“Do you dream of a life that's simply ‘sustainable?’ Or do you hope for something better, say, a happy life? One that's full of meaning?”
Do I want a sustainable life? Hell, no! I want something better than that. Do I want to design sustainable architecture? Sustainable communities? Hell, no! I want to design regenerative architecture and regenerative communities. That is, buildings and communities that go beyond no net impact to actively enhancing vitality. These are buildings and communities that produce rather than consume. They produce a surplus of energy, food, biodiversity, clean water, air, and soils, creativity – a surplus of happiness even.
Many Buddhist authors have written about the complex connections between desire, motivation, right action, speech, livelihood, intention, the cultivation of compassion and wisdom, and the traps of attachment and clinging. Judith Simmer-Brown wrote about that connection:
“[A]ccording to the view of vajrayana Buddhism, desire is also the working basis of compassion. Desire’s very eagerness to please carries intelligence, which when liberated from self-centered preoccupations, resonates with the emotional experience of others.”
Colin gave us the challenge “to create a new reality; a new way of living with fewer resources while providing a prosperous life for every member of our growing population – [it] is going to require more than even the best technology that money can buy. It's going to require imagination, open-mindedness, a willingness to live and to understand life differently.”
That got me to thinking about the things I want, just plain old want, just for me, and whether or not those things lend themselves to a sustainable or regenerative lifestyle, one which “every member of our growing population” could enjoy. So I searched for my Top Three. I wanted to know where my priorities are and what motivates me. What is at the root of my desire? What goal can create eagerness and harness intelligence? Turns out I want:
1) Time. I don’t want to be so busy. I don’t want to always feel so rushed. I don’t want to roll out of bed and out the door twenty minutes later. I want to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and read a magazine article to begin my day. I don’t want to feel guilty about taking half an hour out of study time to watch a television show. I don’t want to spend weeks contemplating whether or not I should drop a class to make time for work. I don’t want to turn down fulfilling work in order to take boring required classes.
2) Good food, good coffee, good wine, and good friends to share it with. I don’t like to cook. I like to eat. I like to give good tips to the wait staff. I like four-hour long dinners.
3) Comprehensive health, dental, and eye care. I don’t want to wait two weeks for my cold to turn out to be pneumonia which now requires hospitalization instead of just antibiotics. I don’t want to have to wait six months to get a cavity filled. I want to have these questionable moles removed soon. I don’t want to wear my contacts three times longer than recommended because I can’t afford to replace them.
Gosh. I (don’t) want rather a lot, huh? All of these things seem to require a certain level of affluence that I do not currently posses. But that’s just me and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that things change. The median household income in the United States was over $50,000 in 2007. Of course, the median income for a single female was only $24,000, compared to the $36,000 earned by a single male. (Yes, gender inequality is alive and well folks!) Even so, $24,000 doesn’t sound too shabby right about now. I could manage on that. I could fulfill my top three desires on $12 an hour.
It strikes me that I didn’t put fulfilling career, world peace, or helping others on that list. It’s a given. It’s what I do. I know no matter what else I want for myself, I will keep doing what I’m doing, which I find very fulfilling, believe supports world peace, and know helps others. Am I super lucky or what?
What’s in your Top Three? What three things do you most want for yourself, for your lifestyle?
What I want for myself tells me that it is possible for me to live a sustainable or regenerative life without an undue amount of fuss. I need to find or create a job at which I can be effective and productive without being a workaholic. (Of course, I think this particular 'want' also reveals a need to better cultivate right diligence/effort and fix a skewed mindset, but that's not the point right now...) It needs to pay enough that I can afford to eat at that lovely little organic restaurant down in the Haymarket, travel a little, and have good health care. I can continue to support efforts to revamp this country’s health care system to bring cost down and offer universal coverage to people who are worse off than I am now. I don’t need to consume or pollute to be content. I don’t need a new Hummer and a hundred pairs of shoes and a house in the suburbs with a pool. I don’t need the stereotypical American dream.
But some people do – or at least they think they do. They’re never gonna listen to some little hippie girl tell them she knows better. So how do we as a society go about rewriting the American dream? Because I bet when it comes right down to it, the car, the shoes, and the house with the pool won’t be in anyone else’s Top Three either. I’m betting family and friends will be there a lot. I’m betting people want to have good jobs which are also fulfilling. I’m betting, all other things being equal, people would rather work for a company which makes equipment to ensure we all have clean drinking water than one that makes plastic disposable anything. I guess I’m betting that, when people actually sit down and think about it, when we actually look at what we want, that we really do know what makes us happy. And that it’s already in line with what is best for the planet as a whole.
I guess I’m betting we’re all really already enlightened.