The days are slowly getting longer and though the mercury says its 16 degrees, the sun is generously warm. Mara and I note that at seven weeks past solstice, the sun is as high as it is in late October. And despite the fact that my twin second graders reported that the ground hog did not see his shadow last week, we are gaining momentum on our inexorable march to spring. I imagine this same pond in summer, where we paddle canoes, pick berries and skinny dip in silky waters. But for now it looks like an ice cube with a layer of confection sugar sprinkled on top. Sweet like that too, is the feeling of gliding across it, heart and lungs pumping.
We are part of the middle-age women’s husky club, a self – appointed band of die-hards who insist on getting out every day of the year, no matter what the weather. As our other husky mate Marilyn says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” Today I’m suited up in five layers on top -- silk turtleneck, polypro, fleece sweatshirt, windproof vest and jacket to keep the core warm – and after about four minutes of hard skiing am toasty. Lends a smug feeling of defying the elements. Winter can’t keep us down. About 20 minutes later, clear across the long narrow pond to the opposite side, we arrive at the sun-soaked south facing rock. I slept late this morning and, having to get the kids out to the bus, missed my morning practice of yoga and silence. I’ve learned I need that silence to ease my brain, and tune in to some deeper awareness. Anchor myself in gratitude first thing in the morning to set a context in which to place all the busy-ness of the day. Luckily Mara knows this too and we have shared this ritual so many times before – the ski, the ray-soaking quiet, the writing that will follow – that we ease into it with few words. Just a smile of appreciation.
I could have been spending this hour on interstate highway 91 at 75 miles per hour commuting to work in the city as I did this for the past two and a half years. So I am truly appreciative of the shift away from carbon footprint, and sitting, and traffic to exercise, wilderness and quiet. I know I am blessed to have the kind of work that allows me to earn my living from home via telecommute, teleconference, and the occasional flight to a city meeting.
This afternoon that work will include a two-hour teleconference with partners in Washington, DC in our co-creation, “The Green Planet Action Network.” We are working on systemic interventions to promote Food Security, Climate Change and Sustainable Livelihood. The work is intellectually demanding and I know that the physical, emotional and spiritual start to the day that I’ve just described is absolutely essential to my ability to maintain perspective, balance, creativity and perhaps even a dose of wisdom. We are talking about issues of environmental sustainability after all, and I’m the one who has had the privilege of starting my day in the wilderness – not in traffic – and gained an embodied sense of the qualities I want us to bring to our work. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Our Green Planet Action network seeks to create greater peace and prosperity, a healthier planet and people. I believe that work begins inside each of us.
I know I’m at risk of sounding like a holier-than-thou preacher here. Trust me, I am far from perfect. Indeed it is my imperfections, vulnerabilities and proclivity towards dangerous degrees of emotional, psychological and physical imbalance that have taught me (after 50 turns round the sun) the need to be disciplined in practices that promote health and sanity.
I’ve written in other places about “Sustainability: The Inner and Outer Work.” (Learning for Sustainability, SoL 2006; The Necessary Revolution, Doubleday 2008.) To take these reflections and turn them into action, we are creating the “8S path to sustainability.” The 8Ss reflect a view that we can only create on the outside what we embody on the inside. You want peace, harmony and healing in the world? You’ve got some work to do – for as long as you have a pulse – inside yourself. The secret is that the “work,” over time, releases energy and joy and gratitude. So it’s really not work at all. But don’t tell anybody.
Another secret: years ago while reading Paul Hawken’s, The Ecology of Commerce, I scribbled in the margins, “Spiritual Void leads to Consumption Addiction leads to Sustainability Crisis.” Now run that system in reverse: spiritual fulfillment leads to a sense of contentment without consuming an excess of stuff, leads to a world of abundance for all. How radical is that? Bring on the sustainability revolution by getting peaceful on the inside.
Why 8 Ss? I like the figure 8, the hour glass of it, because the image evokes the inner and outer work. If my friend Nancy Margulies, the brilliant illustrator can do this for me (I can’t draw beyond a stick), the picture of the 8 will be in dynamic flow from above to below, outer to inner. And it will be a marriage of a mirror image of two letter “Ss” one facing right joined to the one flipped and facing left; one dark and one light, merged.
As it says in the poetic creation story of Genesis, “In the beginning the Source of All created dark and light, day and night.” Together they form a whole.
Wondering what the 8 Ss are now? They are the Sacred, Seeing, Systems, Soul, Spirit, Shadow, Sabbath and Strategies. The Sacred, Soul, Spirit, Shadow and Sabbath are the disciplines of the inner work of sustainability. Seeing, Systems and Strategy are the disciplines of the outer work. My teacher and friend Dawna Markova speaks of “life time practices.” Like breathing, like drinking water, like the laundry -- they don’t go away. As a student once asked architect and sustainability guru Bill McDonough, “How long is all this sustainability stuff gonna take anyway?” “Forever,” McDonough replied, “that’s the point.”
This blog will now describe in some detail what I mean by each of the 8 Ss. I’ll give stories, teachers, examples and exercises for each. The goal is to make this an embodied practice for you. And me. So that we can all walk the walk of sustainability with more integrity, more wisdom, more humor, more joy. And, perhaps most importantly create the changes we want to see in the world.
How are Mara and I, as we teased Joe, “perfecting the art of living” with our morning ski, soak rays and write ritual? Hint: it’s got four of the eight Ss in it. I’ll shoot for the other four before bedtime. Want to hear how the first four showed up at Wickett Pond?