Sustainability is generally understood as a capacity to endure and prosper. The term is as applicable to ecology as it is for personal whole-person well-being. Ecological sustainability secures the diversity and productivity of biological systems (e.g., wetlands and forests) over time; individual wellness lifestyles are conscious designs of personal environments (encompassing physical, mental, economic and social dimensions) that advance prospects for the best quality of life.
The wellness concept has grown in scope and acceptance since the term was introduced more than half a century ago in America by a physician named Halbert L. Dunn. To his credit, sustainability was a key feature of his wellness concept, much more so than in later interpretations of wellness in corporate and other settings. Of course, earlier uses of a word similar to wellness can be traced through time around the world. More consequentially, multiple concepts that addressed the issues embraced by modern wellness promoters have engaged philosophers and others throughout human history.
The ubiquity of the terms “sustainability” and “wellness” in current public discourse is telling. The high level of attention reflects concerns about how resources are being used-and misused. The connections between the ecology of the commons and wellness levels of individuals are appreciated by activists for both ecology and wellness. In Austria, for instance, the Department of Health Management in Tourism at the FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences offers course work on sustainability. The teaching, research and service conducted integrates ecology and wellness as a single focus. Both fields are recognized as vital to individual and social prosperity. In Germany, the wellness association (Deutschland Wellness Verband or DWV) has developed a sustainability project known as “Green Spa.” Available to all, it is targeted to destination resorts. Experts at DWV develop and make available materials and services supportive of sustainability objectives. A Green Spa award program recognizes spas that have furthered sustainability goals.
Personally, I think the DWV group should also grant a modest award to the first ten English-speaking wellness promoters who can correctly pronounce “sustainability” in German-“nachhaltigkeit.”
I think art could be brought into the sustainability picture. I make this statement because those who manage to successfully organize and maintain mindsets and behavior patterns consistent with ecological sensitivity might be artists in their own right. To live well in the highest sense of sustainability both personal and ecological, one must overcome cultural, economic, genetic and other barriers. Those who function in a fashion that embodies personal and ecological sustainability deserve special recognition, though of course none expects such a thing. But I do believe the feat is a higher form of human expression. It requires creative instincts to wed passions and duties while guiding others, usually wordlessly via modeling-instructing by example. To live well is a beautiful thing-an art form. It more often than not brings happiness and pleasure to the senses. Living this way leads to delights, discoveries and surprises, even thrills of appreciation along the way.
One of my sources for inspiration when writing about and pursuing a REAL wellness lifestyle is the 19th century orator Robert Green Ingersoll. In the manner of a true believer, I sometimes ask myself, “What would Ingersoll think?” Fortunately, there is usually ample material to guide me to discover what he did think about one thing or another. After all, he gave about 100 speeches during his lifetime (1833-1899). A colonel on the Union side during the American Civil War, “Royal Bob” had well formed views on art in the context of sustainability and REAL wellness. Some of these ideas were expressed in a speech entitled “Art And Morality,” published in the North American Review in March of 1888. I’ll offer a few examples.
Ingersoll said actions are deemed right or wrong according to experience and the conclusions of reason. Things are beautiful by the relation that certain forms, colors, and modes of expression bear to us. At the foundation of the beautiful will be found the fact of happiness, the gratification of the senses, the delight of intellectual discovery and the surprise and thrill of appreciation. That which we call the beautiful wakens into life through the association of ideas, of memories, of experiences, of suggestions of pleasure past and the perception that the prophecies of the ideal have been and will be fulfilled.
Like art, REAL wellness that promotes sustainability and cultivates the imagination increases our willingness to “put ourselves in the place of another.” How the world needs more of that! That quote is also from Ingersoll on art.
Here are a few Ingersoll ideas taken from the speech cited above: Love and pity are the children of the imagination…without passion there is no virtue…the really passionate are the virtuous. Art has nothing directly to do with morality or immorality. It is its own excuse for being; it exists for itself…Morality is the harmony between act and circumstance. It is the melody of conduct. A wonderful statue is the melody of proportion. A great picture is the melody of form and color. A great statue does not suggest labor; it seems to have been created as a joy. A great painting suggests no weariness and no effort; the greater, the easier it seems. So a great and splendid life seems to have been without effort. There is in it no idea of obligation, no idea of responsibility or of duty. The idea of duty changes to a kind of drudgery that which should be, in the perfect man, a perfect pleasure.
Adopting sustainability as integral to a lifestyle shaped and fine-tuned over the allotted adult years of life, with attitudes and habits, commitments and contributions reflecting a passion for personal excellence and integrity for The Commons-such is the art of REAL wellness living.
What is artful living in the spirit of sustainability? It is simply living artfully. It is choosing to respect and contribute to the viability of the larger realm-the ecology of nature and society. Artful living invites reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty in forms as varied as passion, zest, dreams, heroism, triumph and love. Sustainability involves our brain, the “secular soul” or the spirit in our being-all uniquely shaped by our own observations and interpretations. Ideally, we put all this together in the way we live each day-and we do it little by little, bit by bit, over time.
But again, I ask, “What would Ingersoll think?” Happily, his words still have the power and beauty to speak to us today on lifestyle art and sustainability. His soaring language, an art of a most magical quality, provides a noble view of REAL wellness as art. These words can excite our own passions for ecology. These words suggest REAL wellness as an art form. How better to conclude a commentary on art, sustainability and wellness than Ingersoll’s own summation in “Art And Morality” in 1888?
Art in its highest forms increases passion, gives tone and color and zest to life…Art creates, combines, and reveals. It is the highest manifestation of thought, of passion, of love, of intuition…Art civilizes because it enlightens, develops, strengthens, ennobles. It deals with the beautiful, with the passionate, with the ideal. Every brain is a gallery of art, and every soul is, to a greater or less degree, an artist. The pictures and statues that now enrich and adorn the walls and niches of the world, as well as those that illuminate the pages of its literature, were taken originally from the private galleries of the brain. The soul — that is to say the artist, compares the pictures in its own brain with the pictures that have been taken from the galleries of others and made visible. This soul, this artist, selects that which is nearest perfection in each, takes such parts as it deems perfect, puts them together, forms new pictures, new statues, and in this way creates the ideal. To express desires, longings, ecstasies, prophecies and passions in form and color; to put love, hope, heroism and triumph in marble; to paint dreams and memories with words; to portray the purity of dawn, the intensity and glory of noon, the tenderness of twilight, the splendor and mystery of night, with sounds; to give the invisible to sight and touch, and to enrich the common things of earth with gems and jewels of the mind — this is art.