Monbiot and how humans still don’t know who we are

George Monbiot, the acclaimed British writer, recently wrote a review of the book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change in which he points out the many disturbing social, political, and economic trends that seem to be making us less able to deal with climate change than more so. But there is a way out, he says: “Over the past few years, there has been a convergence of findings in different sciences: psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Research in all these fields points to the same conclusion: that human beings are, in the words of an article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals”. This refers to our astonishing degree of altruism. We possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare, and a peerless ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/09/george-monbiot-how-de-we-get-out-of-this-mess

Now George Monbiot is a good, trying kind of person, very urbane and a fine writer, but it amazes me how he (and we in general) constantly have to pat ourselves on the back about how amazing we are. We have being doing this obsessively since the Renaissance. Can we not give it a rest already? Are are so insecure that we constantly have to pump ourselves up?

I don’t know what kind of experiments led to these findings of our extreme specialness but I can just about guarantee that they were all designed with human capacities in mind. We don’t know enough about the emotional life of other animals to begin to measure their altruism. In my experience most cows are kinder to each other than most humans. But we can barely see them as emotional beings. And this is a problem, because if we can only see ourselves we can’t see the inherent value of non-human beings.

Monbiot goes on to talk about how the way out of our downward spiral is to rebuild community and connection, and I am not arguing with that at all. Rebuilding local communities and social connections among humans is critical, but in order for it to really work we need to see beyond the purely human realm into the life of the places where we live, and all of the non-human lives that are an inherent and necessary part of those places.

Before the wind consumes us

Watching news about Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma enthralled and terrified viewers.  Part of me felt safe and secure knowing I lived far away and my family wasn’t in the path of these dangerous, record setting storms.  Part of me felt worried for those who were.  Part of me felt disgusted by voyeurism of the media prying into people’s lives asking them “How do you feel about your home being destroyed, losing all your possessions?”  It’s really sad to think that climate change only attracts our attention when it causes devastation, instead of discussing how to respond to this threat.

It has become apparent that even educated, environmentally conscious people who take climate change seriously are unwilling to make the kind of changes in their lifestyle that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use. Some educated but less affluent Americans express an interest in sustainable living but can’t afford to make the changes: i.e. buy the energy efficient home, add the solar panels, or purchase land on which to grow food.  There are far too many people who deny climate change or deny that it is caused by humans.

Influential people that trust in the market want to “grow” the economy and maintain the status quo, because it benefits them financially to believe this.   Even the recent damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has benefited the economy by boosting car sales.  Unfortunately, the under-educated, underemployed Americans that believe fake news, voted for Trump, eat nutritionally poor food, and have terrible health problems will suffer the most from weather related disasters but have the least understanding about what is happening and how it will affect them. It seems that there are very few families educated, affluent, environmentally conscious, and willing to change their lifestyle; to be frugal, simple, and less carbon consuming/polluting.

I am reminded of the fable about the frog and the pot of water.  Put a frog in a boiling pot of water and it will jump out.  Put a frog in a cold pot of water, turn on the heat and the frog will sit in the pot until it boils to death.  When it comes to the effects of our changing climate humans appear to be sitting in a cold pot of water and thinking there’s no need to jump out!  If we are so smart, why aren’t we smart enough to see what is happening and act?  Why don’t we act before the storms, floods, and wildfires threaten us?

Human history has seen great advancement.  The development of agriculture led to human population expansion and urbanization. Urbanization led to the industrial revolution; intensive exploitation of resources due to the invention of machines powered by fossil fuels. The age of reason led to the age of science. Science, technology, and the multitude of follow on technical inventions led from the industrial revolution to the computer and information revolution. And here we are…rapidly developing self-driving cars, artificial intelligent machines, the network connected world of things, and cyber warfare. Will humanity survive the challenges we face?  Can we survive the current era of extinction?

I think the reason people are unwilling to change their lifestyle to counter climate change is because of an inability to recognize our dependence on the culture we’ve created. Like an anteater that evolved a specialized nose making them totally dependent on eating ants (thus as the ants go so goes the anteater), humans have become adept at using and depending on fossil fuels and technology. Humans are increasingly moving into urban centers, dependent on importation of food, energy, and all the other resources needed for survival. We depend on jobs to acquire money to buy goods and services.

