Having been on the front lines of environmental activism for nearly 2 decades, I know that the word activism describes the pace and urgency with which “activists” live. We are “called and compelled to act”. But often even activists don’t act out in the mundane what our lives demand of us on the front lines, sometimes we are constrained by monetary limits and sometimes we are just too overwhelmed by all the fronts we need to be vigilant on. A conversation some years ago with someone close to me on the spiritual path was about her frustration with the demands of cleaning out her cans before putting them out for curbside recycling. Trying to relate this simple task to the spiritual, I commented that it was just an act of consciousness to which she exclaimed “Just how conscious do I have to be!?” A good question!
Life altering events catapulted me into several forms of environmental activism two decades ago. The tragic accident of a dear cosmetologist friend and shortly thereafter a regional landfill and incinerator site was designated to be placed in our small rural upstate NY village — all this heightened my awareness to the fact that the cosmetic industry is one of the biggest polluters.
Having practiced alternative medicines for health and healing I knew there were more natural non-toxic beauty options. I decided to get my cosmetology license, study herbs, and non-toxic, non-invasive methods of beauty. My goal was by practicing, implementing and teaching these methods a difference would be made on the Beauty Industry and also its environmental impacts.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, our body's first defense against disease and infection, and it protects our internal organs from injuries. Sixty percent of what is put on the skin is absorbed directly into the blood stream; digestion takes longer for absorption hence the development of nicotine and birth control patches. We are exposed to numerous toxins in multiple pathways from water, air, soil, food and product. It makes sense to control personal exposures where we can. The other side of this coin is the opportunity we have to create a just economy, a safe healthy environment and act from a space of compassion just through the purchase of clean, non-toxic health and beauty products.
Hurricane Katrina is being used as a litmus test for all “what ifs” and is a good lesson for the types of industries we as communities encourage living and growing among us. Personal Hygiene products such as shampoos, skin care, toothpastes, deodorants etc. may have “less than 1%” of a harsh preservative or “undesirable” ingredient, but we must learn to look at the accumulation levels in our homes on our bodies as importantly as in what goes into the manufacturing of these products.. What are the exposure levels to someone on the assembly line, or in the neighborhood where these chemical laden formulations are created? Are they finding their way into air, water and soil?
There are truly effective, all natural, safely preserved health and beauty products. They may cost a little more “up front” but a cost is borne somewhere in the equation – we just need to see the cost as it currently is – borne in contaminated water, soil, air, which comes back to ourselves in illness, disabilities, mutations, even higher health care costs.
Knowing that the “cost factor” is never nullified only misplaced, it becomes apparent that purchasing can be an easy act of expressing compassion! Just think of tithing, or donating towards “good works”. Most people see this as giving to places of worship or charities. When you see tithing as every act and even purchase you can see how purchasing a non-toxic shampoo not only benefits you directly but also others not able to move from toxic communities by building a demand for clean industries.
As I find myself today working in the retail world this very much overlooked, and equally important form of activism is revealed – the daily presence of “space holding”. Space holding is “being the change you wish to see in the world”. Be it maintaining peace and non-judgment, setting up an in-store recycling program, purchasing choices at the wholesale level, or speaking truth to product reps. and/or customers-- space holding is essential. It strengthens the power of awareness, as well as of the Self. We don’t need to change the world – just ourselves, and then the world changes.
Christine Shahin is has been an environmental and human rights activist for 2 decades, the mother of six grown children, she is the former executive director of the multi-national youth organization, Kids Against Pollution, and former National Environmental Associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group. Christine is owner of Faces of Astarte: Natural Hair & Skin Care Consulting in Little Falls, NY. She is a licensed cosmetologist, make-up artist, henna/natural pigment hair colorist and holistic beauty practitioner (www.FacesofAstarte.com) and is a member of Circle The Earth's Advisory Committee