The dance of spirituality and sustainability

While I keep circling back to women’s work, my main interest is in sustainability. As I wrote last week, I am deliberately taking some space from my interest in spirituality. Today I share why I got so deep into spirituality in the first place and how it relates to sustainability.

From nature to sustainability to spirituality

My interest in spirituality got pretty big after my studies in Biology. In my gap year I came to the conclusion that to protect nature we don’t need more knowledge about biology but we need more engagement from citizens and institutions. That’s why I went on to study Environmental Sciences or how I like to call it: Sustainability (and it seems to be pretty close to Sustainability Studies, but I could look into that more closely).

Even though this study is very broad and interdisciplinary, just like I wanted and what I think is needed, I still missed something. I missed the personal aspect. While Biology is the study of nature and Environmental Sciences is about the interactions of the natural world, society and economics, I missed inclusion of the personal aspect.

Because ultimately everything starts with the personal, with people making their decisions. You can argue therefore, as I did, that personal problems must be the root cause of our collective societal problems. Capitalism, our clinging to consumption and economic growth, must be a result of people not being able to bear themselves as they are, and instead being addicted to stimuli like buying consumer goods, or other addictions like substances and entertainment.

So then the ultimate solution can be sought in transcending these inner problems, in spiritual or personal growth.

Back then, in 2017, I posted a picture of a protest banner that reads: ‘Climate change is a spiritual crisis’. I then announced that this blog is not a food blog but ‘more of a spiritual growth & support blog’.

So then I went on to explore whether I wanted incorporate more spirituality into my ‘work’. One thing I did was taking that damn yoga teacher training that I keep mentioning in my blog posts but don’t necessarily want to talk about any further. (Because I already did so, extensively.)

Eyes on the prize of sustainability

I didn’t intend to become a yoga teacher, but I did consider doing something like it, like facilitating women’s circles. And while it was interesting to explore, I have decided to focus on sustainability.

One reason is that I find that when spirituality practices are shared, they often get overshadowed by the marketing practices that are supposed to facilitate the spirituality. Instead of that working the way it’s intended, it seems to me that spirituality becomes a business model for making money. The businesses that arise become a vehicle for making money and capitalism instead of spirituality. Last week I published a long-read about this phenomenon in My resistance to spirituality and why you should be wary too. I know that it’s too easy to judge from the outside. However, I actually did come quite close to the inside of this community when I was looking into building a spiritual business for myself. So I trust my observations about these general mechanisms.

The main reason for my shift of focus, though, is that I feel that I am here to work on a future sustainable society. Spirituality or awareness of the self and how you relate to others is a part of that, but building more sustainable processes, structures and institutions is necessity too. We need both. And that’s why I believe we need more people who are both about sustainability and spirituality and who combine it in their life’s work.

I do believe that the ‘spirituality people’ running spiritual businesses are doing an important job, but I would strongly recommend them to keep their eyes on the prize of sustainability. The goal should not be to build a glamorous persona with loads of followers for yourself and to earn big money. We shouldn’t be building air castles of spirituality using the mechanisms of capitalism and even enhancing them. The goal should be to build a more just and fair society, a sustainable society which indeed allows people to develop themselves. Allowing for personal development is an important aspect of a sustainable society. At least, that’s the society I want to work on creating.

The similarities of spirituality and sustainability

There is one thing that still strikes me: the similarities are huge.

To me spirituality is about being aware of yourself, of what is you and how you relate to others and your environment. It is about knowing what belongs to you and what belongs to others, what is individual and what is universal, it’s about relating. About knowing that you are a part of a bigger whole, that you are connected to the things and people around you. To name a few things.

Sustainability is about creating systems and processes that can last for ages to come. It’s about making sure future generations are still able to live good lives on this planet too. It’s about learning how an actor (a person or an organization) functions, how it relates to others including society as a whole and how it relates to the environment. It’s about learning what processes are at play and figuring out where these can be made more sustainable. Working on sustainability is about finding ways to improve current processes so their impacts on people and the environment are more positive. Thus, in working on sustainability, you quickly learn that everything and everyone is connected through supply chains and dependence on the natural world and its resources.

Both are about getting to know yourself in relation to others and the environment, both are about being connected. So I think spirituality and sustainability have a lot in common and complement each other. Insights and experiences from spirituality will inform sustainability and the other way around. And I believe that is exactly what we need.

We need them to dance together

I believe that spirituality and sustainability can enhance each other and this is the way that leads to a socially and environmentally sustainable future. We can benefit from a sustainability that is imbued with spirituality and a spirituality that is imbued with sustainability. They can dance with each other and propel each other forward.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this way! At least, you can find many people out there who manage to bring their ‘spirituality’ and longing for sustainability together and who are doing amazing things in the world! I love that, I love the combination of a certain (spiritual) way of being and working towards a vision of a sustainable way of living on Earth for all of humankind.

I also imagine that this vision of working towards sustainability can bring a certain grounding to spiritual interests and that it can prevent you from losing connection to the earthly or material world and society. Becoming disconnected is something that is often associated with spirituality, and I think that it can indeed happen like that. What I am saying is that ‘spirituality’ can also be very grounded, and to me this seems to be a healthy kind of spirituality.

Finally, I do really want to work on realizing sustainability in one way or another, and not just through working on spirituality. Here on this blog I will continue to write about my findings on both themes. There’s a reason the tag line of this page is Envisioning better ways of living together.

And this is how I came full circle with my interests!

Photo by Amir Rabiee via Unsplash, sides cut off.







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