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August 06, 2008

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Primitivo

Hi Steve,

Thanks for sharing that generative question of what is the body of sustainability.

I would like to here back what the insights, discoveries and the development of best practices in cultivating and embodying an answer to the questions.

Here are some of my reflections:

1) What do the biological, ecological, cultural (indigenous) models say about sustainability and how can those inform this question?

2) I would think it's also useful to think about the group, family, community and societal practices that could be additonal determinants of the body of sustainability.

I look forward to additonal postings.

Tivo

Steve

Tivo,

Yes, I think you are pointing in a good direction to deepen the inquiry. I talked a lot about Western culture in my post and there are many other cultures out there that we can learn from.

And I completely agree that this crisis has to be tackled from multiple directions - family, community, society, etc. For example, what is the body of community sustainability?

Great ideas!

-Steve

Lisa Christie

Steve, Excellent article -- a real contribution!

I agree with everything said, and thank you for raising the question about the body of sustainability.

I find Riane Eisler's model of patterns of human organization to be very helpful, both in terms of understanding where we are now and some possibilities for our future... She uses the terms "dominator" and "Partnership" to indicate cultures organized by force and fear on one hand, and by an ethic of mutual flourishing on the other.

Interestingly, and very much in keeping with the point you made (drawing on Christine Caldwell's observation that addiction is dissociation from our body), there tends to be a lot of trauma in Dominator cultures. And, at least in part due to that trauma and the way that it is held culturally/somatically, there tends to be both a sense of estrangement from the larger environmental context (which is experienced as dangerous and threatening) and the human body which, from the perspective of the rational ego, is the part of nature that we experience most intimately.

The experience of trauma (and the chronic stress the results) damages the limbic brain, and I heard recently, that this damage is physiologically similar or identical to the damage caused by addiction.

So there a neurophysiology of bodily and ecological estrangement...

Thankfully, the human brain is adaptive and it is possible to heal some of the damage, through developing different ways of thinking and being and through practices such as meditation. Therefore, I think it, in relation to the body of sustainability it might be helpful to incorporate the metaphor of healing.

Thank you again for your insightful development of the question and introducing it for a broader discussion!

Amiel Handelsman

Steve,

I like the notion of healing the split between ourselves and our bodies. It reminds me of Ken Wilber's distinction between differentiating and dissociating. Part of the modern malaise you describe is that in the process of differentiating body and mind (a necessary and important step in evolution), we have dissociated it. The task now is to reintegrate or, as you put it, heal.

Now, one small quibble: you write about sleeping pills in a way I would assess as pejorative. Some people use these to work 80 hour weeks. Some get addicted to them. A lot of people, including me, occasionally use sleeping pills as (a Quadrant 2 or pharmacological) part of an approach to sleep disorders.

Finally, while I find myself nodding my head in reading what you write, I also notice my mood has declined. I have less positive energy and hope than before I started reading. So I pose a challenge to you: how might you re-write this in a way that acknowledges the "good news" of our times. Even a paragraph like this can make a difference.

Amiel Handelsman

Steve,

I like the notion of healing the split between ourselves and our bodies. It reminds me of Ken Wilber's distinction between differentiating and dissociating. Part of the modern malaise you describe is that in the process of differentiating body and mind (a necessary and important step in evolution), we have dissociated it. The task now is to reintegrate or, as you put it, heal.

Now, one small quibble: you write about sleeping pills in a way I would assess as pejorative. Some people use these to work 80 hour weeks. Some get addicted to them. A lot of people, including me, occasionally use sleeping pills as (a Quadrant 2 or pharmacological) part of an approach to sleep disorders.

Finally, while I find myself nodding my head in reading what you write, I also notice my mood has declined. I have less positive energy and hope than before I started reading. So I pose a challenge to you: how might you re-write this in a way that acknowledges the "good news" of our times. Even a paragraph like this can make a difference.

Steve

Amiel,

I like your challenge. One of the things I've been noticing as I write this series of posts on the body of sustainability is my own mood and the tone of my writing. And I notice that my own mood wavers between indignation, frustration, and optimism.

And my comment on sleeping pills wasn't so much aimed at any use of them but instead abuse of them. I read an article within the last 6 months is some magazine (sorry I forget which one) that talked about the use of sleeping pills to fuel our overdriven lifestyle. People are using sleeping pills in order to work longer hours to get promotions and higher pay. According to what I remember from the article, sleeping pills are at an all-time high in sales.

