We have, most all of us, been in survival mode for a long time and this way of being has exacted tolls I’m not sure we will ever fully grasp. We have learned to live in new ways and work in new ways. We’ve made changes, course corrections and sacrifices. We’ve gotten creative even when our patience has been taxed to the max. We have figured out how to endure because there’s not much of an alternative. One of many questions that’s been growing and tumbling around inside me on multiple fronts over these past two years is what is sustainable?
There is no longer a question that the way we are collectively living on this planet is unsustainable in terms of supporting human life for centuries to come. If you’ve not seen it, check out David Attenborough’s A life on Our Planet. It’s a report on the State of Things by the one singular human who has seen more corners of this planet, over a longer period of time, than perhaps anyone else, ever. It’s simultaneously so beautiful and heartbreaking, and I find some hope in Attenborough’s belief it’s not too late. I believe that this message applies in the micro as much as the macro.
So I’ve been turning this idea of sustainability, defined for the UN in 1987 as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” onto myself and my life, and inviting students to do the same thing. How can you meet the needs of the present without compromising your future well-being? In what ways are you moving through the world that are decidedly not supportive in the long term? This applies to how you navigate work and relationships every bit as much as it applies to how you manage your own self on a day to day basis.
Consider for a moment what is sustainable for you (taking into account both your present self and future versions of self) financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually? How do we move beyond the basic sense of sustainability as having the capacity to endure, and expand into a capacity to thrive? Where do you downplay the impact of current choices on future happiness?
I believe that we are often just maintaining. In other words, we are, at best, doing enough to hold steady, or at worst, not come apart at the seams. Our ability to maintain is our ability to survive. We continue to figure it out: get just enough sleep, just enough exercise, just enough rest, just enough connection, just enough spiritual nourishment so the wheels don’t go flying off. But this way of being is not sustainable, and is not and will never lead to thriving. And we are here to thrive, inclusive of every personal and collective challenge we face.
In 2022 my intention is to shift wholeheartedly to sustenance over maintenance. To commit to that which truly nourishes, mends, revitalizes, opens, connects. While I’ve slowly pieced together what that means for me, I’ve been only occasionally successful at implementing it for more than a day at a time. But this clear intention is slowly seeping into my life. As an external example, we’ve shifted our class schedule to series-based classes that they be sustainable financially and energetically for the teachers and in return, become a form of dedicated nourishment for individual practitioners and ongoing community connection. On a personal level, I’ve recognized the way my own practice slides into ruts of maintenance- just enough practice to be a decent, functioning human. I’ve realized, submitted and committed to practice that will sustain me now: long, deep and non-negotiable.
As we close the book on 2021 and cautiously, quietly open the cover of 2022, I invite you to consider your own answer to the question what sustains you? What brings you delight and reminds you that you are whole? How do you recharge, reconnect, revitalize? Consider prioritizing these efforts toward sustenance over maintenance on a daily basis with the understanding that your future self is depending on you, silently begging you to make a little more space for nourishment, wonder, stillness, connection and peace.
May we not just survive and endure in the new year. May we learn to nourish ourselves in ways that allow us to sustainably serve, care and attend to our loved ones, our communities, our world. May we slow down adequately to experience that which is most true— what really matters and place that in the forefront of our minds and lives. Sustenance over maintenance. May it be our new way in the new year.