For example, on the level of individual choice concerning water usage, hot topics of division tend to be (1) bottled water / access to potable water (2) domestic water use and (3) outdoor. Where do you focus your attention? Outside the issues surrounding whether "outdoor" means you're tending a garden or lawn, let's consider the other two. If you commit to reducing your shower time, saving an average of 2.5 gallons per minute (with a low-flow shower head), in 10 minutes, that's about 30 gallons of water. Water-bottling facilities waste thousands of gallons of water per day in the manufacturing process, not to mention nearly 20 million barrels of oil per year, claim horrible working conditions, a trail of pollution behind them, and a trash and transportation nightmare in front of them. So the choice of reducing your shower time and not buying bottled water are not choices that have equal impact.
The point of this example is some choices have greater significance because they have more inherent leverage.
There are many hidden aspects of "sustainability" that often do not get talked about... for example, with water bottling facilities, what else are we missing out on, culturally, by the factory's existence? Are there even bigger leverage points that we are missing because we are focused on a view that is too narrow in time?
We have a cultural habit on wanting to consider the most "efficient" way for things to be. Especially in the "sustainability" movement, we see an obsession with efficiency. How do we consume less energy? Of course it's an important question, yet it is not usually coupled with actually changing our lifestyle. It thinks about systems strictly from an economic kind of lens of energy inputs and outputs without remembering the importance of our Spiritual Renewal. Okay, now we're using less energy, we're using less water, etc, but are we really living our life purpose? Conversely, there are those who have tuned into the value of healing and self-care, and may spend a bunch of money on personal growth retreats, work with alternative medicine practitioners, or take extended trips in the wilderness, but there is little regard for integrating these reconnecting practices into the landscape of every-day life and sharing their gift with the immediate community. To begin the conversation about "sustainability", at the very least we need these two things - efficient energy systems and spiritual renewal - to merge.
Yet we have a cultural habit of separation. We say "wilderness and spirituality" is over here, and "water bottle factories" are over here. We might say we need to make water bottle factories less toxic, more efficient, and still distribute clean water, and contribute to the economy. We might say we need to preserve the natural environment and let the wildness be completely untouched. In fact, neither of these scenarios are an effective answer on their own.
For a week in 2013, I stayed at a Sufi Community several miles out of town from Silver City, New Mexico called "The Voice of the Turtle". It was not until three days into my visit that I met the creek for the first time because there had not yet been a reason I needed to go to the water. I loved the creek, when I went. It was beautiful, and being with it filled me with peace and joy. The diversity of experience, from being up on the hill, or down in the garden, viewing the trees, or then visiting the creek - was enriching. Why had I not been there yet? On one hand, it was convenient to have a pump that brought the water up to the kitchen, and on the other hand, I experienced directly how convenience was replacing communion. If there was no pump, we would need to visit the creek every day in order to bring the water we needed to the kitchen. The kitchen would probably be oriented in a location that was more receptive to a natural flow of water thru the landscape. Technology had replaced the wisdom of nestling into a relationship with Place.
My mentor Mia Van Meter adds, from Ram Dass, [Sustainability is...] "not simply to rebuild the land, but to be rebuilt by the land, by the work itself."
Wendall Berry says, “We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
These are lovely sentiments, and yet, they are still only ideas. They're only ideas when it exists as a thought in our mind, 1-dimensionally.
In this culture, we've become hyper-focused in the realm of 1-dimensional ideas.
"We can't change the world"
"Water bottles are harmful"
"We can heal ourselves"
"I can make a clay pot"
"We can build a bench in our neighborhood"
At best, we share our ideas with other people, and they become 2-dimensional. In conversation, suddenly there's another perspective. In words or pictures, it can be communicated and shared.
It is when things take 3-dimension form that we are starting to fulfill our capacity as adults living on this marvelous planet. When we actually build a bench in our neighborhood, we have a physical, cellular feeling of what it is like to change the world. When we create rain gardens or water catchment systems, we learn more from our new relationship with water. When we make a clay pot, we know our actions have form.
When objects exist and start to take on memory, we begin to see how 4+more dimensions unfold. This is where Placemaking begins to shine. A bench exists, and hundreds of people may use it, but not all at the same time. The bench experiences rain and sun and develops its own character. And if - during the "2-dimensional" stage of the process - many people have input as to what it should look like, where it should go, and so on, then even before a bench exists 3-dimensionally, it has Love imbedded into it that comes at it from many directions. Placemaking is, at its highest expression, a multi-dimensional process that encourages multi-dimensional interaction in this way. Not just a 1-dimensional way of having personal ideas, or even only a 3-dimensional way of building something, but many many dimensions, when invested with memory and meaning.
The same is true for people. We are not just 1-dimensional brains moving our ideas from one meeting to the next. We are even more than our 3-dimension physical bodies. We are the action of energy, emotion, memory, and Love. When we interact with the physical world, EVERY SINGLE TIME, we interact with it as multi-dimensional beings. No matter how great our 1-dimensional ideas are, maturity of our own unique relationship with spirit develops when we move beyond the vision.
I believe there's a country western song by Toby Keith that may put it more simply: "A little less talk, and a lot more action." You may or may not want that one stuck in your head.
