The Sufficiency of Sustainability

What is Sufficiency?

If you look in the dictionary, the meanings include “adequate” and “enough”.

The definition is originally from Buckminster Fuller, one of the world’s first futurists and a global thinker who coined the term “Spaceship Earth”. “Bucky” taught Lynne Twist and many others that the distinction of sufficiency is not an amount, but an exquisite experience of “enough”.

What is Enough?

The answer is almost as difficult to discern as the well known Zen kōan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Similarly, the answer requires contemplation: we need to ask ourselves:

  1. What is enough food?
  2. What is enough clothing?
  3. How big a house is adequate?
  4. What is enough time?
  5. What is enough money?
  6. Do I experience the quality of enough in my relationships?
  7. Do I have enough love?
  8. Do I do enough?

Sufficiency is an experience — an experience like satisfaction. We have to train ourselves to experience sufficiency and satisfaction because we have been conditioned by our culture to always want more, and to never be satisfied. Each person must find his or her own access to and expressions of sufficiency.

What is sufficient to sustain our lives without compromising the ability of future generations to sustain theirs?

Sufficiency Distinguished from Abundance

This is an important distinction. If scarcity is not enough, abundance is more than enough — more than we need. Scarcity and abundance are actually two sides of the same coin. Sufficiency is present when nothing is wasted.

An Inquiry into Sufficiency

Lynne Twist, global activist, founder of The Pachamama Alliance and author of The Soul of Money, says that we must “confront not only the financial crisis, but also all other crises which stem from the same root — Scarcity.” Our current crisis compels us to completely rework, or even create for the first time, our thinking about what is enough.

She asserts that we are in a trance fueled by the toxic lies of scarcity:

  • Lie #1: There is not enough

Not enough to go around — not enough food, water, air to breathe, money, time or love. Everything we do is in the service of overcoming this sense of lack.

  • Lie #2: More is better

More money, more time, more business, more travel, more stuff — and yet… has the money or the stuff brought us the happiness we seek or a purpose that gets us out of bed every morning?

  • Lie #3: That’s just the way it is

If we are committed to a sustainable world for ourselves, our families and communities, and our businesses, we have to give up our resignation and separation, our acceptance of these lies, and get down to the business of waking up to the underlying truth of Sufficiency.

“How can we use this financial crisis/opportunity as an impetus to live the most meaningful lives of any generation?” she asks and answers.

  • Each of us can begin by saying ‘no’ to the toxic lies of scarcity and choosing instead to live in the radical, surprising truth of sufficiency.
  • Each of us can decide to treat this economic recession as the ‘recess from excess’ that is long overdue.

“Enough has no place in consumer culture. Only more has a place. Therefore we have no relationship with enough. When you let go of more of what you don’t need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you already have. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.”

How do we powerfully shift the conversation and change our daily actions so we can pass on a sustainable world to the next generations?

  • One resource is the Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium. The purpose of the Symposium is to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet as the guiding principle of our time. Addressing three essential and interrelated parts of one interconnected whole, this conversation enables people to get into action to make this purpose, this dream a reality in our lifetime.
  • Another resource is Four Years. Go. This is a social climate change campaign, led by an “urgency coalition” of organizations. This is a communication campaign designed to awaken and inspire people to get into action with the intention of causing a positive tipping point to ensure a sustainable social climate in the next four years, by 2014.

Les Traband, a businessman, activist and creator of the Sufficiency Foundation, taught that sufficiency is essentially a way of being, not of having.

Either we generate sufficiency or we don’t. We say we have enough or we don’t. It’s declaring, “I am sufficient.” I can’t prove it – it’s a stand I take.

  • Sufficiency is taking something on and trusting that… you are not in it by yourself.
  • It is a tough conversation. It may be we have less money, less stuff. It calls us to be big and generous. It’s a conversation for a committed life — a life where we trust in something bigger than just ourselves.

Sufficiency Review

  1. Sufficiency is a way of being—peaceful, calm, related to people, the environment, nature and the planet.
  2. Sufficiency overlaps with other familiar ways of being — satisfaction, fulfillment, generosity.
  3. Sufficiency is a shift in mindset, not a point on a continuum between scarcity and abundance.
  4. Sufficiency is a declaration we make – from which we operate and encourage others by our example – that we have enough, and that we are enough, and that we do enough.