Monday, October 26, 2009
As should be obvious from my other posts, I've been learning a lot about the power of place. This is something that seems to be virtually ignored in our time, but an idea that has kept popping up over and over again throughout the ages. Most recently, in the 20th century, it went by the name of environmental determinism. Environmental determinism got a very bad reputation (and rightly so because it was often used to justify racism) and the whole concept of environmental determinism was just dismissed, which was really tossing the baby out with the bath water.
Now, I don't like the term "environmental determinism". I think the land influences us (and dramatically so) but not in a deterministic fashion. I prefer to think instead about propensities or potentialities held in the land, or even personality held in the land. What wants to express itself in one locale is different from what wants to express itself in a different locale. And what gets expressed is not only a region's unique flora and fauna and weather patterns and geological features, but also human culture, the collective "personality" of a local population, its unique cuisine, dialect, art, technology, products, wisdom, etc. The collective human "personality" of a region is just as much a product of the land as is its plantlife and wildlife. It springs forth from the local conditions.
A few years back I read Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Diamond seemed very concerned he might be accused of environmental determinism, what he proposed was really just that. His thesis was that specific geographical features of the land, in specific places in the world, gave rise to the domestication of animals, the rise of agriculture and settlements, the first city-states, etc. The lands which were conducive to the development of these things gave rise to successful empires which could then raid and maraud and colonize those other lands which were at a disadvantage. Those disadvantaged lands lacked many of the necessary features that Diamond believes gave rise to modern culture; they may have lacked domesticable species of animals, or lacked annual grains, or had geological barriers that prevented the spread of new technologies, etc.
So the spread of Western culture and the destruction of so many non-Western cultures, languages, histories, environmental resources, etc.--essentially the plundering of the rest of the world--looks like a natural process of the earth. The land gave rise to this sorry phenomenon. That's basically the take-away message from this book. Not a happy message at all, yet I absolutely believe it.
This of course gets me into hot water, and here the subject of environmental determinism becomes a very dangerous one again. So, the implication is that all of this decimation is okay because it's just a natural process of the earth?
It's not okay with me, let me make that clear. If we could have travelled down some different and more harmonious path I dearly wish we would have. And I understand how obnoxious an idea it might be at first blush to claim that all of this human folly and madness is really not our fault at all because it's simply a process of the earth. What a convenient way to absolve ourselves of responsibility!
But let's look at this as broadly as we can. First, let's realize that we're not at the end point of history (or let's assume, at least, that we're not). What seems like a cancerous spread of Western destructiveness is a process, and that process is ongoing and may yet turn around into something constructive. Maybe this destructiveness has swept across the globe in preparation for something constructive to sweep back over it.
This period of time in which we've been globalizing and destroying is also the same period of time in which we've been evolving our consciousness and also evolving our individual egos. It's a terribly dangerous time. Once you separate out from your unconscious fusion with the environment into an isolated dot of awareness you begin to objectify all that is outside of yourself. You can't recognize that all that is seemingly Other is really a part of you, so you maraud and plunder and conquer and decimate. And it's all quite inevitable. Ego means believing the self is discrete, not connected with the rest of creation. This phase of human evolution--when we've just woken up and we still believe we are only isolated dots--is so dangerous and destructive because it's literally every man for himself. We can't yet focus on the collective, only on our individual survival and comfort, so we maraud and pillage in order to gain individual advantage.
But simultaneously as we've been awakening and marauding our way around the globe, a positive trend has developed. We've connected. We've manifested technology that can help us evolve to the next phase, a phase of conscious reintegration back into Oneness. Globalization has been horrible in so many ways, but the rise of the internet and other technologies that connect us couldn't have come about otherwise.
So here we stand at a point of transition. We've been Self and Other for so long that some of us have actually begun to see through it. When everything outside of us is Other, there are infinite opportunities for us to See. We can see the devastation our sense of separateness causes (and now on a global scale) and we can begin to see how everything is interconnected. The damage we cause to one part of the earth causes a huge web of effects. It becomes more and more obvious the more dire our situation gets.
So now I finally get to the thought that occurred to me last night. What if just as there were places on this earth which possessed the unique properties which gave rise to our destructive modern world, might there not also be places out there now ready to birth the next paradigm? I titled this post "Where Are The Solutions?" because I think the solutions are literally out there. One thing I've been discovering lately is that there's no such thing as metaphor. We talk about finding solutions, looking for solutions, locating solutions--all these metaphors that suggest solutions are out there in some physical place. Maybe they really are!
Are there geographical locales with the right set of properties to birth a new paradigm? A post-consumer, post-ego paradigm? How would we find those places and how would we work with them to encourage their solutions to spread? The first thing would be to take an inventory of the places where viable solutions are arising.
For some reason Curitiba came to mind, although I don't really believe that Curitiba's solutions are enough. But anyway, let's use that as an example. We would want to examine everything about that locale to try to figure out what unique qualities of that locale allowed these solutions to arise. And from there, maybe we would try to identify other locations possessing similar features as likely places to further incubate and spread the solutions.
