The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Monday, 27 March 2023

What Shall We Don't?

When we realise the reality of climate crisis, social/environmental collapse, or mass extinction, a common question to ask ourselves, or others, is, ‘What shall we do?’

The question seems to be a reasonable one to ask. Perhaps even an obvious question to ask.

If we did not ask questions, then we would not devise answers. And answers to questions around climate change, collapse, and extinction, mean solutions – do they not?

More Beautiful Questions

The answers (solutions) we come up with are shaped by, if not determined by, the questions we ask. To take this understanding further, we must admit that the answers we come up with are limited by the questions we ask. It is possible to contend that it is our questions that are the limiting factors, not the answers.

Warren Berger has spent a lot of time asking questions about questions. In his 2014 book A More Beautiful Question1 Berger defines a beautiful question as one that is:

‘…an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.’

Note that Berger asserts that a beautiful question is one that helps to ‘shift the way we perceive or think about something.’ This is a critical observation when it comes to asking questions about climate, collapse and extinction.

What Shall We Do?

When we ask this question, we are asking; what shall we perform, execute, achieve, or carry out? We are asking ourselves, what action shall we take?

Therein lie the limitations around asking this question (what shall we do?) The answers inevitably lead to actions and things to make or do.

It can be argued that asking what shall we do? has steered us towards answers that have led us into the predicaments we face. It is a one way, uni-directional, linear question, with progress (and its twin – perpetual growth) as its favoured answers.

The question itself tempts us into believing that solutions are possible. We get enticed into seeking answers in new technology. It is such a seductive question that we answer it without really considering the by-products or long-term consequences of what we do.

Woefully, many of the answers (solutions) put forward to “solve” the “problems”2 of climate, collapse, and extinction serve only to exacerbate the predicaments, and/or to shift the problem from one ecosystem to another.

What if we were to ask a totally different question? What if we asked a more beautiful question, one that shifts the way we perceive or think about climate, collapse, and extinction?

What could we ask?

What Shall We Don’t?

Asking What shall we don’t? is one such question.

Admittedly, this is an uncomfortable question. What do you mean – what shall I don’t?

Don’t, do not, refrain from, stop, desist, cease, abstain. You can’t be serious!

Indeed, it is this reaction to the question – that it asks for something unnatural of us – that is its potency. It is a question that very few of those facing the predicaments of climate, collapse, and extinction are asking. Perhaps the only movement asking this question is the degrowth movement, although possibly not so explicitly and not as succinctly.

Ask it we must.

If what we have done has led us into the predicaments, then surely asking what we do not do is a viable and useful question to ask.

This blogpiece does not intend answering the question, suffice to say that the question can be applied to every sphere of human life and activity. How we travel, where we shop, what we eat, how we build, what we build – all these domains, and more, can be exposed to such a question.

This blogpiece is simply posing the question as a stimulus to shifting the ways in which we perceive climate, collapse, and extinction.

Furthermore, if the question helps to bring about change then all the better.

What is on your To Don't list?


1. Berger, Warren, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Bloomsbury, USA, 2014.

2. Problems may or may not have solutions. However, predicaments (as we are currently experiencing) do not have solutions, only outcomes.

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

I Can't Vote and I'm Okay

Next weekend in Australia (where I live) citizens go to the polls in their State elections.

As a New Zealander I am ineligible to obtain Australian citizenship, even though I have lived here for the past eleven years. Not having Australian citizenship means that I cannot vote in these coming elections.

And, I am quite okay with that. In fact, I could almost claim to be glad of that.

That seems a strange thing to say, perhaps even paradoxical, unreasonable, or senseless. It may look that way, especially from the perspective of those who claim that ‘voting is our democratic right.’

From my perspective, however, things look quite different.

Voting is not democratic.

That is perhaps an even stranger thing to say, even subversive, or disloyal.

Let us pick voting apart. Usually, when one goes into a polling booth to vote, the following have already taken place:

  • The candidates for election are pre-determined. The number of us who suggest someone stand for parliament, council, senate, congress etc is extremely limited. Most often, it was not the common woman or man who determined who the candidates should be.1
  • The policies of candidates are pre-determined. Often the policies are to a) continue the present policies by an incumbent candidate, or b) offer up counter policies to those of the incumbent. Either way, the voter has no direct input into the policies, only a tick in the box against candidates with pre-determined polices.
  • Candidates have often aligned themselves with one political party or another. Then, once elected, it is party policy that takes precedence over any suggestion of “representing” the local constituency.2
  • The education, social standing, articulateness, economic resources, and/or celebrity status of candidates are strong indicators of the likelihood of someone being elected. These are usually those from elite groups of society. How often do you see your hairdresser, the manual labourer, or local barista on the ballot paper? Even were one of these to be on the ballot, how often do they get elected? Consequently, the decision-making bodies we get are not representative.

