Colin Beavan is a well known voice on environmental issues, consumerism and human quality of life. His most recent book is How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World. In it, he invites readers to explore the practical spirituality that can arise from questioning the story that we can’t make a difference. He also suggests that taking small, practical steps that express our compassion for others and the planet can simultaneously bring unexpected happiness into our own lives.
No Impact Man, Colin’s previous book, is required reading on over 100 American college campuses and has been translated into 15 languages. The documentary film with the same name, was featured at Sundance and some 50,000 people have been through “No Impact Week”, an immersive educational experience offered by his non-profit.
Colin was also a Green Party candidate for Congress in 2012. And he is a senior dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen.
What I appreciate about Colin is how strongly centered he is in compassion, and how that impulse has given him a moral center from which to live his whole life and to influence the lives of many others.
During our dialogue, Colin reflected on one of the major themes of his work — all the ways in which we tend to be captured by the dominant “stories” told by our culture. He spoke appreciatively of Byron Katie’s The Work as one means for disarming these stories.
He also shared his personal journey of becoming aware of these dominant cultural narratives. Early in life, he experienced people close to him struggling with loss, addiction, and trauma, failing to live out or be nurtured by these inherited narratives.
He began his own inquiry, questioning these stories, eventually discovering a whole new level of personal fulfillment and community.
Colin continues to connect with others who like him, are forging non-standard lifestyles that are better for them and better for the world. He continues to write about and learn from these “lifequesters.”
Being a lifequester doesn’t have to mean striking off on one’s own to live in seclusion in the woods or to be self-sufficient and “escape the system.” Colin reminds us that the system is just a series of networks and people. The problem lies in the fact that our systems don’t actually reflect true human nature, which Colin sees as essentially kind and of service.
How do we change the system? We move into our authentic selves, from “self-help” to “each-other-help,” liberating ourselves from whatever systemic defects we were inauthentically colluding with.
And it’s not about being “good” or trying to do or be “better.” Colin says we are pulled forth by excitement, playfulness, even a kind of rascally, naughtiness as we move toward our truth, because it’s not about being a good boy or girl, it’s about being real.
Colin also spoke about his latest book How to Be Alive as a “series of questions” rather than a directive or list of “shoulds.” During the tours and talks for his first book, he noticed that people often assumed that the changes they needed to make were just carbon copies of the shifts he had effected during his No Impact experiment. Not only was this assumption simplistic and inauthentic, it often wasn’t possible to enact the same changes, such as totally forgoing cars for a bike or eating only locally grown foods.
Colin says that if we look within ourselves for the direction, starting perhaps with some small thing that’s been niggling us, we are likely to find ourselves on a path that over time takes us to greater satisfaction, a more authentic life and relationships, and eventually the place where “our joy meets there worlds great need.”
You can listen to the whole dialogue here.
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