A Piece of Ourselves
by Julie Bygraves
When I started to practice Buddhism while at the University of Manchester, my ideas about my longer-term career started to crystallize into a desire to work in environmental conservation. I was studying ecology and Spanish, and my course included a year in Barcelona studying forest growth, gaining fluency in Spanish.
After graduating, despite a lack of financial resources, I found ways to undertake some voluntary work in Madagascar, where I conducted ecological research on coral reefs and helped provide information to support local people's calls for the protection of their natural resources. I saw here that the key to protecting the coral reefs was to work with people. Other work for a research organization broadened my perspective on the links between conflict, threats to human rights, the land and the environment. I saw that the areas with the richest wildlife and natural resources are often areas where there are complex emergencies and humanitarian crises caused by conflict and extreme poverty. These experiences helped me understand more clearly than ever the importance of the human element in environmental protection.
I returned to university to complete a Master's degree in Environmental Policy, and left for the second time in 2004, at the age of 25, excited about the prospect of working for environmental conservation. But this excitement soon gave way to a sense of frustration at the difficulty of finding paid work in this field. I worked in some short-term jobs, and continued to hold onto my determination to work in environmental policy, but often struggled with the feeling that things weren't changing or moving forward for me.
I knew that change had to start from me. I began to develop the attitude that my life isn't just about surviving or solving problems that arise, it's about taking a proactive approach to life, where I set out to do something and continue come what may, focusing all the time on my long-term aims, seeing setbacks in their longer-term context.
My great treasure from this time is the encouragement I received from people I met through SGI-UK, who helped me see that, wherever I worked, I could find joy there and a way of making a positive contribution to society, and that this transformation would enable me to move forward.
Through my Buddhist practice I also developed my confidence and ability to encourage others and support them in fulfilling their own dreams.
I believe a fulfilling life is about striving to create happiness, among friends, family, the local community and the workplace. I started to take action and build joy in every area of my life, for example through talking to my local council about the local park, which resulted in children from the local school becoming involved in a tree-planting day.
I have now worked for a central government agency for four years, and find it amazing that in many ways what I do builds on the skills I developed at times when my job seemed most irrelevant. I started in a short-term support role, which developed into working now in an area which I have always felt most passionate about: forest protection and restoration. My work includes helping bring in new approaches to prevent illegal logging, which is a major driver of tropical deforestation, as well as helping to bring colleagues together to solve problems, making new links between our work areas and putting policies into a broader context. My ability to do this has emerged from having worked with people from all walks of life in jobs throughout my career.
I am motivated by the wish to change the tendency to see wildlife simply in terms of its value in maintaining human livelihoods and security. While this is important, I believe we need to recognize that in losing habitats and wildlife in our environment, we are losing a piece of ourselves. With this motivation, I would like to ensure space is made for nature and wildlife in every corner of our lives.
[Courtesy, October 2009 SGI Quarterly]