I recently spent a few days in a beautiful redwood forest, and though we were basking in a ‘forest bath’ of California coastal temperate forest, our minds and hearts were focused on the infamous rainforests of the Amazon. I was gathered with the staff of Amazon Watch, an international NGO that works to support indigenous rights and protect the Amazon. As I immersed myself in the wilds of the forest and the brilliant minds and bright spirits of this team of forest defenders, I found myself feeling a new level of connection and oneness. It was a connection to myself and my purpose, to those around me, and to all living things. As I was soon to learn, I was experiencing a taste of what is known in the Amazon as ‘Buen Vivir’.
Buen Vivir or “living well” is a central concept for the Kichwa people in Ecuador as well as the Ashanika in Peru, and for many indigenous communities throughout the Amazon and the Andes. It points to much more than just quality of life. In fact, it represents the ideas of living in balance, harmony and respect, inside oneself, with one another and with all that is alive. The concept is also present in the Phillipines, the forests of Asia, and for other peoples who live in connection with the wildness of Planet Earth.
As my rainforest friends explained, in the experience of Buen Vivir, rather than seeing humans at the center of it all, humans are a part of nature, one with the whole. We experience happiness, life is plentiful and we recognize that every part of the world around us is sacred, important, worthy of respect. When we are ‘living well’ we dedicate time for our own personal growth and reflection, we spend quality time with family and friends, we spend time in nature and in prayer. Perhaps this sounds like a contrast to the frenetic way we live our lives in western urban culture.
My introduction to the concept of Buen Vivir came in the midst of a conversation about how we can help to protect the Amazon, and the important role it serves as the ‘rain machine’ for the planet. To help safeguard the Amazon and all the special wild places, it seems like we’ll need to redefine for ourselves what ‘progress’ and ‘success’ look like, and living well sounds like a big part of the answer.
Living well is plentiful living, full of actions that help us cultivate our spirit and find equilibrium with nature and our community. Now that would indeed be progress and success. And while we know different things make different people happy, Buen Vivir offers a chance to act in ways that makes us all collectively happy, never pursuing our own happiness and success at the expense of another.
And so, inspired from the introduction to this idea, I’m asking you to join me in the challenge of living well during this month of August. How can you embody Buen Vivir in your life? What can you do to experience this and help make it possible for others?