Due to the unfolding financial crisis, it appears that Americans are on their way to joining the majority of the world in terms of economic access and privilege. As Americans we consume and pollute way too much, so this is a good thing. Still, this is not happening without considerable pain and difficulty for many people. But you can survive. Having seen in Havana what Cubans did to maintain their lives and dignity after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent "special period" that followed, it amazed me how music and culture can be such a resilient tool of empowerment. This doesn't mean that the option of black markets and prostitution were also ignored. Everyone has a choice how to respond to his or her environmental condition. You can be "disturbed," to borrow from ecology, but you still can choose how to respond. Your response will depend on the level of open architecture maintained in your state of being.
Bush Sr. once said the American way of life is not negotiable. This kind of mentality will not handle the disturbance of crashing markets very well. That's why Americans, who are accustomed to a certain lifestyle, should reconsider what it means to be "wealthy." I'm a fan of Lynne Twist, author of the Soul of Money, who argues that "abundance" is the wrong goal. She says it's better to be "sufficient." I find this an aspiration that is in keeping with justice/equity and ecological concerns. It's in keeping with Gandhi's notion that the world has enough for our needs, but not enough for our greed. Sufficiency suggests we live within our means; that we only consume that which is available in real time. This means that we stop borrowing against the planet's resource bank by extracting ancient solar energy, and return to using the solar energy that is available to us on a daily basis. This is how our ancestors lived, and this is how the surviving humans of our age will live as well.
Sufficiency is a spiritual issue. Like the ideology of the capitalist system, are we always aspiring to a better, utopian future rather than being grateful for what we have? This is a core issues for well-being. I once participated in a "prosperity group," which was a weekly gathering of friends (mostly folks from my yoga class) who wanted to read a "channeled" book, Creating Money, and to do the exercises together (it's a great book, BTW). I realized rather quickly that most people in the group would never transcend their state of "poverty," because they were spiritually impoverished. That is, they believed that their lives lacked sufficiency in that moment, and would always be trapped on the treadmill of negative thinking about their present state of being. I don't mean this in "The Secret" kind of way in which positive thinking is your answer to wealth, but in the sense that we are constantly projecting into the world like a waking dream the innermost challenges at the core of our being. We constantly seek healing, and sometimes we externalize from our inner depths that which cannot be articulated by the egocentric mind.
I read the book closely and discovered something quite useful. It asks readers to imagine what their life would be like if they suddenly received a million dollars (or any large lump sum). Don't visualize the things you would buy or other material goods, but focus on the feeling. What emotion or sensation would it be? What sensation am I aspiring to? At the time I was a struggling freelance writer, so my simple goal was that I wanted to be able to write without the stress of having to constantly find work and to write BS articles to pay the rent. I deconstructed my desire to find out why I wanted to write in the first place. I realized that it was because it allowed me to connect with a higher, creative force than what I normally experience in daily life, that I liked to solve puzzles and explore ideas, and to lose myself in them. Or to put in more intangible, esoteric terms, to connect with the Great Whatever. By the end of the exercise I learned something very important: I didn't need a million dollars to achieve that, all I had to do was to sit down and write. Problem solved. The money would come later. Or not. But at least I would be happy doing what I love.
A final note on context. I've become aware of late that everything I believe and say is benefited by my "cultural capital." That is, I'm the product of an investment of both my family and society in terms of education and cultural privilege. The truth is that everyone operates from the means that are available to them, and the knowledge that it constitutes. I just want to give thanks that I have lived a "sufficient" life and I hope that I can share whatever wisdom this life has afforded me. As it stands, I write for fun and as an act of generosity. The reciprocal relationship that media and communications of the Web 2.0 represent is a new kind of social capital. Congratulations, by reading this you are already in the alternative economy. The economy of life.
Image by jespis, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet