This past weekend I launched a new graduate level Integral Coaching course at New Ventures West called Deepening the Somatic Stream. In Integral Coaching, we recognize that people develop in different ways. We call these ways "streams of development" adopting Ken Wilber's lingo. The streams of development we work with are somatic, emotional, cognitive, relational, spiritual, and integrating. This course is on deepening development in the somatic stream.
I posed a question to the group as a project over the 5-month duration of the course. The question is ...
What is the body of sustainability?
Here's my premise ... and I need to start waaay back at the beginning.
When we were born, each of us was born (dare I say thrown) into a cultural narrative not of our own design or choosing. As we grew up in our family, we began to learn and embody our culture. We learned how to speak the language, how to attend to customs, how to behave, how to relate to others, what is forbidden, what is valuable, etc. We learned how to be a Jewish-American from New York or an Amish farmer from Pennsylvania or a Native American from New Mexico or whatever. And we learned this as simply who we are - as a way of being.
And our way of being is self-sealing. What I mean by this is that the ways we act bring forth the world we live in. And the world we live in brings forth who we are. Have you ever talked to a fundamentalist and realized how their worldview has lots of self-consistency. And anything that doesn't fit, they reject in order to maintain the self-consistency of their worldview. Well, that's the way we hold worldviews even if we aren't fundamentalist.
Here's the key part of this. In the beginning we didn't have a narrative. Then as we lived and interacted with first our parents and siblings, and then others in our extended family and neighbors and friends and teachers, we embodied a narrative. I say embodied a narrative because that's how it works. Our culture lives in our bodies. And we express our culture through our speech and behavior and relationships. We express our culture through our actions. And if there are little tikes around, they pick up the culture from us and embody it themselves. This isn't something that we were conscious of, it simply occurs. This is one of the wonderful inventions of "who knows what or whom" that has supported our evolution thus far.
But our future evolution isn't something that we can take for granted. Today we find ourselves in a "wicked mess" of crises. In this post, I'm going to focus on our sustainability crisis.
The way we are currently living isn't sustainable. I'm not going to ground this assessment here. Others have and can do a much better job of that than I can. But let me say that this is an assessment that I accept.
So where did our unsustainable way of living come from? Well, I hate to point fingers but it came from our parents and grandparents and the culture that they embodied and passed onto us. We (and by we here I am mainly talking about the Western world) have an unsustainable culture. And it lives in our bodies and is expressed, reinforced, and passed onto our little tikes through our actions. In short, we have a body of unsustainability. As as the rest of the world (such as China and India and perhaps some day Africa) adopts our Western ways in order to become competitive and stake their own claims on prosperity we in the Western world are getting to see the unsustainability of our ways in stark relief.
So it seems to me a natural question to ask what is a body of sustainability? And how does one go about building one? And how to you "undo" the body of unsustainability?
These are big questions but maybe y'all would like to join me and my students over the next five months in being with these questions.
Disembodied Selves Leads to Over-consumption
Here's a starting place ... from my observation, the very heart of our unsustainable culture is the interpretation that we are separate from our bodies. And because we are separate from our bodies we abuse our bodies. We overeat, we work 80-hour workweeks, and we pop sleeping pills so we get enough rest to keep pushing ourselves. If we do pay attention to our bodies it is some sort of home improvement project like building a six pack or liposuction. I saw a brochure for a spa the other day in my local organic grocery store that advertised "body management" services. It is as if our bodies are unruly and need to be disciplined.
In the West we have antipathy for our bodies thanks to Calvin and St. Augustine who had difficulties with their own bodies and their own sexuality. We blame our bodies for being sick, for being too weak, for not looking good enough, for falling in love with the wrong people, for being addicted, for being clumsy. It is as if we didn't get the life we wanted because of the body we have. We have our bodies like a cage we live in. It is no wonder that we seem to either deny our embodied life or try to take it on as a home improvement project.
This split between ourselves and our bodies creates a disembodied sense of self, lack of true contact with others, detachment from the world, disintegration of our life, meaninglessness, resignation, stagnation, and suffering. In short, our lives seem deficient and empty in some essential way. It is as if there is a giant abyss in the middle of our lives that we must fill in order to bring significance and fulfillment to our lives. So what do we throw into the abyss to fill it up? We throw in new cars, iPhones, fancy food, fast food, lots of sex, new shoes, alcohol and other state altering substances, etc. This abyss that's smack in the middle of our lives isn't really a secret. Marketers know all about this and use it as leverage to sell us the latest stuff. But in all these years of consumption, how many of us have managed to fill the abyss? No one.
So my first notion of the body of sustainability is a healing of this split between ourselves and our bodies. As human beings we are embodied beings. We are not disembodied selves in possession of a body. We are bodied selves. And perhaps in this recognition comes the true resolution of the deficiency we feel. Perhaps it is not new cars and phones and other consumables that we need to fill the abyss but it is ourselves, our conscious bodies, that will fill the abyss from the inside out instead of from the outside in.
In her book Getting Our Bodies Back, Christine Caldwell makes the point that addiction is dissociation from our body. This seems right to me. And as a culture we are addicted to eating, drinking, sugar, oil, and shopping malls. What if our bodies really don't need all that? If we were integral with our bodies instead of dissociated from them, would our way of living be more sustainable? I believe the answer is a definite YES.
Earlier I pointed to how our worldviews are self-sealing. It often takes a big breakdown or crisis in order to break the seal. And when such a break happens, we can either choose to re-examine our cherished beliefs about ourselves, our relationships with others, and our world and develop a new worldview that resolves the breakdown ... or we can ignore the breakdown and pretend things are business as usual. So here we are, on the precipice of a planet-wide breakdown. What will we do?
So this is my first notion of building a body of sustainability - heal the split between ourselves and our bodies. We haven't looked at the separation from each other and from the planet. For sure they have a big role to play here too. More on that later.
So ... please help me distinguish the body of unsustainability from the body of sustainability. What new interpretations are needed? What interpretations do we need to drop? What new practices are needed? What old practices do we need to stop?