Posts Tagged Leonardo Boff
Sustainability: an attempt at defining it
There is a conflict these days among the different ways people understand sustainability. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the UNO is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability.) I will try to make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible:
Sustainability is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.
Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:
To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything.
To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.
To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.
To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.
To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.
To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.
To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.
Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric, without consequences.
Facing loss and nourishing resilience, that is, learning from crises, is a great personal challenge
Leonardo Boff’s weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.
By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
We are all subject to the iron law of entropy: everything is decaying slowly, the body weakens, the years leave their marks, disease takes away our vital capital uncontrollably. That is the law of life, which includes death.
But there are cracks that break the natural flow. They’re the losses caused by traumatic events like the betrayal of a friend, job loss, loss of a loved one through divorce or sudden death. Tragedy is also a part of life.
Facing loss and nourishing resilience, that is, learning from crises, is a great personal challenge. The experience of mourning is especially painful, as it shows the full weight of the Negative. Mourning has one intrinsic requirement: it demands to be suffered through, and overcome positively.
There are many specialized studies on grief. According to the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, experiencing and overcoming it involves several stages.
The first is denial: Faced with the paralyzing fact, the person naturally exclaims, “it can’t be,” “it’s a lie.” Disconsolate wailing erupts that no words can contain.
The second stage is anger that is expressed: “Why precisely to me? What happened isn’t fair.” It’s the moment the person perceives the uncontrollable limits of life and doesn’t want to acknowledge them. It’s common for him to blame himself for the loss, for not having done or for having stopped doing what should have been done.
The third stage is characterized by depression and existential void. We shut ourselves up in our own capsule and pity ourselves. We are reluctant to get back on our feet. Here, every warm hug and word of consolation, though it sounds conventional, gains unexpected meaning. It’s the longing of the soul to hear that there is meaning and that the guidestars were only obscured but haven’t disappeared.
The fourth is the self-empowerment through a sort of negotiation with the pain of loss: “I can’t succumb or sink completely, I have to bear this rending to raise my family or get a degree.” In the middle of the dark night, a point of light announces itself.
The fifth is resigned and calm acceptance of the inescapable fact. We have finally incorporated that scarring wound into our existential journey. Nobody leaves mourning the same as when they go into it. The person forcibly matures and finds that loss is not necessarily total, but always brings an existential gain.
Mourning is a painful journey, so it has to be cared for. Allow me an autobiographical example that better clarifies the need to take care of mourning. In 1981, I lost a sister with whom I had a special affinity. She was the last of the sisters of the 11 siblings. When she was a teacher, at 10 o’clock one morning, in front of the students, she gave a huge cry and fell dead. Mysteriously, at age 33, the aorta had torn.
Our whole family, who came from various parts of the country, was disoriented by the fatal shock. We wept copious tears. We spent two days looking at pictures and remembering, sorrowfully, the events in the life of the beloved little sister. The others could take care of mourning and loss. I had to leave shortly afterwards to go to Chile, where I had to give lectures to all the friars of the Southern Cone. I left brokenhearted. Each talk was an exercise in getting beyond myself. From Chile, I went to Italy where I gave talks on the renewal of religious life for an entire order.
The loss of my dear sister tormented me as something unbearably absurd. I started to faint two or three times a day with no evident physical reason. They had to take me to the doctor. I told him the drama that was going on. He understood it all intuitively and said, “you still haven’t buried your sister and you haven’t kept the necessary mourning period. Until you take care of your grief and bury her, you aren’t going to get better. Part of you died with her and needs to be resurrected.” I canceled all the remaining programs. In silence and prayer, I took care of mourning. When I got back, in a restaurant, as we remembered our dear sister, my theologian brother Clodovis and I wrote on a paper napkin what we then put in the memento book to her blessed memory:
“For thirty-three years, like those of Jesus / Years of hard work and suffering / but also much fruit / Claudia bore the pain of others / In her own heart, as rescue / She was clear as the mountain stream / Kind and gentle as the flower of the field / She wove, stitch by stitch, and in silence / A beautiful brocade / She left two strong and beautiful little ones / And a husband proud of her / Happy are you, Claudia, for the Lord on His return / Found you standing, working / Lamp lit / And you fell into His lap / For the infinite embrace of Peace.”
