview with successful entrepreneur and business coach Ryan Eliason in The Big Why Telesummit earlier this year, I asked him to what he attributed his success. His answer: committing fully to his biggest vision– his “Big Why.” Doing so clarifies what we want and need, helps us identify what needs to happen next, and it helps us more easily say “no” to distractions so that we can say “yes” to the most difficult next step.
I am still uncovering my purpose. I do not always know what it is, but I definitely know when I’m not aligned with it.
“I did not know. Turns out, it is something I discovered gradually”.
“When the energy is right sometimes it’s like a magnet you just cannot resist.”
“There have been many long years when I personally had no idea what my “big why” was but I was still guided by it. It was the fact that there was a “Big Why” that comforted me in those times.”
“My “Big Why?” This is something I just feel in my bones.”
Our “Big Why” can also be described as our audacious intention or plan, something that resonates with both our mind and our heart. It may be a life purpose, a goal or dream or even a deep need. It is usually something that we are deeply passionate about and it almost always is a stretch to achieve. If the thought of your purpose both passionately excites you and creates butterflies in your stomach at the thought of pursuing it, then you are on the right track.
The root of the word “audacious” is “to dare,” or “to be daring”. When one chooses to be daring, it is as if the world organizes itself to help make it happen. The intention acts as “a compass” You may not necessarily know what form the plan or organization is going to take and what you are going to need when you start, but with a compass, you can at least know if you are pointed in the right direction.
The first step in an entrepreneurial endeavor is to commit to your most audacious Big Why. The approach doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s not going to necessarily be the only thing of which you decide, but a decision has to be made to commit to a big intention
The steps for finding your “Big Why” may vary for you—you may already know it or maybe you do not. I would challenge you to experiment. Explore and discover the nutrients that you need—activities, practices or ways of being that feed the soil of your spirit so YOU can create the conditions for your work to emerge into the world–whatever it is meant to be—large or small. When we set our intention—it helps to think big, audacious even. Our intention fuels our further work.
Once upon a time, nearly 13.7 Billion years ago, we flared forth as light. We underwent a series of
irreversible transformations until we arrived where we are here and now—writing a story about our journey.
It took awhile, but that’s how far we’ve come. We essentially burst forth as light and after changing a bit, we arrived as a living system together with our fellow travellers on a small blue planet in a dark sea of space. As a result of these transformations, we can now contemplate that flaring forth 13.7 billion years later. We are energy transformed… contemplating the first energy that flared forth.
Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in.
Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, in The Universe Story, call our understanding of this epic a “new cosmology” or “the New Story.”
Stories are about meaning and connection…They help us understand things, they help us connect to one another, they help us connect to Earth when we realize that we are a part of the planetary story.
This year, I had the opportunity to chat with poet and activist Drew Dellinger about The New Story and how it has influenced his own work. This is a bit of what Drew shared:
“One of the biggest moments was my encounter with the work and the writings of Thomas Berry when I was just starting college–Prescott college in Arizona in 1990 and just before that a friend of mine, Steve Snyder had found Thomas Berry’s book, The Dream of the Earth, and we were like, “Oh my God. This is amazing.”
“The back story is that we had been in a multiyear process of trying to find meaning in the middle of a corporate capitalist society while going to a public high school in North Carolina. There was not a lot of creativity, spirituality or intellectual stimulation. They’re great folks but not a lot of folks asking that question about what is important, and what is the big why, what is the deeper meaning.
And so, when we read Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s book, “The Universe is a Green Dragon”, they were saying we need to have a new approach to the Universe. I had never been interested in Science– like space and stars. I thought they were kind of cool but I was never galvanized by the sciences –but all of a sudden Thomas Berry is saying, “We have a new comprehensive understanding of the Universe itself.”
I never heard anybody writing about the Universe itself. The cosmos is a new context for education. What? Well, this is wild. We need to understand ourselves as the embodied expression of the Universe. As the Taoist would say, the ten thousand things, it’s the one Tao. It’s the one energy. The Universe is a seamless, unfolding energy that is both spiritual and psychic and physical and material from the very beginning. Richard Dunn would say, “The spiritual and the material are interwoven, matter, spiritualizes.” Matter has spirit at its heart. Matter is not just matter but spirit in motion, these types of things so I’m assuming you’re going like, wow this little brief encounter with some of these essays is really shifting my world view making me think about the planet in a new way. Very simple things, very subtle shifts, that’s scientific in a certain way but just with a new twist and new perspectives.
So reading Thomas Berry and then later coming to study with him…he’s saying, “We are the earth, we are the Universe,” and when a whale sings an incredibly complex song, that’s the earth that composed the song. When a bird flies, the earth is flying and when humans write poetry, when humans commune with each other, when humans celebrate that’s Earth celebrating.
And so, when you talk about the big why that comes in from Berry’s thinking. He would say, “That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to celebrate. We are the space in which the Universe reflects on and celebrate itself.”
So, all of a sudden I had something that made sense. That made sense to me, capitalism, consumerism, advertising, that didn’t make much sense. War, racism, sexism, economic exploitation… that didn’t make sense. Working at an occupation that one feels is grinding one soul down on a daily basis and doing that for 50 years and then retiring, that didn’t make much sense, but the humanist, the space in which the Universe itself can celebrate and reflect on itself — now that made sense.
What if you could immediately reduce overwhelm and easily and firmly say no to distractions?
What if you could make a single shift to your thinking that would enable you to not only recognize the difference between a distraction and necessary action but turn “squirrel” energy into a real opportunity?
What if virtually everyone who is successful in this dynamic environment has consciously or unconsciously adopted this approach?
What I discovered turned my business around. This one concept changed everything and set up the conditions so that I could thrive and grow. And an improvement in my sense of well-being was almost immediate—with better business results following within the first couple of weeks!
Chances are that you have not yet discovered this shift you need to thrive in this living system of commerce because no one is talking about it. And why would they? Most marketing today creates a fear-based squirrel chasing energy that manipulates you into buying. Intentions may be good—in fact the products are often good too—it’s just that without the right foundational thinking, the right understanding about where you are in your business, these programs are nothing but squirrels.
And the solution is very simple. (but not necessarily easy to implement) and it is this:
Clearly identify your next best step and spend at least 80%+ of your energies on it until it is accomplished. Say NO to anything and everything that doesn’t accomplish that next step.
Easier said than done, I know. In future posts, I will share with you root practices that work to clarify each and every decision you need to make, large or small so that you can know your next best step and focus on it until it is accomplished, setting aside other distractions, and keeping chaos and squirrels at bay.
The art is really first getting to the heart of knowing your best next step and WHY it is your next best step. The distracting marketing of the outside world is doing its best to define that best next step for you. You cannot let that happen. This is something you must do for yourself.
You must collect your tools and strategies to define that step for yourself—so you can make good decisions about what is next. The better you are at this, the better your decisions will be, the more clarity and joy (and yes, abundance) is possible.