This blog is about my own journey to sustainability—getting outside of the box and being more authentically human. It’s about not viewing 'wealth' as money, but as something much more holistic and broad. The ideas presented here come from my newest book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making Friends with Vishnu

The concept of sustainability has always been there—right from the beginning. Every Wisdom Tradition has its own ways of reminding us to honor the Earth, to Love each other and to value the lives that we are given. Nonetheless, we, too often, have a “better idea” and rush headlong into unconscious, entrenched, egoistic patterns. Let’s take time out for a minute and see what one of the oldest Wisdom Traditions in the World has to say about sustainability. More specifically, let’s see what Vishnu brings to the discussion.

Brahma is the first member of the Hindu Trinity, Vishnu being the second and Shiva, the third. Brahma is the god of creation. Shiva is the god of destruction. Destruction and creation go hand in hand. They are like two sides of a coin. For example, the destruction of morning is the creation of noon and the destruction of noon is the creation of night. This chain of continuous destruction and construction maintains the day. Similarly, the destruction of childhood is the creation of youth and the destruction of youth, the creation of old age. In this process of birth and death the individual is maintained. Vishnu is the god of maintenance.

The gods representing creation, maintenance and destruction, are essentially one and the same. They, however, appear quite differently. We love to dance with Shiva. We are seduced by creation. We are excited by starting projects--feeling the surge of juicy creativity. We’ll work for a week to plant a garden and, later, fail to weed it.

We feel just as powerful when we are destructive. Destroying something gives us a sense of closure—of power. We’ll till that same garden, weeds and all, under in late Fall. We might even mumble something about “taking better care of it next year”.

So, we begin. And, we end. And, we begin. And, we end. It’s a cycle that is highly unsustainable. But, it’s also a pattern that is indigenous to our species. Our egos thrive on the excitement of beginning and ending. Maintenance is a whole different matter. It’s boring. No adrenaline. No bells and whistles. So, poor Vishnu—the god who holds everything together--gets forgotten.

All of our creation and destruction is wreaking havoc with the Earth. We are filling landfills with our destruction, depleting resources with our creation. We buy too much and we throw too much away. We are too industrial and too wasteful. It’s time for us to make friends with Vishnu, god of maintenance, to create a cycle of sustainability.

How sustainable is it to spend a lot of money on expensive seeds and bedding plants to build a garden and then let it be taken over by weeds—only to be tilled under in the Fall? Vishnu wants us out there weeding, mulching, watering, and tending. He wants the plants to be cared for so that they can grow into food.

Vishnu wants us to maintain everything. He wants us to maintain our lives: everything from our gardens to our interpersonal relationships. It’s time to make friends with Vishnu. He is the god at the very heart of a sustainable lifestyle! There are so many places, daily, that Vishnu’s presence would abet deeper sustainability. Let’s look at just a few:

· Mending: Nobody mends anymore. When we hear the word, it conjures up ideas of our grandmother, sitting in her rocking chair, darning socks. Grandma would be pretty shocked at today’s response to a worn sock—that is, to just throw it away and go buy new ones. Sewing on buttons, fixing small tears, and reinforcing frayed seams all extend the life of clothing exponentially. I know, I know. The argument against mending is that you don’t have time. A family of four spends an average of $2,850 a year on apparel and apparel services, according to the federal government's Consumer Expenditure Survey. Too many times people chuck a piece of clothing because of minor damage that can easily be corrected with a needle and thread. It behooves one to learn how to sew, as this simple skill can save you lots of money, even without owning a sewing machine. If learning isn't an option, even paying a seamstress to mend your clothes will save you money, as repairing clothes is cheaper than buying new. And, there is the issue of not supporting sweatshops—where so much clothing is currently manufactured.

· Garden Care: Here is some really basic gardening advice: don’t plant more than you can reasonably weed, water, harvest and tend. Garden plants are not knick-knacks. They are living entities that depend upon their caregivers for continued life. Well done, a garden is a work of art—a thing that is beautiful to behold. Badly done, it is tragic. Weed-infested beds, pest-destroyed leaves, dry and withered stems break Vishnu’s heart. There is a lot of hype out there right now about “growing your own food”. I do it. And, it means that I spend a lot of time with Vishnu. I weed. I water, I harvest. I tend. A garden is a great lesson in, literally, reaping what you sow!