Among her papers we found this sentence: “There is always a sense of God in all human events — it’s important to discover it.” Until today we go on looking for that sense that we can only glimpse through faith.
Reprinted from Leonardo Boff’s weekly column (Sept. 30/11).
The concept of sustainability, considered in its widest sense and not reduced just to development, embraces all actions focused on maintaining the existence of other beings, because they have the right to coexist with us. And only starting from this premise of coexistence do we utilize, with sobriety and respect, a part of them to satisfy our needs, while also preserving them for future generations.
The universe also fits within this concept. From the new cosmology, we now know that we are made of the dust of stars and that passing through us is the mysterious Basic Energy that nourishes everything and which unfolds into the four forces –gravitational, electromagnetic, nuclear strong and weak– that, by always acting together, maintain us as we are.
As conscious and intelligent beings, we have our place and our function within the cosmologic process. Although we are not the center of everything, we certainly are one of those forward points through which the universe turns into itself, that is to say, the universe becomes conscious. The weak anthropological principle allows us say that, for us to be what we are, all the energies and processes of evolution had to organize themselves in such an articulated and subtle manner that our appearance was possible. Otherwise, I would not be writing here.
Through us, the universe and the Earth look at and contemplate themselves. The capacity to see appeared 600 million years ago. Until then, the Earth was blind. The profound and starry sky, the Iguaçu Falls, where I am now, the green of the nearby jungles, could not be seen. Through our sight, the Earth and the universe can see all of this indescribable beauty.
The original peoples, from the Andean to the samis of the Arctic, felt one with the universe, as brothers and sisters of the stars, making a great cosmic family. We have lost that feeling of mutual belonging. They felt that the cosmic forces balanced the paths of all beings and acted within them. To live in consonance with these fundamental energies was to have a sustainable life, filled with meaning.
We know from quantum physics that consciousness and the material world are connected and that the manner a scientist chooses to make his observation affects the observed object. Observer and observed object are inseparably linked. Hence the inclusion of consciousness in scientific theories and in the very cosmic reality is a fact that has already been assimilated by a large part of the scientific community. We form, in effect, a complex and diversified whole.
The figures of the shamans are well- known. They were always present in the ancient world and are now retuning with renewed vigor, as quantum physicist P. Drouot has shown in his book, The shaman, the physicist and the mystic (El chamán, el físico y el místico, Vergara, 2001) for which I was honored to prepare a prologue. The shaman lives a singular state of consciousness that allows him to enter into intimate contact with the cosmic energies. The shaman understands the call of the mountains, the lakes, the woods and the jungles, the call of the animals and of human beings. The shaman knows how to direct such energies towards healing ends and to harmonize them with the whole.
Inside each of us lies the shaman dimension. That shaman energy causes us to stand speechless in the face of the immensity of the sea, to sense the eyes of another person, to be entranced on seeing a newborn child. We need to liberate the shaman dimension within us, so as to enter into harmony with all around us, and to feel at peace.
Could not our desire to travel with the spacecrafts in cosmic space perhaps be the archetypical desire to search for our stellar origins, and the desire to return to our place of birth? Several astronauts have expressed similar ideas. This unstoppable search for equilibrium with the entire universe and to feel that we are part of the universe pertains to the intelligible notion of sustainability.
Sustainability includes valuation of this human and spiritual capital. Its effect is to generate within us respect, and a sense of sacredness, before all realities, values that nourish the profound ecology and which help us to respect and live in symbiosis with Mother Earth. This attitude is urgently needed, to moderate the destructive forces that have overtaken us in recent decades.