Deeper into Deeper

21 09 2007

KD

By Jill Ettinger

Like many people, I’ve bashed Wal-Mart on a number of occasions (as recently as my last post, in fact). They shock and frustrate those of us working to build a world in which triple bottom line becomes the only foundation of any credible or successful business.  Wal-Mart’s hostile treatment of employees, suppliers and the environment along with their misuse of government subsidies costs hard working tax-payers money and time they don’t have to spare.

But I must admit, I was recently inspired to let up on my disdain for the Wal-Martians after reading an article in Fast Company on Adam Werbach, Founder/CEO of Act Now, the organization that implements sustainable strategies for the curious behavior of companies like Wal-Mart and Sony. It’s actually pretty awesome, even though Werbach has come under a ton of scrutiny for “helping the enemy.” As former President  (and the youngest person to hold the position) of the Sierra Club, who himself had called Wal-Mart a few well-deserved but not-so-pretty names, he seems to be drawing a lofty amount attention away from real issues by simply being who he has to be, which as far as I can tell is someone who has never lost sight of the big picture. Naysayers have lauded large complaints and campaigns against him for his support of Wal-Mart instead of for the causes supposedly near and dear to their hearts.

Working with Wal-Mart is a tall order, but, someone has to do it. Kudos to Werbach for stepping into the murky waters and unclogging the drain backed up by confused corporate raiders. They are getting the best plumber money can buy, and that perhaps is what is causing the friction with his peers. Maybe they’re not judging him for “switching sides,” but perhaps more in a tone of envy for having the courage to do so. Wal-Mart is not going to disappear anytime soon. Act Now is brilliantly effective, like the good people at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), who often take the road of not-so-victorious-but-damn-important small steps rather than stand stonewalled on principles that will simply not be conceded over night – if at all. You’ve got to start somewhere or you’ll get nowhere, which would be a contradiction for Act Now. They’re simply living up to their name.

My last post (“Dinosaurs Return”) includes a clip from the CNBC special “The Age of Wal-Mart,” which on a lot of levels is disturbing. But this archaic entity can respond to change. Just how real this change can be came to me last Sunday night. This month marks my sixth anniversary of completing my yoga teacher training in upstate New York. There’s something strange and humbling in looking back at the moments when I began to realize I was “awakened.” Not awake in the sense of being enlightened, but rather in the sense of how aware I am that I am so far from enlightenment. (Or perhaps just a little bit closer to it?) Still, that moment of understanding came to me not too long before  teacher training began.

One critical moment came in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in a used CD shop circa Spring 2000. At the time, I was a natural products broker, heading home after a visit to the (now closed) Wild Oats on Sunrise Blvd. I felt compelled to stop at this hard to see little disc shop in a strip mall. Though it’s baffling to imagine life without iPods or satellite radio, perusing bins of cracked jewel cases had an appeal. So I rummaged as the traffic whizzed by the front window. I remember the moment my fingers stuck to Live From Earth by Krishna Das. This was something special, I was quite sure of that, like an archaeologist finding the scattered bones to an ancient mastodon.  I knew, though I really didn’t know, that I had found something key to unlocking more of me.

Krishna Das would become an integral figure in my “awakening.” From the ride home that night to my time living at the Sivananda ashram learning the chants inside and out, to taking intensive retreat with him and attending his kirtan at least a dozen other times. On so many levels, he’s an ordinary man, and that is exactly what makes him so extraordinary.

Sunday night though was even more inspiring than I had come to expect from Das.  I was honored to be invited to spend the evening with two forward thinking individuals: founder of Under The Canopy organic clothing, Marci Zaroff, and founder of New Leaf Paper, Jeff Mendelsohn. Sitting there with inspiring friends, the echo of mantras filling the room, I started to think about greatness, and change. I’m quite fascinated by people who can take an idea – be it Sam Walton or Oprah Winfrey – and make it a reality. As the CNBC Wal-Mart exposé concludes, the monster chain is just really scratching the surface both in the U.S. market and abroad. They have much loftier goals than even they can really grasp. Just like Werbach and his team are working to make shifts in all aspects of the Wal-Mart machine, as Krishna Das took me deeper into deeper, I could feel how what once seemed impossible is gracefully moving mainstream. I imagined that it is not long before Wal-Mart shoppers peruse aisles of recycled New Leaf paper, or are greeted by those lovely blue smocks eventually made of Under The Canopy organic cotton (and let’s hope a little style upgrade too).  Maybe Krishna Das CDs will sit next to Keith Urban and goji berries where the Pop Tarts used to be.

One of the biggest questions I had while watching the CNBC report and in reading the Fast Company article was how does teaching the beast these ecotricks really have an effect if it’s not safe to let it out of its cage? Their existence is based on a brawny justification of the fundamentally unnecessary. Aside from the grocery/household items, a majority of what they sell is useless junk. Much like the credit system in this country banks on consumers who will never be able to pay off their debts, big box store mentality relies on the complacency and over-consumptive tendencies of the average American to keep filling their carts full of wallpaper, duvet covers and lawn statues. And of course, it’s a win-win if these horrid purchases are swiped through to Bank of America or Capital One for their favorite money making customer: the minimum monthly payer.

So this is where the chanting – or any type of meditation – comes in and makes that seamless connection. Anyone who’s shared kirtan with Das has likely heard his story. Longing for enlightenment via his guru and the years of separation from his practice only to reunite in a penetrating embrace of love’s most magical warmth. When sitting in the bright darkness of the meditation, repeating the names of the divine, it is the transparent power of love that appears to answer every question. As the gorgeous sound and silence consumed me I found it more transformative than all my previous kirtan experiences. Rather than try so hard to force the kirtan to “work” on me, I changed by not doing much of anything except being open to the experience. Wal-Mart is just one example of the ways in which just purely loving something can actually inspire the greatest change of all. It matters not our methods to greatness, but only that we understand its potential is in every one of us, and everything we do.

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