Incremental changes

Creative commons

In permaculture design, one of the principles is to make the least change for the greatest effect. One of the reasons to do this is to ensure that one doesn’t overdo something–like I did while trimming my beard the other day which left me with some designer stubble rather than a full beard…Another reason, in my opinion, is because there can be great power in making an incremental change. Adding a single species of plant to a cultivated ecosystem can do a world of good if the right species is chosen for instance, bringing with it pollinators perhaps, attracting beneficial insects, or providing a yield of nutrient dense food. Sometimes a small change to a system can radically alter it.

Similarly, in our lives making incremental changes can provide enormous benefits over time. A few months ago a Canadian friend of mine posted something on his social media wall about how just giving up a daily coffee from a certain well known corporate coffee shop could pay big dividends if that money was reallocated from renting a large coffee for a couple of hours to purchasing a real asset or saving it. That made me think. What could I “give up” in order to reallocate some funds? The obvious thing to me was to stop buying organic ice tea or bottled water when I am out running errands. There is literally no reason for me to buy those products that add so may plastic bottle to landfills or require so much energy to recycle. I could simply make my own organic tea sweetened with local honey or simply take a jar full of water with a lid on it with me when I’m going to be out running around in the car. This one small change helped me to live more fully into my permaculture and theological values (these are intertwined in my worldview) and saved me a few bucks a week that I could reallocate to purchasing an asset. In my case I chose to buy micro-amounts of gold from Karat Bars International. Karat Bars Link

People often talk about starting new spiritual practices like prayer or meditation then fail to keep up the new discipline after a short, perhaps halfhearted effort to establish the new habit. This is an area where making an incremental change can be enhance our faith. When I was in seminary, I learned a technique called contemplative prayer, which is a form of Christian meditation. For many years, I had meditated sporadically without finding a rhythm to maintain a consistent daily practice. When we were instructed to try contemplative prayer as a form of spiritual formation, I decided to build a practice slowly. I began by setting the timer for only three minutes on a free contemplative prayer app on my phone that rings a chime at the beginning and end of a session. Each day, I would increase the time I was to meditate by one or two minutes until I built up to thirty minutes.

My practice was consistent while in seminary, but I began to allow inconsistency to creep in after I graduated so that some weeks, I would only meditate three days out of seven. This year, I decided that for Lent, I would get my meditation practice on track as well as add daily scripture reading to my Christian practice. Having this well defined time of the Lenten season was enough to help me focus my mind to become disciplined in these practices because I knew I could easily be disciplined for forty days.  I was able to develop the habit of daily meditation and scripture reading that I am now maintaining each day. I feel like I am living out my faith in a more genuine and robust way when I maintain this these habits. That has the residual benefit of helping me to feel better about my day-to-day activities, which has a positive effect on my mental health. That’s a lot of positive things from one small change.

Incremental changes and a certain degree of constraint can lead to a positive cumulative effect that when reflected on over time shows just how powerful those small changes and constraints can be. My Canadian friend pointed that out the other day in a video call to talk about some business matters. He said that a 1% change made over the course of a year has a yield of 365%. That idea really puts things into perspective for me. As a permaculturist I know that making the least change for the greatest effect is wise. As a theologian and practicing Christian, I have worked with this idea to enhance my spiritual life and walk with God.  In my household economy, I’ve made some small changes like starting to save in gold, refusing to buy plastic bottles filled with beverages, and in the past two weeks started baking my own bread instead of buying store bought. All of these small changes are having a positive affect on my life. What small changes are you desiring to make in order to live out your faith more deeply or to live more lightly on a sick planet?

 

I’m sure you can make them…

 

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