· Menu Planning: This is an area that can save a family big money. And, a lot of time, as well. The simple act of sitting down and figuring out a week’s worth of cook-at-home dinners, where ingredients can be shared over the course of several menus is really economical. And, not running to the store daily to “pick up” needed ingredients for meals is a time, money and gas saver. Most people find that by planning, and shopping for, menus on a weekly basis reduces their grocery bill exponentially. Sure, it’s a little more time spent with Vishnu, but it reaps rewards on many levels. Grocery shopping with a plan limits pricey impulse purchases and return trips to the store for forgotten items. Planning ahead also helps avoid the 5 o’clock “what’s for dinner?” question that too easily leads to the answer, “let’s go out to eat.” You can also plan for inexpensive foods that take a little longer but save money, like dry beans that need to be soaked overnight.

· Consolidating Errands: Speaking of trying to eliminate those return trips to the store for forgotten items…! Vishnu wants us to consolidate our errands. He is a whole lot happier when we are not running back and forth to town to “pick up” this and that. Even if you bicycle to town and back like I do, it’s still not time efficient to run back and forth constantly. I try to advance plan my trips to town so that appointments, errands, shopping needs and so forth are all consolidated. A trip to the dentist gets combined with Farmer’s Market, mailing out my package at the Post Office, returning a Library book and picking up some green tea at the spice shop. This takes some forethought and some list building: the stuff that Vishnu thrives on! I’ve learned to rely on a little notebook that I keep shoved in my pocket to jot down “to dos” that can be consolidated later in the week. This also slows the pace of life. Not everything is an emergency! Things happen more organically and naturally—and, I often find that they happen exactly at the “right time” in the bigger picture.

· Day Planning: I have found that by sitting down in the morning with a piece of paper and pencil can save me a lot of time throughout the rest of the day. First, I make a master list of what I would like to accomplish that day (no attachment to the outcome, though!). Then, I move the items around into clusters that naturally go together. Can I combine a couple of “to dos” into a melded activity whereby both are getting done at roughly the same time through careful planning? Am I, for example, able to tele-conference with my editor at the same time I water some new transplants in the garden? Or, how about listening to an important podcast while filling the food dehydrator? The other day I experimented with seeing how many yoga asanas I could incorporate into my posture while weeding the garden. It was really neat! I cross things off my day list as they get done. Sometimes everything gets crossed off. Not that often, though. But, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I stay focused throughout the day, allowing more to get done with less hustle. With some practice and Vishnu’s guidance, anyone can become a master of time!

· Home Repairs: This point speaks for itself. Doing home repairs saves money, time and eventual deterioration. This is the easiest place to see Vishnu in action. Plugged drains, loose shingles, sagging porch rails, peeling paint are all calling out to Vishnu. Without his intervention, they will soon be in rot and ruin. There is so much information these days, too, about “how to” do the various repairs. There is a Wiki on everything—many complete with video instruction! There is something incredibly liberating about fixing your own faucet. And, many times, it’s not that hard! Sure, it takes a little time. But, if you do the math, it actually saves you time. A plumber, for example, would easily cost you $150. to fix a leaky faucet. If you earn $15./hour, that means that you have to work ten hours to pay him/her. Did fixing it yourself take ten hours?

These are some simple, elementary ways to start making friends with Vishnu. You will find that the better friends the two of you become, the more Flow you access in your life. Things get easier. Time opens up. Money is saved. Resources are not wasted. Energy needs are reduced. Living well is spirituality in action. It is an integration of the spiritual principles of simplicity, integrity and mindfulness with day-to-day lifestyle practices. The bridging of Heaven and Earth!

Sherry L. Ackerman, Ph.D. is the author of The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle. The book springs off from her 22 years of living on a back-to-the-earth commune in Central Vermont and offers practical ideas for not only surviving--but flourishing--in today's challenging conditions.