Well, I do declare…
I declare that I have to say this for my own dignity, sanity and integrity. I need to say where I stand in this world, even if I feel like a fool saying it, given how the devastating story running our world has eaten through the social glue and the natural world.
I don’t like feeling like a fool. I like showing that I know the score, that I’m not naïve.
I have to say this today as I feel the tides of our times eroding the sand of my truth around my feet.
I believe the world is made of love. What else do you call the glue that holds us together, that holds people in community, that holds trees in forests with the duff of the ancestors and the mycelium of fungi binding them into an ecology, that makes gravity our fundamental attraction to the heart of our home planet.
Perhaps it’s the fear of death, perhaps the social wounds that never heal, perhaps the heartless design of our economics… something/s have convinced us we don’t belong to one another and the earth. That doesn’t mean love isn’t the foundation of everything and joy our birthright.
I now live in a lovely box (split entry house) on a gentle hill above an adorable touristy village in the clement Pacific Northwest. I have a true embarrassment of riches, probably a hundred thousand things I call mine, from a car, a camper, a closet full of delightful clothes, a plot of land that will soon burst with vegetables and fruits, a kitchen full of pots, utensils, plates, cups, food, appliances to hair clips and scrunchies. I have a veritable George Carlin scale place for my stuff. Easily 95% of it was bought used which provided cover for my twenty-year march into the middle class from a minimalist life. Last year, I bought a hot tub, new, and a refrigerator, new, and I had to face that I too had entered the world of excess… and liked it. I’d actually leap for joy at a nightly soak under the stars, but my arthritis limits my leaping while providing cover for this utter luxury. I think the hot tub lands me in the global 1%.
I want to get back into alignment with my values. In my 20’s and 30’s I lived on $100 a month and felt free, happy and a tad smug. At 75, how much is now enough – let me count the items. Tough. Really tough.
The box stays with all the ways its connected to water and sewer. The Sprinter could be my only thing with wheels, though it runs on diesel and my electric car is better. The hot tub? Eek, guess I could whittle down to a bath tub. Or move next to a hot spring. Table and chair, yes. I can’t sit on the floor anymore. Bed, yes. I can’t easily get up off the floor anymore. Fridge, yes. Stove, yes. Dishwasher, I could go back to just a sink. I could halve the appliances that plug into the wall. I could halve my clothes but probably sneak the outcasts in a suitcase under the bed. Computer, dear Lord don’t take that from me. Now down to smaller items. Medications, and all the bathroom accumulation for body care. Pots, dishes and all the things that food goes in or on? See how it goes?
Regarding my fiefdom of comforts, I’ve begun to think I can no longer claim the values that have guided my private and public life.
In Your Money or Your Life, we suggest you contemplate the life energy (money) spent on your stuff and compare it to the life energy (time) spent on your values of caring, creating, serving, time in nature, learning, relationships, etc. That gap is your integrity. The confrontation is so powerful people either drop consumerist habits or throw away the book.
How do I get back into alignment?
I don’t think it’s by chucking my fundamental security and casting myself out at 75 into the minimalist lifestyle of living without electricity or running water in a school bus in the woods. I think that’s a romantic notion, an attempt to not do the inner work, by militantly Kondo-ing my life.
Instead I will write my “this I believe” and pin it to my heart and shamelessly give my days to it, even if I can’t make dramatic displays of virtue.
I believe we live in a world of relationships, not a world of things. We took a very wrong turn with Descartes. I mean, why base your society on a European man, alone, in a room of his own, ignoring his body, thinking that thinking itself makes him real.
I believe every living thing has a natural right to unfold its destiny in a world literally designed to meet all needs of all creatures, even as I know that life is full of risk, challenges and death comes to every life.
I believe that reciprocity is the natural relationship between all living beings, and between the chemistry and physics of the earth’s systems. Everything serves everything else. It can’t be otherwise, really. Yeah, but what about when one eats another. Yep, that too.
