Living a Natural Life

Natural Economy
I mentioned in a recent post that I am torn between

  • the temptation to create Natural, Intentional Communities and Natural Enterprises as ‘working models’ that can help the survivors of our civilization’s inevitable collapse later this century, and 
  • the temptation to just walk away, be selfish, live a radically simple lifestyle (a ‘non-working model?’), and be happy living in the moment.
Some of my readers have suggested that ‘working naturally’, the means by which Natural Enterprises should work, might be an oxymoron. Look at creatures in natural environments, or even gatherer-hunter human cultures, and you find almost all of their time is spent doing four things: eating, sleeping, playing/learning and relating. Play in nature is serious business (it is the means by which the young practice and learn skills they need to survive) but it is also fun and lifelong (exploration, discovery and recreation keep wild creatures fit, alert and connected without the provocation of stressful situations, and are also part of what makes life worth living, and hence leads to evolutionary success). I group playing and learning into a single activity because in nature they are inseparable.

A fifth activity, fighting, enters the picture in situations of scarcity, but in the world of abundance in which ‘uncivilized’ species (mostly) live this is a rare occurrence (contrary to what some wildlife documentaries would have you believe).

A sixth activity, working, which is defined in the dictionary as “extended activity directed to producing or accomplishing something”, but which generally connotes activity that is somewhat onerous, tedious and stressful, is not, to them, a natural activity at all. Gathering food in an area where it is abundant is not work, any more than migrating or caring for the community’s young is work. If it is work, that’s a signal that some change in behaviour is needed (moving to a different area where food is more plentiful, reducing fertility so resources are not so severely taxed, etc.) In nature stress demands adaptive change to eliminate the cause of the stress and put life back into balance. Having to work means something is wrong .

If you love doing what you’re doing, however, even if you ‘work’ hard at it, it’s not onerous, tedious or stressful. It’s a ‘labour of love’. I would argue that in this case it’s organized and directed playing/learning and relating activity. It has a conscious purpose, which distinguishes it from playing/learning and relating that is purely recreational or social. But it is still playing/learning and relating, not onerous, tedious, stressful ‘work’. Think about the most joyful workplaces you know. Wouldn’t you describe their ‘work’ as mostly playing/learning and relating?

This is my idea of Natural Enterprise, the way ‘work’ should be — playing/learning and relating activity directed to producing or accomplishing something. My upcoming book will profile existing and emerging Natural Enterprises and explain how to find, evolve and create them.

Although Natural Enterprises can and do work in any economy, ideally they will become part of the natural, networked ‘world of ends’ economy illustrated above. In a Natural Economy, Natural Enterprises are an integral part of Natural Communities, communities which are largely self-sufficient, self-managed and self-selected (Intentional). The Natural Economy consists of unintermediated, peer-to-peer networks of Natural Enterprises offering their surplus production in ‘price-less’ exchange for the surplus production of Natural Enterprises in other Natural Communities. This enables struggling communities to ‘catch up’ to affluent communities without creating debt or dependency in the process.

What distinguishes Natural Enterprises most markedly from traditional corporations is the absence of internal and external adversarial and competitive behaviour in Natural Enterprises, behaviour that is the very hallmark of traditional corporations, plus the fact that Natural Enterprises replicate (what works) rather than growing, so they always stay small.

All of this got me thinking about the people I would love to ‘work’ with in Natural Enterprises and live with in a Natural Community. They would be people who are already living natural lives, people who refuse to ‘work’ doing onerous, tedious, stressful jobs, and who adapt themselves and their lifestyles so they don’t have to. Somehow they are able to spend their whole lives eating, sleeping, playing/learning, and relating, joyfully. This is partly a function of a positive state of mind — how they look at ‘problems’ and situations — and partly a result of considered choices about what they want, need and do. Zaadz entrepreneurship leader Siona argues that this starts with self-acceptance and self-love, “the willingness to abandon the belief that I can or should be anything, or in any way, different, from what I am.”

