Shaman Durek & Actress Bonnie Wright On The Spiritual Root Of Environmental Action

In this candid interview, spiritual counselor and mindbodygreen Collective member Shaman Durek sits down with friend, filmmaker, and activist Bonnie Wright to discuss the spiritual relationship we all share with the elements and how it can inspire sustainable action. Connected by a love for environmental conservation, the pair has some fascinating insights on the state of our planet today and how we can all wake up to a brighter tomorrow.

On the relationship between humans and the four elements.

Bonnie Wright: The four elements are air, fire, water, earth. I find when discussing issues like this, it can sometimes get overcomplicated, but quite simply we all have a relationship and a connection to these elements. We walk on the earth; we breathe the air; we drink water; we light fire to cook our food. Without knowing it, we are in touch with the elements all the time. It doesn’t have to be this overly romantic relationship; it’s just part of our every day. From the beginning of time, we have taken joy from this interaction, too.

Shaman Durek: The elements are also a part of the human body. Your blood, semen, vaginal fluids represent water. Your bones represent the Earth. Your muscles represent the fire. And your breath represents the air. In order for the body to maintain and sustain itself, it needs to have an equal amount of elements replenishing it. If you didn't drink enough water or breathe enough air, your body would begin to break down.

We don't realize that to truly survive we must sustain that which gives us sustenance.

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On how we became disconnected from the elements in the first place.

B: I laugh although I probably shouldn’t when I see words like "natural" written on labels of products. Isn’t everything "natural"? We have scientifically dreamed up so many incredible ways of creating new products, but at the end of the day, all are coming from one resource, which is the Earth. We have put ourselves first as the creator and thereby forgotten that without the Earth, we would never even have had the opportunity to exercise our intelligence and create all these ingenious materials. We take so much from the Earth without thanking it or respecting its power.

S: I think we've also become a race of individuals in a lot of ways. We don't realize that to truly survive we must sustain that which gives us sustenance.

On why we aren't more conscious of the elements.

B: To be conscious means that you have bothered to take a moment to think about something before doing it. But too often we don’t allow ourselves time to make informed choices. I get upset with myself when I realize I’ve made choices absent-mindedly. We live in a world where we can say to ourselves, "I’m thirsty, and I want a drink. OK, I’ve got my bottled water now; I’m good." We don’t maybe stop for a second to think, "I’m thirsty...but I’ll be home in 20 minutes. I’ll just drink some water when I get home." I think we have this ingrained thought process that anything we want we can have right now. And we don’t stop to think, do we actually need it? We have lost touch with how to distinguish needs from wants, which has sadly led us to abuse Earth for the sake of momentary convenience. It's not sustainable. I guess that takes you back to the ego really.

S: And at the same time, we have major companies and corporations that are mass-producing things. This overload can actually make the mind become numb to what our bodies need to operate. We no longer need to ask ourselves if our behavior is a win-win for ourselves and for the planet and for the other people affected. When you see the mass production of things, you begin to have a sense of entitlement and disregard for the value they have in your life. In times past, people used to spend more time outside in nature, which helped them see the importance of their surroundings versus their possessions. Now, everything is constantly fed to us through media, billboards, and social structures that have robbed us of the ability to see the value of things.

B: People also used to respect their belongings more when they took longer to make. Now things break and can be replaced so easily.

S: Yes, and things break because people want you to buy more. You’ll see more, so you’ll buy more, and they’ll make more money.

Photo: @shamandurek

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On whether or not taking an action like recycling is enough to change the system.

B: Unfortunately there is too much out there now for us to physically keep up with. An entire truckload of single-use plastic ends up in our ocean every minute—it's either literally dumped straight into it, or it reaches it through waterways. When it comes to recyclables, China recently stopped receiving recycling from the United Kingdom and America. Bans like this make us realize we are not actually making something disappear when we throw it in a bin—we are just shifting the responsibility to another country. When you understand the scale of the issue, you see it isn’t about buying new things and disposing of them "responsibly" but reusing that which you already have.

S: In shamanism, we operate off of a tribal culture. If a tribe had a massive load of garbage, it would be their own responsibility to deal with it.

B: That there is a cause-and-effect thought pattern that people just don’t practice today. In your tribe, everyone is responsible for everything they do. But in our civilization, we take something, we discard it, and we think it just disappears into a magical Mary Poppins-esque bag.

S: Everyone acts in that blind faith that everything is being taken care of. In tribal culture, you can’t have that blind faith because everything comes right back to you.

I think we have lost touch with the fact that the choices we make are everything we have.

B: When it comes to single-use plastic pollution, in particular, I think there are so many obstacles standing in the way of change. I often imagine what the world would look like without single-use plastic. It’s pretty shocking because the stuff is everywhere. It’s overwhelming. But we have to keep pushing this subject to the forefront. Just because this is our reality right now—to consume plastic all the time—does that mean we have to keep doing it? Or can we change that reality?

S: In any situation when people are dealing with a massive issue, they need to rally together to effect change. We need to boycott single-use plastic and utilize our social media platforms to bring attention to the movement.

Consider the fact that in the last 10 to 15 years, we've seen a massive shift in the food industry away from animal products. Companies are paying more attention to the types of products they are selling to the general community because more people are becoming more conscious eaters. If we were to take the same approach to the way we consume single-use plastics, we would see corporations using them less.

B: Think about it like the fashion industry, where what's trendy changes from one day to the next. If we all considered single-use plastic uncool, then we would speak that into reality. If we make it very black and white and say NO to all single-use plastics, we turn the tide. I really do think it is shifting, but we do need to shift more and make sure our choices always reflect our beliefs.

How can we inspire individuals to be empowered with a very globally overwhelming issue like climate change?

B: We have lost touch with the fact that the choices we make are everything we have. We earn money, and no matter what that figure is, we all have the power daily to decide where we spend it. And if you are passionate about issues like the environment, your actions can reflect that.

If we change the way we spend to make sustainable cool, the products we buy will have to shift too. There are so many things in this world we once accepted as healthy and normal, like smoking tobacco. Everyone was shocked when they said smoking would be banned in some public places. But it was, and it proved consumer demand can inspire huge shifts.

S: I think it comes down to educating ourselves about environmental issues too. And not being quiet about what we learn but talking about it like we would talk to a friend about a great movie that just came out or the amazing thing we saw on television last week. And using social media and using conversations as a platform for action. These conversations would be much more beneficial for our planet and the people living on our planet.

Want to hear more from these thought leaders? Check out Bonnie's ingenious strategy for avoiding single-use plastic, and listen in to Shaman Durek's story on the mbg podcast.

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