Oct 15 2019. views 1026
Seeking to pave the way for positive action in Sri Lankan conservation and environmental initiatives, Satish Selvanathan and Ben Goldsmith established the Lanka Environment Fund early this year.
The Daily Mirror Life recently sat down with one of the co-founders, Selvanathan, to learn more about the project. He is the Executive Director of Goodhope Holdings, where he oversees his family’s business interests in South East Asia. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and an undergraduate degree from Oxford University. In December 2017, he competed in the Spartan World Championships, a 24-hour Obstacle Course Race in Iceland.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A little bit about myself is linked to what I believe is my purpose in this life, which is to master the connection between body and mind.
I got very ill in 2016/2017 and no doctor was able to diagnose what was wrong. I had to look outside the “modern medical” community into the homeopathic community to get the help I needed. It turned out that my thyroid and adrenals were switched off, which were having a knock-on effect on my metabolism and pretty much everything else.
At that point I made a deal with myself – that I would do the work to understand and subsequently master the mind-body connection.
Then, like any good Engineer, I ran an experiment to see if this method worked. I set out to prove the hypothesis that I could go from a hospital bed in the beginning of 2017 to doing some physically insane by the end 2017. A few months after that, I came across an application form for a 24-hour Spartan Race in Iceland in December 2017. I applied, submitted some scores and was petrified when I was accepted! I think this shock factor was what got my body to switch on again.
I did the race and it was a wild experience. I don’t know whether I’ll ever experience something like that again. I continue to be in awe of the beauty and sheer ruggedness of Iceland in the winter – I can appreciate why it’s called the land of fire and ice.
So, hypothesis proved = mind-body connection real. I’ve run other experiments since then, the hypothesis remains intact.
And by the way, all this was done with zero medicine. Sure, there were supplements and vitamins used, and my diet was completely revamped, but zero medicine.
That must be quite the challenge!
You can prepare for the race physically - I had a coach who designed a program, I did the work to execute the program, I ate right, I slept right, I made sure I stretched and recovered properly after sessions etc…, but what you cannot prepare for is what goes on inside your head.
You can do 16-hour weekend training sessions in Southeast Asia, but what you encounter in Iceland in December is something else – it is cold, windy, icy, wet, slippery and dark for 19-20 hours. And when you’re exposed to all of that, your mind plays all kinds of tricks on you. You have to break the race down to 10, 20 minute chunks, otherwise mentally, you go crazy. If you look to master the 24 hours, you will fail – there are too many unknowns that can happen over 24 hours when can barely see 5 meters ahead. If you look to master the next 10 minutes, that is do-able. You need to master the 10 minutes and then string them together.
Once you get beyond 6 hours, your body is already destroyed, so another 18 hours isn’t going to make a difference. The physical pain switches off, but at this point the mental aspect really kicks in. I remember there was a point in an open field where I was trying to open an energy gel sachet and when I took off a glove to tear open the sachet, my fingers were frozen together. That was a pretty low moment. And there’s nowhere you can hide, you have to keep going because you’re in the middle of nowhere and you will freeze if you stop.
Is this who you are as a person - constantly challenging yourself and setting higher bars to aspire to?
That’s a tricky question. I don’t know – who are you as a person? Who is anyone as a person? I believe who we are as people is just a set of narratives we tell ourselves: I’m rich / I’m poor; I’m weak / I’m strong; I’m brilliant / I’m bad at math etc…
The “who am I” question is a question that sages and mystics have spent their entire lives trying to figure out and I don’t think I’m going to get to that answer in this life, but I’m going to take steps to get there.
But yes, I want to push myself, I want to see how far I can go to break the next barrier, and the one after that, and the one after that etc… I’ve had multiple direct experiences of things happening that I would never have expected. So, I want to keep pushing, I want to keep trying, I want to keep running experiments. At the end of my life, I want to look back on it and know that I did things to break the stories and narratives that I was brought up to believe.
You recently founded the Lanka Environment Fund with Ben Goldsmith. How did that come about?
It’s a simple story.
My friend Ben and I have a shared passion for the environment. He had been to Sri Lanka with his family a few years ago and fell in love with the country. We had a coffee in London a year ago and wrote out a plan on the back of a napkin.
We set up the infrastructure, hired an Executive Director, raised money and are currently evaluating proposals for our first round of grants. The Fund’s intention is to identify the best in class environmental / conservation organizations in the country and fund them to run projects across a set of themes: biodiversity / landscape conservation, marine conservation, responsible tourism and effective waste management.
As a fledgling organization, What would be your first course of action?
We are evaluating a set of grant applications in the biodiversity / landscape and marine conservation sectors.
Have you started on any conservation projects?
Not yet. Watch this space.
Are you open to working with donors at the moment? How can the public help?
That’s a good question. Right now, we have a set of donors who have committed funds for the next several years.
In time, we can think about a model where the public come on board, if they wish.
Pics: Damith Wickramasinghe