To “Do Less” Harm

This morning as fluffy flakes of snow fall outside, I’m reading the Fall 2019 issue of The Leader, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) publication.

I had the privilege of participating in a 30-day Outdoor Leadership Course in 2003 with a diverse group of young adventurers like myself. We spent 10 days backpacking, 10 days climbing & 10 days mountaineering in the North Cascades of Washington.

The experience was mind-blowing to say the least, & set me on a path to working as a wilderness instructor & outdoor educator. I developed confidence as a woman in the outdoors & “hard skills” like setting a climbing route & planning an expedition. We also honed our “soft skills” — respect for each other, working as a team, & knowing when to chuck it all & play cards in the tent for 3 days (we got snowed in 😉 ).

Back to the NOLS magazine.

I’ve just finished reading an article about NOLS headquarters in Wyoming getting a visit from a U.S. Senator regarding climate change.

Now, this is a hot topic … I’m not here to debate climate change or sway your view. Let’s get that out there & move on.

The NOLS staff discussed the on-the-ground experience they’ve had in a changing environment. NOLS has been around for 55 years leading outdoor expeditions worldwide, & few organizations I know of have more experience & knowledge of humans & outdoor environments.

The staff noted operational challenges, & the permanent changes made to adapt to a “new normal” of glacial recession, Alaska heatwaves, longer wildfire seasons, & extensive beetle-killed forests.

I’ve hiked in those now beetle-killed forests, & traversed those now-receding glaciers. In another life, working on a volunteer wildland fire crew, I experienced just a bit of those wildfires.

Snowking Mountain

During my 2003 expedition, we climbed Snowking Mountain in the North Cascades during our mountaineering section of the course. We practiced cutting steps in the snow & using ice axes & crampons effectively (i.e. not puncturing yourself or someone else). We roped up in teams of 3, & practiced hitting the deck & bracing ourselves with our ice axes to prevent a team member from falling off the mountain. Humbling & empowering work.

Snowking Mountain

Now, I’m a mediocre adventurer … there are countless badass adventurers, several I count as friends, who’ve climbed, tasted, hiked, biked in astounding landscapes. And for me, Snowking was a moment of badassery for me ;). The view from the summit took my breath away … & my eyes were overwhelmed by the view in all directions … I still feel speechless awe when I visualize that day with my NOLS team.

Just to know it’s there fills my heart.

So, as I read this article, I think about the amazing beauty & overwhelming wonder of the landscapes I’ve been privileged to experience around the U.S. & the world. And I think of ahimsa, non-harming, the theme we’ve been exploring in my Yoga asana classes this month.

Can we really “do no harm” to our natural world anymore?

In many areas, the harm is done. Most recently, we see blazes in the Amazon, California & currently Australia. And have you heard of the island of trash in the ocean — the Pacific Ocean “garbage patch”? Or the piles of oxygen tanks on Mt. Everest? The radioactive waste containers buried underground in Finland?

Great Pacific garbage patch

It’s enough to send any human being capable of self-reflection into despair.

So, I’ve realized the fact is: Humans do harm. Just by being on this planet, we cause harm to others & our environment.

I throw plastic away, & it ends up in someone else’s backyard in China. Even if I recycle, the jury is out how much actually gets recycled.

I drive a car. Really little way to get around that in the West. From production to use to disposal, that car causes harm.

What CAN we do?

Michelle Cassandra Johnson has written a powerful little book titled Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. I listened to an interview with Michelle during which she described an interaction with one of her students during a yoga & justice training.

The female student stated (I’m paraphrasing) that she’s come to the conclusion that just by existing she WILL do harm. Kind of a downer, right? The idea that one’s very existence is harmful to others & the environment.

And yet she also resolved, “So I am committing to do LESS harm in any way I can.”

Her resolution was in the context of a discussion about race, racial inequity, & white privilege … & I think we can extrapolate her comments to encompass the natural environment as well.

In a world & time where some harm is inevitable, how can we DO LESS. How can we do less harm mindfully & proactively?

The answers are different for each of us.

I may never stand at the top of Snowking Mountain again … but I want to know it’s THERE, in all its snowcapped glory, for future generations to enjoy. I want to know the forests I’ve hiked still stand, the rivers I’ve paddled flow freely, & the creatures I’ve spied (or have spied me) are out there living their best lives.

How can I … can we, if you’re inspired … commit to daily acts of doing less harm?

This is Yoga.

(Images from Wikipedia)

Published by ericaengel42

I practice & share Hatha Yoga for a simple reason -- it works. Hatha Yoga in the Himalayan Tradition is a holistic system of philosophy & practices passed down through an unbroken 5,000 year lineage of Himalayan sages. What Hatha Yoga is not: trendy, bendy or one-&-done. What Hatha Yoga is: a systematic approach to uncovering the real, authentic YOU in body, mind & spirit. Hatha Yoga cultivates well-being, stability, clarity & ease in modern life through traditional, time-tested practices. I also recognize both our shared humanity & our differing privileges & barriers -- I am a cis-gendered white female with a graduate degree, who has dealt with family trauma & an eating disorder. My goals in my own practice include to cultivate awareness of my own privileges & social conditioning, unlearn & re-learn in order to be mindful & take compassionate action toward a more beautiful, just & peaceful world for ALL humans, creatures & our Earth. I'm making mistakes daily, & hopeful that I'm falling forward toward these goals & vision. I hope we can walk our paths & support each other along the way.

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