A Great Awakening
“Mindfulness and meditation practices are about living our
best lives from moment to moment to moment …
until those moments end, as all things end, and return to source.”
The ecological stress Lua was referring to, certain to test our societal resiliency in the coming years, she described as an unfortunate negative side-effect of the too-rapid growth of human industrial civilization. The number of people, the power of technology, the global spread ‘middle class’ lifestyles, and the overall size of the global economy have put us all on a collision course with rapidly approaching limits to the supply of key natural resources — including topsoil, freshwater, clean air, and fossil fuels — on which literally billions of lives depend. Many countries are, in fact, in varying states of resource-crisis.
Lua believed that in order to achieve more balanced living on our full planet and adapt by design rather than disaster, we would need to do several things: stabilize populations by meeting unmet demand for family planning and for educating girls and achieving universal gender equality; stop and reverse greenhouse gas emissions; more equitably share resources, income, and work; invest in the natural and social capital ‘commons’; reform the financial system to better reflect real assets and liabilities; create better measures of progress than ‘GDP growth’; reform tax systems so that ‘bads,’ like resource depletion and pollution, are taxed rather than ‘goods,’ like value-added labor; develop, promote, and freely share scientific and technical knowledge that advances human and ecosystem well-being rather than growth; establish strong, deep democratic decision-making processes in all organizations; and create a strong mainstream ethic and culture of health, resilience, self-reliance, sufficiency, and well-being rather than mindless manic consumerism.
But Lua acknowledged that stopping and reversing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale will be very difficult to achieve because modern industrial economies are fueled almost entirely by fossil hydrocarbons. These 'fuels' are the result of vast accumulated stocks of highly concentrated solar energy from the distant past that are, unfortunately, limited in quantity. In stark contrast, current real-time solar energy is of limited flow and of relatively low concentration.
We would need to transition from high-energy-density stock resources like fossil hydrocarbons to low-energy-density flow resources like energy from daily sunlight and wind and water flows. And while the electromagnetic energy flowing directly from the Sun is stock-abundant, but flow-limited, the terrestrial source of fossil fuels is stock-limited, but flow-abundant. Peasant societies lived off the limited solar energy flow; industrial societies today thrive (for now) on abundant terrestrial energy stocks.
The human economy is, after all, only a means to an end — and that end is human well-being, not GDP growth. Humans do not have primary needs for the specific products of the economy necessarily, but rather for food, shelter, clothing, security, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and a sense of freedom. The misguided goal of endless GDP growth from last-century economics has created severe economic inequalities across many societies and is now threatening ecological collapse.
Meeting the needs of a large, diverse, and growing human population with a minimum social foundation of food, water, housing, energy, education, health, income and work, peace and justice, social equity, political voice, gender equality, and community while staying within ecological boundaries to prevent environmental systems collapse is the only way to create a safe and just space for humanity going forward.
Collectively, we are already overshooting many planetary environmental boundaries that threaten social well-being. Climate change, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, freshwater withdrawal, land conversion, biodiversity loss, air pollution, and ozone depletion all threaten the delicate balance that must be maintained if we are to continue to live safely, justly, and sustainably on this finely tuned life-rich planet.
Lua believed that a Great Awakening, precipitated perhaps by widespread mindfulness and meditation 'awareness' practices, could bring about the collective consciousness that is needed to rebalance our resources, lives, values, and priorities and re-focus our attention on sustainable and equitable health and well-being for all. She believed that ‘lean economies’ — held together by richly developed ‘social capital’ and culture and organized around the rebuilding of small-scale community self-reliance and resilience — were the best way forward. Lean, small-scale economies where government funds and services are very limited can still be strong, vibrant, and stable without the need for continuous growth. Lean community draws on our best behavior and awakens our whole nature. And lean travels light: it concentrates on what contributes real value to social health and well-being and discards everything else. I commented,
“But Lua, even with growing collective awareness brought about by mindfulness and meditation practices, there is no guarantee that this epic ‘Great Awakening’ you refer to is ever going to happen.”
“No, of course not, Mister Rico. But at the end of the day, does that really matter? Mindfulness and meditation practices are about living our best lives from moment to moment to moment … until those moments end, as all things end, and return to source.”