Sustainability looks to the future by creating and maintaining the conditions we need to live in balance with our environment, community, and the economy.
Just over a year ago, I was a high school English teacher in Rockaway, Queens. I was working in a brand new school dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability among high school students. It was at the Rockaway Park High School that I learned my greatest lesson on what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
The school was new and very small, holding only a hundred ninth grade students and a staff of seven teachers, only five of which were full time. In addition to our role as teachers, we were mentors, tutors, ambassadors within the community, and responsible for starting and running activities for our students. It wasn’t long before I was working thirteen-hour days.
At first I didn’t mind. It was new and exciting and I felt like everything we did made a difference in the community, but over time, my voicemail was full of messages from friends I meant to call back. I was tired all the time and started getting sick more often. At night I would lay awake thinking of everything I had to do, afraid I would forget something important.
Then on a cold day in December, just after one of the many snowstorms last year, my principal sent me to a workshop in the city on sustainability. Upon entering the room, I was handed a purple marker. Stationed around the room were poster boards with a single header on each one. We were told to walk from one board to the next and write one or two things we personally needed to be happy under each category.
I paused before each board, realizing I couldn’t think of anything. The words stared back at me; Intellectual, Physical, Spiritual, Emotional, and Social in big block letters. Little by little, I thought of things, and liked seeing my own purple letters in the blank white space. It was at that workshop that I realized how unbalanced my life had become, and that I needed to make a change.
It’s a good idea to take “inventory” of your life every once in a while, especially when things are hectic. Using the model from the workshop can help to identify needs versus wants and help to identify what really matters.
To start, label a notebook page with each heading. Here are some ideas to get you thinking.
Intellectual: Maybe you like to read or play chess, listen to classical music. Anything that inspires you to think or makes you feel challenged falls under this category.
Physical: Sleep, , , chocolate cravings. Our physical state is the one we’re most connected to. Think about all the things that make you feel comfortable and write them here.
Emotional: The emotional category is pretty broad. It can be laughing a little bit every day, watching the occasional tear-jerker, or journaling your thoughts daily. Pay attention to your moods and dreams, these can be helpful indicators of how you’re feeling emotionally.
Spiritual: Church/temple, meditation, , being can all be things that nurture your spiritual self. For many of us, this is the category we neglect the most. Think about the things that make you feel peaceful inside and list them here.
Social: Social time is any interaction between you and another person. This can mean seeing friends, family, your pet, spouse, or even using Facebook chat. Whatever makes you feel connected to the people in your life is social time.
When we feel stress, our body reacts with mental, physical, and emotional responses. Stress is our bodies’ way of reacting to a change in our lives that requires adjustment. Sometimes stress is a good thing; it helps us to accomplish goals by keeping us alert and occupied. Too much stress can lead to emotional and physical problems like depression, elevated blood pressure, and trouble sleeping.
It’s no surprise that each of these five important categories directly affects the others. When even just one of them is out of balance, we feel the change in other areas of our lives as well. Keeping an ever changing map to all the things that make us happy can be a great guide back to our center and help us achieve the balance we need to lead truly fulfilling lives.