For these, and other, reasons, I claim that voting is not democratic.

But that is not all. Because of the above reasons, the electoral process results in a parliament, senate, or council that is little able to offer up the changes we need to see in these troubled times.

At the heart of much of the current predicaments we face is how we go about our collective decision-making. Electoral processes result in decision-making bodies that are adversarial in nature – hardly a system that allows for the collective creativity we need.

What then? How do we go about selecting public decision-makers if not by voting?

Toss a die, draw lots, generate random numbers (with numbers allocated to individual citizens,) flip a coin. These may sound flippant. Only in their simplicity. At the core of each of these is a very simple, and fair, means of selection.

Random selection.

Random selection has generated a lot of interest, research, and experimentation over the past few decades. It has a technical name – sortition.

The idea and practical use of sortition, and other forms of democracy (aside from electoral) go back millennia. The most famous is to the very birthplace of democracy – Athens.

The Athenians used sortition for most of their selection processes for their public decision-makers.3 Voting was generally restricted to electing those who would be their military leaders. Indeed, Athenians did not trust voting as a fair and democratic method.

There is even evidence showing sortition to have been used some 1,500 years before the Athenians. See this blogpost for more on these earlier forms of decision-making.

I have written extensively in this blog about sortition: what it is, how it works, and cited historical and contemporary examples of its practice. [Go to the “Categories” column to the right of this page and click on “sortition” and/or “democracy” – for these blogpieces.]

For now, I am quite comfortable in the knowledge that I cannot vote this coming weekend. I am also comfortable in the knowledge that until we shift from electoral democracy to more representative and/or direct means of selection and public decision-making then nothing will fundamentally change.

Hence, I can’t vote and I’m okay.


1. I use the term ‘common’ (or ‘commoner’), not in its somewhat disparaging sense, but in its literal sense of ko = together and moi = to move, to change, hence to move and change together.

2. Even “independents’ are not immune to this. Recently in Australian politics we have seen the emergence of Teal candidates – a loose coalition of independent candidates. Furthermore, many of those who are presently ‘independents’ in Australian politics have either resigned or been expelled from political parties they were once members of. Others have gone on to form their own party.

3. Sometimes when I mention the use of sortition in Athens I am reminded that a “citizen” in Athens did not include women or slaves. That is true. However, that is not a critique of sortition; that is a critique of social structure.

Tuesday, 14 March 2023


Artist: Dave Derret
(used with permission)
Obesity for a human is not good for human health.

Autobesity is not good for the Earth’s health.

A comment relating to a recent “New Yorker” article1 on SUVs suggesting that that this was a case of “car obesity” prompted me to coin the word autobesity to label one of the world’s most pressing environmental health problems.

A standard measurement of how underweight or overweight a person is uses the Body Mass Index (BMI.)2 The most extreme score used to be known as morbid obesity (although now it is referred to by the less emotive term obese (class III).)

If such a measurement were to be applied to our use of vehicles (Perhaps an AMI – Automobile Mass Index) then we would have to make the diagnosis that we are suffering morbid autobesity.

Autobesity has become steadily worse since WW2, and morbidly so in the past 7 years. In 2015 there were 618 million vehicles in the world. In the seven years since then that figure has more than doubled to an estimated 1,446 million (yes! – that is 1.446 billion.)3 We went from autobese to extremely autobese to morbidly autobese in just a few years.4

Autobesity (as with human obesity) carries with it harmful health outcomes. As we know, obesity in humans is a risk factor for clogged arteries.

So too, it is with autobesity. Automotive arteries (roads, parking, and right-of-ways (ROWs)) get clogged. Unlike a human body though, instead of removing the blockages, more arteries get built. In rich nations of the world the amount of land relinquished to roads, parking, and ROWs is around 2% of the total land area. In cities, the figure is substantial. New York has 22% of its land area devoted to roads and parking. In London the proportion is 23%, Tokyo 24%, and 25% in Paris. Between one-fifth and one quarter of the land in the world’s major cities is set aside for automobiles.

That is autobesity.

Other harmful effects of autobesity are well known, such as the poisons and pollution emitted from vehicle exhausts – i.e. CO2, nitrous oxides, benzene, fine and ultra-fine particulates etc.