Thanks for the challenge. I'll take it up in future posts.

Take care,

-Steve

Ken Homer

Excellent post Steve!

You say you "don't want to point fingers but, it is from our parents and grandparents that we learned to be unsustainable." I have to take exception to that, though it may be simply a generational thing... Prior to WWII life in most parts of the world was sustainable - pesticide use was nearly unheard of, people lived within their means, eating mostly locally grown food in season. Forestry was for the most part sustainable, etc. Not that there weren't signs of trouble mind you. However, many baby boomers grew up with parents who lived through the Great Depression and WWII and inherited a cultural narrative that was highly supportive of sustainability.

But since the rise of the baby boomers we have become very unsustainable - so I will point a finger at my own generation and say that we bear primary responsibility for the wicked mess we now find ourselves in. It is in the years following WWII and most especially in the period from the 1970s until now that we have witnessed the worst damage being done.

As you point out it is the worldview of contemporary Western culture that is fueling our disassociation from our bodies. At some point in the last few hundred years a group of us began treating Earth as dead and inert, something seen as "resources" for our use rather than an living dance of very complex patterns that interact and maintain themselves over time - of which our bodies are an intricate part. This kind of thinking is blind to the fact that when we create the conditions in Q4 that do not support life, it has a direct, though sometimes delayed, effect on Q2. Over time this worldview has achieved dominance in terms of organizing human behavior at the level of societies, nations and cultures. It is not that this worldview is wrong or the people practicing it are evil, so much as it is harmful to our continued bodily integrity.

A recent example of the kinds of challenges this kind of thinking produces is the report a few months ago on the amount of prescription medicines found in the water supplies in major cities in the US. Many people were startled by this news. The basics of biology have yet to be grasped by most manufacturers and by nearly all of the public. If medicine, or vitamins for that matter, are water soluble then any amount not absorbed by the body will be excreted as a waste product. And since post-modern life includes a design where human beings dump our bodily waste into our water circulation system, we get build ups of medicines and vitamins in our water - not to mention all the other contaminants like pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, and photo-degrading plastics, etc. These are in turn taken back into our bodies with our next glass of water, cuppa coffee or mug of beer - repeating in an endless cycle. What happens when our bodies become toxified due to poisoned water supplies? We lose the sustainability of our body. This is a direct Q2 consequence of an unconscious Q3 design. What happens when the toxicity of poisoned water supplies affects millions or even billions of people? Hard to think about, but not hard to conceive, unless your model of life in Earth is one where your body is separate from it, in which case it is easy to keep inventing creative ways to deny reality until it catches up with you - Q4 reality always trumps Q3 conceptions when it comes to sustainability.

I suggest that one way to begin to build the body of sustainability is to conceptualize our bodies as "Earth Walking As People." Our bones are formed of Earth, our blood is astonishingly close in chemical composition to seawater, our breath is shared with all other land creatures, refreshed and renewed by the ocean and the world's forest ecosystems. Our minds illuminated by the fire of the Sun. Water and air are the seamless circulating systems that connect us with ourselves, each other and the world around us. With such a concept working our minds we may begin to notice and create our worlds a bit differently. I suggest as a practice that we find some time each day or at least a few days per week to lay on the ground and allow ourselves to open. This simple practice is among the most profound I have discovered.

"We Are The World", was not just a sappy song from the last century, it is a profound truth - human beings are found nowhere else in the vastness of the Universe, we arose here in Earth and, in the words of Chief Seattle, whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth. If we want sustainable bodies we need to be thinking in much longer terms than next quarter and we need to be recognizing that in a world of closed loop systems there is no "away" in which to throw our wastes.

Human beings will always generate waste products, how do we design our large-scale systems to produce waste that is biologically useful, i.e., food, for other biological entities? That seems to be a good Q3/Q4 question to complement your Q1/Q2 inquiry around how to build the body of sustainability.

Steve

Ken,

Thanks so much for your comments.

I love your distinction of us as "earth walking as people". And your practice of laying on the earth regularly.

What was the big shift, I wonder, between the boomers and the generations that preceded them? Why did their lifestyle suddenly become unsustainable?

-Steve

Ken Homer

See Meadows et al for a pretty good example of Q3 culturally dominant thinking overruling Q4 assessment and feedback that suggested corrective measures were in order. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limits_to_Growth) - In this case it was the generation before the boomers who pretty much made the fateful choices.

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