Nourishing an unhindered spirit
Growth is a complicated word in American consciousness. A dichotomy exists between two kinds of growth: the endless growth of productivity and the growth of the human spirit. Work, consumption, and productivity underpin capitalism as an economic system: each person brings their own value and expands on it, working their way up the ladder as high as their merits allow. Capitalism is a flawed system for many reasons, but the false promise of endless growth is one of the most harmful to the human psyche.
The remedy to many of the ills of this “growth” mindset is, ironically, to do the opposite of what is expected. Get away, take a break, meditate. Stop being productive in order to be more productive. Nourish the soul in order to do damage to it again.
While stepping back for a moment is healthy and necessary within this productivity-centric system, anyone who has ever returned to a job they hate after a week vacation can tell you it is a temporary fix. Even on a smaller scale, the concept of the “Sunday Scaries”— that anxiety that accompanies Sunday afternoons as you gear up for the week— shows just how broken this system is.
Not only is the damage transparent, but the promise of unlimited growth potential through productivity is proven false by taking its terms to their fullest extent. There are only so many natural resources, so much land, so many landfills that exist or can exist before it becomes a threat to the planet. Only so much damage can be done to the Earth before it begins to reclaim itself.
The question that starts to pull the promise apart is simple: where does endless growth grow to?
Growth, in this sense, is harmful and destructive, to humans, to society, and to the planet. It stands in stark contrast with the most beautiful kind of growth there is: growth of the human spirit. Seeing yourself and others reach breaking points, only to overcome and conquer them on the way to the next level of the journey.
This kind of growth gives strength and resilience, builds fortitude and wisdom, and allows the truth of the human spirit to flourish. You can be, as Marcus Aurelius asserts in Meditations, like “a blazing fire [that] makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”
Human growth occurs during difficult times, when obstacles have been thrown into the path, when “aha!” moments help connect the pieces of the path forward. It also happens in the day-to-day, by building habits that allow you to be the person you want to be— making choices, studying ancient wisdom, sharing meaningful conversations with loved ones, self-reflecting with a mirror, journal, or on a walk. All lend themselves to true, sustained human growth.
This growth also fulfills the false promise of productivity: the human spirit can grow endlessly. In stark opposition to the ongoing endgame of late-stage capitalism, the human spirit does not have an endgame. There is always something more to learn, some action to undertake, some practice to be had. Once you take a step back and recognize that your spirit was being nourished by some reading, or a conversation, or a podcast, you’ll notice an almost insatiable appetite for more.
This, more than endless productivity, can give life some meaning. Protecting that appetite and nourishing the spirit is of the utmost importance. When you get to the end of your life, are you going to say “I wish I had sent more emails, answered more calls, or wrote more memos”? Or are you going to say “I learned and grew, spent time with my loved ones, and tried to add real meaning to life.”
Growing the spirit adds true value to your life and the lives of those around you. It cannot be consumed, nor can it be hindered.
Edited by Jeremy Harr and Abigail McKay Cherry