There I was, hand-washing my clothes in a bucket in the front yard, when a friend of mine pulled into the driveway.
She’d been raised in the inner city of Detroit and still carried a little chip on her shoulder about that, feeling that because she’d been raised poor she’d been dealt a short hand. She took one look at me and quipped, “One woman’s voluntary simplicity is another woman’s poverty.”
I thought about it for a minute and replied, “I dunno, they’re both just ‘washing clothes,’ aren’t they?”
And, there you have it: utopia.
The word “utopia” comes from the Greek words for not and place. It means, literally, no place.
The concept of utopia as a literal space in time is unrealistic. It assumes permanence, which is the very enemy of sustainability, a goal that requires constant adaptation to new circumstances.
Most of these didn’t get much further than the paper they were written on. They had nice visions and great worldviews, but the pesky human ego always got in the way of any of them being implemented.
The ego assumes its own primacy. It believes that it’s separate from others and, therefore, somehow entitled to having its own way. So, there really can’t be a single vision for utopia, since a single vision necessarily comes from one person, thus making it ego driven. Any single vision is more invested in “me” than “we,” and a utopian vision requires a heavy investment in “we.”
Wash clothes, carry laundry
So, back to scrubbing clothes in the front yard.
If it’s either voluntary simplicity (desirable) or poverty (undesirable), then we’re stuck in the oversimplified world of dualities, which is the playing field for the ego. Utopia isn’t going to happen here.
If, on the other hand, it’s just washing clothes plain and simple, there’s a chance to create utopia.
Utopia is no place. Instead, it’s a state of mind—a perspective, a transformation of consciousness. A shift. It requires a change in social values from me to we. And, when groups of people begin to think in terms of we, utopian values emerge quite organically, naturally.
What it is
When something is allowed to be just what it is—nothing more, nothing less—without all of our judgments and opinions, we can begin to see the incredible beauty of the moment. Clarity ensues. Gratitude develops. When we’re clear and grateful, our hearts open. When our hearts open, we can step, quite naturally, into the kinds of values that utopias require: gift culture, resource sharing, care for the earth and all sentient beings, and doing less harm.
Utopias begin with the understanding that we each have the power of choice—that we can choose to create good lives. We’re not victims of our circumstances. Circumstances are simply circumstances. As long as we can choose, we are free to navigate circumstances skillfully.
But, this means that we have to get rid of a lot of old baggage, the noise in our heads. It’s about letting go of old, limiting belief structures; our comfortable neuroses and self-defeating habits and patterns; and our enculturation, conditioning, and childhood wounds.
None of these serve us in utopia.
Utopia is about this moment, right here, right now, in full awareness. It’s about what is happening, not what we think is happening. We have to take off our narcissistic glasses and see simply—just what’s there, without our ideas about it.
With that level of clarity, we can make sustainable, informed, other-inclusive choices that fuel utopian good lives.
Utopia begins within
Achieving utopia doesn’t begin with doing something out there. Sure, we can (and should!) get involved in our communities and offer our gifts and expertise. But, the real work starts in here—inside of ourselves. As we engage in introspection, looking inward, and contemplation, the gifts that we offer out there will spring from authenticity and not from ego. They won’t spawn divisive conflict, drama, exploitation, or greed. They will be nestled into a context of consensus, mediation, harmony, and generosity.
Utopia is only a breath away.
–Sherry L. Ackerman PhD., Transition Voice