Making Healing Changes
By Dawn McLaughlin Mongillo
AEHA Quarterly Winter 1990

When I was acutely ill with an environmental illness, I had to concentrate on healing myself.  The personal changes that I chose to heal my body also healed my spirit, and I began to see the earth’s condition through a remembered perspective that lies in each of us – some more deeply hidden than in others, but always there.  I decided to become healthy again and began to understand fully that this was wholly my decision.  I began listening carefully to my body with compassion and love.  It began whispering to me and the whispers became clearer the more I listened.  The respect that I paid the temple of my soul helped me to become well more quickly than anyone anticipated.  I decided on what I believe in and what I want to do.  Impossible for everyone? Nonsense.  I decided to “grab the bull by the horns” and change the way that the earth and all of its inhabitants are headed.  I didn’t know how (I still felt like a peon in the scheme of things) but I determined that this would be my life’s work.  Sure, I’d still wipe runny noses, pay the bills and grind it out over a calculator in an office, but everything was infused with a purpose.  No more “Ms. Timid Try to Please”.

I had always been an organic gardener.  As I became more sensitive to pesticides I began to notice people spraying lawns, parks, schoolyards, ditches and boulevards and the constant spraying appalled me.  As I was recovering, it was essential that I not be exposed to these chemicals, so I began an anti-lawn spray campaign in Waterloo, Ontario.  I began doing extensive research into the area of pesticide use and the environmental and health impacts.  I joined the international group PAN (Pesticide Action Network), NCAMP (National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, U.S.A.), NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council; their project Mothers & Others for Pesticide Limits), Pollution Probe, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (Ottawa).  The things that I discovered, combined with personal experience, (my children and myself suffer enormously from pesticide exposure) made it abundantly clear where my first task lay – the elimination of pesticides in Canada so that we could set a responsible international example.  I founded the Pesticides Action Group of Canada.  I now have several cities involved with community Pesticide Action Groups.  We work on three main areas of concern: 1. turf spraying, 2. pesticides in food, (Mothers & Others for Pesticides Limits project – agricultural pollution,) 3. the Circle of Poison (pesticides in third world countries.)

I began as a woman who wouldn’t ask for her God-given right to breathe clean air of even one individual – I now think nothing of giving an hour and a half speech in front of T.V. cameras to a hundred people.  I decided to make changes – to never be afraid, to always look at the overview.  I remembered that if I approach people with love and integrity, almost everyone returns to me their very best.  The few that don’t just can’t because of their own fears.  I move gently past them knowing that I likely sowed seeds for change further down their path.

What I’ve been doing has been simple but not easy.  I’m often working hardest with my tools at their weakest.  My reactions involve a great deal of physical pain and nervous system disruption.  My mind is often not my greatest asset after a does of diesel fumes and I’ve often driven home hardly able to focus my eyes after a speech to a perfumed audience in a musty room with new carpets.  If some days I don’t complete what I’d hoped, I forgive myself and remind myself of the good things that I did do.  The more gentle and kind I am with myself, the more that I accomplish.  This has been difficult, as the Puritan work ethic and “pull-up-you-socks” attitude was how I was taught to live.  Some days just getting out of bed and not screaming at the kids is a victory for me.  I find it most comforting to know that if I can make changes in the world, surely anybody who desires to can as well.  Each of us can be the catalyst for miracles if we can send enough love out before us.  Anger and righteous indignation may get you started but it won’t sustain you or help you grow while you help others grow.  We all need and respond to love.  Our planet needs and responds to love.  Am I usually gentle, forgiving, loving, and kind? No.  I’ve always been intense, high strung, demanding and passionate.  I work hard to try to see others fears and needs.  I work hard at learning to truly forgive people who harm me, albeit unwittingly.  When too much negative information (especially about the environment) crosses my desk and I get fearful and angry, I must work very hard to hold a calm, loving overview of the whole mess.  All of this has required enormous effort for me.  I’m sure that for most of you, it will be much easier.  Please, please don’t be afraid.  Use your precious talents and experiences.

Those of us who are environmentally ill have a special obligation to the world.  We’ve experienced what will surely happen to many if we don’t all do our very best to help change the way our environment is headed.  Perhaps the big cleanup will help us learn to pull together globally.  If, as a species, we begin to listen to the earth and sensitively resume the mantle of earth stewardship – perhaps this kind approach to life will teach us the tools to treat each other kindly, sensitively, respectfully.  Perhaps the silver lining in our cloud of environmental crisis is world peace – maybe it’s the only way we thought that we’d learn.  If we all work on environmental issues with love and persistence, we may not only find a reprieve from our self-imposed death sentence, we may someday truly say “Peace on Earth”.