‘Technics and wisdom are not by any means opposed. On the contrary, the duty of our age, the “vocation” of modern man is to unite them in supreme humility which will result in a totally self-forgetful creativity and service.’*
This probably isn’t it. Whether it’s having made it to the top or the realisation that we will never get to the top or the fruitarian diet we’ve discovered or the latest technology, there’s always more. And the very thing we think is it can be the very thing that gets in the way.
Thomas Merton’s words, above, were written to Rachel Carson on the publication of her 1962 book Silent Spring, an early environmental warning. I happened to read this alongside Ken Mogi’s description of the Japan’s Ise Shrine which is carefully dismantled and rebuilt every twenty years, passing on traditional building techniques for over 1,200 years. Mogi offers this as an example of sustainability and concludes:
‘The excellent track record of the Ise Shrine should be studied as a model for the realisation of sustainability. Clearly, harmony is the key to sustainability. The reservation and humbleness of the Ise Shrine staff, […] make the Ise Shrine the apotheosis of harmony and sustainability, the third pillar of ikigai.’**
Mogi’s mention of humbleness echoes Merton’s reference to humility, and the uniting of technology and wisdom mentioned by Merton feels as though it anticipates Mogi’s reflection on a different level of sustainability. From these, Merton asserts, there emerge many possibilities for creativity and service – the more that lies beyond a premature This is it.
Both contributions imagine sustainability stretching over many lifetimes and generations, not just our own. When we find an it that joins with this then maybe we have found the real it.
(*Thomas Merton, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Technology, Wisdom and the Difficult Art of Civilisational Awareness.)
(**From Ken Mogi’s The Little Book of Ikigai.)