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The Heart of Sustainability: Restoring Ecological Balance from the Inside out

by Andrés R. Edwards, New Society Publishers, 2015

Introduction:

Looking Within to Seed an Enduring Vision for the Future

What’s needed now is neither fatalism nor utopianism, but a suite of practical pathways for families and communities that lead to a real and sustainable renewable future …. We need inspiring examples, engaging stories, and opportunities for learning in depth.
-- Richard Heinberg

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Faith is not about finding meaning in the world, there may be no such thing -- Faith is the belief in our capacity to create meaningful lives.
-- Terry Tempest Williams

 

This book completes an exploration of the three main facets of the sustainability movement. The Sustainability Revolution examined the principles and bedrock values of sustainability, describing the aspiration of the world community to create a life in harmony with the Earth’s living systems. Then Thriving Beyond Sustainability investigated the individuals and organizations implementing these ideas through large and small initiatives in rural villages and urban centers throughout the world. Now The Heart of Sustainability considers the personal aspects of sustainability, with insights into how we can maximize our positive impact on the economic, social, and environmental challenges we face.

Two of the most significant factors shaping our well-being today are the consciousness and the technological revolutions. They affect us individually on a daily basis and call on us to make choices that can either enhance or diminish our well-being. We see the consciousness revolution in the scientific advancements in neuroscience, which have led to a widespread interest in topics ranging from brain research to meditation, mindfulness, positive psychology, yoga, qigong and other martial arts, and awareness exercises. The technological revolution is changing how we check in with ourselves and communicate with our family, friends, colleagues, and the world at large. The expansion of social media though Internet software platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and a plethora of other applications, blogs, and email programs has transformed the way we interact. While our ubiquitous devices have made it simple for us to stay “in touch” and share our experiences, this hyperconnectivity has taken its toll on our connection to nature.

At the confluence of the consciousness and technological streams, we stand as individuals attempting to adapt to an increasingly rapid pace of life and make the best choices for ourselves and our loved ones. Three insights may guide us as we navigate the future: (1) we are part of nature, not separate from it; (2) we will benefit from taking a regenerative approach to the challenges we face; and (3) now is the time for us to step up and take leadership roles on behalf of all beings and the planet.

Bridging the separation from the natural world that many of us feel begins by reconnecting to ourselves and to where we live. Mindfulness often yields clarity in our interdependence with all natural systems. By going within, we sense our connection to the web of life, beginning with our backyard.

A regenerative approach builds on our connection to nature by integrating nature’s abundance, resiliency, and adaptability into our perspective of the world. The glass is not half full but is overflowing with possibilities. The mindset is one of abundance rather than scarcity, possibility rather than limits, and embracing the unknown rather than fearing it. Using a regenerative approach allows us to create conditions where the goal is to thrive rather than merely to minimize our negative impact. So our homes are built to produce more renewable energy than they use; we improve the biodiversity of places previously destroyed by development; and we give back to others many times what we have received.

Taking a leadership role means that we look no farther than ourselves to see what is needed and to act. We are the leaders we have been waiting for. Instead of looking for “heroes” to solve the problems we face at the local, national, and global levels, we must look at our own gifts and talents and take the leap to gather our friends and neighbors and take action on issues important to us.

The exponential rate of technological advancement will undoubtedly continue. Indeed, many environmental and social solutions have already emerged. Our challenge lies in reaching our own personal potential to live a life in which we demonstrate our highest selves – first to tap deep within ourselves to discover what we are called to do in our lifetime and then to manifest this calling with the enthusiasm, care, and compassion that are in us, yearning to be shared. For this shift in awareness to occur, we need to be still and listen quietly to what stirs us, as a wildlife photographer stands still and observes the beauty of nature emerging. Subtle light changes during a sunrise, the wing flaps of a dragonfly, the majestic breaching of a whale -- these moments arise sometimes dramatically and other times gradually, but we are able to capture and integrate their essence after opening our hearts to the beauty and awe of life in all its forms.

The journey of discovery in The Heart of Sustainability begins with the significance of our cultural narrative and how we are currently between stories. The old story of dominating nature and turning her resources into material possessions is quickly reaching a dead end. Since the new story of living a balanced, conscious, and compassionate life in harmony with the planet’s living systems has not yet taken root, we find ourselves with only glimpses of the future.

Personal myths, such as “I’m not good enough” and “I’m only one person with limited power,” often stunt the ways we can create meaningful change. These myths emphasize that we are separate from nature rather than an integral part of it; that we are ruled by a scarcity mindset rather than one of abundance; and that fear rather than assurance has become an essential motivating force.

What is necessary for living a fulfilling life in harmony with natural systems? Our well-being is integrated with the well-being of the Earth. A focus on the environmental, economic, and social elements of sustainability is insufficient without an accompanying focus on our own characteristics: our capacity for being conscious of our activities, creative in our endeavors, compassionate toward others, and connected to ourselves and all life forms.

Our current geologic period is described as the Anthropocene -- anthropo, or human, and cene, or epoch.  This time in Earth’s history is marked by the tremendous ecological devastation caused by humans and our failure to recognize our interdependence with all life. What we do to the benefit or detriment of other species comes right back to affect our own well-being. Although we are playing a “leading role” in shaping the Anthropocene, we are not the only “actors” on the world’s stage and are continuously co-evolving with other life forms. Perhaps sharing the stage with more grace and humility will allow the flourishing of other species and benefit us all. As Richard Heinberg reminds us, “In the end, the deepest insight of the Anthropocene will probably be a very simple one: we live in a world of millions of interdependent species with which we have co-evolved. We sunder this web of life at our peril. Earth’s story is fascinating, rich in detail, and continually self-revealing. And it’s not all about us.” [1]

What is our role and how do we leave a legacy that will inspire our children and grandchildren and support their well-being and the health of the planet? As biologist Janine Benyus writes, life creates conditions conducive to life. As humans who aspire to reconnect to the web of life, we can turn to nature to help us reconnect to our hearts. We can then move toward understanding the impact of our actions in an interconnected world.

Implementing positive change in the world requires leadership, and there are a variety of leadership styles. Numerous forms of activism complement various temperaments and personalities. Understanding our own strengths and weaknesses helps us see how we may work to inspire others with our passion for reaching a common goal. What motivates us? What will get us to change course? What are the values that will guide us toward the compelling future we all long for?

To answer these questions, we need compassion, openness, understanding, regeneration, action, gratitude, and empathy. The encouraging news is that these qualities are already seeding initiatives worldwide. Now is the time for all of us to join in and help these initiatives grow.

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Notes

1. Richard Heinberg. “The Anthropocene: It’s Not All About Us.” Earth Island Journal, May 7, 2014. Also Earth Island Institute. The Anthropocene: It’s Not All About Us [Cited December 17, 2014] www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/the_anthropocene_its_not_all_about_us/

 

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