We are totally dependent on the culture we’ve created, and our culture is totally dependent on the technology and cheap energy that maintains it. We in the West, the humans who consume the most carbon, have lost the ability to make or fix the homes in which we live. We live in buildings that are climate controlled, drive about in climate controlled automobiles, and buy the food and supplies in climate controlled stores (or increasingly shop on line). Our lifestyle is supported by a system of which we have little understanding. Our culture and technology are making us less resilient, less able to recover from the disasters we are increasingly experiencing.

The problem is that we are losing touch with the natural world we depend upon and the dangers we face from climate change. We don’t understand how our food production system works, how food is grown, processed, and shipped from distant places. We don’t understand the connection between soil, water, organic matter, microbes, and long term food production. We don’t understand the connection between the food we eat and our health problems. We don’t understand how our furnace and air conditioner work. We don’t understand how or where the energy comes from to run our furnace or air conditioner. We have very little understanding of the limits in the resources our lives depend upon.

We don’t pay attention to how our political choices affect the government we get, one that is increasingly hostile to the less fortunate, the elderly, the sick, the displaced and downtrodden.  Some of the people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home.  We are losing the ability and the desire to communicate across the political and economic chasms that divide us one from each other; the powerful vs powerless, the rich vs poor, black vs white, man vs woman, etc.

Science and technology has spawned an information industry that is profiting by selling us a constant barrage of electronic mental stimulus.  We spend most of our time connected to others through electronic media that makes us less thoughtful and more reactionary.  The information technology is collecting vast amounts of information about us in order to facilitate consumerism, while stripping away the very meaning of privacy.  We are in danger of losing what it means to be humane.

Perhaps like the anteater our evolutionary path has led us down a dead end. Our neural networks, imagination, and need for social connections have turned into the path of hyper electronic connectivity, imaginary worlds, and fake or titillating news that will keep us enthralled and addicted 24/7 and unable to see the bus before it runs us over.  Perhaps its time we change, before we face the wind that consumes us.

Honoring the past and the lessons we learned

Humans haven’t always been ignorant of how our world and our civilization worked.  I was intrigued by this image of a church in Houston Texas recently flooded during Hurricane Harvey.  The picture above is of the old First Baptist Church of Orange, Texas completed and dedicated on September 14, 1915.  The architect is not known.  The First Baptist congregation has built newer buildings in the years since and the current building may be sold to the city and demolished to make way for new development.  What I found striking about this picture was the main floor was well above the flooding from Hurricane Harvey because it was built well above flood levels.

Perhaps the people of Houston built this church in response to the Great Galveston Hurricane, known regionally as the Great Storm of 1900, a Category 4 storm that made landfall in Galveston on September 8, 1900. A storm surge of 15 ft (4.6 m) washed over the long, flat island-city, which was only 8 ft (2.4 m) above sea level, knocking buildings off their foundations and destroying over 3,600 homes.  The disaster ended the Golden Era of Galveston, as the hurricane alarmed potential investors, who turned to Houston instead. The whole island of Galveston was subsequently raised by 17 ft (5.2 m) and a 10 mi (16 km) seawall erected. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1900_Galveston_hurricane]

On September 17, 1947, a Category 4 hurricane struck southeast Florida, generating an 11-foot storm surge at Palm Beach. The seawater at Palm Beach on that date reached the highest recorded level, even topping a 9.8-foot storm tide generated by the “Lake Okeechobee Hurricane” of 1928. Both of these storms generated high enough storm surges to inflict substantial damage along the coast.


Hurricane damage at the Seacrest Hotel – Delray Beach, Florida. 1947. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/38352>, accessed 8 September 2017.

The beach in the photo above is damaged severely, but the building looks intact.  Why is there so little observable damage to the building?  Why are the trees still standing with palm fronds intact?  Could it be that the walls of the building were built thick enough and strong enough to resist the wind; that the palm trees growing in sand instead of surrounded by concrete sidewalks had better root support?

It is so easy to find information about the past, old ways of building that may be more resilient than newer ways.  Permaculture, shorthand for permanent culture, teaches sustainable ways of producing food, building homes and communities, ways to conserve and reclaim land from desert, replant forests.  We do have ideas.  Humans are very good at surviving climate change.  Think of how many ice ages our ancestors survived!  We simply need to remember what we have forgotten…that life is a hard won endeavor not an entitlement.

