I didn’t come up with that phrase; one of my permaculture teachers did. During one of those feast-like lunches we shared at the Regenerative Design Institute in June 2011, I had been wondering aloud (well, maybe “whining” is more accurate) about whether I was ever going to find a happy and productive convergence between my seemingly disparate personal and professional interests. In response, she just smiled enigmatically and said: “Stack your passions.”
Permaculture folks will know that she was playing with the permaculture principle of “stacking functions,” which essentially means making one element in a system serve many purposes. A classic example is a tree, which gives shade, yields building materials, prevents erosion, serves as a wind break, shelters wildlife, draws water from deep in the ground closer to the surface. Similarly, stacking passions is about finding those things that get you fired up and support your other passions and are in alignment with your values. What those things are differs from person to person.
I may rave here about spinning and dyeing wool, or about making cheese, or about goats (oh, just you wait until I get to goats!!). In my enthusiasm, I may give my readers the impression that I think a simple and sustainable life necessarily involves doing these things. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I may have fallen in love with these particular crafts and obsessions. Yes, I think other people might enjoy them too. But I realize that making clothes from scratch, for example, is not everybody’s thing. I am not trying to get everyone to start spinning wool. I want everyone to find the aspects of sustainable living that get them really, really excited and inspired, and then do those things, and inspire others in turn.
Maybe tanning hides, or learning blacksmithing, or building things out of salvaged materials is the thing that knocks your socks off your feet. Maybe you’d like to experiment with making your own wine and beer and mead. Maybe you’re a bicycling enthusiast and want to advocate safe and plentiful bike paths in your city. Maybe you’re really good at tinkering and fixing things at home, and will enjoy the challenge of auditing your water and energy usage and then finding ways to cut both in half. The point is: the sustainable way of life — whatever that means to you — is only sustainable if you really enjoy it and care about it. Only that can give you the stamina to really sustain those activities and habits in the long run, to make them second nature to you, and then get you to move on to the next adventure that tickles you. Have fun finding what that is. Stack your passions.