Contribution And Legacy

Whole systems considerations on what’s worth doing

Feather In Rock

What do we leave behind? What are we contributing? And to what? Does it matter? These questions come to mind as I contemplate this image. Irrespective of the bird’s unconscious act of fluffing off a feather, it served as a contribution by triggering my aesthetic appreciation. And by thinking and writing about it, I’m paying it forward globally. It’s a kind of redemption—the bird’s contribution of a feather had—and continues to have—value. 

The feather could have been blown away in the wind, carried away by someone to use as a decoration or shape into a writing instrument. Or, it could have simply disintegrated. But when a human being finds beauty in some discarded living form, the locus of contribution becomes mental, a thought or image. In this instance, the feather’s form, texture and graded values enhanced by the rocks that frame it caught my eye as something beautiful, even evocative. 

Applying the idea of contribution and legacy to human beings, we leave behind our stuff, our belongings, the objects we made and acquired throughout our lives. Everything, including words on paper, images carved in stone and projections on electronic screens, has a limited lifetime. Eventually, all matter succumbs to the law of entropy.

Buddhists embrace the reality of “impermanence.” In the face of this, why do anything? Is there anything we can do to make a contribution that matters, one that might last beyond our lifetime? Certainly, the world doesn’t need another one of my photographs or contemplations. When asked what the world does need, the voice in my meditation responded, “The world needs human beings who are becoming more self-aware, more present, more virtuous and attending to their souls by engaging in whatever gives them joy.”

My readings in the social and physical sciences suggest that human evolution is advanced by individuals realizing their higher potentials—acts and expressions of love, compassion, empathy, altruism and so on. Whereas the physical evolution of life forms and planets is largely invisible and occurs over eons, the process of human evolution is currently evident in the breakdown and transformation of social and political systems.

Through decades of applying band-aid solutions to breakdowns, humanity is gradually learning what is not sustainable for either individuals or the planet. Given current trends, toxic thinking and behaviors will increasingly wreak havoc until the breakdowns affect us personally—or a critical mass of individuals affect a transformation of thinking and behavior that values quality of life over quantity of material goods and peak experiences, safeguards and promotes health and well-being, fosters stewardship of the living planet and the development of political and economic systems that function for the good of all—seven generations out. 

That seems like a tall order and a long prospect, but the time span can be tremendously shortened considering the gifts life has given us—creative intelligence, wisdom, compassion, capacity to love…— and using them constructively.

Individually, we can inquire: What am I contributing? What am I contributing to? Is it substantive? Constructive?  Am I just making someone else wealthy? Am I serving a system or agenda that’s ethical? Am I realizing my potentials, aligned with my inner guidance? What virtues do I want to express into the world? Am I contributing to the well-being of the planet? Am I the person I want to be, living a life that fulfills me? What will be my legacy? What would increase my daily dose of joy? These are fundamental whole-system considerations, critically important because we act according to what we think, and our actions contribute to the identity and experience of the whole. 

If Carl Jung is right about the “collective unconscious.  If Teilhard de Chardin is right about the “noosphere,” (the thinking envelop that surrounds the planet like an atmosphere). If Irvin Laszlo and the Theosophists are right about the “akashic field,” (where every thought is recorded and can be accessed) then every thought, word and deed is a contribution. Building or tearing down, they endure.

Nothing is lost, not even to time. Rather than being saddened by the reality of impermanence, these observations encourage us to engage more in activities and relationships that optimize potentials and expand consciousness. And what does that? Again, thinking and acting that brings us joy. Not pleasure or happiness. Joy is much deeper, more subtle, a sense of satisfaction and rightness that comes from being present and in the flow, attuned to inner guidance. 

We must become the change we want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian lawyer, ethicist

Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you.

T.A. Barron, Author of children’s; nature books


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)


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