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Stop Thinking About Sustainability

28/04/2016 8:11 AM IST | Updated 05/08/2016 7:07 PM IST
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serenity and yoga practicing at sunset, meditation

In any given moment, we put at the forefront of our awareness--consciously or unconsciously-- that which we have deemed most important. They are not always the things that are the best for us, our family, our community or our organization. They are simply that which we have deemed most important in that moment. So, if you're angry in the moment, you have apportioned greatest importance to anger in the moment. You have placed it at the centre of your awareness. Let me be clear. I am in no way implying that we always make automatic and detrimental choices. The conscious choice of a parent to show infinite love, compassion and patience to a child, for example, is a clear and luminous example of the opposite.

There is nothing outside of us--no product, no phone, no car, that can add to our self-worth.

In his seminal work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey defines several centres that we ascribe to--spouse centredness, family centredness, money centredness, friend/enemy centredness, self-centeredness and others. These various centres or paradigms highlight the core lens through which we might view the world i.e. what we have put at the centre. The choices we make stem from these paradigms. In other words, how we behave is based on how we "see" or perceive. The centres that we inhabit (or that inhabit us) are typically a combination of the various aforementioned centres. They are also often default settings that we have inherited--learned without questioning, accepted without analyzing. This form of blind acceptance is ubiquitous and has been studied and explained in several ways--social proof, groupthink, false-consensus effect, and in-group-out-group bias (more of these cognitive errors or failures to think clearly can be found in Rolf Dobelli's The Art of Thinking Clearly). Covey encourages us to create or design our centres based on principles i.e. principle centeredness, and actively choose what matters to us and how we respond to life's circumstances.

Profound transformation that impacts our environment, our society and our economy, lies in our individual actions... not in mental abstraction.

So what does this have to do with sustainability or sustainable living? Well, everything. I sense that a dominant portion of the conversation is taking place in the business and industrial sphere. And what is essentially a paradigm--sustainability-- has been commoditized. It has been turned into a product or service that we need to buy or need more of! This is patently false. I also sense that it has resulted in a lot of confusion and disenfranchisement regarding making everyday choices that are sustainable. How can being more conscious of our choices result in wanting more? In my experience, it actually results in wanting less. When we realize that our sense of self-worth is intrinsic, we also realize that the manic drive "for more" is nothing more than the fictitious and shallow collective ego talking. There is nothing outside of us--no product, no phone, no car, that can add to our self-worth. And when we fully realize that truth, we will stop our incessant and unconscious striving for more things in a bid to be the things that we truly want--peace, love, joy, community. They cannot be found through mental activity or purchased products. They arise. We choose to put them at our centres, to become them, and consequently feel them.

The ego would have you believe that "saving the world" is some singular momentous event in the future. But true change is achieved every day, bit-by-bit...

Profound transformation that impacts our environment, our society and our economy, then lies in our individual actions--every action, and the quality of consciousness we bring to them--not in mental abstraction. Some examples of my personal efforts in this regard include switching to a mostly vegetarian diet, getting more exercise, meditating regularly, using the stairs instead of elevators and using public transportation or walking when possible. They are simple things, mundane things. But everything counts. Every choice. Every moment. They are choices I make today knowing they result in the creation of a better tomorrow. And it's worth looking at as a constantly evolving practice which expands and becomes easier with constant doing.

The ego would have you believe that "saving the world" is some singular momentous event in the future. But true change is achieved every day, bit-by-bit, by being responsible (response-able) i.e. choosing your response based on deeply meaningful and chosen principles of being. This requires conscious effort. Because as Covey points out, if we acknowledge that we are responsible, we may have to accept that we have been irresponsible and that is perceived as a weak and 'low power' position by the ego. Lasting change may not be an outwardly spectacular event accompanied by marching bands. It is comprised of the quiet, resolute, conscious victories--everyday, every moment--over our own apathy, our own procrastination, our own ignorance, our own unconscious behaviour.

Think about it. No, I take that back. Don't think about it, because that's just another mental abstraction. Practice it. Live it. Be responsible. Be peace. Be love. Be joy. It's hard, I know. But it's the way.

Think about it. No, I take that back. Don't think about it, because that's just another mental abstraction. Practice it. Live it. Be responsible. Be peace. Be love.

I leave you with the words of the wise, old king Melchizedek from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, who tells Santiago about the world's greatest lie. "It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie."

Acknowledgement: My sincere thanks to Mark Coleman (author of The Sustainability Generation and Time to Trust) for his insight during our many conversations. This blog post is the result of one such conversation.

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