One of my early entrepreneurial chapters was a landscaping, hardscaping, and property maintenance business. I had just graduated college with a pre-law poli-sci degree, but was simultaneously realizing, quite inconveniently at the point of this life milestone, that I actually couldn’t stand being indoors and working in an office 9-5. I had mowed lawns and experimented with easy landscaping jobs on the side throughout high school, so it was natural for me to roll back to my “alma mater” to buy some time while I figured out what was next. I convinced a bank to loan me $10K with a bunch of fake lawn-mowing contracts, and Grassroots Lawncare was born.
It was a moderately successful endeavor. I made just enough to pay my bills. I had to do all my own equipment maintenance though, and what were supposed to be relaxing summer nights spent on a porch with a beer taking a load off from a hard day’s work, were instead routinely spent rolling around in the dirt with the deck of my 10-year-old Craftsman ride-on lawnmower, covered in green chlorophyll and black grease, bloodying my knuckles and swearing as I replaced rock-damaged blades and spent pulleys that I could never seem to keep up with.
I learned many things the hard, old-fashioned way during that phase of my life, one of which was about installing lawns. (Incidentally, it was the painfully unsustainable installing of lawns that led me to despise this work and later abandon the business.) But here, let me save you 3 years of learning in Karen-time: Only, ever, install lawns in Spring or Fall. Yes, you can learn this in about 15 seconds with a simple Google query, but sometimes you just have to test the limits – to be REALLY sure, you know? I needed to discover everything first-hand. And so, many dollars and several dissatisfied customers later, I learned that you definitely can’t push the dates and plant once the dry season begins. You also can’t get away with “natural” moisture and skip the sprinklers, nor can you just bury the seed in the loam with a rake and forgo straw mulch. Thankfully, now I *definitely* know these critical pieces of lawn installation *for sure*!
And yet, there I was one dry, hot summer morning in late June, during a moderate drought, at 41 years old, with this lesson long since firmly under my belt, with a hair across my ass to finally get something green (in this case, sustainable, low-growing micro-clover) absorbing the dustbowl surrounding our cabin and buffering my freshly relocated raised vegetable and flower beds. I had a pile of loam, 10# of clover seed, and 6 bales of mulch hay that I had been slowly accumulating to do this project in the fall when the rains returned. But dammit, sometimes you’re just moved to get something done. So I broke my own cardinal rule. I spent the entire day on the tractor and on foot, moving loam into place, raking, seeding, and mulching in that dry heat. I rationalized that because it was a physically small area (only about 200 sq ft), I could simply redirect used bath water to be my irrigation source to compensate for planting in the wrong season.
This was about 5 weeks ago. Each morning since, part of my early morning routine has been to bring my 2-gallon galvanized watering pail to the bathtub, bail the used bathwater into it with a enamel bowl scoop (we use natural soaps so as not to be toxic to the young clover,) and proceed to water my fledgling greenery, 1 pail at a time. It takes about 8 pails as I’ve been taking fairly shallow, 16-18 gallon baths during the drought.
Well, somewhat miraculously…it worked(!). It could probably be a bit more robust had I followed best practice, but I am pretty excited and a little bit smug to report that my micro-clover indeed established. Alas, in the words of Kelly McGillis’ character Charlie in Top Gun, “The…encounter was a victory, but I think we’ve shown it as an example of what not to do.”
Regardless, during this laborious daily morning ritual, something else has happened. I have quite literally felt the weight of recycling scarce water to eek enough out to all the things that need it around our cabin. As we check our dug well each week during this drought and watch the water level drop, drop, drop…our bathing becomes less frequent and we flush the toilet with used bathwater. Dishes only get a sprinkle to rinse, and unfinished water glasses from dinner go into plant pots. My microclover skips watering on cloudy days when I know it can handle it. I’m experiencing in a very physical way just how scarce natural resources can be. Water in this case, when the hydrological cycle is busy doing funky things due to climate change that leave us very dry for weeks, sometimes months on end. But I’ve also seen it when our gravel bank ran out while we were building roads. And in parts of our forest ravaged by previous owners, as I watch it go through the snail-paced process of re-establishing. The time, energy, and money spent managing and mitigating these anthropogenic impacts has given me ample fodder to ponder the concept of resource scarcity. And I’ve been trying to reconcile these daily realities with the Abundance Mindset that I’ve been trained to believe is the healthy, self-actualized way to live.