With technology that connects us globally now, once we have a few of these prime new-paradigm incubator places the changes could spread contagiously even to less-ideal locales.
An additional way to approach this would be to have everyone inventory their own locale for its strengths and weaknesses and then try to figure out what part of the solution could be birthed in that spot. A global solution will be made up of millions or billions of local solutions. We could each ask ourselves, "What solution wants to be birthed here through me?"
Wouldn't it be great to see a wave of change sweeping over the globe, as the gift of each locale is discovered and offered up?
Sunday, October 25, 2009
What's this? So I've become a megalomaniacal hermit now? Hardly.
It's just that in the past few years I've been learning a lot about power. What I've discovered is that there's a total disconnect between how the world at-large defines power, and real power. What passes as power is a total sham. In fact, those in positions of so-called power tend to be the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
What it gets back to (and I'm sorry I keep posting about this over and over) is the link between ego and materialism. Ego is about making yourself look bigger than you really are. People who grow ego do so by heaping up stuff around them to make themselves look bigger. Without their piles of glittery gold, their timber and mines and dams and enslaved minions, they're the same size as you and me. We confer power on them (and it's a choice we make) because they look so much bigger than us. But all their piles of glittery crap are not them and do not confer any real advantage.
What it is, is that we're stuck in a very adolescent stage of our human evolution. We think all of this external stuff gives us power. If we just have more money, more piles of glittery crap, we can be powerful! But if you have piles of glittery crap, all you end up doing is defending your crap, acquiring more crap, scheming about crap, identifying with your crap, destroying other people's crap, controlling crap. All to look big. That's power? Excuse me, but No!
Those with that kind of power are the very weakest among us, because all you have to do is take away their glittery piles of crap and look at what's left. Poof. Hey, where did the power go? Seems to have vanished into thin air.
Was it ever real? Heck no.
So let's talk about real power. Awhile back, one night while meditating, I had a vision. I was looking at a man. He was standing in the middle of rolling open range with his back to me, under an immense sky. He had his head tilted upwards and with his arms was making a kind of beckoning motion. On the horizon, clouds were building and roiling and I understood that the man was calling up the weather. I could feel an almost tangible link between the man and the sky and there was a sense of immense power both in the sky and flowing through the man.
I understood that the man and the weather were not separate. They were the same phenomenon. It's not that the persona of the man, this individual ego, by some act of will was actually calling up the weather. He and the weather were coexpressions of the earth. They were what wanted to manifest right there at that moment. That expression blossomed from the land in perfect harmony.
When we as individuals are present, when we live directly and are attuned to what IS, then what manifests through us will be a harmonious and life-sustaining expression of Gaia. We are nodes of Gaia, unique expressions of our little place in the matrix. Each individual represents a confluence of personal and ancestral history intersecting with place and time--a unique node yet tied into a greater identity. Ultimately we are Gaia. Our experiences are personal and unique at the tips of our nodes, yet collective when we slip down a little. I often call our egoic selves "isolated dots" of awareness. But we only seem to be isolated dots, because those dots are actually the very tips of Gaia's nodes. I know my language is getting a bit ludicrous here, but I hope you can catch the gist of what I'm trying to say.
The man who was calling up the weather was actually simply being present. He slipped from his identification with isolated dotness down into his fuller identity. Of course this isn't really simple at all. For the vast majority of humanity isolated dotness is all that exists. As long as we identify with ego we can't touch a larger identity. We can't tap into Power. The man in my vision tapped into Power. He harmonized with his greater identity and by doing so stitched together earth and sky.
Power as I understand it is Gaia/God-consciousness/Divinity (whatever you want to call it), coursing through us and finding expression. When we are attuned to this greater identity we manifest what wants to manifest. With this kind of Power, the earth cannot be raped and pillaged. With this kind of Power there is no war or genocide. With this kind of Power there is healing and harmony, there is right-livelihood for everyone. Power is about attuning to what wants to manifest here through me.
When you possess that kind of Power, you become a person of influence. Your actions have integrity--and far more than personal integrity--the deepest integrity possible. Get good at tapping into that kind of Power and you'll tap into solutions and new paradigms and harmonious actions. With that kind of Power the other kind of power could be dismantled.
Shamans and healers tap into Power all the time, but Power is available to all of us. To be the fullest expression of who we're meant to be, we have to learn to tap into Power. To heal the earth, we have to learn how to do this. Shed ego, slip into a larger identity. A new paradigm is waiting.
Monday, October 12, 2009
When the price of gasoline began climbing upwards a year or two ago, I learned to slow my driving way down. The speedometer usually stays around 60 now (sometimes as low as 55 or as high as 65) while I'm on the interstate, instead of my old 75, 85 and beyond.
Because of an odd time-sharing arrangement with my ex-husband I'm on the interstate a lot, driving my son back and forth to and from his school which is 92 miles away from the end of my driveway (don't ask, please). So for over four years I've been able to experience the shifting energies as I travel back and forth between these two geographic points.
