A clearer ocean starts in the depths of us

By Andy Kenworthy

Personal development and spirituality have always been intertwined with environmentalism. But the power of that combination remains vastly underestimated.

The age old insight that we are the environment has a myriad of implications. This is especially true if you work on environmental issues.

We may recognise when our work compromises our well-being. We may feel the strain of being daily immersed in ‘bad’ news. But do we acknowledge the ways our own negativity holds us back?

For me this was one of the core questions addressed by my recent SpiritLab experience. It was a four day course on Rotoroa Island, administered by the newly formed Emerge Institute. The course took place in a secluded group setting. Together we used a range of personal exploration techniques and shared meditations to clarify our thinking.

The institute’s team includes the highly experienced leadership trainer Louise Marra. She describes her work as ‘organisational and systems healing’. At Emerge Louise is working alongside community builder Tui Williams. The core team also includes enabler and innovator Shruthi Vijayakumar and technologist and designer Vinny Lohan.

Together we looked at how our personal outlook and mindset affects the work we do.

My career is an example. For me environmentalism and spirituality were a conscious and positive route out of anger and depression. But on deeper reflection I can see how my environmentalism in some ways re-expresses those feelings. There’s the drive to be ‘better’ than other people. The urge to tell other people what they should be doing. The frustration, the bitterness and cynicism that can bubble to the surface. This can lead to divisiveness and burn out.

The opportunity offered by courses like this one is to name those deeper feelings. We can identify the roles they are playing in our life and work. We can gain clarity on what is really motivating our actions. It gives us the opportunity to make changes at that deeper level.

I attended as part of the Sustainable Business Network’s ongoing work on restoring the mauri of the Hauraki Gulf. This work received funding from Gulf Innovation Fund Together (G.I.F.T) – a Foundation North initiative. It is based on a shared desire to work on conservation and restoration at the level of mauri – life essence. I’ve already written on how the Maori world view informs this.

Courses like SpiritLab can all too often be written off as navel gazing. Managers can see them as a jolly away from the real work of pushing hard for innovations and change. And yes, part of the appeal is simply to gain some peace to think more clearly.

But it seems increasingly evident that we won’t solve the world’s problems with the same thinking that got us into them. A deeper, more radical transformation is needed. Taking the time on inner work like this will be vital for that to take place.