And it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process. It takes time.
A process? Taking time? That part of you that has been trained to demand the quick fix, instant gratification, and the idea that you are supposed to feel good all the time or you are just not doing it right will be telling you right now to stop reading this article and find one that outlines the steps to get rich tomorrow. That’s OK. Feel that feeling. Feel that resistance. Embrace it. And then categorize it as one of those influences of your life that may need reassessing.
Every aspect of the universe, every star, every planet, every life form, every rock, every molecule, every atom, everything, is part of a process, part of a series of events that has a beginning, an end, and many steps in between.
People used to know this.
Once we were, as a people, more aware and more connected to the natural idea of processes, more connected to the natural world and to nature where processes are obvious and visible everywhere. Morris Berman may have described it best in his book "The Reenchantment of the Earth." He said, "The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging. A member of this cosmos was not an alienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama."
Today, we have few opportunities to explore processes. Mass education and shallow teaching emphasizes the result and the destination, not the journey. History is taught only in terms of what happened when, not how it happened, why it happened, and what forces of society and the individual were at play at the time to make it happen. Students are tested to give the right answer, and they are taught that there is only one answer when in reality there are usually many. Critical thinking and reasoning are rarely taught in school and our children often turn out to be one dimensional, unreflective thinkers, content to get their answers from the TV news, newspapers, or the latest television or DVD prophet.
Disconnection, separation, division, detachment, disassociation - these are all words that describe the way most people view our world and themselves, possibly as a consequence of shallow teaching. So many of us feel disconnected from the Earth itself, separated from the delicate web of life, divided from each other by arbitrary encumbrances, detached from the very meaning of our existence, and disassociated from the awe and mystery of the world and the universe.
Our daily lives are filled with more events than our elaborate datebooks can contain, we live by the litany “oh, that there were only more hours in the day,” and we bemoan our lot in life. We are scared to death of spiders and cockroaches, consider the natural world as wild, untamed and therefore dangerous, and resist awareness into the intricacies of our world for fear of having to take on one more responsibility.
We in the Western world have tried so hard for so long to disconnect from the Web of Life but try as we might, we have not and cannot succeed. The embrace of the Earth is too strong. We cannot walk away from the planet of our birth and even when we try to cut those bonds by traveling into space, our bones and bodies wither. Those few human beings who have walked on another world, who have come as close as anyone to breaking the bonds of our home planet (still embraced, however, by the long arms of its gravity), came back so changed, so transformed, that their lives were irrevocably altered. These astronaut/pilot/scientists all became teachers, artists, mystics, healers, farmers, or theologians (except one who became a beer distributor and another who became a defense consultant), but few may have reasoned why they were so transformed. (The Other Side of the Moon Video, Castle and Hendring, 1990)
We can learn so much from these men who tried to cut their bonds with Mother Earth and failed, who experienced its awesome power from 250,000 miles away in space, who felt the intense power of the place of our birth, who, while standing on an airless, lifeless Moon, felt the great gift of our existence. Yet they were so unprepared for the experience, so trained in the disconnected approach of Western science, so confused about their place in the universe, that the great gifts of awareness, awe, truth, and beauty that were revealed to them as they stood on the surface of the Moon and looked back at their home often turned to dysfunction, trauma, and fear.
What a challenge we Earth-bound people have to embrace awareness, experience the awe, and feel the beauty of our world if men trained and educated by our culture had such difficulty from 250,000 miles away, seeing the interconnected ball that is the Earth hanging in their sky. Yet in spite of the inability of their training to prepare the lunar astronauts for the full impact of their experience, all of these men were transformed in one way or another. We can break the bonds of our cultural, intellectual, and emotional limitations. We can open our eyes to see our connections and realize our true place in nature, but we need help. The disassociation of the last few thousand years will not erode overnight. But by carefully teaching each other to re-member, re-integrate, and re-associate, the embrace of our Earth can be felt again.
There are many tools created by many individuals that can aid in this task. All of the tools are simple and can be applied in any situation, whether it be personal, professional, academic, or spiritual. They all have at their foundation one basic tenant: that “the beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right name.” This we must do as we begin our long journey of re-learning. Our very ability to see the world as it really is has been clouded by a long legacy of distraction.
Developing a relationship with the natural world can have profound effects on our perceptions of the universe. Opening our minds and hearts to include the idea that a tree has rights and that a dolphin may be our neighbor can forever change one’s appreciation for life. Even flushing the toilet with a mindfulness that the waste is, after minimal treatment, going into the ocean and not magically disappearing, can dramatically alter perceptions.
• Realize that you may not have been given the tools to successfully wade through all the complex, mumbo-jumbo out there. Seek help.
• Ask questions. Probe assumptions. This is probably the easiest thing to do immediately. Ask “why” and “how” and “where did you hear that” and “how do you know that?”
• Hold yourself strictly accountable for what you say. Don’t even tell a friend about something you heard about unless you know where you heard it. Don’t contribute to the growing mythology we all have about what is going on in the world, how the world works, and who is good and who is bad. Find out for sure. When you read something in the newspaper, realize that it is a very incomplete picture of what is really happening. When you talk about it, preface your statements with words like “well, I don’t know what is really happening, but I read in the Times that . . .” This is a very important step in keeping your mind and heart open. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
• Reject stereotypes. Watch your language. We reinforce our own flawed learning everyday when we are sloppy with our thinking and our language. Don’t participate in the assumptions of our culture that continue to isolate us from each other. Don’t say things like “women love to shop” or “men love sports.” Don’t accept any of the assumptions that are often made about Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, or whoever. When you hear someone say “oh you know them, they are so lazy” when referring to some other culture, STOP THEM. Tell them that such a statement is inappropriate and unfounded. If you listen and laugh, you are participating.
• Don’t watch the television news AT ALL. There is nothing you can gain from it. Nothing.
• Seek alternative information sources. Seek out alternative bookstores in your community. Resist patronizing the large chain bookstores. Visit an alternative bookstore and then visit the superstore. Notice the difference in the type of books carried. Reflect on the affect that such selective book offerings in the superstores have on the public. What if everyone knew about alternative bookstores and their selections? Visit a women’s bookstore in your community. Look at the amazing titles they carry. Reflect upon how the world has been affected by the fact that our perception of the universe has been seen from almost exclusively a white class-privileged male perspective.
• Examine your spending habits. Think carefully about what you need versus what you think you want. Are you spending to fill an emotional need, because you’ve been denied something you thought you deserved at work or as a child, or because you are angry or sad? Think about this very carefully.
It is easy to get discouraged, to feel overwhelmed. But if you realize that the choices you make in what you buy and what you eat can have such a dramatic affect on the world, you can get quite a bit of power back. If you realize how easy it can be to smile at someone or to help someone in need, you will start to see that the answers to our dilemmas lie not just in legislation or politics, but in our hearts. Just figure out what you want to be remembered for and what is important to you. Then, do everything in your power to make those things come true.
Now let’s begin.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feed and dark wings.