Move beyond "sustainability". When we imagine a new civilization, we must be conscious of how our every action is contributing to the collective potential for a multi-dimensional experience. This has very practical implications for simple things like whether or not to buy bottled water. Consciously and honestly looking at everything that goes into bottled water - before and after you use it - from a multi-dimensional perspective would make the decisions obvious. But it should always be a decision you make for yourself from your own consciousness, not just because someone told you should do it because it's the "green" thing to do. Your development of consciousness is the greatest gift to the "sustainability" movement, because it was the movement away from consciousness and love that got us into this mess. The physics of consciousness is something that exists without us, but all have access to it, and not just human beings. And I'll betcha with certainty, at the top of this economic chain of madness, is a bunch of hurting hearts - not measurable by their contributions to the national GDP - and every one of those hearts feels the effects of this culture of closure.
Choices that influence our experience of a world in a multi-dimensional way - in a way that is meaningful to us in our every-day landscape - have incredible power. I think it is more important to work with your neighbors to build something together in the place where you live than it is to keep track of your individual water usage - or even to stop buying bottled water - because of this necessity to open hearts again. Because Placemaking projects are public projects that touch the essences of who we are as we live, rich or poor alike, within the physical world we are a part of.
It's more important to keep change close to home because all conversation of "sustainability" is within the context of that physical world! And the reason we have to even consider the implications of our individual impact is because we have individuated ourselves. Yet we are not so individual, physically or spiritually. We are of the landscape, and we are of each other. Not just "each other" the people in our comfortable friend group. Not just the "landscape" of pristine wilderness. Not just the "spirit" in sacred space. Every person we interact with. Every square inch of our neighborhood. Every moment of God.
It was weaving baskets that taught me I couldn't control. It was growing food that taught me abundance. It was building that taught me manifestation. I currently live in a cabin that isn't plumbed, and a 5 gallon tank of water above my sink teaches me limits, about every day and a half, when I have to fill it again.
The beautiful thing about it is this: if you try to build a bench with wood, it lets you do it even if you are not completely aware of every molecule that makes up that wood and its history. You are allowed to use the wood without complete consciousness toward it. The physical world is absolutely surrounding us with grace and truth in this way. It is more perfect than we can fathom, although modern science is starting to catch up on what we have always known about nature's complexities. This grace that surrounds us in the physical world is consciousness. It teaches us. And we will only learn more by interacting with it directly. Why else would we bother to incarnate? We see what we do to the physical world as a mirror image of how we treat ourselves. We pollute, subvert, and dam water. Water is our emotions, -- on a cultural level -- we know we bottle them up, try to change them, and pollute their integrity. Air is our thinking mind and it's full of noise, full of the clatter of machinery, and full of the business of distracted thought.
We know when we do healing work, it ripples out to the rest of the cosmos. We know that when we do simple physical tasks, it keeps energy flowing. Let's put these ideas together more often by aligning our conscious desire for healing with practical actions that may otherwise seem impossible because of our social fears. If all of this is way too esoteric for you, start with the dishes. Something about dishes is deeply sacred, (I have a lot of ideas about this task)... but what's it about for you? A pile of neglect? A sparkling phobia of germs?
It is this very physical world that we ignore when we think only in 1-dimensional ideas about what is right and what is wrong for "the environment" - forgetting that it is "the environment" that surrounds every square inch of the inside of our lungs and relentlessly demonstrates the miracle of life thru every "weed" in the cracks of concrete. We need to move beyond 1-dimesional ideas and into multi-dimensional experiences. We need to enhance the meaning and memory we give to our every-day landscape. The metaphor is completely unique to our personal perspective.
So, what can YOU do differently? BE COURAGEOUS. "Courageous" comes from the root "cour" meaning, "heart" - to live from the Heart. No matter where people fall on the political spectrum, or whatever, everyone senses the world could be better right now. How can it be better? There is no right answer. None. The right answer should be startling different to every location on a hyper-local level. How does the landscape of your neighborhood capture light and water? Where are the wildlife corridors? Who has space for tool storage? What are the practical boundaries for personal space and collective space? Where are the places for public interaction? How much land would it take to feed everyone on your block? And on what kind of diet? Is there road space that could better be used for something else? Are there bigger social blockages that prevent safe places to sit and observe nature? What does your neighborhood need?
We have replaced culture for consumerism, and become individual instead of collective. The collective includes the physical world of your immediate environment. Not the disaster in a place you never visit. Not the turmoil in a country you've never been to. YOUR physical world. To send prayers is helpful. To want to effect change elsewhere is violent. It is only another branch of consumerism. Consuming the drama, perpetuating distance. There is inherent violence associated with trying to solve other people's problems and putting the solutions away from the place where you live, outside yourself, and the people directly involved in your immediate life. A new civilization means restoring the fabric of healthy relationships. In order to do so, we need to remember that we do not need corporations to "solve" our problems thru false convenience - for we know there is not really convenience when we consider all the harm that is done behind the scenes.
We instead must face a world of relating with real people that have skills and resources, as well as personalities that will challenge us - and the fact that our personalities might challenge other people!!
In any case, we need to let our direct actions (not just our ideas) reflect our understanding of how to change the world.
Then, change the world. The physical world. Where you live. To reflect your values, your freedom. The world is changeable. Look at a clay pot and tell me it's not changeable.