The first few years were rough. I was always drained and often had awful headaches after making the trips. At the same time I began to notice things. Each place I travelled through had a distinct energy, even a personality. Wiggins hill (a ten or fifteen mile stretch over rolling rangeland) had a downright spiritual energy. Insights would come to me there. I noticed the effect that hill had on other drivers--hypnotic, sleep-inducing apparently. I once watched a guy dream himself an exit ramp and very gracefully exit off into the grassland. (He was okay, and the idiot was back on the highway again in a minute or two.)
But it's only been since I've slowed down that I've begun to understand the impact the land has on me. Once I slowed down, the fatigue diminished and the headaches became fewer and far-er between. I realized that 75 mph is not a human pace. We need to arrive in each place, acclimate to the shifting energies before we move on. You can't do that at highway speeds. Even my 60 mph is too fast, but it's a heck of an improvement over 80.
We were designed to engage with our environment at a walking pace, adjusting to shifting energies with each footfall. In my favorite book of all times (David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous) Abram quotes stories from both Gary Snyder and Bruce Chatwin that illustrate what happens when indigenous culture meets up with the fast-paced automobile.
In Snyder's account he was travelling in the Australian Outback with a Pintupi elder and the man suddenly began to talk to him very rapidly, telling a Dreamtime story. As soon as that story ended he rapidly began telling
another story about another hill over here and another story over there. I couldn't keep up. I realized after about a half an hour of this that these were meant to be told while walking, and that I was experiencing a speeded-up version of what might be leisurely told over several days of foot travel.
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990), p. 82
Bruce Chatwin's account tells how he was travelling in a Land Cruiser with an aboriginal man who sat motionless in the front seat until he crossed parts of his songline, at which point he'd launch into frantic action.
As Arkady turned the wheel to the left, Limpy bounced into action. Again he shoved his head through both windows. His eyes rolled wildly over the rocks, the cliffs, the palms, the water. His lips moved at the speed of a ventriloquist's and, through them, came a rustle: the sound of wind through branches.
Arkady knew at once what was happening. Limpy had learned his Native Cat couplets for walking pace, at four miles per hour, and we were travelling at twenty-five.
Arkady shifted into bottom gear, and we crawled along no faster than a walker. Instantly, Limpy matched his tempo to the new speed. He was smiling. His head swayed to and fro. The sound became a lovely melodious swishing; and you knew that, as far as he was concerned, he was the Native Cat.
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (London:Penguin Books, 1987), pp. 293-294.
You might be thinking, So what? We don't have stories and songs embedded in the landscape. We don't need to slow down because we don't have parts of ourselves embedded in the landscape. It's not like we need to retrieve something there. We can just skim the surface, get from point A to point B (as quickly as possible). After all, the land is only a backdrop for our human activities. It's not as if it actually pertains to us.
But we've forgotten something. The land creates us. We've only to look at cases of environmental deprivation (like the horrific case of little Dani in Florida a few years ago) to see how true this is. The mind we create in here, behind the sheltering encasement of our skulls, is really just environment that we've internalized. Without the environment, the land, we literally would have nothing to know.
I've started to think of the land as our true mind. What's inside our skulls is simply a storage and retrieval device. It's not mind itself. David Abram, in reflecting on the anecdotes I quoted above, said it's as though
at such times, it is not the native person who speaks, but rather the land that speaks through him as he journeys across it.
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996), p. 174.
What are we? Nothing but globules of land that grew feet and consciousness. Look at evolution in high-speed. Watch the earth begin to excrete life. Watch those globules of life organize themselves and coagulate and complexify, watch some of them crawl ashore, grow legs, grow consciousness. And here we are, globules of earth and we think we're separate from the earth? We think our consciousness is not the consciousness of the earth? What is it then?
If we were disembodied spirits floating in the ether, what could we know? With no points of reference, how could we even know we were? Consciousness requires physicality. With no physicality, no Self and Other, no Point A and Point B, there can be no knowing.
My favorite definition of genius is the keen ability to make novel associations. And what is an association? It's comparing A to B and seeing similarities. Could we do that in the rarefied ether? No, we need the land. The land provides all points of reference. Genius, knowledge, information, consciousness--those things reside in the land. Gaia and Mind, they're one and the same.
I still need to get a hold of Edith Cobb's book, The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood. She studied the lives of geniuses and found that insights often came to them when they returned physically or mentally to the landscapes of their childhood. It's as if that land was an extended neural network--knowledge and wisdom existed out there and these geniuses returned to retrieve it.
Why is it important for us to slow down and let the land begin to speak through us again? Because that's where wisdom resides. When we live in our puny little egoic minds, skimming over the surface, riding fast, guess what we do? We abuse the surface, we destroy countless aspects of Mind, we diminish the ways in which we can know ourselves, we limit possibilities and we ignore all of the harmonious solutions that want to rise through us out of the land.
We are globules of land and the land will speak through us if we slow down and let it.