It’s one of the first overcast days we have had in awhile in the midst of a long, hot summer. A nice reprieve, giving space to enjoy some fresh air without melting. This weekend I have snuck away from the responsibilities of home and family life for a weekend yoga retreat at a beautiful lodge set right on the river in Port Alberni. I’ve quickly gotten to know all of the other participants here but maybe more importantly, the household cat. I’ve named him Tiger. His initial greeting was a thorough licking of my toes. He now lays on the patio table behind my computer playfully pawing around my screen, every once in a while making deep eye contact, and meowing loudly as if to say “play with me!”. His request for me to engage works for a moment, but his claws are as sharp as razors and I am not in the mood to bleed today.
My view beyond my screen is the trees then the river, the thin clouds protecting me from the blaring hot sun. As I sit here, away from the distractions of life I ponder the depth of what it means to live a sustainable life. Not just my own life, but the life of my new friend Tiger, the life of the Earth and the legacy I am creating for my children. Looking at this from a global perspective one might venture to say that the trajectory we are on is a slippery slope towards hell in a handbasket. But sitting here, surrounded by the immense beauty of nature, void of the sounds of the city that are typically staples in my life, I feel hope and inspiration that there is opportunity to make a change towards a more sustainable life … a more sustainable world.
I used to think that the word sustainability only referred to things like bamboo toothbrushes, reusable shopping bags and separating waste into recycling and compost. The list of sustainable products and practices is long, many of which I have tried and all of which come with their advantages … and some with their drawbacks. I don’t mean to sound like a downer. Overarchingly these choices are more beneficial than their counterparts, but it is also not lost on me that many of these things still require industry, production, transport and even waste, all of which have a different level of impact on the environment. While the sentiment of using more sustainable products is a good one, and a far better option than some of the more unsustainable choices, it still induces the drive towards consumption.
the using up of a resource
If we continue to use up earthly resources, even in a sustainable way, we will eventually get to a point of depletion that we may not be able to recover from.
As I write this my mind draws a parallel between the body of earth and the body of self…
If I continue to use up my energetic bodily resources, even in a sustainable way, I will eventually get to a point of depletion that I may not be able to recover from.
This comes to mind because it was only a couple of short years ago that I was heading down this road. I practiced living a sustainable lifestyle, exercised regularly, engaged in moving meditation, ate wholistically and resourced holistic medicine. Even with all of this, I was still in a state of deep depletion that, with the mindset I had, no matter what I did, I could not recover from.
The shift for me came in a huge decision that I battled with for years, the choice to step outside of my marriage. It was the area of my life where I had consumed myself with blame, shame and external thinking. While my husband and I had a deep internal connection, our relationship was built on the rocky foundation of seeking fulfillment from one another. This mindset came with an exponential amount of expectation, disappointment and resentment. My marriage wasn’t the only place this showed up, but being so deeply entrenched in it I was unable to see the forest for the trees. It was all consuming.
Since stepping outside of the construct of marriage and taking a moment to catch my breath, I have moved into a new relationship. One with personal development. Even though I have been doing this work for over a decade, having something as big as my marriage ending and knowing I was unwilling to repeat the pattern, gave me a whole new perspective on how to approach my work. I know now that looking outside of myself for answers and fulfillment only leaves me in this perpetual state of erosion and depletion. One that is completely unsustainable.
So then, what is the answer to living a sustainable life? One that builds fulfilment and resiliency?
I have learned that whenever I bump up against a question like this, the only way I will find a sustainable answer is by shifting from an external mind set to an internal one. Instead of looking for the answers outside of myself in the latest and greatest toxin free cleaning products or another person, I shift into looking inside of myself to see if I can uncover the root of where the question is coming from. Through the lens of global sustainability, understanding that the invention of using more sustainable products and processes is already a shift, I must go deeper and look at the need for consumption in the first place.
If I think back to when I was at a fairly dangerous level of depletion I can recognize that this also came with a need to fulfill. At the time I did not know what it meant to feel fulfilled internally and so my go to was to fulfill externally. Sometimes it was in a tub for ice cream, and other times it was in a new car. Sure this may have worked momentarily, but the truth is, it was not sustainable. It wasn’t long before I was seeking out the next thing to fill me up. It never worked and if I am perfectly honest with myself, sometimes the consumption hangover was so bad that it had me right back where I started with my hand in the cookie jar once again.
“I was never addicted to one thing; I was addicted to filling a void within myself with things other than my own love.” ~ Yung Pueblo
The biggest lesson that I have learned to date, in my 43 years of this lifetime, is that in order to live a sustainable life, I cannot look for external fulfilment. It cannot be found in composting toilets or rain water collection barrels, nor is it in the expectation of having another person meet my needs. It is and can only be found inside of me and that means taking a deep look into my patterns, reactions, behaviours, and beliefs on a daily basis, unpacking where they came from and working to shift to an inner resource of resilience. There is not one person, or one thing that can cover up my internal sense of lack, it must be rectified from the root so that I can unravel the untruths that I have been living from and build a better, more sustainable foundation for life.
Living from an internal sense of control is how I have shifted myself into living a sustainable life, full of love, joy and resilience. It is the best feeling in the world and it requires no new furniture or the latest and greatest in technology. Want to know the coolest part? When I am internally fulfilled I no longer seek to consume products I don’t need to fill a void, no matter how earthly and sustainable they are.
For me, learning to save the planet has traced it’s way all the way back to the root of my behaviors. I had to find out where I was pointing the finger outwards and learn the steps to taking ownership of my thoughts and feelings. Funny thing … As I practice softening my ego from telling me all of its stories, it seems as though I might be the only character in my plays. Except for Tiger that is. He is an exceptional character, showing the art of living in the present moment. Who knew?