What may be less well known, however, is that these emissions (due mainly to increased exhaust regulations around the world) are not the most harmful feature of vehicle use.

Tyre wear is responsible for around 2,000 times more particulate pollution than are exhausts. These particulates include Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)5 and toxic compounds (including carcinogens.) These seep into all parts of the body of the earth – air, water, and soil.6

As with human obesity, the weight of the vehicle contributes to this problem. To add to the issue of soaring numbers of automobiles, the weight of automobiles has also increased. In 1908, when Henry Ford began producing the Model T Ford, the heaviest of his vehicles weighed 750 kg. The average vehicle weight today is 1,800 kg. What is more, vehicles are getting heavier (contributing further to tyre wear), and likely to put on even more weight if EVs (Electric Vehicles) become more prevalent (as EV proponents predict and promote.)

Because of the battery in an EV, an average EV weighs around 30% more than an equivalent fossil-fuelled vehicle. In terms of our autobesity, EVs are not helping.7

Although EVs reached 10% of global vehicle sales in 2022, they are not replacing vehicle stock – but adding to it. Between 2015 and 2020 the total number of EVs in the world increased from less than one million to 10.2 million. Impressive – maybe? However, in the same period the total number of vehicles in the world rose from 618 million to over 1,100 million. That is just one EV for every 50 or so conventional vehicles.

What Are We Doing About Our Autobesity?

Not much, is the short answer.

A doctor, cardiologist, or other medical professional will usually prescribe a combination of diet and exercise for a person suffering obesity.

Shouldn’t we adopt a similar regime with autobesity?

But we aren’t. A significant proportion of vehicle trips are short, very short. In the U.S. 60% of all car trips are less than 10km in length. In Australian cities the distance varies from city to city, with between 30% - 60% being less then 5km in length. Melbourne takes the lack of exercise to the extreme, with 47% of vehicle trips being less than 2.5km long.8 

All these distances are easily achieved by walking or using a bicycle.

Our autobesity is now morbid and epidemic (at least in the rich nations,) so much so that (as with obesity) it is propelled by addictive mechanisms. Replacing one type of vehicle with another (EV, hybrid, hydrogen fuelled, or whatever) will not reduce our addiction, and hence autobesity will continue to harm the planet.

Many working in the addiction field tell us that abstinence is a crucial factor in helping addicts to overcome their addiction and then maintaining a more healthy lifestyle.

It is now clear that autobesity is no different.

Only total auto-abstinence will help to heal the harm caused by autobesity.


1. Elizabeth Kolbert, Why S.U.V.s are Still a Huge Environmental Problem¸ The New Yorker, 3 March 2023, accessed 13 March 2023

2. A person’s BMI is calculated by dividing their weight (in kg) by the square of their height (in metres.

3. Source: PD Insurance, 22 April 2022, accessed 13 March 2023

4. If you line up all the world’s vehicles bumper-to-bumper around the Earth’s equator they would encircle the Earth more than 160 times!

5. Laura Kokko, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Tyre Production, M.Sc. thesis, Tampere University of Technology, February 2017

6, accessed 13 March 2023

7. Research at a Netherlands University shows that EVs are contributing significantly to the deterioration of road surfaces. accessed 13 March 2023

8. accessed 14 March 2023. Although this paper is from 1999, there is little reason to believe that the proportions have changed. If anything, personal observation suggests the figure may now be more dire.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Landawariar Rituals

Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege of attending a performance by the Nordic band Heilung. Heilung speak of their music as amplified history. This is not modern history, it is history of the Viking era, and even earlier. Their music predates the Modern Era (M.E.) and gains inspiration from a number of Nordic and other European cultures, especially those of pagan origins.

Attending an Heilung performance is more akin to participating in a ritual: a ritual that acknowledges our roots in the Earth and our shared humanity.

Oftentimes those of us from a European background and heritage can feel lost and disconnected from nature, especially in comparison to the connections we see and hear within indigenous and nature-based cultures.

Heilung remind us that we too, do in fact encompass a spiritual connection with Mother Earth. We may have forgotten this. Through their music, performance, and ritual, Heilung wish to remind us of our historical and cultural roots.

One of Heilung’s songs – Anoana – lyrically and symbolically reminds us of this connection with the earth and our responsibility to the land. Anoana can be translated as ancestral grandmother, and the band’s promo video of the song personifies and illustrates that translation.

