I asked Michael, the Latin scholar, what is the derivation of the word “sustain?” He said “to hold up from underneath.” Pretty smart, that guy. The Online Etymology Dictionary says almost the same thing. Why did I ask? Because the topic of a recent blog carnival was, “What does living sustainably mean to you?” So I thought I’d start by digging up the roots.
You might assume I would write about how unsustainable plastic is. It’s made from a non-renewable resource, its manufacture often leads to pollution of our air and water, it may contain toxic additives that can leach into our food, and as waste, it lingers in the environment indefinitely harming wildlife and attracting oil-based toxins that accumulate up the food chain. No, plastic is not sustainable, and that’s why I am working very hard to lessen my dependence on it and to find plastic-free alternatives.
But that’s actually not my topic. Because, while plastic is not a sustainable material, avoiding it and blogging about it and campaigning against it might not always be sustainable practices either.
Let’s get back to the root. To sustain is to hold up from below. From the depths. From the core.
How is it sustainable to stay up all night obsessively blogging and end up too tired the next day to eat a wholesome meal? How long can one last on 4 hours of sleep per night before burning out?
How sustainable is it to become so preoccupied with writing a presentation about environmental issues that one stands in the shower for 20 minutes letting the water flow down the drain until it runs cold?
How sustainable is it to live in an “us vs. them” world in which we are the good guys picking up litter and carrying our own bags and everyone else are the bad guys tossing empty cups out car windows and double bagging each item? How can we live in a world like this without losing our minds?
How can we sustain ourselves and the planet without going crazy?
I’ll share with you the deepest thing I learned from my vision fast a few weeks ago. Sitting in the woods, staring at (and kinda chatting with) the eucalyptus trees, I suddenly had the experience of not just being with the trees, but actually being the experience of those trees, the cold breeze, the crackling bark. I realized that without me, this experience would not exist. And that all I am is my experience of the world around me, every day, each moment. And that each moment I have a choice… to fully live it or to hide in my head.
In February, I wrote about loving what is and giving up the struggle against reality. Last month, I had the experience of being reality, of realizing that the only struggle is against ourselves. That’s wacky. And it’s not sustainable. But it’s sooooo easy to fall into again and again.
So for me, what is sustainable is simply practicing being the awareness of my experience each moment and seeing what actions arise from that awareness, rather than planning the actions and carrying them out from a place of frustration or anger or separateness from the reality of life.
Each day, I practice. 10 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning. That may not seem like much, but for me, it sets an intention for the rest of the day. The intention to show up for life.
I’m learning to use the computer as a tool rather than an obsession. When I find myself falling back into compulsive behaviors, I’m learning to sit still and ask what it is I really long for. And when I notice anger arising from someone else’s unconscious act, I ask myself what it is that separates him from me and whether the division is real or simply an idea in my own head.
I’m learning how much of the world I experience IS only an idea in my head and how, when I drop assumptions and judgments for a bit, compassion arises for both myself and the perceived “other.”
When that happens, when the separation between me and life dissolves, all my actions, whether blogging about plastic or making a Power Point or playing with my kitties or eating chocolate or taking a shower, are suddenly sustainable.
Read “The Botany of Desire”, another Michael Pollan winner about the relationship between humans and plants. Not just science but philosphy too. First time reading you, I’ll be back.
Oh my goodness…
I’ve been working on starting a business for about a year, Naturally Thrifty, a newsletter about living green and thrifty. It has been a crazy journey that has brought me to this place of “oh, fudge, this is just craziness.”
Yesterday, just for grins and giggles, I did the math of how many hours I spent writing about being green and frugal. Then I did the math of what I could have been doing, real time, to be green and thrifty. They I listened to music and had a cocktail.
This morning, after some cups of coffee, baby spit removal and a great BLT, I crunched all the numbers.
Shocking as it may be, but brutally honest, I was losing money, resources and sanity by driving myself into the grong re-inventing the wheel. Or, better stated, trying to become famous and leave my mark on the online green/thrifty blog-sphere.
