On Being as Alive as You Can Be in the Circumstances at Hand A Process Philosophy of Flourishing
Jay McDaniel, March 26, 2020
Many people today suffer from one or some combination of one organization calls the three plagues: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. Helplessness is obvious to people suffering from unemployment, injustices, and disease. Loneliness is obvious to people suffering isolation from friends, family, and loved ones. Boredom is obvious to old people in nursing homes. Often but not always the plagues are combined. Not only individuals, but whole societies and cultures can suffer from the three plagues.
1. Flourishing is full aliveness.
Amid the three plagues, people yearn ever more intensely, not simply to survive, but to survive with satisfaction, to flourish. The flourishing need not be absolute. It can include degrees of dissatisfaction and yearning for greater satisfaction. The yearning, otherwise called hope, can itself be satisfying. Flourishing includes anticipation as well as memory, movement as well as stillness, bodily feeling as well as conceptual feeling, solitude as well as community. Most deeply is it a sense of being fully alive, given what is possible in the circumstances at hand. Full aliveness need not last forever in order to be worthwhile. It can last for a moment, for a day, for a year, for a decade. or some it can last even longer, as a quiet sense in the heart of all-rightness or well-being, even in times of uncertainty and suffering.
2. There are many valuable kinds of flourishing.
Economic flourishing (see #10 below)
Divine flourishing (see #12 below)
All are important, although one or another may be more important than others in different circumstances. If you are suffering from a disease, physical flourishing is very important. If you are lonely, emotional flourishing is important. If you lack clean water or air, ecological flourishing is very important. If your spirit is depleted, spiritual flourishing is especially important
3. Flourishing is not abstract. It is harmony and intensity as felt and experienced in daily life.
In each instance these forms of flourishing are “flourishing” because they embody and support what process philosophers call richness of experience or, alternatively, strength of beauty. These phrases name two qualities that can be enjoyed amid the vicissitudes of life, even in times of struggle and suffering: harmony and intensity.
Flourishing at any level, then, is the enjoyment of harmonious intensity or intense harmony, relative to the circumstances of life. Sometimes we humans have too much intensity and we seek harmony; sometimes we have too much harmony and we seek intensity. The ideal forever before us, partially realized, is harmonious intensity.
4. Flourishing includes empathy and creativity, neither to the exclusion of the other.
Harmony and intensity are not just states of consciousness; they are traits of a life well-lived. And they are not simply something we receive, although a spirit of receptivity is by all means a necessary feature of a harmonious and intense life. A particularly important kind of receptivity is empathy: feeling the feelings of others in caring ways and imagination yourself in their shoes in such ways. Additionally, harmony and intensity are found in creativity. The late philosopher Grace Boggs wrote: “A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.” The exercise of creativity is one way of flourishing, empathy with others is another way. At their best they go together.
5. All things -- not humans alone -- seek to flourish in their unique ways. All things seek to be fully alive.
A unique feature of process philosophy is that it proposes that the desire to flourish is built into the very nature of the universe at every level. Human beings seek to flourish, but so do other animals and living cells. Moreover, the desire to flourish did not begin with life on earth. Process philosophers believe that the energy within inorganic matter also carries within it yearning to flourish. Ostensibly “dead” matter is not really “dead.” It is vibrant energy seeking to find its own kinds of harmony and intensity, carrying within it both a restlessness and an impulse toward stability. A molecule, for example, is both restless and stable, and when combined with other molecules it can form a solid object – a mountain for example – which is itself both restless and stable. The whole of nature is alive with something like experience, say the process philosophers, which means that the whole of nature is in some way alive. As we humans seek to flourish, we take our place within, not apart from, the ten thousand things.
6. Flourishing has no age limit. Old people can flourish, too.
How human beings flourish in any given context is relative to what is possible in the context at hand. Possibilities for flourishing depend on age and circumstance. What it means to flourish at age 86 is different from what it means to flourish at age 66, which is still different from what it means to flourish at age 16.
In societies where youth is cherished and old age neglected it is important to remember the ways that elders can flourish. The Ten Principles of Elder Care developed the Eden Alternative illustrate how elders can flourish:
"The three plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom account for the bulk of suffering among our Elders.
An Elder-centered community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with people of all ages and abilities, as well as plants and animals. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living.
Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.
An Elder-centered community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care. This is the antidote to helplessness.
An Elder-centered community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.
Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit. The opportunity to do things that we find meaningful is essential to human health.
Medical treatment should be the servant of genuine human caring, never its master.
An Elder-centered community honors its Elders by de-emphasizing top-down, bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the Elders or into the hands of those closest to them.
Creating an Elder-centered community is a never-ending process. Human growth must never be separated from human life.
Wise leadership is the lifeblood of any struggle against the three plagues. For it, there can be no substitute." 
7. What is true of elders is true of all people at every age. Children and teenagers can flourish, too.
Not only elders, but also children and teenagers and adults of all ages need antidotes to boredom, loneliness, and helplessness. They need to enjoy new and surprising things, to feel and be connected with other people in a sense of community, to feel connected with plants and animals as well as people, to be and feel empowered in their own lives, and to be guided by wise leaders in non-authoritarian ways. The principles are practical means by which all people in all circumstances can flourish.
8. Flourishing is universal yet culturally differentiated. Different religions offer different way of flourishing.
People can believe different things, practice different religions, belong to different ethnic groups, and have different political philosophies, but all seek to flourish. All seek to be happy in a very general sense. Different religions and cultures flourish in different ways, and part of the joy of life is appreciating the differences. In order to understand and appreciate others in empathic ways, we need to be sensitive to how they might flourish or desire to flourish, even as their circumstances differ from our own.
9. Flourishing can be symbiotic. We can flourish together.
We humans can be enriched the flourishing of others and they can be enriched by our own. We can flourish together. The enjoyment of community need not be grounded in shared suffering alone; it can also be grounded in shared flourishing. This is the ideal of a beloved community. It is a community where people flourish together.
Process philosophers emphasize that, in our time, one of the most important ideals for flourishing available to any and all is that of an ecological civilization. An ecological civilization consists of local communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, inclusive, diverse, humane to animals, and good for the earth – with no one left behind. They are the building blocks of a kind of civilization that exhibits respect and care for the entire community of life. Human survival depends on the emergence of this kind of civilization and so does human flourishing.
10. Economic flourishing focuses on the flourishing of life, not ever-increasing GDP.
Many people consider economic flourishing very important, and rightly so. But economic flourishing is not about ever-increasing GDP. It is about the satisfaction of people's needs for essentials (health care, education, employment, housing, food) without overshooting ecological limits. It is about the flourishing of life, in local settings and in harmony with nature, which can and should flourish as well. One model of this is the economic system developed by Kate Raworth called doughnut economics.
11. The spiritual side of life is essential to all forms of flourishing and it is multi-faceted.
The emergence of ecological civilizations necessarily includes attention to the whole of life: economic, political, personal, and spiritual. In a certain sense the spiritual side is, or can be for some, a foundation for the emergence, as practiced in daily and corporate life. Spirituality includes forms of harmony and intensity that enrich human life and empower people to help build loving communities. The Center for Process Spirituality, borrowing from the world's most inclusive interfaith network, Spirituality and Practice, offers a spiritual alphabet for thinking about the spiritual side of flourishing.
12. Faith can include faith in the possibility of flourishing and trust in God as the Deep Flourishing.
Let “God” be a name for that dimension of the universe that holds all things together in empathic love and that is found throughout the universe as a lure to flourish. This mean that God is within each and every living being as its innermost desire to flourish even as God is also more than all things added together. Understood as empathic love, let “God” be a name for that side of the universe which is a great compassion: that is, a fellow sufferer who understands each and all. This side of the universe is enriched by the flourishing of creatures and also diminished by the plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. To the degree that we humans co-flourish with one another in caring ways, and co-flourish with the more than human world, we add to the harmony and intensity, the glory, of God. We can also sense, in faith, that there is something in the very life of God which is flourishing apart from our loneliness, helplessness and powerlessness, and which somehow transforms even these aspects of our lives into a tapestry beyond our suffering: a deep Flourishing. Process philosophers speak of this side of God as the harmony of harmonies and peace. We ourselves can feel it in faith, when our small selves drop away and we sense the wider horizons in which the universe unfolds. We live and move and have our being in a peace beyond our understanding, which is itself the flourishing of the universe itself.