One of the lines of the song - ‘Athilr Rikithir Ai Landawariar Anoana.’ - mentions the word landawariar. Maria Franz (the band’s lead female vocalist) admits to not knowing the meanings of the other words in this line. However, she is clear that the meaning of landawariar is protector, or guardian, of the land. (Listen to Maria talk about the meaning of Anoana in this interview.)

As I listened to this song being sung last Thursday night in Sydney, I was struck yet again by the possibility of, yet the lack of, ritual around our human responsibility to act as guardians of the earth. That is, at least for those of us from a European heritage.

Perhaps one of the reasons that westernised (largely Christian) cultures have failed to recognise the responsibility to protect, care for, and act as earth guardians is a mis-reading of Genesis in the Bible.  

Genesis 1: 26-28 speaks of humans having dominion over the fish, birds, cattle, and all the earth. Western culture has mostly interpreted dominion to mean domination, subjugation, and exploitation.

Yet, the Hebrew word radah (translated as dominion), ‘…is not what we think of as forceful, but the kind of authority that enables the ruled things to develop and open as they should rather than that which uses them as resources for our own sakes.’1

If westernised peoples are to renew our roles as guardians, protectors, and sustainers of life and the earth, then we must also re-acquaint ourselves with this understanding of dominion and our earth connection. It also suggests that we discover (and invent) rituals that remind us of this responsibility and obligation.

The music of Heilung is a start on that journey of renewal and invention.


1. Andrew Basden, Writings on Christian Topics, accessed 6 March 2023.

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

Wearing a Watch is a Waste of Time

Discarded watches
This blog starts with a personal story:

I have not worn a watch for over 12 years. Ironically (given the theme of this blog) I can name to the minute the event that prompted me to take that decision.

In February 2011 I was living in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand. It had been my home for the previous 30 years. On the 22nd of that month, at 12.51 pm (NZT) a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit Christchurch. Many buildings were destroyed, and homes wrecked. 185 people were killed – three of them friends of mine.

Following that event, knowing the precise time seemed irrelevant. All that mattered in the minutes and hours after the earthquake was to ensure that children, the elderly, and those with disabilities were safe, comforted and/or supported. All that mattered was that people cared. All that mattered was NOW.

There was no need to know the time in order to be someplace. Someplace was HERE. There was no need to make appointments. Appointments were HERE and NOW.

Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, debris, destruction, and the empathy, caring and thoughtfulness of people, I took off my watch and did not go looking for it again. At the time this was not a conscious decision.

Now it is! Now, I have decided that wearing a watch is a waste of time.

Watch Wearing

Why do we wear watches? When I was young, one of the signifiers of “growing up” was to acquire a watch. It was sign of maturity, or at least a recognition that I was to become responsible. (I now recognise this to be a flawed idea.)

Perhaps the unstated mythology around watch wearing is that we do so in order to know how many minutes or hours we have to be able to get to somewhere else. Wearing a watch may direct our attention towards the future.

Simply put, wearing a watch indicates that we are no longer present. Even though we may know the precise time, we are not present with that time. In his bestselling book The Power of Now, Eckart Tolle tells us that, “The more you are focused on time - past and present – the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”1

A common complaint I hear is that someone does not have enough time. Yet, it is our steadfast focus on being accurate in knowing the time that contributes to this grievance. In having ready access to the exact time on one’s wrist (or on the ubiquitous phone) we become limited by time.

Famously, Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Inc.) did not wear a watch. When asked one day by his daughter the reason for not doing so, Jobs replied, “I don’t want to be bound by time.”

Yet, sadly, we seem to mistakenly believe that wearing a watch, and having instant knowledge of the time, makes us more productive, and better prepared.

Being “bound by time” can lead to frustration, anxiety, and depression. For many in today’s world, these ills are chronic. Many people never get the chance to relax. There is an increasing pressure to be constantly and continuously available, and kept slave to timetables and time constraints.

Surely, such a state cannot be healthy. Yet, punctuality and conscientiousness are extolled in today’s world of increased productivity and the relentless desire for achievement and progress.

There does seem to be some evidence suggesting that wearing a watch makes the wearer more conscientious. A 2015 research paper by psychologists in the U.K. indicates that those who wear a watch may be up to 15% more conscientious that those who do not. Indeed, showing this was the objective of the research.2

Interestingly, however, buried amongst the statistics in this paper is another correspondence between wearing and not wearing a watch and openness to experience.

Those who did not wear a watch were more likely (by around 11%) to be open to experience than those who wore a watch.

