Q: How do you make sense of sustainability in the messy world today?
I held a keynote the other day, and I have to end those presentations with Q&A because that’s actually my favorite part. It’s when I get to learn from you.
Anyway, this person was asking me: how I make sense of sustainability in these messy times.
And it’s interesting that I received that question because I had read a similar question or quote from the Joseph Campbell Foundation of Mythology. So the question had been going through my mind for some time.
First, I have to accept that the world is always messy. The idea of a bright perfect future doesn’t exist. The world has been and will always be messy and that’s just life is on earth. It’s part of the human experience.
And that’s ok.
I believe that part of the process to make the most out of this life is by embracing it all. Every emotion is important, every situation teaches us something about ourselves and the world, and if we’re able to detach ourselves and our emotions from the circumstance and look at it from an outside perspective, I believe a lot of meaning can be found.
Life doesn’t have meaning, you give meaning to life, and that will look different for every one of our journeys here.
It’s a practice and it’s hard but I truly believe that difficult times are here to serve us in a way.
> Now I believe her question was more aimed at asking: How can I believe in this optimistic concept when everything around us looks seemingly opposite to that?
In those times I think of a Zen story that I like, that goes like this:
There’s a famous Zen story about a humble farmer whose horse broke out of the enclosure one day and ran away. The villagers came to the farmer saying, “oh such bad luck, my friend”, to which the farmer replied: Good luck, bad luck, who knows?
A few days later, that same horse came back to the farm bringing with him 3 wild mares. The neighbors screamed out: how lucky you are! The farmer replied: good luck, bad luck, who knows?
The next day, the farmer’s son tempts to tame one of the wild mares but falls off the horse and breaks his leg. The villagers again proclaimed how unlucky the situation was. Good luck, bad luck, who knows? said the farmer.
A week later, army officials passed by the village to recruit the young men to go to war, but when they got to the farmer’s house and saw the boy with the broken leg, they said he would be useless at war and therefore, he got to stay with his family at the farm.
The moral of the story shows us that we don't know when a situation is good or bad, and it's a good reminder to cultivate a sense of equanimity in our lives.
In other words, to experience life with a sense of calm or even temper.
I think often of this story when things don’t go as I had planned. It reminds me that certain things are out of my control and that more often than not, things are working out for me, not against me.
But the same goes for the state of the world. Some things are not always what they seem, and change is unpleasant because we are creatures of comfort, but just like the Yin and Yang, two contradictory realities coexist at all times. There’s good in the bad and bad in the good.
Times now seem messier than usual, rising prices, war, division, … but I remind myself that the biggest leaps forward for humanity were born out of hard times, and I believe that the values and the dream attached to the term ‘sustainability’ are the destinations, the North Star.
I also try to recognize that these messy times serve my purpose in ways I may not understand today.
I am still learning but I try not to be guided by my external circumstances.
What guides me are my values and my purpose, and no matter how messy the world is, I will adapt my strategies and my actions in service of them. That’s the meaning I choose to give to my life.