While in Hawai’i, I stumbled across an educational meeting for the local community1 in the theme of Mālama ʻĀina – one of the most important and ever-alive concepts of native Hawaiian culture.
Mālama ʻĀina means to take care of the land in a way that both expresses our gratitude for all its gifts for us and guarantees that – just like us now – it’ll sustain our next seven generations. Plants and animals are our siblings and our ancestors; we’re not the land’s owners but its stewards. It’s both our responsibility and privilege to look after and nurse the environment and the natural world.
Hawaiians – like many other indigenous peoples – have the notion of responsibility for the next seven generations. One of other very important concepts is pono – balance, harmony and righteousness. In our personal and social lives we act and behave in a way that is pono. Important decisions regarding the environment and society at large are to be made with consideration to the results they’ll have in the world that our seventh generation inherits.
How different an approach to the Western domination and the never-ending and ever expanding strengthening and glorification of consumerism. How wiser than four- and five-year plans dictated by the interests of the constantly changing political parties.
More or less at the same time, a Hawaiian acquaintance recommended I read „The bowl of light”, a book with the teachings of a Hawaiian elder Hale Makua. When reading different books about spirituality, many times I’d come across the notion of us living in a dream. They’d talk about how we need to wake up and see reality as it is but I never fully understood what they really meant or what that ‘dream’ we were living in was.
Also Hale Makua mentions this concept in “The bowl of light”, explaining it in a way the Hawaiians see it. Not only did his words allow me to deeply understand the ‘dream’ notion, they also opened my eyes to how real an individual’s – mine, yours, hers and his – influence over the state of this world is.
We live in a dream because everything we see around us was once but someone’s dream, materialised in this world at a later point in time. The clothes we wear, the tools we use, the buildings we live in, the table we sit at – everything man has created started out as a mere dream.
Let’s take your winter coat as an example: the way it looks, what material it was made of, the cut it has – it was all once just a vision living in someone’s had – their dream about that particular coat. Next, the idea was put to paper in the form of a project and a dressmaking pattern, cut out and sawn together to create your coat. Your wearing it means you’re living in the dream of the person who first thought of it.
The same applies to even the tiniest of objects we buy and own, the way we do business and how our societies function. All products, services and structures started out as someone’s ideas, fantasies and projects – in one word, dreams. Our world – in its current shape and form – is nothing more but a dream collective of all the people who were here before us and of us who are following their footsteps.
How unbelievably easy and feasible it makes it for us to grasp what needs to happen for our world to change: we must – simply – start dreaming new dreams..!
The problem is, most of us are dreaming on autopilot and never realise the agency and efficiency we possess. We end up sleepwalking towards supporting other people’s dreams. And not everybody dreams of a good, beautiful and just world…
“If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs” goes the famous quote. And that’s exactly what’s happening when we comply with the world we live in. When we comply with economical, political and social injustices. When we comply with the lack of safety for women, with the tragic state of the natural environment, with the food industry that kills us and the pharmaceutical industry whose business it is to keep us sick and dependent on their products.
We don’t question the imperative of economical growth at all costs. We look at the planet as if it’s ours to command and exploit, not as if she’s our mother and the source of all life. We do not belong to the Earth, we’re its ‘masters’. Animals are a means to an end, not our fellow brothers and sisters. We fail to see that humans developed last for a reason – without all the plant and animal species we’re mindlessly killing and devastating right now, we wouldn’t be able to survive or evolve.
The opposite is what used to, and still does, guide different indigenous peoples’ stewardship of the planet. Those same peoples the ‘civilised’ man called ‘savages’ and – instead of discerning their wisdom – used force and violence to squash their cultures and stop their rituals. By doing so, the ‘civilised’ man deprived the last of us of a connection to Earth and spirituality that was based in our bonds with nature and life itself, and not in a religion imposed on us by force.
Hawaiians, for a long time isolated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of oceans, used to be completely self-sufficient when it comes to food, construction materials and all else necessary for their survival. A couple of centuries after they were ‘discovered’ and forcefully colonised by the US, they import 92% of their food – of lower quality and at much higher prices. Their sacred spaces keep on being desecrated, their rituals disrupted… White men have been doing it without realising that those places and rituals are sacred for a good reason – they might have, for example, protected fresh water sources for the whole island or ensured sustainable sea fishing. But the ‘civilised’ man doesn’t listen and he won’t adhere to ‘savage superstitions’, so he just keeps on bulldozing the land and ‘developing’ hotels and golf clubs.
Similarly to many other spiritual paths, also the Hawaiian one foresees that it’s women who’ll change and save the world. After thousands of years of acting in male energy, domination, aggression and the use of force, there comes the time for care, attention and empathy. At the development stage we are at (and the doom we’re headed towards), it’s time for women to organise and raise their voices, while the men sit down, start to listen and help us change our direction.