Such people do give a damn — they are not deluded that everything in the world is perfect — and they engage with others doing ‘work’ that is “extended activity directed to producing or accomplishing something”, but because of how they approach it, it is always joyful, never tedious or stressful. These are people who love everyone and spend their entire lives ‘making love’ — not in the sexual sense but in the sense that all their playing/learning and relating activities are infused with love and with creating love unconditionally and reciprocally with others.
I’m sure you know people like this. They are charismatic, indefatigable, uncompromising and relentlessly positive. They attract others (especially their opposites, the inconsolable and relentlessly negative cynics) like moths to a flame. They evoke (alas) jealousy from those who wish they could be like them, from those who worry that their own loved ones will be seduced away by them, and, most of all, from those who want to keep that generous love all to themselves.
The women I know who love everyone this way are always worried by male affection (because of their experience with males who cannot be trusted to love them back openly and unconditionally without resenting sharing that love with others). The men I know who love everyone this way have few male friends — perhaps because their love is unnerving to other men.
When I watch wild birds and animals in their communities, I can sense this constant unconditional love for other creatures and for all-life-on-Earth. They are constantly ‘making love’ in the way they live fully and joyfully in the moment, every moment infused with love of life and love of their place and love of learning and discovery and love for the astonishing wonder of every creature they meet. Every second is ecstatic, even the moments of intense fear, flight and death, where they resign themselves to their life’s ending, give themselves back to the sacred Earth in partnership with the creature whose life is sustained by their death. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for wild creatures (other than the designated breeding pairs) to refrain voluntarily from sexual activity to prevent overpopulation of the flock — because everything they do is ‘making love’.
The people who are able to live like this can be activists without being angry, competitive and confrontational. They understand that the purpose of political action is to reduce scarcity, to strive endlessly and hopefully but without expectation of success to restore the balance on Earth so that there is no longer a need for anyone to do onerous, tedious, stressful ‘work’, and so that perhaps one day everyone will once again be able to spend their lives joyfully eating, sleeping, playing/learning, and relating. So that everyone can once again live a natural life.
I remember, when I was very young, living with this state of mind and this intentionality. It was not conscious or learned, it was just a natural way to live. I didn’t know any other way. But soon enough I encountered negative people (including other children) — people who were jealous, critical, acquisitive, selfish, greedy, mean-spirited. And soon enough, not understanding, I became depressed, shy, frightened. I ‘learned’ that I was living in a terrible world.
At various stages in my life I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to get back to that state of mind and intentionality. I think when we fall in love we rediscover it — that love makes us temporarily immune to the negativity all around us, in our modern, crowded, struggling, work-filled world. I vacillated between being a political progressive (angry, confrontational) and a social progressive (optimistic, loving, believing). I have always understood both, and have never been particularly good at either — I instinctively avoid confrontation and handle stress very badly, but I see the world too darkly to trust that just doing small things in our own sphere of influence will ever be enough. The resulting paralysis has defined me throughout my adult life.
Recently I have become disenchanted with the possibility that political activism can achieve any meaningful sustained change. I believe that, as The Rebel Sell explains, “you can’t jam the culture” and that, to some extent, our bankrupt and unsustainable corporatist society depends on angry progressives winning and being satisfied with small illusory victories to co-opt and quieten them so that no real change ever occurs. Perhaps, then, I am finally ready to start to become one of those relentlessly positive, joyful people who have so impressed and puzzled me (and made me feel inadequate by comparison) all my adult life.
I say start, because I suspect that it will be a lifelong and halting journey. I have a lot of fears to abandon, a lot of cynicism to free myself from, a lot of trust in myself and others to regain, a lot of important lessons to relearn. But I feel I am on my way. I am free from my illusions that I will save our world from civilizational collapse, and now believe that (as grim and tragic as it will be) civilizational collapse will be how the world saves itself from us. I am happier and more positive and more full of love than I have ever been (save for those brief, ecstatic, invulnerable times when I was deeply, utterly ‘in love‘).
Yet I am still impatient, still consumed with unbearable grief for Gaia. Still too often angry, disengaged, inattentive, weary. Cognizant of Siona’s words above, I have always believed I cannot change who I am. But perhaps who I really am is still hiding, waiting to emerge when I am finally ready. And now perhaps I am finally ready to emerge, and to become who I always was. (Now you know the meaning of the butterfly on this blog’s masthead).
If so then the dilemma of what to do that I outlined in the first paragraph of this article will disappear: I will no longer want to walk away and be selfish, because the ‘work’ of creating and showing others how to create Natural Enterprises and Natural Communities, and perhaps ultimately creating a model Natural Economy and being a model of how to live a natural life, will not be work, it will be easy, joyful, playing/learning and relating, ‘making love’ with everyone, unconditionally, and living in the moment that never ends.

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3 Responses to Living a Natural Life

  1. Beau Smith says:

    Dave,I like the word “work”. I like what it represents and I don’t think it should be a perjorative. Typically, work comes before play. Ray Bradbury has noted this in his book The Zen of Writing. He talks about the sweat a writer has to “work” up in starting. Once one relaxes into the work, then comes flow – which is the more pleasant feeling, the play. If we remove the idea of difficulty and work from the equation, we don’t have a complement to play. Work is not the opposite of play, rather its complement. The opposite of play is drudgery, and that’s not work: That’s drudgery. I would point out that work can be fun and play can be hard. The two, work and play, go together. Too often, the attempt to remove work from the equation displays an entitled and arrogant position. Anyone who wishes to master anything knows work. I would also hasten to say that those I have known who are the most spiritually aware and conscious have done a lot of work to attain this. The master has worked for his mastery. Witness the archetypal apprentice who undergoes years of difficult training to attain a level, any level, of mastery in his chosen craft. I can say that the play is a lot more fun when it comes after the work. Had I not worked, I would not have the level of mastery I have as an artist. I don’t suggest needless struggle and hardship. That’s not what I’m talking about. But I do believe that one cannot seperate the grindstone aspect from the play. They go together, difficulty and ease. Trying to seperate them is like trying to make love and intimacy absolutely safe, with no risk and no possiblity of loss and pain. It’s like trying to take the death out of life. One can only do this by accepting death and faceing it, certainly not by denying it. I do thank you for your contribution of envisioning a contemporary Utopia. This is important work (and play). Thanks, Beau

  2. Dave Smith says:

    I’ve been interested recently in the idea of the “steep learning curve” because I’ve realized over the past few years how much happier and alive I always am when taking on a new project I know nothing about, rather than applying skills I’ve learned long ago to a new situation, or “consulting” based on “expertise.” For example, buying and running a local bookstore as they go out of business everywhere; learning how to make google adwords work; learning search engine optimization. Weren’t we so much happier and alive during the first few years of life partly because it was all “steep learning curves” and also during the transition to the adult work world? Then we settled into our “places” and our “professions” which continued to be challenging if we were lucky, but not “fun.” Having kids… steep learning curves and fun. New internet software and networks to learn and understand.I remember seeing interviews with people involved in helping during a disaster saying they had never felt more alive. Will the coming disasters, the unknown future, as horrific as it could turn out to be, bring us alive once again? Learning how to survive… even in our dotage?

  3. prad says:

    i think you are, as you say “on your way”, david.

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