Recently I did some campaign style work for a coalition of environmental organizations. While I’ve served a number of conservation groups since leaving my post at in 2005, it’s been more than five years since I was directly involved with a campaign. I’d almost forgotten how stressful it can be, and was surprised at how easy it is to get caught up in the tension that comes with that work.

Over the weekend I re-read one of my favorite books – Comfortable with Uncertainty – by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.  I was looking for some insight into how I might re-engage in the effort to protect wild landscapes and the creatures that live in them, without spiraling into the sort of dysfunction that drove me from the environmental movement half a decade ago. I flipped to a chapter of the book called “The Four Reminders” and it was exactly what I needed.

Buddhism’s Four Reminders are talisman to help us constantly return to the present moment. It is through this presence that we can surmount the obstacles that we face head on, with compassion and without fear.

The four reminders are:

Our precious human birth; the truth of impermanence; the law of karma and; the futility of samsara.

Our precious human birth: the work we do as activists is hard. We’re often times struggling against seemingly impossible odds, and we’re doing so because something that we love is threatened. This creates terrible pressures and leads to anxiety, stress and fear. But remembering our precious human birth – the simple fact that each of us is alive and here on this marvelous if not troubled planet – allows us to extend ourselves to one another in a way that might overcome our fear. We can open our hearts and act with love, not fear, and in doing so return to the present moment of our work.

The truth of impermanence: This might be our last moment on earth. We’re just passing through and nobody can say for certain what happens next. This can cause a lot of anxiety. That’s OK. But it can also help us return to the present and create a thankfulness for the gift of being able to work together to make the world a better place.

The law of karma: Every action has a reaction. Everything we do, everything we say, creates energy that can help us or hinder us in our efforts to succeed in our efforts. I often times act out of pure habit, and speak from a life of fear based reaction. But I’m learning – very slowly – to interrupt my habitual way of responding to the world, and taking a moment to pause. In that empty space I can sometimes chart a new course, one that emerges not from fear, but from love. I’d like to believe that this moment will yield results for the things I believe are important in the world.

The futility of samsara. According to Pema Chodron, samsara is the act of preferring death over life: “It comes from always trying to create safety zones. We get stuck here because we cling to a funny little identify that gives us some kind of security. Painful though it may be.” I for one have long been attached to the story of myself, and my place in the world. It’s served me from time to time, but I’m pretty sure that if I was to abandon the idea of a fixed identity and instead embraced the uncertainty of every moment, I could be more available to those I seek to serve.

I am going to continue to try and make the world a better place through my service to people, to places, to wild creatures, and to my own wild future. The Four Reminders will make this a little bit easier.