 

Stepping stones across a stream

Spirituality came easy for me, being ‘normal’ was hard.  As a child I was allowed to wander alone in the woods, old farm buildings, pasture, and along the creek.  We lived in the small house on my grandparent’s farm, while my grandmother and uncle lived in the big house.  I would tell my mother that I was going over to Grandma’s house and then head off exploring.  Thinking back on it I realize how odd that a four year old would be left alone to her own devices, especially one that tended to be on the adventurous side.

I remember one beautiful sunny day sitting on the sand along the creek entranced by the sound of flowing water and bird song.  I remember being intrigued by the concept of God I’d heard about in church.  I was curious about what this God might be.  The sunlight was reflecting off the water and it seemed to dance as it sparkled.  The longer I watched it the more mesmerizing it was.   At some point I began to see the sunlight as simply energy, and then as I shifted my focus I could see that the water itself was the same energy.  As I continued to shift my focus closer and closer, I could see that everything I looked at was all made up of this same energy.  The sand on the beach, my foot, my leg, my body, everything around me, the entire world, was made up of this energy.  And I thought, “Oh, this is God”.

Right at that moment it was like my mind opened up and I could see what was really true.  Taylor’s phrase “seeing behind the curtain” is probably a good analogy.  With the realization that everything was energy and this energy was God, I felt/heard an answer… “Yes”, and at the same moment I was filled with a feeling I can only describe as God smiling upon me.  I felt truly and completely loved, “a child of God”.  That awareness has never left me.

Throughout my life I’ve had other ‘mystical’ experiences; things scientists would say are not reproducible.  I’ve spent years when I struggled to understand what my life was meant to be, what I should be doing with my life.  I’ve gone in many missed directions, and had to retrace my steps.  When I learned how to quiet my mind and strengthen my concentration through the practice of meditation it helped me to calm the storms whirling in my life.

Over time, my understanding of “God” has matured and changed.

Theism focuses on an entity labeled God/Allah/Brahma etc.  I think we go through a phase of human development, a time when we need a spiritual ‘parent’ to guide and protect us.  This was the time I prayed to my Heavenly Father/Divine Mother for guidance and support.  Non-theist religions look inward at personal development, letting go of ego identity.   This was the time when I worked to understand “who am I?”

I’ve come to see that at the heart of every religion we are taught to follow moral precepts, how to live a good life, treat others decently.   Unfortunately, there are many who misuse religious belief as an excuse for atrocities.  This is so sad to see!  I think of the world’s religions as paths like the spokes of a wheel, all leading to the center.  Life spins around and around at the periphery, where we are searching for meaning and answers.  Now and then we reach the center, the calm where the storm ends or rather a place from which we can view the storm as opposed to be caught up in it.

I think each of us is on a journey, finding our own personal authentic spiritual truth.  For me the path I followed explored many different religious teachings from Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, and Buddhism.  For others, one path is sufficient.  Every path taught me in some form to have “Reverence for all life”, to respect life, to love others as well as my self.  For me the truth is  that life is sacred, every person every creature is sacred and spiritual.  I think for some of us it is easier to see the sacred or spiritual in the beauty of the natural world.  It is harder to see the sacred in the messy and sometimes painful human world too often filled with greed, anger, hatred, or violence.  Seeing the sacred requires that our “eyes and heart” are open.

There is that Zen saying “Before enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water”.   When we are fortunate enough to see behind the curtain, we come back and the mundane world looks the same, but now we know there is a curtain.  Look long enough and the curtain itself is revealed as ephemeral, there is no true separation.  It’s all energy, it’s all sacred, it’s all mundane, and it’s all here for us to experience in a myriad of ways, every moment of every day, as ‘children of God’.   Life is a mystery we accept, not explain.  Words like spiritual or God are not the whole truth, for “the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”…  Words and ideas, secular or sacred, will never capture the entire truth, no matter how reproducible or how much we believe them to be true.  They can only ever be stepping stones across a stream.

keep your eyes and heart open, you never know what you’ll see

taking off on the idea of communication without words by using words has a certain charm, just like having a secret channel on the oh so public net.

