Before the garden, there was a seed. And before the mission, there was a need.
It was August 2005, and I was soaking in the sun at the Dallas Arboretum with my five-month old daughter. I hadn’t been used to sitting still, and relaxing outdoors felt surreal to me. Before motherhood, I tended to hold people at a distance, but holding Jordan gave me a deeper sense of connection to the world. Soon my old habits felt hollow, including spending long days inside sterile buildings. That summer, a growing sense of wonder pushed me outside, which led me to the garden. The place I had neither the time nor inclination to visit before soon became my escape, and spending so much time in nature changed everything.
Lying in the grass one day, I had an epiphany – not the usual light bulb-over-the-head novel idea, but a transformative experience. After writing in my journal and closing my eyes to rest, I remember opening them up, and suddenly the sun looked very different. It seemed to take over the sky and stared at me like a giant dilated pupil. As I looked back at it, I felt its rays sink into me, and a sense of completion washed over me. Energized and awestruck by a profound sense of knowing, I felt the sunbeams radiate this message: “You Have Everything You Need.”
At the time, I knew what had happened was meaningful, even mystical. I also knew it had to do with nature, as environmental conservation was a pet cause of mine. But this newfound invigoration now bordered on obsession, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Over the next few months, I poured my energy into writing, which ranged from children’s stories about trees and animals to a business plan for a new kind of company. At first I thought it would be a family enterprise, and family did help, but eventually I realized this was a road I needed to walk alone, at least for a while.
I set out on my journey with intention, and began to meet others who were similarly passionate about caring for the earth and its people. The social and environmental impact professionals and advocates I met along the way became my global network. From there, I launched a sustainability communication firm, EarthPeople Media. I have since served clients from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies and global NGOs, helping them create and execute sustainability and corporate social responsibility strategies. Alongside this, I have organized grassroots coalitions and written articles, reports and books to spread the message of a sustainable future and how we can all become part of it.
There were even times when I succeeded. But mostly, I have failed. Although the sustainability movement is gaining momentum, human-induced threats to our environment have only worsened since I began this work. As this realization slowly dawned on me, it also diminished my joy. My childish enthusiasm gave way to knowledge, and knowledge grew into wisdom. As wisdom began to devolve into cynicism, I finally understood what the author of Ecclesiastes meant by, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
For some time, even the garden lost its luster. It was a private garden, after all, and I questioned the public’s ability to pay the price of admission. Lack of access seemed unfair in light of the poverty outside. The manicured lawns ceased to look beautiful, and came to represent a pointless expenditure of water and pesticides to prop up an artificial and superficial ornament for the well-off, to the exclusion of everyone else. Even the absence of litter was a reminder that this oasis in the city was eons away from the reality faced by most people beyond its walls.
Clearly, somewhere in pursuing the cause, I had lost the purpose. More importantly, I had lost touch with the key ingredient for doing anything of consequence: Love. Love for the planet and for its people, whose ignorance I once shared – and who, like me, needed to know they belong on God’s green earth. And love for the mystery and wildness of this world and its creatures, in all their imperfection. And love for myself and my own feeble efforts. They may never be enough to fix the problem, but the purity of intention I pour into them brings me into deeper communion with others and with the divine, which I now believe was the point all along.
When I woke up to what had gone missing in my mission, I realized I hadn’t lost anything. I had simply stopped seeing it. After readjusting the lens, I finally understood the meaning of the message, “You Have Everything You Need.” You – that is, we – have an abundance of natural resources if we can learn to conserve them. We have enough financial resources if we can learn to share them. We have solutions if we will teach others how to use them. We have purpose if we can learn to listen. We have partners if we can learn to appreciate each other’s unique gifts. And we have our voices if we can learn to raise them.
I have since found my way back to the garden. Despite its too-perfect imperfection, my love for it has been restored. Now when I visit, I enjoy seeing visitors from all walks of life roam its green labyrinths, marveling at its beauty and taking pictures with their children and grandmothers, neighbors and friends. I have learned to appreciate the garden, and life in general, for what it is rather than reject it what it is not. Sometimes my children even join me, and I tell them about the secrets it has taught me. I hope they are listening, if not to me, then to themselves – and to all of creation unfolding before them, because it has truths to teach them.
The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, and one love. —Meister Eckhart