And now, I’m off to take a nap…and to bookmark this post as you’ve said everything I always want to say, but have never had the time to do so.
I, too, worry that I spend too much time on the computer writing about green living and forget about the “living” part ;) I am finding, however, that recording my intentions and projects is a great way to keep myself honest.
And never forget how much you may inspire someone else who reads your blog to change! Your journey to reduce plastics has certainly inspired me to do more in that area, so maybe the obsessive blogging is worth it after all :)
Hi Beth, I know I’m late with this, but just had to say–have you read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth yet? He says almost *exactly* what you describe in this post! I’m blown away. Look forward to hearing your thoughts if you do pick it up.
“The intention to show up for life.”
I think I need to show up more often. Thanks for the reminder!
Can I suggest you to listen to this guy?
Mind you this Indian priest is not selling anything, not even his religion – he actually never talks about god -. Actually he is dead 20 years ago. I thought you might like to listen what he has to say, since you’re asking the same questions that he asks to lead you to sustainable happiness.
Good food for thought.
Oh, Ms Fish, thank you for writing this, as Clif described it, “thought piece.” Some of your posts are as satisfying as eating and savoring something really, really good and what else is satisfying is reading the equally delicious comments that always accompany the satisfying posts.
What a lovely post! Thank you. Sometimes blogging helps me live more in the world, and sometimes it takes me away from real life. This helps give me a frame for deeper contemplation.
Nice post, but you know I love your thought pieces! They bubble up as if within a volcano and then suddenly burst forth from time to time because they have to be said, don’t they? I think so, but many are careful to keep them from doing so.
Philosophy is what separates us from other life. There is reality and there is what one makes of it. We have no control over our mortality, for example, but we have great control over how we think about it which determines how we deal with it. Our eyes are firmly planted on earth in the skull of a tiny “me” but our thoughts can fly freely.
The single biggest obstacle I’ve found to overcome is the narrow perception of time. You touched on it in your account of your time alone in nature.
My thought experiment is to see plants growing as if in a time lapse movie, to see solid rock wearing away or melting and flowing into new forms, to visualize continents moving, glaciers expanding and contracting.
We were all shocked to see the WTC disappear in a flash yet the whole of NYC will one day be completely gone without a trace. If the fossils of fish are found high in the Himalayas and oil is ancient vegetation now thousands of feet below solid rock, we know that nothing is permanent in place or form. It is only we who are frozen in a brief flash of time who clutch tenaciously to our precious things.
One has to have a hearty laugh from time to time at how seriously we take ourselves – a very sober collection of atoms!
As for the blogging, the speaking engagements and, in my case, picking up litter, just think of them as little plus signs that pop into existence; a colorful little firework that arches skyward with a sizzle. Think of the act of littering, or acting heedlessly or in ways that are harmful to the self or others as little minus signs; each made of heavy iron that drops to the ground with a clunk (right on the toes!).
I try to put some of those little plus signs into every day. Just walking outside and taking a deep breath is a little plus sign. They add up. To what? To being able to say at the end of a life: not bad, not bad at all!
That’s a good way for a collection of billions of atoms to end their time in one form before being rearranged. :)
Beautiful post, Beth. I expected nothing less from you – especially after meeting you in person . . . twice.
Exactly what Burbs said. It is a struggle to find the balance between writing and doing, being part of a community and being with yourself. I almost wrote my entire sustainability post on balance. But it didn’t come out that way.
Yours came out wonderfully.
Thank you for your post :0)
Oh, that’s a beautiful post. Thanks. I am with Burbs, I daydream about not blogging and ‘doing’ more but it is all about the balance.
Great informative post!
Nice post, Beth. I often wonder how long I’ll be able to “sustain” blogging. It is, afterall, a pretty big time suck. One that often keeps you from “doing” because you’re too busy “writing about doing”.
It’s all about balance, isn’t it?