These results beg the question: Do we prefer to be conscientious and on time, or do we prefer to experience the world and our role in it?

I would argue for the latter. It can be argued that one of the (many) reasons for the various ills of the world is that we are disconnected from experiencing fully that world.

By binding ourselves to time we would seem to be wasting our time.


1. Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of Now, New World Library, Novato, California, 2004

2. David Ellis (Lancaster University) & Rob Jenkins (University of York), Watch wearing as a marker of conscientiousness, PeerJ 3:e1210; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1210, August 2015

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Solitude - A Diet for the Soul

 ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from (our) inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’         
     – Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician. However, it is his Penseés (Thoughts) for which he is primarily know today. In today’s mad, chaotic, and hypervigilant world there is a constant expectation that we will be instantaneously available for contact and communication. When and where do we find “time to sit quietly alone”?

Pascal suggested that all our problems stem from not being able to find solitude. Presumably he meant not just our personal problems, but also our social ones as well. Most likely, too, he was referring to our environmental problems. For in Penseés, one of his thoughts is: ‘Nature is an infinite sphere of which the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.’

As a result of not finding “alone time,” and not being able to “sit quietly,” our soul becomes disregarded and unhealthy. How can our souls heal from the pains inflicted by the world?

Solitude is one way.

The very word – solitude – alludes to the possibility.

Have you ever noticed that the words SOUL DIET are an anagram for the word SOLITUDE? Solitude is Diet for the Soul: anagrammatically, figuratively, psychologically, and spiritually.

Before proceeding too far, it may be worth saying what solitude is not. Solitude is not; isolation, loneliness, exile, banishment, confinement, or alienation. All these forms of “aloneness” can engender negative emotional, psychological, and/or physical damage.

Solitude does not create such harm. In fact, solitude and the consequent attention to our soul is likely to help us heal from such harms.

And soul? What is our soul? Philosophers, theologians, poets, psychologists, and mystics have pondered this, and provided definitions, for millennia. The definition I like to use is that provided by the eco-psychologist, wilderness guide, and writer, Bill Plotkin. Plotkin grounds his definition of soul within the Earth community, thus not privileging soul as an uniquely human phenomenon. Plotkin’s definition is succinct. For him,

‘Soul…is a person or thing’s unique ecological niche in the Earth community…A thing’s eco-niche – its Soul – is what makes it what it is on the deepest, widest, most natural level of identity.’1

This is the understanding of Soul that resonates most clearly with me, and is the definition that I use throughout this blogpiece.

Note that Soul is; ecologically embedded, unique and personal, characterises identity, and fits with and alongside other ‘souls.’ Furthermore, soul is not synonymous with spirit. Spirit could be thought of as an all-encompassing, infinite, net, which transcends all. Soul then, could be thought of as the individual, unique, nodes of that net where the warp and weft of the net intersect. The net cannot exist without the nodes, and the nodes exist because they are part of the net. In this depiction, spirit is transcendent, soul is inscendent.2

When understood this way, it is possible to recognise how, and why, solitude is a powerful means by which our soul can be healed and nourished.

In solitude one is not distracted and is fully present, fully aware of themselves and their unique place in the world. Sitting quietly (in a room or elsewhere) one is able to fully and deeply reflect.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr is a Ngangikurungkurr woman from northern Australia. She has written an exquisite explanation of the process of sitting quietly in solitude and contemplation. In her language this is dadirri which she describes as,

‘…inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us… It is something like what you call "contemplation".  When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. There is no need of words. A big part of dadirri is listening. Through the years, we have listened to our stories. They are told and sung, over and over, as the seasons go by. Today we still gather around the campfires and together we hear the sacred stories.’3

Here, we notice too that Miriam-Rose locates dadirri and solitude within a world deeply connected with ancestral roots.

This is what solitude has to offer us. A deep connection with ourselves (our soul), with the present ecological world, and with a temporal identity.

There is a caveat to all this, however. What has so far been described sounds lovely, peaceful, and harmonious. It may not always be like this. Solitude, and deep self-contemplation, may take us into a darkness where we encounter our demons and our Shadow side (as Jung refers to it.) Indeed, for many Jungian psychologists and eco-psychologists (such as Bill Plotkin) this encounter with darkness and the depths is necessary for the true adult human to emerge.

Plotkin, for example, likens this to the stages of a butterfly. The caterpillar eventually enters the cocoon, where as a pupa it enters a darkened space, “dies” to the caterpillar stage, and metamorphosises into the adult butterfly.

