Redirecting our life energy from degenerative systems: Lessons from a Sunflower

Livelihood lessons from a Sunflower blooming on Nov 5, 2018, Part 2.

I wrote this article on November 5 of 2018, when I came across a beautiful sunflower ready to blossom on the side of the road. Knowing that killing frost was imminent, I was called into deep contemplation. Here’s some of what I learned:

Sunflower exists because whether found in root, stem, leaf, petal, or any other part of the plant… every cell tends to its energy budget; and thus is able to make its unique contribution towards the whole.

Each cell held by thin membranes that boundary it.

Break down those boundaries and life’s energy is drained away.

In nature, boundaries and tending energy budgets ensure life.

In the dominant human economy based on binary scarcity mindsets, either you thrive or I do.

Output is valued at the expense of nurture. But life requires nurture, and without it, there is so much need.

And since there isn’t enough, we mine some energy budgets in order to subsidize others.

For thousands of years, life-tenders have lovingly given from our life’s energy to support the continuance of life.

Yes, sacrifice can be noble in times of scarcity.

But here is what Sunflower crystallized for me:  

Not one cell in Sunflower would over-give, nor feel guilty for tending its energy budget.

Indeed, for Sunflower, healthy boundaries are natural. They are what make Sunflower a sunflower and not a pile of decomposition.

And in realizing that, in the same second I saw this:

Yes, it’s true that we live in a time of unending crises because the current degenerative system is unworkable.

And many of us carry an unconscious belief that the way to show we care is to go into debt with our life’s energy… and when this becomes our default, and we build our lives and livelihoods around them… we actually reinforce systems that create scarcity.

Because in reality, we will never fill the needs that arise from a ravenous life-sucking scarcity paradigm. 

And valorizing over-giving means that those who attempt to uphold boundaries so as not to be eroded by a thousand loving nibbles on our time can be drawn back into compliance with scarcity through internalized guilt.

Instead, let us create structures that enable us to shift to a system that honors that while there is a finite amount to resources, there is also enough.

Applaud boundaries that make visible the pirating of energy—whether it be professional skills, visible caring work, or invisible emotional labor.

These boundaries provide feedback so the larger system can self-correct. Or, in this case, it is more likely to unravel.

But, this doesn’t mean we stand back and contribute to suffering or collapse into an atomistic me-centered approach.

It means we invest our liberated energy to design win-win systems that honor nurture as much as productivity.

Yes, it takes time and energy to learn how to make it work so that my needs can be met AND so can yours. 

Conversations about what is true for each of us are vulnerable. 

Holding space for dialog across power differences that mine some people’s energy requires courage and trust. 

Collaborating in ways that shift conflicting needs into dilemmas to be solved requires new unfamiliar skills. 

Ensuring that we all feel empowered to contribute towards creative solutions requires care. 

Discerning what our healthy boundaries are may be new to us. 

And, upholding these boundaries may feel uncomfortable in the midst of the dominant maelstrom and its subsystems that threaten to collapse if we step back. 

But refusing to prop up an unworkable degenerative system also frees our time and energy to create new solutions.

Just as Sunflower yesterday was holding forth life and promise despite impending winter… even though I am living in a degenerative economy…

I re-commit to honoring my energy budget and investing my energies towards building regenerative systems.

May it become guilt-free, and one day, feel natural.

I’d love to hear from you…

  • Do you find yourself struggling with a “default setting” that gives away your life energy? How do you deal with this?
  • Did the insights that I learned from Sunflower resonate for you? Which parts?

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