You know the mindset. It’s the one first coined by Stephen Covey in his all-time business bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in direct contrast to the dreaded Scarcity Mentality. It’s the foundation of the 3-step ‘Ask-Believe-Receive’ process taught in the 2006 pseudoscientific documentary The Secret. It’s a close cousin of the mindset psychologist Carol Dweck inspired the nation with in her 2005 self-help bestseller Mindset: The New Psychology of Success in which she contrasts the limiting ‘Fixed Mindset’ with the aspirational ‘Growth Mindset’. It’s the mindset that we can have and create whatever we want in life, if we will only focus on and believe in the idea of Abundance. There isn’t only one single finite Pie and whosoever hath a bigger slice of The Pie shall therefore subtract from someone else’s slice, No. The Pie is unlimited. We can all have as much love, wealth, and success as we want, when we trust in the mystical powers of the universe and allow it to provide for us, allow ourselves to receive its bounty. Even my early mentors like Deepak Chopra and Oprah upheld this philosophy. Belief in Scarcity was an antiquated, reactionary mindset to be shed in the quest for enlightenment, in the quest to achieve the transcendent Abundance Mindset.
But this Abundance Mindset is, though most of those who espouse it haven’t yet seemed to reconcile it with this, also the mindset embodied by the tandem early-2000’s defense of fossil fuel extraction: “Never fear! Technology, the forces of free-market innovation, and human ingeniousness will save us from the end of fossil fuels. We’ll simply think and invent our way out of it. Oil will never really ‘run out’ because we’ll just keep dreaming up ever-more-efficient ways to use it.” And herein lies the pre-occupation of so much mind space for me: reconciling the Abundance Mindset to which I have generally subscribed, with the actuality of the finite nature of natural resources that I am living and experiencing and being challenged to make responsible decisions regarding daily.
I can not accept and do not believe that we can Abundance Mindset our way out of natural resource scarcity. It makes sense to me that love can be limitless. That success and perhaps authentic power can be limitless. But physical natural resources are different. A pile of dirt or a bucket of water can literally run out. And there are only so many banks of perfect finish gravel on this planet and so much water immediately available in the hydrological cycle. It is critical that in our quest for enlightenment and *spiritual* abundance, that we acknowledge and live by the very different Scarcity Mentality regarding the reality of precious, finite natural resources. This shouldn’t be processed by the individual as a low-vibrational, small-minded outlook rooted in an expired paradigm. It’s OK to feel limited and scarce in our use of things like water. WE ARE!
Relatively soon, probably in your lifetime, you will lose the ability to keep pretending that precious natural resources are unlimited. Although I am a conservationist at heart and in practice, here I would even adopt the preservationist rejection of the “natural resource” language, instead recognizing that these elements of our planet should not be viewed as “resources” at all, which implies that their only value is linked to their ability to serve humans. Rather, they should be viewed as our animate and inanimate eco-neighbors upon whom we are utterly dependent. Let’s not kid ourselves that they are dependent on anything we provide. They need us only to not ruthlessly, blindly exploit and abuse them to extinction and death. They do not need our presence to thrive. But the reverse is true. Let us remember that truth as we navigate our lawn (or garden, wild meadow, low-growing groundcover) installations, our building of roads (and vegetative buffers), and our harvesting of forests (sustainably and thoughtfully, with analysis geared toward the long-term.) Here, in the physical world, Scarcity Mentality is not a spiritual liability to be shed, but a critical, practical perspective to be attained in wisdom and humility.