A horrendous storm was on the horizon. It arose within minutes. My friend and I were hurrying to protect our few possessions in a tiny camp on the Adriatic coast. I collected some rocks, put them in the corners of my tent, and moved sensitive stuff to my car. No big tree was nearby, and my car was safe from falling branches, so I left it parked right there next to the tent. I helped my friend take his catamaran to the coast and carry a couple of items into his old camper.
The wind was already picking up as an elderly man, the father of the camp’s owner, approached us. He asked do we know how much peaches cost at the nearby stand. My friend gave him a stern look and yelled: “Run, idiot! Forget about peaches! Run!!”
Minutes later, the storm blast hit us. I hid in the car and admired the downpour of rain. An occasional item flew by, carried by ferocious winds. What a magnificent sight!
Half an hour later, the storm was over and the sun came back. I walked through the camp, assisting people in fixing their tents and finding their possessions. My friend’s tent, normally adjacent to the camper, was literally blown away. The fruit stand at the entrance was demolished, peaches and all.
My reaction was timely and swift, so I suffered no damage. My car was in a good place and I took care of the tent promptly. Lucky me! I could offer help to everybody in need.
Learnings for resilience
I remember my storm experience whenever I read about a disaster striking somewhere in the world. The story offers some universal lessons:
- When disaster strikes, it is better to have less stuff! Had I had a lot of stuff, I probably couldn’t take care of everything in time. I had so few possessions to take care of, that I even had time to help others take care of theirs.
- As much as I like minimizing possessions, some are essential, such as solid shelter – in this case, my car.
- Arrangement of items can make all the difference. Other people had their tents ruined, cars damaged by flying items, etc. because they were careless, and had little sense of wind direction and how objects might fly by. I had my car parked in front of the tent to shelter it somewhat from the wind; I took care to set up the tent perfectly (tight, firmly fixed to the ground); there was a small, sturdy pine tree in front of the car that offered protection from flying objects, etc.
- Having good order and routine makes it easier to take measures in case of an emergency. Some mess is alright; but key items have to be in place: torchlight, knife, water bottle, bags, and boxes.
- There is no substitute for knowledge and experience. I had to learn to notice weather irregularities as soon as they come up. I had to gain experience so I could pay early attention to diverse signs, and recognize a serious upcoming storm.
There are many other lessons I could list. Do you see some yourself?
What in case of ecosystem collapse?
Some say ecosystem collapse is imminent due to climate change. A global “storm” is coming! Can we do anything about it?
Should we put pressure on politicians? Or invest in high-tech science? Or maybe in low-tech science? Or support agile education towards adaptation? Or open space for youth to impact and develop innovative solutions?
It is unrealistic to count on collapse being the key motivation for change. Motivation to change needs to come from hopeful imagination. A known future state is not as motivating as an unknown state we can aspire to. This unknown future state has to be imaginable. To be able to imagine, we have to expose ourselves to stories outlining new possibilities – to new stories and to new experiences.
A week ago, I was in Findhorn Community attending Climate Change and Consciousness conference. Two dozens of eloquent keynote speakers imbued the hall with an intense charge between hope and despair, sharing their prospects of possible futures.
Everything they said might be right, or wrong, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I understand the value of my story, my work, my attitude, and my solutions.
My way is elegantly simple, like in my story about the storm. Most importantly, my way is relevant to humanity; I know where my book Human fits and how!
It is unrealistic to expect people would change proactively on their own, just because the world as we know it is going to end in a decade or two. The last three, or four generations have been lulled into material comfort, they are detached from warning signs, unable to register them. They are like the old man asking for the price of peaches, five minutes before the storm will strike.
The limitlessness of luxurious simplicity
Everything that people know is the modern Western lifestyle. That’s the objective limit of their imagination. How to stretch the limit?
My challenge to the dominant mindset comes with a definition of an appealing alternative: the joyful lightness of luxurious simplicity.