If it’s a dream we’re living in, then our job is to start dreaming the world we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. We need to meet together and dream the world we want to create, and then learn the gentleness that will enable us to realise that dream. It might sound magniloquent or unobtainable but it really isn’t.
All we have to do is close our eyes and start dreaming: what kind of a world do we want for our kids and grandkids?
Personally, I want my kids to live in a world where other a-couple-year-olds don’t have to slave away at some Chinese factory, so that I can buy myself a new pair of Nikes. I open my eyes and the solution’s easy – I stop buying from companies who make fortunes by producing their products in so-called sweatshops. Instead, I search out socially and environmentally just and sustainable brands and leave my money with them.
I want my future daughters to live in a world where they can feel safe regardless of what they wear or what time they walk out of the house. I open my eyes and I realise that enhancing girls’ education and women’s financial independence is great and needed but not the way to ending sexual abuse and violence. It’s as if we’re saying that no highly educated or affluent woman was ever raped, assaulted or abused. The only lasting solution is educating boys to grow into men who don’t rape and abuse, who don’t feel they’ve any rights whatsoever over a woman’s body.
I want my kids to live in a world where food is their medicine, not poison. I open my eyes and I support local farmers and buy organic. I don’t buy processed foods and definitely not products sold by companies who, among other things, don’t consider access to drinking water a basic human right (vide: Nestle). I keep on educating myself and speak up about the dangers of the modern diet, what our food industries are based on and where we’re headed.
I want my kids to live in a world where they can look the way they wish. Where they can have crooked teeth or one leg shorter than the other and still feel beautiful. That’s why I open my eyes and I don’t use toxic make up or read stupefying and brainwashing ‘women’s magazines’ that only enforce harmful stereotypes. I don’t watch TV shows that tell me how I’m supposed to look or experience self-beauty. I don’t hand my money over to companies who are intent on doing those same things.
I want my kids to live in a world where women and children in India, Nepal or Cambodia don’t have to work ridiculous hours in barbaric conditions to make me another H&M top, for which I’ll pay a dozen times more than their daily salary. I open my eyes and no longer buy things ‘Made in India’, Cambodia or Laos2. Instead, I support ethical companies; in order to help women from impoverished areas, I support local micro projects. I search out small shops with local handiworks and crafts to buy from as I travel around the world. It might cost me more time, energy and money but it’s worth goes way beyond the price tags I see.
I want my kids to live in a world where their self-worth is based on the human beings they are and not on what they own or what they’ve ‘achieved’. I open my eyes and I’m a minimalist. I don’t go shopping every week, I don’t buy the newest iPhone, I don’t get myself entangled in the materialistic rat race. I use things till they’re no longer functional, not till they’re out of a short-lived fashion. I’m fulfilled and engaged by doing what I believe in and not what pays me more. Meeting people and getting to know their stories is what’s important to me, not their CVs or completed ‘to do’ lists.
I want my kids to live in a world full of animals and beautiful plants, with clean oceans and air that doesn’t poison them. I open my eyes and I thoroughly limit the amount of plastic I use, as well as chemicals toxic to both the environment and myself. I don’t drive unless I have to. I actively participate in shared and exchange economy. I don’t contribute to atrocious killing of animals, I support environmental campaigns and initiatives, I’m an ever more aware and responsible consumer. I pick other people’s trash from the sidewalk.
I want my kids to live in a world where five year olds don’t get repeatedly raped, female fetus killed, people with disabilities locked up in basements. I open my eyes and I’m an advocate for girls’ and women’s rights across the world, I help finance educational projects, I engage in fighting social exclusion and marginalisation and I show support to those who are less lucky and privileged than I am.
I want my kids to live in a world… – I’m sure you can take it from here.
I haven’t looked at the world with this wide and long-term approach before going to Hawai’i. In some unfathomable way I never fully realised that my EVERY daily consumer and professional choice creates the world we live in.
The practical aspect of this revelation hit me one beautiful sunny afternoon as I was… folding the laundry. While holding a sheet in my hands I had an insight so strong that it literally knocked my off my feet.
At the time, I was living on Big Island in a small, ecological bamboo hut in a yoga retreat centre on the ocean. 90% of the groceries we bought was organic or ecological. We used solar power. The whole retreat centre was made from natural materials. We composted and didn’t use any chemicals, even our sunblock and insect repellents were bio and eco. The retreat centre owners, a couple of 60+ year old American travellers, yogis and journalists, kept on talking about positive energy, changing the world for the better and holding the land’s high vibration.
And yet, the branded sheets we were using were labeled “Made in India”.
