Updated: Jun 5, 2021
Humans are the only species on this globe who need to pursue a livelihood to sustain themselves. Looking at the overarching history of evolution of livelihoods, one common purpose of it has been to create a better life for oneself and one’s family. In the long run, we created a variety of means to have a convenient and comfortable life. The Industrial Revolution along with the modern education system set even new aspirations regarding livelihoods. While life should be at the centre of any livelihood, we get a contrasting picture if we look at the world today. There is hardly any alignment between one’s livelihood and leading a happy and meaningful life. The pursuit of infinite economic growth has led us to a point where the liveliness in livelihoods has been left behind. In the search for a content life through livelihoods, we have created a world where mental health related challenges are increasing at a rapid pace. People hardly have any time left after long hours of work to spend with their loved ones. They hardly have any time and energy left to spend with their own selves even. While pushing for financial growth, the modern day industries and the work culture facilitated by them have ignored the spiritual and intellectual growth of humans, the very aspects which are fundamental to the growth of human society. In search of water in the desert, we have actually been following a mirage.
We, as a society, have been hypnotized by the dominant model of development. We live behind a wall. Our dreams and aspirations in life have been conditioned to see things in a unidirectional manner. But the real picture is hidden behind that wall, behind that flashy light which has blinded us. Climate change crisis is turning worse with each passing day. Economic inequality and the inequalities in consumption, distribution and accessibility of the resources is a worrying factor in the world. When these issues keep looming in a society which is already divided along the lines of race, religion, region, gender, etc. the picture becomes even more worrisome than we imagine it to be. These issues have not affected the lives of humans alone, but have already had adverse impacts on other lives on the planet. The last 200 years of this aspiration for “growth” has turned most livelihoods into deadlihoods.
The world, as we see it, is changing at a rapid pace. Technology is advancing every day with the intention of creating a better life for us. But we need to ask ourselves, how the “better life” we imagine is affecting other species, our environment and our surroundings. We need to question the idea of a better life presented by the dominant model of development. Does it really serve its purpose of creating a better world for all, or are we misguided by convenience and comfort? Perhaps, we need to collectively rethink and reimagine what a better world looks like. To do that, we need to critically engage with our past and present at both individual and societal level. A society with no sense of the past can have no sense of destiny. And what kind of society is it that has no sense of destiny? That has no need or will to evaluate itself and learn from its mistakes? We need to pause and ask how we intend to evaluate ourselves and how we wish to design the course of humanity in future.
I asked similar questions in 2010, but my education process was not able to give me answers. I was alone, searching for answers. But deep down, I had the feeling that there were many others like me who were on the same quest. Our education system prepares us to lead an individualistic and isolated life. It does not understand the significance of these questions. The system is built to design a career, not life. It is built to compete, not to collaborate. It is built to manipulate, control, and keep us away from what is important, from nature, and from our own selves. After 5 years of exploration, I started making sense of the education system and its flaws. I started making sense of bigger problems related to climate change, social injustice and economic inequality. At the same time, I had the opportunity to meet and visit some amazing individuals and communities who were intensively working on these issues. But hardly anyone knew about them, their work, and their vision for humanity. Most of them worked in isolation. I realized that the answers I was looking for myself and for the larger change were in the stories and work of these people. These were the people who challenged what had become normal for us. They challenged the mainstream notions of success, failure, money, education, etc. They questioned the notions of property vs. prosperity, hard work vs heart work and comfort vs. well-being. They had chosen community over corporate and ecology over economy. I realised these were the people we needed to celebrate. I wanted to tell the stories of these people so that we could see who the real heroes of our society are.
This thought led to the forming of the 52 Parindey project in 2015. When I had embarked on this journey, little did I know how this journey was going to shape me. All I had was faith and trust in myself and the universe. The 25,000 km long journey across the length and breadth of India transformed me, broadened my horizon, and gave me new lenses to see the world from. It gave me a vision, a purpose, a meaning to my life. While living with various people all over India for a week each, I found that they were truly alive. They worked where their heart resided, they served the community, and contributed to the well-being of the ecology in their own capacities. They were happy, content, and at the same time. were solving some of the world's most pressing problems in decentralized ways, through their chosen livelihoods and paths of life.
In the pursuit of Alivelihoods
While I was on the journey of 52 Parindey, a friend of mine, Rahul Hasija, introduced me to the term 'Alivelihood' for such livelihood paths. Slowly, the idea of alivelihoods started shaping in my heart. I was aware of its importance and its relevance in the present and future. The 52 Parindey journey gave me the insight that the purpose of a human economy is to care for all the people, beings and the earth. The true purpose is to support life. But somewhere along the line, we had forgotten it and assumed that its purpose was to make a few people rich and keep everyone else in bondage, and use the abundant earth for extraction of money. Meeting with those people made me realize that if we can wake up now, and do what is right, there is still a hope that we can regenerate the bountiful earth and bring back the liveliness in one’s being. For example, someone worked on butterfly conservation, someone on waste management, someone else was into natural farming, someone else’s attempt was in giving a voice to the most marginalized and socially deprived communities through theatre, and so on. There are thousands of such examples we can find around us, but we do not see them because the mainstream media and education system do not consider them as stories of success. For them success is only about getting rich or having power and authority.
As a community of people who are walking on a path to create a sustainable, equitable and just world for all, we find Alivelihoods to have the ability to regenerate our planet and make the one pursuing it to feel alive, joyful and content. It shifts the pattern from extraction and consumption of resources to conservation and regeneration of resources.
The journey towards Alivelihoods is a spiritual one, a humbling and motivating journey that makes one more conscious of the world. But often, it might be misinterpreted as passion. While following one's passion is an important aspect of any alivelihood, it is not limited to just that. To explore and understand the word Alivelihood, one has to peel the layers of oneself and understand the core of one’s being. It leads one to become a leader of their own thoughts, emotions, reactions and responses. It gives them a unified mission and vision in service of others and the planet. It is a path which defines the meaning of one’s life and provides a sense of truth and purpose. While passion also focuses on the self, it often leads to a self-centered life, but Alivelihood is inclusive in nature. It expands the understanding of the self and celebrates the co-existence and harmony with the rest of nature. The dream of working for a sustainable, equitable and just world forms its foundation. In its true sense, Alivelihood is not just another term to respond to global warming, climate crisis or social injustice. It is about leading an intentional life and a lifelong learning path to address the complex issues of sustainability and social justice at both personal and societal levels. It is a way to heal the planet and embrace humanity.
This philosophy of Alivelihoods is the foundation of my life and my work at Travellers’ University. I believe, as a society, we all need to come together and rethink development, rethink what is necessary for us to thrive as humanity. And I believe the philosophy of Alivelihood can serve us as a pathway to rethink and reimagine our future. It can serve us to connect with ourselves and people around us. At a deeper level, it can heal our fractured and broken connection with nature. Alivelihood is not the destination, but a journey towards constant learning and intentional living to create a better world for all beings. It is not a fashionable choice, but the need of our time to save humans and serve humanity.