The quality of life depends on a few basic elements: good air, water, food, harmonious relationships and communication, safe shelter, sound health, freedom to be physically and mentally active in nature, a sense of purpose and direction. Once these basics are satisfied, secondary elements may include science, art, creativity, games, sports, ceremonies, celebration, philosophy, etc.
If we neglect basic elements, no amount of secondary elements will bring us happiness. Boiling your life down to bare essentials and enjoying what is with full presence is an elegant solution to all global challenges. This is not renunciation but indulgence!
I suggest we all learn this kind of indulgence and become well skilled in it. I consider this the ideal of human existence. Even if the world is going to hell in twelve years, let us be real Humans at least for this decade, and then take the blast of the storm gracefully, letting the life on Earth sort itself out in the coming millions of years.
If everybody in the world decided to live a decade in luxurious simplicity, that would be the best possible practice of climate change mitigation, and also the best possible adaptation to the ecosystem collapse. Most importantly, the motivation to live luxurious simplicity wouldn’t be the fear of collapse, but simply joie de vivre!
Few possessions, key items at hand, an overview of the situation, a high level of experience, and a good skill-set would raise your chances of making it through. You’d be prepared to thrive even in a difficult situation. Yes, thrive, not merely survive!
The sturdiest and wisest of humans will survive anyway; they will remember the dire consequences of our vanity, narrowmindedness, stupidity, and cultural blindness. They will learn to live within natural limits – not in austerity, in delightful wisdom.
One of my favorite proverbs is: “A wise man sees more from the bottom of a well than the stupid does from the top of a mountain.”
No matter how much the stupid person has, he’ll always be poor. Whatever you give a wise person becomes a treasure.
I am in favor of enlightened positivity in the face of the direst of circumstances, somewhat in the spirit of the movie La Vita e Bella. It is not that I don’t see the collapse, I just choose to react to it with curiosity and openness, even in serious danger.
In August 2018 Jem Bendell published a poignant paper “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy”, saying, essentially, “Civilization: game over!” As much as I agree with Jem’s conclusions, I choose stubborn optimism.
In his paper, Jem lists three questions essential to Deep Adaptation:
- Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?”
- Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”
- Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”
Very appropriate questions, yes! To understand them fully, please read the whole paper! It enlivened me immensely – as strange as this may seem.
The paper reminded me that luxurious simplicity doesn’t ask any questions, it just proposes “let’s transition swiftly towards the ideal of human existence!”
Yes, I know … I need a long purport to define the “ideal of human existence” and a strategy to implement it. And I have it! That’s what my book Human: Instructions for Use is all about! There is nothing easier than for a human to be a human; unfortunately, there are all these insane cultural programs! Without them, putting my suggestion into practice would be the easiest thing in the world, as natural as breathing.
My thesis is that cultural deprogramming, practiced with a playful, childlike attitude, not taking anything dead seriously, is a perfectly viable deep adaptation strategy. That’s my attitude in facing the upsurge of the cyclone.
Remember, how gently I welcomed the storm at the beginning of this text? I embraced the inevitability. I will keep embracing it and I invite you to do the same. Look at it with wonder, admire it, and keep your spirit open. Don’t narrow down the vision of your soul to panic and fear, that will only make things worse.
Even at the bottom of the well, a patch of sky is always at your disposal; you can sing along with birds and enjoy the echo of your voice. Therein lies the essence of enlightenment and of deepest adaptation to whatever is – whether you live or die.
As long as masses of people dread death, although they’ve never even been alive, the collapse of civilization is not such a disastrous event after all.
Very nice post – and I was happy to meet you at CCC19.
Your idea of luxurious simplicity reminds me strongly of Ivan Illich’s notion of “joyful sobriety”… Have you read his works? If not, I’m sure you’ll find in him a kindred soul (see for example: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/IllichTools.html)
Take care & I hope we stay in touch