By Natalie Janovak
A few generations ago, someone my age (33) would have been leading a different life. She would spend her days caring for her home and all who reside with her. She would harvest vegetables from her garden and preserve what could not be immediately consumed. She would walk to a water source with a basket of laundry on her hip, carefully tending to all stages of a life that sustained her and her family. She would be simply entertained, perhaps by the breeze in the trees, the birds echoing overhead, the movement of water beneath her fingertips as she scrubbed and wrung. Every morning, she would start a fire to cook and keep her home warm. She knew the plants that were edible and those that would heal. She did not waste anything. The balance of her time was spent in a mode of creativity and preservation. She knew how to live simply, for there was no other way.
At this point in history, people my age may rarely realize that we live lives of convenience in contrast to the lives of our forebears. If we need food, we go to the grocery store or drive-thru the fast food joint. We fill our bodies with the pleasures of food without knowing where it came from, not seeing the face that grew or prepared it for us. If we become ill, we seek healing in a plastic bottle. When bored, we seek entertainment with a credit card. We drink water out of disposable bottles. We conveniently collect our goods then discard the packaging. We don’t see where the waste goes and remain blissfully ignorant of the time it takes for it to be renewed by the earth as a life-sustaining substance instead of garbage. If we don’t take a moment to consider how our habits alter the precious balance of life on this planet, we might not see our impact and thus feel absolved of responsibility to treat it with care and respect. We may believe one person’s wasteful habits don’t matter. But, if we multiply our personal actions by the current population of the earth, we may then understand that eight billion people do indeed have an impact.
To take personal responsibility for the planet that sustains us may be a painful thing for some people, perhaps even a nuisance. While this responsibility is considered “optional” in our modern culture, our capacity for ingenuity makes it our blessed duty to be stewards of the earth. To accept this role takes courage, selflessness and the use of our inborn creativity paired with responsible discrimination. We must re-frame our sense of convenience to experience the satisfaction that comes with personal effort and patience. Transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle may feel overwhelming as an individual endeavor, but there are others who will hold our hand in this essential pursuit. In our harried lives we must make the effort to seek them out and take the time to transition into a new mindset, one that is full of simple rewards that our forebears understood by necessity. Is our situation so different than theirs?
The Sustainable World Coalition (www.swcoalition.org) is but one community that connects people in the vision of “recreating the dream of the North.” This challenge was predicated by the Achuar people of the Amazonian rainforest to a group of visitors who would later form the Pachamama Alliance (www.pachamama.org). The guiding values and principles of these nonprofit organizations serve to educate, inspire and engage communities in working towards an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling presence on this planet.
In the first ever large-scale movement towards global sustainability awareness, SWC has launched the Spring of Sustainability campaign in partnership with the Shift Network. This 3-month series of virtual and live events features entities that have operated in relative isolation in communities the world over, and the sheer magnitude of this collective activity offer participant’s deep inspiration and tangible action. Daily core themes include: green business, global stewardship, green lifestyles, sustainable world pioneers and activism for a just and sustainable world. The online venue also provides access to telecourses, focus groups and other modes of community connection while offering a gentle encouragement that empowers the individual to co-create a thriving world. Visit www.springofsustainability.org to learn more and download recordings of past presentations.
SWC also recently beta-tested a live telecourse called “Co-Creating a Thriving World” that provides an actionable framework and community support to catalyze positive change. Based upon the concepts and resources explored in their flagship publication The Sustainable World Sourcebook, SWC developed a curriculum that was born when a community of 20 people came together to explore, collaborate and celebrate their chosen roles as stewards of the earth. Empowered by knowledge and supported by a common vision, these people have taken steps to make that vision real. They understand that this is a great privilege to learn from the past and use it to build a healthy future for the generations to come.
This telecourse is scheduled to go live in July, and while the content will be similar to the beta-test the experience will be seasoned by the unique collection of individuals that seek to interact and grow from each other in communion with sustainable action. Hosted by talented and knowledgeable facilitators, this 7- or 14-week course begins with a deep exploration of the context within which we find ourselves, addressing the essential questions of where we are, how we got here, what’s possible for the future and where we can go from here. The conference calls, online forums and buddy meetings anchor a weekly focus that stretches from this base of understanding into exploring possibilities to heal the web of life. Independent reflection, research and varied media fuel each session’s lively conversation, meditations and practices that encourage personal and cultural transformation. The sessions begin with explorations the state of Earth’s living systems, of energy and smart power, social justice, green economics and then land firmly in ways we each can create the sustainable and mutually-supportive lifestyles we envision. The course emphasizes how our choices and actions really matter and provides avenues for continued connection and ongoing growth in sustainable practices.
In the words of Rachel Carson, “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.” Adapting to change is our most natural and inborn capacity. The CCTW community has taught me that I can be a vessel of renewal instead of destruction. I can be a model of sustainable practices in my community. I can minimize my footprint on this precious planet. Instead of feeling helpless, afraid that we’ve gone too far, or turning a blind eye to all that needs to be done to repair the earth, all I have to do is reach out to hold the hands of others and work with them. Together we can realize the dream that is tangible to all those who have experienced what Paul Hawken coined as “blessed unrest,” a demystified state of mind about the magnitude of the crisis in which we are living which compels one to positive action.
What an honor and a privilege it is to be alive during what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning, as we shift from an industrial growth society to a life sustaining civilization. Our role is simple: Nurture a responsible mindset then follow-through with sustainable action. We can let go of values and practices we have learned in our consumer culture and, like our forbearers, be preservers and sustainers of life. Look in the mirror and you will see a person who can make this new dream a reality.