“Made in India” at the cost of the health of women who work 12+ hours a day for a pittance of a salary. “Made in India” at the cost of their children’s education. “Made in India” at the cost of gender equality and global equity. “Made in India” at the cost of the environment. “Made in India” so that the big brand’s corporate owner could earn even more at the lowest loss to his profits, “Made in India” so guests coming to the paradise that is Hawai’I could have a good night’s sleep.
I suddenly realized how important it is to look at how we spend our money and how important it is to do it not only for the sake of our own health or well-being but also for the sake of those who make it and the resources that get used in the process. I understood that it was through my daily purchases that I can – factually and realistically looking – change the world for the better. Not only my world or my closest family’s world but the world of the people living in Asia, Africa or South America.
As a result, I felt that there was no more space for “Made in India” in my life. No more space for environmental degradation, to save up a bit; for supporting inhuman work conditions and women’s exploitation to keep on comfortably consuming; for talking about ‘globalisation’ only when it was in my own interest; for washing my hands of how business is done and how it affects people all around the globe.
I was by no way original in my findings, as I’d come across taglines about responsible consumption and voting with one’s wallet before, but I had never felt or understood it with so much force and conviction. As I’d never seen these issues with so much clarity, I’d always leave responsible consumption for later: for when I would earn better, for when it’d be easier for me, for when I’d know the efforts made a difference. Suddenly, when my mind had me going to both the past and the future at the same time and realising the true cost of producing each and every item that surrounds me as well as its influence on the world of my future children, there was no more place for ‘later’.
Now I understand that buying, let’s say, organic products (food, clothes, cosmetics) doesn’t mean I’m only doing something good for myself and for my own health. When I buy organic, I don’t contribute towards releasing toxic chemicals into the soil, water and air; I’m supporting someone who cares about me and the environment and not only about hitting a sales target by any means necessary (including selling poison as ‘food’); I’m enabling someone to make a decent living wage; I’m helping to look after what’s most important.
Because changing the world starts today, it starts right this second. With you, and with me.
When we eat.
Go grocery shopping.
Relax reading a book, a magazine or an online article.
Share a video, a picture or a blog in social media.
Talk to our BFF, the neighbor or a stranger on the street.
Go away on holiday.
Grow and run our own business.
Sit at work.
Engage in social campaigns.
We’re constantly supporting a just, sustainable, safe and joyful world, or a world full of injustice and pain, a world that is unsustainable and dangerous. We do it every day, without exception and regardless of whether we want to see it or not.
And yet, we so often pretend that what we do doesn’t matter,
That who we hand our money over to doesn’t matter.
That what we spend our time and energy on is solely our business.
That what we do in our homes and cities has no effect on the rest of the global society.
That there’s nothing we can do about wars, poverty, unhappiness and injustice.
I don’t believe in any top-down revolutions. I’m convinced, however, that what can and will change the world is grassroots movements and individual’s engagement therein.
Nobody’s a desolate and solitary island, so when I change my views and behaviour, I’m directly and indirectly affecting everyone and everything I meet. In the age of technology, Internet and social media, we each have a platform to change the world. We carry it in our pockets, 24/7.
Nobody demands of you to be the sole person who’ll save the world but then again, maybe that’s where the problem lays? How different would our reality look like if each of us considered themselves the ones everything was dependent on?
It wouldn’t matter how many people acted the same way.
It wouldn’t matter that some of the changes wouldn’t be visible straight away.
It wouldn’t matter that we’d have to spend a bit more or buy a bit less.
What would matter is the awareness that what I do now will be felt by my children – all the way to my seventh generation. After all, they’re the ones who’ll be living in my dream, as everything I undertake right now shapes their future reality.
It’s high time we stopped lying to ourselves and understood that everything and everyone is connected.
The world, just like the human body, is dependent on all processes that are taking place within it at any given time. Similarly to how modern medicine seems to be forgetting this fact and dissecting the body into independent parts and organs, deluding itself that one part doesn’t directly influence all the others, the modern citizen dissects himself from what’s going on at another’s place, city, country, continent. He doesn’t realise that by doing so, he puts himself in danger because the problems and ailments he’s ignoring are bound to catch up with him sooner or later.
A nineteenth century Lakota prophecy foretells the coming of the seventh generation that will right all the wrongs and change the direction we’re headed towards. We are that seventh generation, though the majority of us seem to have forgotten to wake up from past dreams.
That’s why I invite you to play a little game with me right now:
Close your eyes and answer this one simple question:
What world do you dream of for you children and grandchildren?
Now open your eyes and start creating it.
Every single day.
The original article was published in Polish, on my Polish speaking blog in Oct 2015.
Earlier this year I came across a Pachamama Allience’s free online video course “Awakening the Dreamer”. If what I write about in this article resonates with you, I highly recommend you check it out.
I also encourage you to read anything and everything by Joanna Macy, who’s my biggest inspiration these days.