I had the honor to be in the room with one of the leaders of the ecological movement, Satish Kumar, two days before this defining moment in our society, the election of a dark leader as ruler of an important part of the world. And it was fun and inspiring to be with him. He is over 80 years old and has the energy of a twenty-something. “We live in a great time for activism. Now is the moment to rise.” He is a pure activist for a more conscious world. “Life is doing. It is not trying or attaining. When I cook, I cook. When I garden, I garden. When I eat, I eat. It’s here and now.” It made me think of the talk Petriglieri gave at the leader gathering. “Love? It doesn’t exist. Wisdom? It doesn’t exist. It happens in the action.”
“You can not own land, you can only have a relationship with it,” Kumar said, holding his arms up and hands wide open. He founded Schumacher college, international center for ecological studies and is editor for the Resurgence and Ecologist magazine. “In Sanskrit, we don’t have a word for possession. We literally can not own anything.” He kept coming back to that very central thought in his activism: “You are, therefore I am. We are made of each other.” I reflected on my own ideas about possession, control and leadership. Up till 10 years ago, I linked leadership to power, dominance and being effective. Since 5 years to influence, soft power and being able to transform people and change situations. And now more and more as contributing, being in community.
Kumar walked 8.000 miles in 2,5 years when he was 25 and visited the four nuclear world leaders at the height of the cold war, offering them some tea. He travelled without money and without food, as in the tradition of the Jain religion in which he was raised. “Giving is easy,” he smiled and paused. “Strength lies in asking for help. As a Jain monk, at an age of 9, I only had my begging bowl. I learned to beg. Even now. Last night, when I was tired, I asked ‘Energy, where are you? I need you! Come back!’ and energy came and I could make some soup and do some cleaning up. My wife said, ‘why can you not rest with me?” He laughed loud and wholeheartedly. I got thinking about all those evenings spending tired in the sofa, watching the world instead of participating in it.
“I met Jews, Muslims, Christians during my pilgrimage, and I had to connect with them to receive some food or shelter. I met capitalists and communists. I met poor and rich people, white, black and other coloured people. How did I do that? By having no fear. I had no barriers. I accepted others unconditionally as they are. Even if they pointed a gun to me.” He told a story how a family member wanted to give him some food when he started his journey in India and crossed the border with Pakistan. He said to her: “No. I can not take this. How can people trust me if I already show that I am not trusting them to give me some food. This food is a parcel of distrust.” Which parcels of distrust do we carry with us? How do we protect and defend ourselves from others?
“Didn’t you feel lonely at times,” a participant in the workshop asked. Kumar smiled and instantly answered “Of course. Of course you are alone.” “So how do you deal with it?” the participant continued. He reflected for some seconds and answered : “I try to change loneliness into solitude.” Being alone is different from feeling alone. As activist self-absorption is of no help. It’s ego. “I always say that we need to move from ego to eco. Transforming this inner front of fear and anger is what we can do. How does a radiator transmit warmth?” He paused to let the question sink in. “By being warm,” he laughed.
Against the background of the American elections, the question about “the meaning of life” was inevitable. I myself am surrendering to the idea that we are experiencing the collapse of our society, that we are in the midst of a breakdown of many institutions and systems that supported many people of this planet for a long time. So what to do? Which decisions to make? Which actions to take? For ourselves, our children? Kumar: “For an answer to this question you have to come to my master class!” After the laughter settled: “The meaning of life is finding a way of ‘being yourself’, so that you can experience every moment as a moment of joy.” It sounded more profound as I am able to write it down.
“But when confronted with aggressive people, when you are faced with opposition, what to do? When he, whose name we don’t speak out loud, wins tomorrow… ” another participant pushed for guidelines in these turbulent times. Kumar referred to Herman Hesses Siddarta, one of his favorite books. “I can think. I can fast. I can wait. I can serve. With these qualities I can face any situation. You need to practice patience to remain active.”