Boulders of Simplicity

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

“But, Master Gotama, in what way is there the preservation of the truth? How does one preserve the truth?
…if he accepts a view as a result of pondering it, he preserves the truth when he says, ‘The view I accept as a result of pondering it is thus’; but he does not yet come to the definitive conclusion: ‘Only this is true, anything else is wrong.’ In this way, Bharadvaja, there is preservation of truth; in this way he preserves the truth; in this way we describe the preservation of truth.”
Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Cannon

 

Last week completed the investigation of gentleness started in August when we took note that kindness is dangerous. The arc likely did not cover the ground expected but there is a reason for that. I would ask again, along with the authors of On Kindness, “What is it about our times that makes kindness seem so dangerous?” To be gentle includes use of the surgical knife instead of a rusty sword when surgery is the only hope for saving the patient. A person who can be gentle is not spineless, that comes from a popular misconception around what compassion is all about. No one escapes the family dynamics that make us who we are unscathed. How we relate to those things powerfully determines the degree of gentleness we can bring to bear when it really counts.

Another characteristic of a contemplative life, in addition to gentleness, is simplicity.

Cognitive simplicity is where we need to start. Leopold’s Land Ethic is a crowning achievement of where we want to end up. In 25 words he captures something every heart recognizes is profoundly true; something that applies always and everywhere, at least on some level, anytime we choose to judge the justice of human activities. It is not meant as an absolute law that would ban all human use of the land, yet it gives an ethical guidance to its use that we can rely on. It has roots justifying its position that run deeply into the inherent nature of our molecular world. It is not just an ethic someone has chosen, though it is that too, for it is also an ethic that has made itself known to us as we have increased our understanding of ecology.

The cognitive simplicity that complements a contemplative life is not found in the economy of words; though beautifully expressed that is not the essence of what is important about these types of things. It is the simplicity of the insight which captures us with its almost child-like obviousness. This obviousness, this simplicity, is just that which we find it all to easy to lose track of in our very complex and sophisticated conversations around production, pollution, war and jobs.

Cognitive simplicity is where we need to start. An individual is able to resist the allures of group-think to the degree they are firm in their foundation. This means they hold to simple truths felt deeply, instead of overly sophisticated conceptual constructions which can more easily lend themselves to sophistry. There is a strength of conviction we can find that arises from our emotional nature with its intimate connections to our physiology which grounds us without making us fanatics.

Here is an example of a cognitive simplicity that has stuck in my craw since first learning about it as a child. The numbers differ but the ratio remains and is what really matters. In this world it would take, it has been estimated, on the order of 175 billion dollars to alleviate abject poverty. In this world there are, it has been estimated, on the order of 250 trillion dollars held in private wealth. Yet decades roll by and the helter-skelter of hyper-capitalism can find no way to provide “for the least of these,” as the New Testament had it. Russell Brand points out that is equivalent to having 500 pounds in your pocket and a starving, hungry child in front of you asking for 40 pence and you saying “Oh no! Not on your life, its my money!” I think, very simply, that any world system that condones this type of behavior is profoundly flawed, mistaken and dangerous.

Such a judgment is so simple our academics laugh at the naivety involved. I don’t know. I’ve read hundreds of books about the political economy, thought about these things long and carefully, including all the things I have seen first hand and heard about among friends. In all that, far as I can tell, it actually does come back to being just that simple for me. Maybe it was my being raised in a culture based in Christianity but for whatever sociological, psychological and metaphysical reasons, in my heart of hearts I believe we should love one another enough to set the needs of the poor above the greeds of the rich.

Of all the Jesus stories and teachings that molded the western ethical view none has effected me more than the eschatological ethic. From Mathew 25 NIV:

“…take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

The centuries of western culture have been influenced by this Christian ideal. It has produced that stream of hospitals and orphanages and other good works dedicated to assisting the needs of the “least of these” in which humankind is able to find, as Mother Teresa often said, “Jesus in disguise.” Slavery and racism eventually fell before the weight of this simple ethic which turned the powers of hierarchy and patriarchy on their head. Though today it is popular to restrict our compassion to our own, our cultural roots belie such clever means of getting our collective conscience off the hook.

