I awoke this morning crafting this thought:
The true art of being human is to marry the spirit of growth and highest potential to the soul of depth and limitation, through the bonds of reverence, compassion, and empathy for oneself and all beings.
We have yet to master this art.
Oh, we humans have a lot of spirit. That spirit – the one that reaches for the heights – is the reason we’ve landed men on the moon and built towers of glass and steel that seem to go on forever. But it’s also the reason capitalistic societies have an economic system based on the falsehood of unlimited growth. It’s also partly why the world rips resources from the Earth at the rate of the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings every day. (Source: The Worldwatch Institute, 2010 State of the World)
It’s not spirit that we lack. What we lack is soul. Soul is about depth. It’s about embodiment and the limitations that come with that. It’s about the limits of a real life lived on the ground with real relationships and deep roots. It’s about community and valuing what will last over fleeting intoxications.
To be truly human, we must have both spirit and soul, heights and depths, freedom and necessity, novelty and sameness. This is the marriage that must take place within each human in order for us to become as Real as the Velveteen Rabbit, to make peace with the tensions between spirit and matter, the pull toward the heavens and the force of gravity.
But don’t we all find this difficult?
We want endless choices – in everything from jobs and sexual partners to the number of jars of jam in the refrigerator. For me, this has been made manifest in a sense of restlessness, of never being able to be in the present tense in my own life, but always believing I’ll be happy when something else happens – when I find a romantic partner, when I achieve the right career, when I live in the right geography. It’s not that I don’t recognize the good things in my current life, it’s just that it’s always felt like there’s a hole at the center of me and I’d only feel better when it was filled by something.
Yet what if that something is just being willing to come home to myself? What if that tension between heights and depths, between spirit and soul, is the true human condition, after all – not something to concretize in one or the other, but a dynamic flowing union of yin and yang energies?
I heard an interview on National Public Radio the other day where a libertarian named environmental regulations as a stifling limit on innovation. Yet it seems to me that saying we can’t innovate within those limits is like a comic saying he can’t be funny without profanity. Both reflect a failure of imagination.
Ethan and Sarah Hughes have no such failure of imagination. Some years ago, they embarked on an adventure called The Possibility Alliance based out of their homestead in Missouri, where they have a constant flow of visitors learning about permaculture. They use no electricity or fossil fuel and live on $3,000 per year. Ethan and Sarah Hughes may seem poor in cash yet they are rich in life. And they live out more spirit and creativity within those difficult limits than most of us can even fathom.