Connecting inner and outer sustainability
Throughout my life I have been exploring what good life means to different people. Later on this interest focused on exploring how sustainable development as a blueprint for good life for humanity could work in different contexts and settings.
I´m especially interested in connecting outer sustainability processes and challenges with cultural and inner processes, because I consider this to be the missing link needed to facilitate the Great Transformation.
Close to nature
Growing up in Nõmme, a suburb of Estonian capital Tallinn, I had a village-like childhood. We had a large garden with tall pine trees and heather bushes. The forest with berries and mushrooms started just a stone's throw away and the seaside was not far either. My parents took me and my sister often to exhibitions, museums, theatre and hikes across Estonia. I spent a lot of time outside in nature playing and exploring the neighbourhood or drawing detailed pictures, reading and composing small books. Perhaps this personal close experience of being part of nature is why human-nature relationships have been so interesting to me in my later professional life.
Looking for answers
I observed that people sometimes act contrary to their best judgement, ideals and values and noticed that also about myself. So I began to wonder what drives us or holds us back, keeping us from living our best possible lives. I looked for answers by reading tons of books, practicing yoga and later through my studies in semiotics, cultural and political studies.
After working a couple of years as communication manager in the Estonian National Museum, I was inspired to try out empirical research. So I made my master thesis, followed by a short documentary, about the way of life and worldview of people at the Lilleoru centre in Estonia. There I also met my yoga teacher Ingvar Villido Ishwarananda and started practicing Practical Consciousness method for building inner literacy and self-management skills and caring for my personal sustainability. The membership of Lilleoru in the Global Ecovillage Network inspired me to continue studying sustainable development as a large-scale vision of good life.
Focus on sustainable development
To better understand the different aspirations and practices behind sustainable development, I moved to Germany and started my doctoral research in sociology. The sample consisted of 16 case studies of government and civil society approaches to sustainable development across Europe, including national and international actors. Through fieldwork and interviews I explored what sustainability meant for these stakeholders, what they perceived as problems and solutions for achieving a better future. It became clear that behind the seeming consensus, the underlying understanding of good life is often very different.
Urban development and teaching
In 2012 I started working for a sustainable urban development project District Future Urban Lab at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). In 2015 I began working at the Karlsruhe School of Sustainability, another project at KIT, where we helped to establish the first complementary study program on sustainable development at KIT. In 2015 I started teaching different courses on sustainable development and ways of life in German and English.
The relevance of cultural aspects and worldviews
Working with different stakeholders and groups over the years, I found that one of the biggest problems is the presumed consensus about what sustainable development is and where it should lead us. This seeming consensus leads inevitably to conflicts and misunderstandings, slowing down the overall progress. I found that the differences boiled down to different worldviews: what is our role as humans? What is our relationship to nature? Are we the captains of the "Spaceship Earth", fixing and controlling it as needed, or are we part of its intricate web of life without really knowing or controlling the "Mother Earth"? These perspectives can also be described as strong and weak sustainability stance.
I realised how dominant the quantitative and measurable aspects are when discussing and planning sustainable development. At the same time the qualitative, cultural, ethical and worldview-related issues are mostly side-lined and neglected. However, outer pressure is not enough to ensure long-term stable transformations. Understanding is needed for long-term motivation. Without becoming increasingly aware of our patterns of thought and behaviour and building our ability to consciously direct our choices and change our habits, we bounce back to old ways as soon as the pressure is lifted. We are stuck in our ways. So knowing how to live a better life does not necessarily translate into living it. How to bridge this gap between knowing and doing? How to become the change you want to see? We shared these questions with my colleague Oliver Parodi at the KIT, which is why we started to work on the Personal Sustainability book and teach respective courses.
The need for inner literacy
Usually we take the values and ideas that we were brought up with for granted. It is difficult to see beyond them (to transcend this paradigm). What we needed are methods for increasing self-reflexivity and building up inner literacy. Becoming aware of the processes hindering positive change is the first step towards changing them.
After being a high achiever for a long time I suddenly experienced a period where I was unable to change difficult circumstances and felt like a victim. Having been empowered and empowering others for a long time, I suddenly felt powerless and empty. I realized I had to build up my inner resources again. This is why now I talk about the "airplane principle" – first of all, we need to take care of ourselves and put on our own oxygen masks. Otherwise we can pass out and are no help for others. If you take care for yourself, you are able to take care also of others on the long run.
Methods for achieving personal sustainability
Based on my professional and personal experience, I see that developing personal sustainability is the key to facilitating the collective sustainability transformation. If the methods for achieving personal sustainability spread further, individual change will become collective change over time.
Through my journey I realized how to bridge the gap between knowing and doing. How to start walking my talk. How to become an agent of positive change powered by deep self-knowledge and skills.
I´m glad to share this knowledge and experiences with you to help you find clarity and reach a more stable well-being that does not come at someone else's cost. To find your personal sustainability.
Doctor of Sociology (Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany).
Master of Semiotics and Culture Studies (University of Tartu, Estonia).
Bachelor in Semiotics, Political Studies and Slavonic Philology (Uni Tartu, Estonia).
Teacher of different sustainable development issues at universities since 2015.
Teacher of the Practical Consciousness I-II courses since 2019.
Sustainability consultant since 2019.
Senior expert at Stockholm Environment Institute and senior researcher at Estonian Business School since autumn 2022.
Fluent in Estonian, English & German, communication level in Russian, basic understanding in French & Finnish.
Born in Tallinn, Estonia, lived and worked for 12 years in Germany, back in Estonia since autumn 2022.
Married for 15 years to a wonderful musician and guitar teacher Kristjan Tamm.
Mum of two creative kids.
Practicing yoga since 1998, Babaji´s Kriya Yoga since 2008.
Active volunteer for good causes since the student years ranging from film festivals to organising local clean-ups.
Author of many articles, next to academic articles mostly cultural criticism ranging from museology to film reviews (available only in Estonian).
Co-author of documentary "Normalne inimene" (in Estonian).
Passionate about the light, colours and sensations of Estonian nature, especially pine forests, seasides & swamps.
Fan of simpler living on the course to one planet living, seeking to be the change I want to see in the world.