So for me this is a cognitive bolder of simplicity. It is a loadstone I have found extremely meaningful in understanding who and what I am. Looking carefully, I can say both that I have chose it freely and that it has chosen me. I have chosen to make such an ethical outlook my own, accept it as a value that is true for me. It has not always rested peacefully with me; I have struggled with it, fought it, and tried to deny it or replace it – all to better get along in the world as it actually is. In the end I chose to live with the pain of a world that so often fails to live up to its compassionate potential and, as far as it is in my power, to abide by my chosen belief all the same. In coming to make this choice, as wrestling with it illustrates, there is a sense in which something larger than my ego was involved. In this sense this value has enlisted me in its ranks. In this whole process of wrestling with what I consider right and wrong in the realm of societal relations, my role has been as much a passive ‘victim’ of overwhelming emotions of compassion as it has been an active disciple of the same. I recognize that there is something about the way my ‘heart’ is constructed that insists on simple truths like this. They make up the boulders of my consciousness itself, as it were. In the simplicity I am embodied as the wisdom of age confirms the understanding of the child.

Sitting on my bolder I am unshakable not only because I have made a choice among equally real potential options. The existentialists can miss this point, that just choosing alone may not be sufficient to supply our absurd life with meaning. Sitting on my bolder I experience those parts of my being that are unshakable. This experience has its origin as much in the world as it has revealed itself to me as in my choosing to ‘believe’ it. The world and I have come to this point, together. It holds it in its mountains, sings of it in its rivers, whispers of it in its soil. There is another power among us humans. We all know how the powers of greed, violently corrupt lusts, and stupidity have turned the pages of history. Still, there is another power among us humans. In every generation the joyful, awe inspiring, passionate dedication of true love among couples has always been a part of what we are. I live in America; I can almost hear the long centuries of Native American lovers in the woods, dancers in the valleys, families in the plains, honoring their elders long past who are now resting in their burial grounds just as I honor mine. This is just as real as the corporate boardrooms on our lands today.

What this love teaches us is real too. We hurt ourselves when we lack the courage to admit these parts of ourselves into consciousness, into our public conversations, into our institutions. We could talk about compassion explicitly, it is not beyond our capacity. Instead we are choosing to amp the hate and vitriol of our public discourse, with rising acts of hate crimes and attacks on women and children the predictable outcome.

For centuries, millennia, our forefathers and foremothers who knew the sweet taste of love held it close, however darkness may have tried to assault it. Everyone who has ever loved has nurtured the same flame of hope, delicate and yet invincible, that someday all people would be able to enjoy its blessings, to enjoy what it is like to be in love. If we could, we dare to whisper in our deepest heart wish, there would be no miserable poor suffering unspeakably just beyond our feast table. The feast cannot be complete until all have been invited.

‘Oh my god,’ I can hear some readers crying and gnashing their teeth, ‘this is communism!’ Well far as I can tell that is just how it goes. Consciousness is inherently individual, like a dot amidst space-time. Each individual consciousness records such unique paths through time and space there is no way we should expect concord. Whether or not that allows us to retain respect for one another depends solely on our attitudes towards the views we hold. We can hold them deep enough to die for, inspired to fight to protect what we honor and yet never need to cross that line that separates intellectual and emotional honest and integrity from sham and lies. We can learn, as Buddha taught, to hold who and what we are without insisting we are certain in what we know and that all others must be wrong.

Ethics is one bolder, one simplicity on which it is possible for each of us to arrive at our own convictions. Like a mandala, there are other boulders set equidistant from this one. I do not expect, nor insist, that the universe conform to my ethical choice. In fact, from what I have experienced first hand that certainly does not seem to be the case. Not in any straightforward fashion anyway. I have known of far too many cases in which bad things happen to good people. The ethical values are what I work to promote, want to see more of, seek to nurture when I find them and generally molds how I understand what it means to be a human being.

Another foundational simplicity is associated with my study of physics, chemistry, and biology in which the roles of atoms and molecules is front and center. This is how it all works; the explanatory power of the relatively simple atomic hypothesis is amazing.

Energy follows a one way path, creating the arrow of time. Materials cycle, the waste of one process being input into another always and everywhere. These are the ecological cognitions from which all the rest of my ecological outlook flows. They are simple, incontrovertible. To this I have added my study and experience and arrived at my view.

Contemplative simplicity is not the same as fanatical clinging to conceptual content. It is much more visceral than that. I have arrived at my view. That is not the same as saying it is the only one or that all other views are necessarily incorrect. I cannot know that with any certainty, all I can know is that I have arrived at my view. I know how I got here, how slow and careful contemplation has been open to where the deep molding of my evolution has worked its way with me and left me who and what I am.

