After years of wrangling with the word sustainability, we were chagrined and somewhat relieved when it was finally yanked from us by President George Bush. Sustainability had always been hard to define, and when President Bush started using it, we just knew that he did not mean what we meant. So we abandoned the term like a busted Betamax cassette.
Eventually we came upon the good life because, well, who can argue with that? Recently we were contacted by the Linfield College Office of Sustainability in Oregon about their conference entitled "The Good Life: A Space for Connecting Self, Community, and Environment." They were writing to ask us to suggest issues for developing personal sustainability.
First of all, we LOVE you, Linfield, for having an office of sustainability, for conceiving of this community event, and for asking the right questions! What DO we need on a personal level to be healthy, fulfilled, and in community with the people and world around us? The key elements we keep coming back to are awareness, practice, and time.
Awareness about who you are, what's important to you, and how you interact with other people. The more you understand your true needs, desires, and dreams, the better your chance of fulfilling them. Our aspirations shift with age and circumstance, and so one challenge is to stay current with ourselves. (Remember when more candy was your highest goal?) There are nuances to our desires as well. You may want a family, but does that mean a partner? Children? Co-housing? Or joining the circus? Our pursuit of happiness always involves other people. Understanding how we act in relationships helps us become more conscious about these, and hopefully (though not automatically!) more skilled.
Some of our awareness emerges quite naturally as we grow from children into adults. In addition, there are an ever increasing number of tools and processes—for example, Enneagram, therapy, meditation, and prayer—that support us in delving deeper into our awareness. Overall, more people today have an opportunity to develop their self-understanding than their parents, and certainly their grandparents, ever did.
Practice is how we come to embody and live out a new-found awareness. It involves committing to ways of thinking and behaving until we are able to fully integrate that new thought or action. Practices vary widely in form and content—deciding to eat dinner with your family five nights a week is significantly different than figuring out how not to worry about things you can't control, or learning how to juggle chainsaws.
A successful practice involves the following:
~ clarity of intention.
~ commitment to change.
~ action that embodies the desired change in
thought or behavior.
~ repetition until we have created and integrated
~ reflection to help us modify the practice so
that it works.
Time is the space we need to develop our awareness and focus on the practices we choose to incorporate into our lives. We don't all need the same amount of time, but we all need enough of it. Without enough time, personal sustainability is not possible. Chronic time deprivation means we are always running a deficit in some area of our life—like health, relationships, or work—and because our lives are an interrelated system, when one area of our life is lacking, it impacts the whole system.
Can you imagine how the world would be if everyone had enough time to stay fit, eat well, have good relationships, and engage with fulfilling work? How many resources might we individually and collectively save if we were all healthy and didn't need to soothe ourselves with fast food, shopping sprees, and driving hither and yon. The benefits of personal sustainability ripple out in many ways and generally make us more "resource-full" for taking care of ourselves, our community, and the environment. This is not how President Bush used the term all those years ago, but we are glad to see that Linfield College and other places are embracing the true spirit of sustainability and continuing the exploration of creating the good life for one and all.
Spend a few minutes imagining what would be different if you had enough time to develop your awareness and practices the way you wanted. In what area of your life would you spend more time? What would you be doing (and not doing)? How would your life be better for you and possibly for others? Follow through on this thought experiment as far as your heart desires.
Sending everyone an extra five minutes for the good life today.
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
Please pass this along to other interested people. Your feedback is much appreciated.
If you find our work useful or inspiring, consider making a gift via PayPal.