Some of our best known “teachers” knew this experience well. Muhammed spent many nights alone in the Cave of Hira in prayer and contemplation. Jesus spent time alone in the desert where he faced his demons (in the form of Satan.) Buddha, similarly, was tempted by Mara (personification of demons) during his time of solitude and deep meditation.

Yes, during solitude we may be tempted, we may be frightened, we may even want to quit; yet the benefits of this soul diet are enormous. We finally get out of our own way, so that our ego-centric perspectives dissolve away, to be replaced by an all-encompassing eco-centric perception.

This has benefits for our soul and the souls of all other beings.

We find, via this solitude, and our emergent soul, that we become better able to connect with others, including other-than-humans. We become able to truly love the world. We become fully connected.

Yes, let us nourish ourselves with a Soul Diet, via Solitude.


1. Plotkin, Bill, The Journey of Soul Initiation, New World Library, Novato, California, 2021

2. The term inscendence is borrowed from: Berry, Thomas, The Dream of the Earth, Counterpoint, Berkeley, 1988

3. The word, concept and spiritual practice that is dadirri is from the Ngan'gikurunggurr and Ngen'giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal peoples of the Daly River region (Northern Territory, Australia). 

Monday, 13 February 2023

Content Consumers Do Not Exist

 “In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition.”

Photo: Solveig Larsen

So asserts Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass.1 Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, has a Ph.D. in plant ecology, and teaches environmental and forest biology.  In her book she braids together indigenous wisdom with scientific knowledge. The quote above is an obvious conclusion to make from her understanding of the energies and mysteries that pervade the inter-connections of all life on Earth.

When we contemplate this assertion the truth of it becomes apparent.

The words alone are enough to show us the distinction between consuming and being content.

The word consume comes to us via Latin. The Latin verb sumere means to take. A consumer is a taker. A taker takes from somewhere, or from someone else. A taker (consumer) takes something external to themselves, not something intrinsic.

Contentment also derives from Latin. Com(n) meaning with or together, and tenere meaning to hold. Hence, we could define contentment as the ability to hold together all the contents that make up being human. This means being able to hold, lightly, even seemingly contradictory emotions (e.g., sadness and happiness.) Viewed this way, contentment is more a state of mind than it is an emotion or feeling.

Contentment then, accepts things the way they are, but not in a care-less or resigned manner. Contentment has a conscious element and is both active and passive.

The passive aspect of contentment says: “I’m OK with this,” and “I am satisfied the way things are right now.” The active element of contentment asserts that “I have enough,” “I am replete,” and “I do not need to grasp at something, nor do I need to avert myself.”

When we understand contentment this way, then Kimmerer’s statement that ‘…contentment is a radical proposition’ becomes clear.

As a radical proposition, contentment is highly active. It shouts out, “Enough is enough!” and “this is enough!” Assertions such as these are anathema to an economic system wedded to the mantras of perpetual growth and consume-for-consumptions sake.

This is why there can be no such person as a content consumer. A consumer (taker) living under the rubric of perpetual growth can never have enough, can never be content. A consumer is never satisfied. A consumer, attuned to advertising that screams out “Buy more, buy happiness,” attempts to gratify an inner longing or yearning via something external. When that externality no longer satisfies (as it will,) the consumer must purchase more – ever more.

The Hungarian-Canadian physician and author Gabor Maté is informative when trying to understand how our individual psyches are shaped by the environment and culture we live in. Borrowing from Erich Fromm’s understanding of social (versus individual) character, Maté describes three ‘core social character traits common to most members of (our) culture.’ One of these traits he names Consumption Hunger and notes that, ‘Among the great achievements of mass-consumption culture has been to convince us that what we have been conditioned to fervently want is also what we need.’2 This describes addiction.

Contentment, however, radically rejects this consumption hunger. Contentment says “NO” to the corporations, institutions, and infrastructure that train us into believing that we want more and more stuff.

This blog concludes with a poem written by Kurt Vonnegut (author of the highly acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five) for his friend Joseph Heller (author of another highly acclaimed novel, Catch-22.) The poem recalls a party, given by a billionaire, at which Vonnegut and Heller were in attendance. It tells of a conversation the two famous authors had:

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel

to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!”


1. Kimmerer, Robin Wall, Braiding Sweetgrass, Penguin Random House, UK, 2020.

2. Maté, Gabor, with Maté, Daniel, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, Vermilion, London, 2022.

3. Vonnegut, Kurt, published as an obituary poem for Joe Heller in The New Yorker, May 2005.