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.