I believe that mutual aid is a natural inclination of the heart. We want to help others. We want to share our surplus. Donella Meadows, one of my mentors, said, when asked in 2000 if she had hope: “when I look at our institutions, I despair. When I look at the generosity and creativity of humans, I have hope.” So c’mon people, smile on your brother. You know you want to.
I believe in generosity, in cups running over, in the parable of the talents, in Jubilee years and Wopilas and Potlatches. Yeah, but … what about people who don’t deserve it. Who receives what – that is always a choice; generosity isn’t dependent on who or what we like. It’s what our hearts want to do.
I believe that community is the basic unit of survival. Individualism is a mistake, though individuation is the royal road to maturity. Personal responsibility is always required, but that doesn’t mean selfishness or hard-heartedness are justified. Cultivating the skills of community – listening, showing up, resolving conflicts equitably – is pro-survival.
I believe that conviviality – the joy of one another in public places – is the fruit of building safety, generosity, mutuality, reciprocity and love. And it’s catchy. And we’d prefer to have cheerful streets and workplaces and subways and airports and classrooms if we even knew that was possible.
I believe in all beings meeting all our needs. I believe in meeting material needs with materials – but not materialism. I believe in meeting emotional, relational, social, cultural, political needs through non-material/human capacities means. I believe the skill of knowing the difference can be taught, learned and lived and we’d all be more satisfied if we did.
Even though I believe all of this with all my heart, I also know that our world is currently not designed this way.
Consumerism, the handmaiden of capitalism, teaches us to meet all needs with stuff.
Consumerism is destructive of reciprocity, mutuality, generosity, gratitude, and human bonds. Consumerism actually flourishes by breaking human bonds and replacing these with stuff. Things go better with one another, not coke (both meanings).
Consumerism hollows out our creativity and love and makes us into hungry ghosts.
Consumerism promotes the 7-deadly sins.
Consumerism replaces the Golden Rule with the Golden Calf. Look around you, at Black Friday, at Amazon’s efficiency at shuffling stuff right to our doors, at “buy more and save” advertising promises. WWMD: what would Moses do if he saw us now?
The design of money, finance, the economy, and banking require material growth on a finite planet and most of us can’t even imagine anymore how we unhook from the teat of this poor substitute for Mother’s love. Wonderful, intelligent alternatives do exist, but we don’t “buy” them.
Domination, exploitation, and freedom-as-entitlement to the biggest or at least a bigger piece of the pie have destroyed our imaginations about what’s possible and our relations with one another. It is not in the nature of the dominator economy to make space for meeting needs relationally so everything must be financialized for the machine to survive. Even if we perish.
Solutions are everywhere but our financial and political systems resist change and our minds are super-saturated with greed and fatalism so our natural support systems will continue to unravel.
I have no idea how to – or even if it’s still possible to – avert the deadly consequences of the fatal flaws of Western Civilization.
There. I said it. I said it because I needed to.
The conditions of this earth, the design of our financial and political systems, and my many failures do not negate what I know to be true about the living earth, our Mother, and the inbred creativity and generosity of people-in-community.
My heart breaks and breaks as we destroy one another and this earth, but I will never stop participating with expectancy, creativity, curiosity, delight and a generous heart because it’s in my nature to do so.
I will keep practicing and cheering on all regenerative practices, all soil serving, social glue building, fairness restoring, war minimizing, peace maximizing, civility practices I know.
I will keep the faith even as I let go of any expectation that anything I do will fix anything out there (but who knows?).
I will share my stuff, and help others as I am able, give people the benefit of the doubt, behave myself even if others don’t, pet the cat, laugh with friends, and forgive myself for being a daughter of the American story who owns a hot tub, a new fridge, a bionic hip, and all that jazz.
Thus endeth my Desiderata on this Easter Sunday, in the year or our Lord and Covid, 2021.