willingness… first i am honored to be included in a conversation with a couple of no doubt troublemakers ornery enough to challenge the capacities of the previous herd enough to be banned from that digital island.  without knowing any particulars sometimes it is not productive to try to describe colors to the colorblind.  it’s not their fault and time is short. will try and live up to the spirit animasoul implies and speak from the heart as we get to know each other.

the world of the possible… there have been times when i’ve been allowed to “see behind the curtain” (if we were in wizard of oz land), more precisely seen something beyond the levels of education and understanding that i had  been exposed to and absorbed. Raised in a science based family where direct observation and repeatability were the required cornerstones of the world view,  many times some of the more rigid precepts have crumbled in moments, and each time i was left feeling that i had been allowed, priviliged actually, to see the inner workings of an entirely different world.

an example… many years ago 5 of us were fishing about 125 miles offshore  in an antique wooden vessel built in 1927.  she was a classic hull but with that age came the necessity of having seven primed pumps running continuously in order to keep her afloat. Before we sailed i discovered that there was going to be a total eclipse visible from the area we were bound. Normally might have been able to use the dark glass in a welding helmet to look directly at it but this vessel did not have that equipment so put one of the small glass plates in my seabag.

If i remember correctly it was the time of full moon, the tides normally strong there, now ferocious with the moon,  the old girl did not have a lot of horsepower. The trawl gear tangled and snarled repeatedly, culminating in an hours long repair on the morning of the coming afternoon eclipse. I decided to have some fun with the young Portugese shipmate Junior who had been at the wheel when the disaster occurred, humor often helps to break the monotony of long or difficult trips, bad weathers etc.  i told him that because of his lack of attention earlier there was going to bring more bad luck later in the day. He was going to pay for it!

the time came and it began to darken. Junior had the wheel again so out of sight on the stern i checked progress with the glass seeing that initial bite out of the side of the sun, and proceeded to let him know his time was coming. Ever so slowly the early afternoon sky darkened. it seems to take forever, then finally that eerie almost darkness of totality with the purple ring of flames. He looked at the sky but could not see the sun, Finally i let on about the eclipse and gave him the welding glass.  Meanwhile i turned to look around and was imobilized at what was going on. Struck dumb then yelled for him to stop looking at the sun.

For as far as you could see in every direction giant blue tuna were leaping out of the water, dozens of them, twisting and turning. Then they were running at high speed along the surface and launching themselves toward the sky over and over. Shear exuberance.  Tail dancing to the perfect alignment. A celebration of absolute magnificance.  Pure joy !

All too soon it stopped, they disappeared.  all of them. Speechless, the joke was on me.  I was ashamed, making a poor attempt at demonstrating a little knowledge, when the larger truth was that this was the special time of celebrating a holy communion of Joy…

Were they concious? how could they be leaping repeatedly into the sky and not know what they doing? were they self aware?  self concious ? or is that a peculiar affliction of the hominids, putting actions into verbal thoughts, putting thoughts into sounds about actions, the difference between music and singing, and reading printed text about music.

a little lesson about what we think we know

 

 

Finding each other instead of our self

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”   D. H. Lawrence.

Michelle wrote : That kind of acceptance of the world is an amazing thing to contemplate.

Somewhere along the road to finding deeper spiritual meaning in life I was taught to believe the path to self-improvement required looking inside and finding my true “self”.  My inner self was unique, separate from others around me.  Only in finding my true self could I find the way to improve my life.  But over years spent looking inward I’ve come to realize the faulty premise of this idea is the existence of a separate ‘true’ self.  There is no separate self.  There is only awareness of being alive, in relation to others.

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh wrote an article titled “Forget mindfulness, stop trying to find yourself and start faking it.”  Puett teaches Chinese Philosophy at Harvard.  They wrote ‘We are multifaceted, messy selves who develop by looking outward, not inward. Our personalities are formed through everything we do: how we interact with others, our reactions to things, the activities we pursue. Each of us is a complicated being bumping up against other complicated beings all day. Each encounter draws out different aspects. Who we are consists of behavior patterns and emotional ruts we’ve fallen into over time – but that means we also consist of numerous possibilities of what we can become.”  Dr. Puett summarizes these ideas in a TED talk [Why it’s better to stop searching for your true self | Michael Puett | TEDxNashville].

