Last week I travelled to England to sort out our self-storage; a big sea container just outside the town of Wellington. Until a few decades ago the site was a flourishing farm: a house, some sheds and fields of crops and cattle. It has since been turned into a little industrial estate. Today’s cash-cows are one hundred brand new shipping containers. They arrived chock-full of produce, Made in China, and are unlikely to ever ship anything back. So, bought at a bargain, the containers now hold books, clothes, tools, couches, kitchens, furnishings of offices and entire households.
While digging our goldmine of long-forgotten treasures, I unpacked one of my favourite books: Milan Kundera’s ‘The unbearable lightness of being’.
Kundera’s classic beautifully describes the human paradox of weight and lightness. We know that we are transient, on earth as human being only for a little moment in time. Part of a never-ending process of creation, participants in the enormous unfolding universe. But at the same time we long for a sense of importance, a significant role in the grand scheme of things. We wish to be visible, to be heard, read, listened to, recognized. We have a desire to shape today, the future and history. To be remembered, to show our power and possessions. We long to have weight.
Our economy expresses this paradox. Few of us doubt the fact that we humans leave too heavy traces and affect the health of our planet irreversibly. We recognise that society is overweight, too large for the carrying capacity of the Earth. Many of us share the wish to lighten up and reduce our impact, yet our economy, its models and its measures of progress remain heavy.
Our current economy is based on debt. We borrow to invest in the future, and because we have to repay our debt plus interest, tomorrow’s income always has to be larger than today’s. We have locked ourselves in a system in which we need to grow, grow, grow, only to fill the hole we created yesterday. This counts for individuals as well as businesses and governments. With the necessity of growth built into our model, it is hardly surprising that society ends up obese. Obese in individual physique, and obese in terms of the amount of stuff we buy, own, keep and waste.
We may laugh or look with pity at Americans too big to fit in a cinema seat, roll our eyes at the size of participants in Jamie’s Food Revolution, yet in all western societies we are just as overweight. Partakers in an economic system in which More is Better, and Less is called Recession. A system in which doing ‘something’ makes money, while doing ‘nothing’ does not. Even if that ‘nothing’ makes a lot more sense to the planet, society, ourselves.
The business of self-storage is booming. Even in economic downturn, our collective addiction to gaining weight, our economic obesity, makes for lucrative business. Out-of-town areas that were once used for growing true value: food, meadows, trees – have now become waiting rooms for the dump. Our love handles of progress – clothes, shoes, phones, laptops, books, movies, furniture, lamps, decorations, TV’s, radios, camera’s, bags, jewellery, crockery, knick-knacks, perifernalia, – have grown out of proportion. We now need self-storage to carry our big stuffed bellies.
We all know what a beautiful body looks like: healthy, fit, strong and energetic. Physical beauty is diverse, and there are 7 billion shapes and sizes that can express these qualities. Our collective body can be beautiful too. An economy showing health, fitness, diversity and vitality.
A beautiful economy is graceful and light at heart. Light-footed like a dancer, in tune with the rhythms of Life, flexible and agile like creation itself. And beautiful progress? In these times of economic obesity, I believe in a second wave of enlightenment. One that has little to do with luminosity, but with reducing our longing for heaviness and matter. A wave of enlightenment in which we take the weight off our footprints, tighten our belts, leave our materialism and workaholism behind. Rather than seeing a smaller economy as an unbearable crisis, we change our perspective and view systemic health and fitness as the Beautiful Lightness of Being.