Just Enough is Plenty. Outgrowing the Need for 'Growth'
If you've been reading our blog entries for a while, you will have realized that we at ACEBE are concerned about the challenges that unconscious ways of living represent for life on Earth as we know it.
Climate change, for example, ranks very high on our list of things to be mindful of, as are other issues not that far removed from it, such as our increasing sense of alienation from nature and from each other, or the pervasive sense of fear and insecurity many of us seem to share. Though our way of overcoming some of these issues is partly by encouraging a sense of reconnection with the self and to meaningful ways of living through Yoga, there's more to it than just that.
We're probably one of the generations to ever have existed that lives more preoccupied about 'the future,' and while there are technological reasons for this –there's never been a time when access to news about our 'apocalyptic present and dystopian future' has been so widespread– the truth is that this narrative about our uncertain future is actually a very selective type of story to focus our attention on. This is the type of story benefiting a capitalist system that needs us to believe it is the only solution to our problems (problems it has generated), and that has as main prerogative the need for 'continuous exponential growth into the future.' It is precisely about this need for ongoing growth and existing alternatives to it that we wish to speak about in our entry today.
Outgrowing Our Need for 'Growth'
Though this may actually seem a bit counter-intuitive for many out there judging by the plethora of pseudo-spiritual personal and business coaches vowing to help us reach 'our next level of growth' and 'next level of success' if we follow their method, the truth is that the idea of 'growth' we have inherited from our ancestors is a capitalist byproduct; one we can learn to outgrow the moment we decide to become the conscious agents and active 'choosers' of our very own small-scale-but-big-impact lives.
Indeed, if you're anything like us, you'll probably have been educated into believing that the structures and systems presently supporting our lives are the only way to do it. For someone in the West this amounts to thinking that our capitalist economies and speculative banking systems, for example, are the most natural sources of security and stability there are despite their many flaws; or that our individualistic and ownership-based consumer cultures with their career-driven focus and retirement-oriented inclinations are the best and only model. For years on end, most of us have been raised to accept that we need the support provided by our economies and cultures to gain access to a measure of security, as well as to attain many of the material goods and services we associate with doing life 'the right way.' In order to do that, we offer our time in the form of hours spent studying and then at work to be able to afford most of the things, experiences, and commodities 'essential' to our lives. And this includes, as well, the ability to afford a measure of 'free time.'
But what would happen if we were to drop the notion of 'growth' so essential to our modern lifestyle for our idea of 'a secure future' to make sense? Or, putting it a different way: How would our life look and feel like if we were not made to feel so insecure about the very sustainability of our way of living or about our ability to access the means of our own happiness?
The key to answering these two questions is to outgrow our need for 'growth.'
When Just Enough is Plenty
There are many very well known advocates and proponents of the 'just enough is plenty' model out there for us to have a look at and learn what 'outgrowing our need for growth' could look like –Jean Baudrillard, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen-Roegen... But we don't really want to make this just a name-dropping type of entry, so we'll rather single out some of the common denominators shared by many of these and other modern-day advocates and their examples for simpler, yet effective alternative ways of doing life.
Indeed, at first glance, many of the proponents of alternative ways of living and their already existing projects suggest a very simple idea: the need for us to descale and localize our own production and consumption habits and downsize. What does this mean? It means that, regardless of the extent we choose to participate in a capitalist society or not, we need to learn to make the most of the resources available in our current households and communities and learn to produce and reuse as much of them as we possibly can. In fact, we need to re-learn that we do have a great deal of impact on the worlds we help produce just by virtue of our power to make conscious choices every damn day.
This can amount to different things depending on our location and context. Indeed, it is not the same whether one lives in a rural setting or in a forest in a rich country, or in a big urban nucleus or medium-sized city in a developing one. Our realities are different, and so must be our strategies.
Hence, for someone living in a house with a small plot of land, for example, the options are many. Learning to be more mindful of consumption and production for this person, then, could look like learning to grow some of the food s/he consumes in her own backyard, incorporating a water-recycling system to her house so s/he can reuse some of the water she consumes for a myriad other uses, or attaching a composting system to her home so she can reuse some of the waste generated to fertilise her own veggie beds. For those without access to a garden or in a urban setting, on the contrary, this could amount to buying a portion of their groceries in packaging-free and locally sourced establishments, walking or biking to work, or learning to upcycle, recycle, and share many of the items in their wardrobes, kitchens, storage units, and homes. The main idea is to stop equating the notions of 'time' and 'wealth' with 'money,' and our sense of 'growth' with our ability to participate in a consumerist society thanks to the latter.
We must re-learn how to consume and produce more of what we really need and long for in ways not so controlled by our desire for immediate gratification –a desire nourished to a large extent by the very capitalist and consumerist models we have been made so dependant upon. Some things do taste better when we've been waiting for them for an entire season (as with seasonal vegetables or fruits, for example, or new episodes of Game of Thrones), or when we've been putting in the time and effort needed to make them ourselves (as with knitting a scarf in the winter, repairing an old piece of furniture, or learning a new and useful skill.
Voluntarily outgrowing our need for 'growth' may come at a price at the beginning and there may be such a thing as 'outgrowing pains.' But it will also free up a great portion of time and energy from meaningless activities and tasks we routinely engage into with no real interest, thus making it easier for us to enjoy a greater sense of freedom, and therefore, more time for doing those things we really like and enjoy. This, in turn, may actually be one of the many inroads for the fulfilment and happiness of those of us who, while having everything they could presumably desire and want, still feel empty and disconnected.
Some of these so-called 'Degrowth projects' and ideas suggest a return to nature as a positive and beneficial way to counter our most pressing issues; and while that's true to a large extent, there's no need for us to reify nature or turn a life spent 'gardening and farming' into a cure-it-all type of thing. For some people that may very well be the case, but for others there's different degrees to the kind of de-growing and descaling of our life we can accomplish regardless of the setting. Whatever the path, the truth is that, when you choose not to mortgage your life by working 40 to 60 hours a week for 30 to 40 years in a row to pay for the things in your house, you suddenly realize you have an incredible new asset called free time that you can actually put to better use doing whatever it is you really, passionately like. That may very well be working a job for a more reasonable amount of hours which will leave more time for actual 'free time'; or else, engaging in projects and endeavors that, while supplying for your needs, also give a bit back. The possibilities are endless.
All you need is to have a certain level of dissatisfaction with 'life as we know it,' a desire for change, faith in the idea that change is not just possible but also already available for you in your own life, right now –that is, from the bottom-up–, and the ability to compromise in certain areas of your life so change happens progressively in the direction you envision. Choosing not to change because we feel helpless or hopeless, because the challenges we face seem too big for us to counter on our own, or trusting that technology and the world will take care of it when the time arises will not improve the quality of our current situation. If we want a better future, that future starts here, now, working towards a better present. So we encourage all of you to reclaim your own sense of agency in your very small scale, yet incredibly important life, because there's more of us than we can possibly imagine, and because change starts and happens, here and now, one person at a time.