I’ve come to realize the validity of his message, perhaps the same thinking D.H. Lawrence expressed in the quote above.  When we look at the world we  experience as being connected to instead of divided from others, life emerges as a flow of energies ever-changing and dynamic.  We stop feeling that we are separate and divided from others.   Each moment who “I” am is changing…my feelings about what is happening are changing, my thoughts and ideas about what is happening are changing, and my relationship with others is changing.  The belief that there is an eternal “I”, distinct and separate from others is false.  We are not something separate from the world we live in.  Others around us are not something to conquer or overcome, to win against in competition.  We feel most alive through our connections with others.  Our relationships give the richest meaning to living.

The bird does not feel sorry for itself, because it does not see it’s self as separate.  There is no “self” for whom to feel sorry.  There is only the cold, the branch, and the release into death.  That kind of acceptance is an amazing thing to contemplate!

Unexpected Acquaintances

I was walking behind the barn recently and spotted these large shelf mushrooms growing on an old log. I looked them up and found they are probably a type of inedible polypore, a family of wood decomposers.  That makes sense because of where they were growing. What struck me was their distinct funnel shape, which allows them to catch rain water and direct it towards their base.  I suppose seeing a mushroom more than a foot wide also made them quite distinctive.

Ever since this brief encounter I have been thinking about mushrooms and mycelium.  I even had a dream about mushrooms and when I awoke I felt a strong desire to read more about fungi so that I could understand them better.  Years ago I bought a book entitled “Mycelium Running, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World” by Paul Stamets.  Now I feel impelled to start reading it, a strong desire to know more about the fungi that live in the woods and soil around my home.

This unexpected encounter makes me want to reach out and connect with this form of life, and perhaps the feeling is mutual.  I know that may sound strange, but perhaps strange is how we would describe communication with another species.  And why don’t we believe that life around us might try to connect with us?  Aren’t we as much a part of their world as they are a part of ours?  Isn’t that what anima/soul is all about, connecting with others as we explores the world around us?

Most humans disregard communication with non-humans because we don’t think plants or animals are intelligent.  We often disregard the feelings or consciousness of others.  Feelings are too subjective, improvable, and unscientific!  We only consider communication valid if it comes in the form of speech, sounds that are made in a pattern of words that we can understand.  Animals and birds communicate with sound but not in a language we understand.

Plants, fungi, and microbes communicate chemically in ways that the cells of our body can understand.  Researchers have found that microbes on our skin ‘talk’ to and teach our skin cells, train our immune system to recognize pathogens.  Microbes in our gut ‘talk’ with intestinal cells influencing digestion.  Perhaps the question we need to ponder is “How would life communicate with us if it didn’t use the language or made the sounds we understand?”

As we move through a world made up of climate controlled, human designed spaces, how can we expect to encounter other life forms?  If you were born blind and deaf, can you imagine how difficult it would be to learn to speak and communicate? By staying within the safe, comfortable spaces of home, car and office are we not limiting our ability to develop communication skills with life other than human?

Imagine a world ‘out there’ that is full of life, waiting for you to encounter it. What acquaintances might you discover in a walk through the woods, on a path beyond the edge of grass?  What would other forms of life tell us if we could only be patient enough to listen without expectation? What might we learn if we ‘listened’ with our feelings and empathy, and not just our ears? What might our heart hear that our head missed?

I wonder if other species of life on earth are aware of the extinctions occurring, of the climate that is changing.  Are we aware of how we affect the world with our application of chemicals to lawns, where our sewage goes when we flush the toilet,  the air pollution that spews from our vehicles and buildings?  What might the other species on earth try to communicate to humans if only we could understand?

Welcome to Anima/Soul

It’s a work in progress.
I’m still figuring out how WordPress and this particular web theme works.
But what I’d like is for this to be a place to talk and think together about how we can see ourselves and the world differently. More accurately, better. How we can break down some really out-dated barriers between the human and the not-human, nature and not-nature, the spiritual and the worldly, between you and me. How we can find and nurture commonality (same-ness amid difference) not just among humans, but among human and non-human. How we might assemble the bits and pieces of a way of life with staying power – the shards of pottery, the foot-prints in the dust…
What would you like to see here? What would you like to talk about?

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