I have been thinking about sustainability; what is it, why is it important, and how does one experience it. The ability to sustain is defined as the ability to strengthen or support, to uphold, to affirm, to undergo or suffer, to comfort, to succor, and to continue. Wikipedia defines sustainability as “the capacity to endure. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time.” These are just a few of the meanings.
Why is sustainability important to contemplate? Simply put, because it is an aspect of the capacity to continue to exist and flourish. Without it, we tend to use up our personal and natural resources by not tending to our future needs. Sustainability tends to imply respect; respect for oneself and respect for other.
If one thinks about it in another way, it speaks to the capacity to be both firm and flexible; not too firm and not too flexible. It has a quality of inherent cohesion, yet it is capable of responding and adapting to new conditions and information. A good example of this principle is experienced in the practice of yoga. The postures are intended to develop the capacity in our bodies to have the core strength to hold a posture, yet encourage the muscles to lengthen and stretch. As one practices yoga over the years, it assists in being able to stand tall, firm and grounded and to be able to bend and stretch to enjoy the movement and balance in our bodies.
There is something in the ability to sustain that implies the capacity to hold the center; not the focal point of the center, but rather the range of the center. It’s a balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Centrifugal force draws a body away from the center; whereas, the centripetal force draws a body into the center. Sustainability is not the dominance of one force over the other; rather it is the balanced interaction of both forces on each other.
I have always enjoyed the form of a ‘lazy eight’. Tracing the going out, around, and coming back through the center, crossing it, and going to the other side and around the top and down to the center again. Put a ‘lazy eight’ upright and cross it over a horizontal one and you have a four-leaf clover. It is a symbol that has many possibilities of meaning. The four-directions of east, south, west and north, a good luck charm, or a freeway interchange. It’s a figure with infinite possibilities and options. It is ‘going out’ and ‘coming back’ doubled. In this example it implies complexity, coherence and movement.
So sustainability is about the capacity to both hold firm to an idea, a position, or a principle AND be able to allow it to breathe, to be influenced by it’s evolving context and circumstances. In our bodies if we hold too tightly we become rigid and stiff. As we age we cannot bend to tie our shoes or pick things up from the floor without a groan. In our minds if we hold too tightly we become obsessed with a particular vision, or version of reality, and thus become more isolated and self-referent. However, if we are too loose, too flexible, too centrifugal or other-focused, than we do not know our own mind. Our sense of identity is muddled and lacks contiguity. Too much flexibility in the body, without core strength, leads to an inability to stand up straight; the ligaments and tendons cannot hold the joint articulations in proper alignment.
So sustainability implies a principle of “both/and” rather than “either/or”. There is much to contemplate about the principle of sustainability and how it relates to the well-being in our body-mind relationship. It is also very relevant to our relationships with nature, our living environment, and how we will go forward on this planet. It is deeply connected to how we tend to and mend our resilience now.