The more deeply we dive into the philosophical core of sustainability, the more we realize a critical principle determining our human aliveness is whether we can realize the trans-corporeal matrix currently being impinged by every increment of our expanding economic structure. How do we live as fully connected beings? What are we connected to and what is the currency of that connection? And, starting again at the bottom, what kind of economy grows out of embodying the true nature of our connection to each other and the earth?
Many are addressing these questions and have articulated behaviors that together unleash a living transformational process. We are on the cusp of creating an evolutionary culture in which we arrive at a new clarity about how ego—in the form of the money (and time)–based economy–feeds intra-personal dysfunction (our bottomless desire for “more”), inter-personal dysfunction (“more for you means less for me”) and social and economic dysfunction (acting out of greed, fear and scarcity to destroy the Commons).
Yet also, the term sustainable has been appropriated, co-opted, modified, turned inside-out, contorted to death by the very forces in the culture that have brought us to this precipice. At one time, Shell Oil promoted itself as a “leader in green technologies.” Need I say more?
In the midst of all this blurring of meaning, does the term thriving mean anything? Or is it a merely another artificial designation? I repeat, as Peter Block has said, “All transformation is linguistic.” What does the word thrive convey that the word sustainable does not?
I would suggest Four Principles of Thriving:
- Thriving is the spiritual dimension of sustainability. What sustainability is—or was–to a material economy, thriving is to the spiritual economy. We intuitively know it is not enough to birth a new world that provides the necessities of life without acknowledging and attending to the spiritual implications for each person in their own lives. To the extent that sustainability is about economics, then thriving is about each of us embodying (living our true nature) that new economy: becoming that new economy expresses not only our love of each other but manifests Love as the primary principle of being alive.
- Thriving is the fire of spirit and the air of open heart-space. Sustainability evokes the esthetics of earth and water. Thriving is about the inception and integration of a divine fire that infuses all our actions with openhearted possibility.
- Thriving is the precarious edge of balance. If sustainability invokes balance, thriving challenges us as chaos and complexity challenge predictability, birthing an order in which emergent complexity demands continuous innovation. Here, at an evolutionary edge, consciousness speaks nature into being, becoming the locus of adaptation and experimentation, the trial and error of organic vitality.
- Thriving is the mythic dimension of sustainability, the meta-narrative of possibility. It is a reference to the continuous, spontaneous process of creating, modifying and re-forming the open architecture of diversity; where distributed networks of freely accessible information and self-organizing governance activate the free-flow of resources to meet real needs.
The full implication of a healthy earth is healthy beings. Maybe that includes humans, maybe not. The separate (small-s) self is bringing us to the precipice of annihilation. At the root of the consuming fire enveloping all systems of earth is this myth of separation and the acquisitive drive springing from it. The drive to accumulate and “possess” the illusory objects of imagined wealth, drawing unto ourselves all the things that reinforce our personal conception of a unique “self,” is leaving us bereft of humanity and community. Despite the ubiquity of messages reinforcing Separation, its rationale is fracturing and its flaws are becoming ever more apparent.
To the degree that we are able to relinquish the trappings of the acquisitive self and listen to a deeper voice emerging from the inmost fire, guiding us to connected action in the world, we may each discover our personal gift and appropriate occupation. And to the degree we are able to manifest that occupation in service to family, community or bioregion, the Gift of that service is rendered to the Giver, the web of life itself. All the “things” we now “own,” the “possessions” we create and temporarily hold to ourselves, have come from and will return to that web of life, including our “selves.”
The Connected Self is an individual, yet one who no longer has a need to possess an identity based on separation, competition or domination. The Connected Self is awakened to a universal force, becoming an open channel for inspired vocation, beauty and diversity in co-creative action. The Connected Self becomes a unique expression of love and justice, profoundly trusting a rightful place in the world, unflinchingly descending into the reality of and living our common material nature. For the Connected Self, the distinction between Self and Other blurs and dissolves. Every individual who lives this connection enters the heart as an expansive new home and becomes an owner, a steward of a new economy whose currency is compassion.
Our true freedom, finding our place in the connected community of life, derives from comprehending the reality of our temporary ownership of a few objects and, at the same time, our timeless ownership and responsibility to all things. The true nature of all possessions is transitory. Our freedom derives from letting go of separation and simultaneously embracing our Common Wealth with a dynamic sense of ownership and responsibility.
That ownership means we can no longer avoid addressing the depth of our complicity in the way things are, nor can we turn away from the sight of others committing acts of separation and extraction destructive to the common wealth. A new economy derives from our ability to perceive and live the whole, unimpeded by the illusion that any part truly belongs to us. Possess Nothing. Own Everything. Then we may have a chance to thrive.