“It takes tremendous courage to resist the lure of appearances. The power of being which is manifest in such courage is so great that the gods tremble in fear of it.” – Paul Tillich
No matter how long we’ve been traveling on the wrong road, we can always cut a new path toward a healthier one. There is always an opportunity to change course. One of the more powerful ways of changing course is to live more moderately.
In a fast-paced world filled with faster-paced gadgets connecting us to vast amounts of information with faster and faster speeds, the time has never been more critical to moderate our lives. The lighter our load, the lighter we will feel. The less we own of the world, the more we are able to relate to the world. Indeed, the lighter we become, the more our inner light will shine.
Ownership is a tricky concept. We never really “own” anything. It’s borrowed, at best. And the more thing-things-things that pile up in our lives, the sharper our dissociation to reality becomes, and the more alienated we feel. Even the gadgets that connect us seem to separate us somehow, as the illusion of connection overwhelms and suppresses the need for it.
The more useless things we mindlessly own, the more we become trapped in a kind of materialistic fissure. Our piles and piles of “stuff” become like pseudo-armor, a false safety net that closes in on us and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.
Like Peter Matthiessen said, “The armor of the “I” begins to form, the construction and desperate assertion of separate identity, the loneliness: Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern.”
Understand: I’m not saying we shouldn’t own things. We are just as much technological creatures as we are social ones. An axe is technology. Clothes are technology. Even shoes are technology.
In a hostile world, a vulnerable species like ours must have technology in order to survive. I’m saying that –in order to be healthy and sustainable creatures who understand that they are living on a finite planet with finite resources within a delicate ecosystem– we should not own more than we need to survive and to prosper.
Like Janine Benyus said, “We’re basically this very young species, only 200,000 years old. We’re one of the newcomers, and we’re going through the same process that other species go through, which is, how do I keep myself alive while taking care of the place that’s going to keep my offspring alive?”
One answer is to live moderately, to live simply, to live in a balanced way, and to be a force of healthy equilibrium instead of a force of unhealthy imbalance.
As it stands, the human race has become a force of unhealthy imbalance on this planet: a scourge of contemptuous creatures caught up in their own insecurity and narcissism. We unthinkingly dig up the earth and tear down trees to feed our wants while ignoring our needs.
Even worse, we ignore the needs of the ecosystem which is the very thing that’s keeping us alive. Humankind can be both parasitic and symbiotic; both bee and locust. We can choose to act like a bee: in symbiosis with nature, creating beauty, harmony, and honey; or we can choose to act like a locust: rigid, consuming, and destructive.
We are free to change and manipulate our environment in both healthy and unhealthy ways. As a culture, we seem to have chosen the way of the locust, and the way of the bee is suffering along with all that is beautiful and healthy in this world. Like John Sawhill said, “A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.” So what will you choose to create? What will you refuse to destroy?
So what can we do? How can we possibly transform our lifestyles enough to make a real difference, while also maintaining our own survival? One powerful thing we can do is question things, question everything: society, culture, religion, politics, technology, the media, and especially ourselves.
Like Kevin Kelly said, “Machines are for answers; humans are for questions. In the world that Google is constructing—a world of cheap and free answers—having answers is not going to be very significant or important. Having a really great question will be where all the value is.”
Indeed, the game changers and world changers making all the difference in the future will not be the ones with all the answers, but the ones with the best questions.
But discovering new and effective questions requires that we live moderately enough to where we can breathe, and quietly enough to where we can think clearly. Like Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Another thing we can do is seek out the guidance of nature. Nature is a boon of knowledge on how to live moderately and in balance. Indeed, all wisdom begins first with nature: the best of guides; and second with pain: the worst of guides.
Pain aside, Derrick Jensen’s “language older than words” is a language that can and must be learned if we are to discover (or more succinctly, rediscover) a healthy way of living in harmony with the planet. We need only listen.
Like Hermann Hesse said, “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” It is on us to learn this ancient law of life, lest we doom ourselves to the ancient law of entropy. The wisdom yet to be discovered in nature is mindboggling, and it is there waiting for us to stumble upon it, or simply to listen to the harmony of its truth that’s been singing softly since the beginning of life. Like Bill Plotkin said, “What you find in nature is what works. It wouldn’t be there if it didn’t. Boundless wisdom awaits.” And it’s on us to tap into this wisdom.
“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.”
–William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned
At the end of the day, the best strategy toward living a more moderate lifestyle is to first forgive ourselves. When we can forgive ourselves of our past transgressions: living outside our means, living immoderately, living unthinkingly and unsustainably; we liberate ourselves to being less transgressive in the future.
Forgiveness helps us to let go of what has been holding us back. Like Lily Tomlin said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” We must give up hope for a better past. Our past is what it is: mass-destructive, overreaching, anthropocentric, and narcissistic. But there’s no reason our future cannot be healthier. We just have to get back to the essential aspect of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest,” which is NOT competition, or who ends up with the most “stuff.” That’s just a myth. It’s cooperation, and who ends up with the healthiest relationships and the most robust experiences.
Skull Hive by Luke Dwyer
Life in Moderation
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