Pillars of Sustainability

Western civilization has, for millennia, believed in a story that separates human beings from Nature. This separation is present in the way that Western culture treats human beings as commodities and Nature as simply “resources” to be quantified, extracted, and exploited to serve its gods – the “market” and economic growth. Nature has no intrinsic value represented in our economic system – the fact that trees produce the oxygen we breathe has no recognized value within our economic constructs.

Instead of identifying this obsolete story and telling new stories that are rooted in a different understanding – one based on our interconnection to all things – the environmental movement has tried to frame conservation and sustainability within the context of the old story of separation. They say that we still have to grow the economy and make profit but do it in a sustainable way with less plastic, less pollution, more solar and wind power, more organic and local food, etc.

I believe this approach does the environmental cause a disservice because it doesn’t fully address the reason people become environmentalists, which is not because they see it as a means to achieve more economic growth or even to preserve the Earth’s resources for future exploitation by future generations. It is much more visceral than that.

The reason people become environmentalists is because they feel the pain that is inflicted as mountaintops are removed, forests are turned into wastelands, oceans are polluted with oil and radiation, and we see the very real suffering of our fellow Earthlings. They also have fallen in love with Nature, recognizing its awe-inspiring beauty and appreciating the wonderful mystery of life present within it. It is through these emotional responses to the horrors our global society is inflicting on something we love so dearly that people feel compelled to take action and become environmentalists.

This is the Story of Interbeing. It is a story that is grounded in the understanding that our very existence is relational. We are who we are because of our relationships to others, to Nature, even to the ground that we walk on. Therefore, what we do to others, we invariably do to ourselves. This new story says that each of us has a unique and necessary gifts and that the purpose of life is to express those gifts. It says that every person we encounter and every experience we is a mirror of ourselves, and that purpose, consciousness, and intelligence are innate properties of matter and the Universe. In short, we are connected to everything around us at a fundamental level.

This new story is really an old story – one that is still with us today in the cultures of indigenous tribes all around the world. It is a story that many of us feel and experience as true – yet the story of Western culture, which forms the hard core reality of rent, grocery bills, and maximizing return on investment – denies its possibility by labeling it as unpractical.

But we feel this new story when we marvel at the way a child explores his or her environment. We feel it when we are committed to a cause that is greater than ourselves. We feel it when we are seen and feel accepted for who we are. We feel it when we stop our incessant worrying about things outside our control and begin to live from the truth that life is a gift and our default state of being ought to be gratitude.

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