How do we live a life that we experience as rich, fulfilling, and meaningful?
I often go to evolution for clues to these kinds of questions.
CHECKING IN WITH OUR EVOLUTIONARY PAST
How did we evolve? It obviously depends on the time and location, but in general… We evolved in small communities with close ties between the members. We evolved mostly in nature, with all our senses naturally engaged. We evolved interacting with nature in different ways, including foraging, planting, and tending to animals. We evolved working with our hands: Climbing, digging, throwing, planting, weeding, cooking, sowing, making simple pottery, and so on. We evolved being relatively active physically, doing daily tasks. We evolved helping others and our community. (And receiving help from them.)
We are made for that type of life. So it’s a good guess that something similar is what we will experience as natural, fulfilling, and even meaningful.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH A RICH LIFE
That’s how it is for me. During times when I am in nature and doing these kinds of tasks and activities, I feel naturally fulfilled and connected. This happens when I am at the cabin, which is in a forest and by a lake, without (much) electricity, where the heat comes from a fireplace, and where I need to chop wood and carry water. (If I am there by myself, I start missing people after one or two weeks.) It also happened when I lived in the countryside in Wisconsin (Mt Horeb), in an old farmhouse with a vegetable garden, where I got much of our food from working at a neighboring CSA farm one morning a week, and where just about all the food (vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat) came from neighbors I personally knew. (During this time, I was also involved in many meaningful community projects.)
Now, at Finca Milagros, this is even deeper in some ways. The house is mostly open to the elements. (The climate allows and encourages it.) We are planting a lot of food plants and other plants. We get more of our food from the local community and people we know. (And will get more as we make more connections.) We are engaging with the land and the local ecosystem in an even deeper way: we are supporting it to regenerate and rewild. There is a deeper sense of partnership with the land and nature there. And it’s also deeply fulfilling to know that this work will, hopefully, create the conditions for a better life for literally millions of beings.
When I have this kind of life, I find I don’t need very much. I mostly need the basics: shelter, water, food, and connections with a few people. (And for the latter, I appreciate the internet which is a kind of essential these days, even if I obviously could get by without it.)
When I don’t, during the times when I feel more disconnected from nature and people, I don’t feel very fulfilled. And that’s when things like compulsions, distractions, and consumerism come in.
THERE IS MORE GOING ON
Of course, this is very simplified. A sense of deficiency and lack also has a belief, identity, and emotional component. And not everyone is drawn to this type of life. But I would guess that the essence of this applies to most or all of us. We feel more fulfilled the more we are connected – to ourselves, others, and nature. And many of us feel more fulfilled when we are physically active and do and make things with our hands. (Which could take the form of yoga practice or a pottery class Thursday nights.)
The question then is: How can I bring more of this into my life now? How would my ideal (connected, engaged, meaningful) life look? And can I make a change in that direction?
These can be small steps: Take up yoga or tai chi. Grow some plants in the kitchen or on the balcony. Do a form of gentle mindfulness to connect with the body. Go for walks. Start up a book club with your neighbors. Adopt a cat. (Which is huge for the cat.) Join a pottery class. Learn about native edibles and wild foraging.
See below for more.
CHATGPT & DEEP ECOLOGY
After writing this, I thought I would ask ChatGPT (recently on the scene) about this.
What does deep ecology say about how we can live a more meaningful and fulfilling life?
Deep ecology is a philosophy that emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life and promotes a harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world. From this perspective, living a more meaningful and fulfilling life involves recognizing our place in the larger ecological system and making choices that promote sustainability, biodiversity, and the well-being of all beings.
Here are some suggestions based on the principles of deep ecology:
- Embrace a biocentric worldview: In deep ecology, all life is seen as valuable and deserving of respect, not just human life. By adopting a biocentric worldview, we recognize that all beings, from the smallest microorganisms to the largest animals, have inherent value and deserve to be treated with care and consideration.
- Live simply and sustainably: Deep ecology emphasizes the importance of living in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment. This may involve making choices such as reducing our consumption, using renewable resources, and supporting sustainable agriculture and energy practices.
- Connect with nature: Deep ecology suggests that connecting with the natural world can help us feel more grounded and connected to the larger ecological system. Spending time in nature, whether through hiking, camping, gardening, or simply going for a walk, can help promote feelings of awe and wonder, and a sense of connection to something larger than ourselves.
- Promote environmental justice: Deep ecology recognizes that environmental issues are often closely tied to issues of social justice and inequality. By working to promote environmental justice, such as advocating for fair access to clean water and air, protecting indigenous lands and communities, and addressing the disproportionate impact of environmental issues on marginalized communities, we can help promote a more equitable and just world.
In summary, deep ecology suggests that living a more meaningful and fulfilling life involves recognizing our interconnectedness with the natural world and making choices that promote sustainability, biodiversity, and the well-being of all beings. By adopting a biocentric worldview, living simply and sustainably, connecting with nature, and promoting environmental justice, we can work towards creating a more harmonious and fulfilling relationship between humans and the natural world.
Rich and simple life
- evolutionary context
- Connected, work with hands, the soil, plants, animals, activate all senses
- We are made to do those things
- Grow good, make things with our hands, live in a community,
- People fulfilled by it are more likely to survive and bring up children, pass on the generics behind that draw
- And we still have those genes, we are like that
- modern life, often more disconnected, less meaningful, use consumerism to fill the hole, what’s missing,
- Parsifal, senses,
Since my teens, I have aimed for a simple and rich life where I don’t need to seek fulfillment through buying, status, and so on.
For instance, I have gone through phases of my life where I have tried to fill the emptiness through exaggerated buying of things. (In my case, often books!)