The simplicity of our cognitive boulders serve us well when we find ourselves on the battlefield performing open soul surgery in triage tents. It does no good to panic in a crisis. Grounded in simplicity there just might be a chance to do some real good.

Truth Above Utility

Post-truth (def.) “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak… For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not… At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish…
Many news organizations have turned to native advertising as a source of revenue. By definition, native advertising tries  to sell or promote a product in the guise of a news story. Native advertising makes it difficult for unsuspecting readers to know if and when there is an ulterior motive behind the information they encounter…
More than 80% of students believed that the native advertisement, identified by the words ‘sponsored content,’ was a real news story.”
Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning (pdf),
Stanford History Education Group

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,
when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

 

We have an amazing capacity to play fast and loose with the truth. For some reason it is not at all difficult for us to hold passionate opinions concerning just about everything, and in the process to allow ourselves expansive editorial freedom to cut and paste facts and fictions as we see fit. It should not surprise us that a coalition of climate change deniers have taken over the reigns of government here in the US. This type of denial is often a reaction that takes hold just about the time the crisis society is denying breaks out ferociously.

The time has come in which we must think very carefully about the circumstances we find ourselves in. The confluence of industrialized civilization’s ecological blowback and political populism denying it, looks to me like nothing so much as the cognitive dissonance we all suffer writ large. Remember, cognitive dissonance arises when one part of the mind holds something to be true that another part of the mind knows is not so. Climate change science has a very, very simple message: stop producing these outrageous amounts of carbon dioxide pollution. The message is almost too simple, it’s hard to wiggle out of the obvious implications.

The most obvious implication confronts each and every one of us every time we step outside our front doors. We know what society must do, and soon, to stop the climate from becoming hell on earth: we need to stop driving. On the other hand, this is something our societies simply cannot do. Survival is linked to driving just as driving is linked to oil. Of course the problem is larger than just driving; most all our life support infrastructures need a petrochemical energy source to power them throughout their supply chains.

For an individual these two facts create some degree of cognitive pressure: I need to stop driving for the future health of the planet and I need to drive today to procure what I need to survive. It really is this simple, there is no escaping these reasonable inferences. Since both of these statements are true they create a cognitive problem. The human mind needs to provide a consistent picture of the world and a rational explanation for our behavior in it. It becomes an interesting question, both for individuals and all of us collectively, to ask how we are to deal with this simple information and still feel ok about ourselves.

Part of what psychology has learned about cognitive dissonance might apply to the type of collective mind we find in our social interactions. The theory that coined the term was first presented in 1957 by Leon Festinger in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. In that work he presented research to show how holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously is painful and how individuals react to lessen that psychological pressure.

We avoid cognitive dissonance by remaining conscious of the opposition but using it to drive action. Staying with the painful awareness of these truths provides an energy that can inspire you to work towards whatever reconciliation of them in your own lifestyle you are able to bring about. Mindful Ecology hopes to support these types of changes by showing that they are meaningful because they are based in truth. Note that while it is painful remaining aware of the issues around driving, it is not the pain of cognitive dissonance since both of these conflicting beliefs are true. It is when we seek to escape this painful situation by denying the validity of the statements themselves that we run into the more troublesome psychological difficulties associated with cognitive dissonance.

There are two other ways to lessen the pain of conscience our ecologically informed generation must sense around driving. The mind can deny that one side or the other of these truths are actually true. It is frighteningly easy for us to make something up that is more congenial to how we want to see ourselves and our place in the big scheme of things. Once we have made something like this up, we then place our faith in the delusion and simply assert either that climate change is not happening or, if it is, our driving has nothing to do with it. Now we have entered the realm of cognitive dissonance.

Here is what to watch out for. As events provide evidence that the delusional faith is in fact unreal, it is not uncommon for those holding these beliefs to double down. The more evidence proves their belief to be false, the more their blind faith in it increases. Those who point out the truth while these conditions rule are branded as heretics, blasphemers persecuting the embattled minority of true believers.

In the case of driving, ecological evidence concerning its dire consequences lead to the CAFE laws that were designed to increase engine efficiency. More efficient fuel use was thought to address both the problem of a diminishing world oil supply and the problem of overwhelming the atmosphere’s capacity to act as a pollution sink. What was the response to these laws that were meant to alter the way cars are manufactured and sold? The introduction of the SUV. The laws applied to cars and the SUV was classified as a small truck, exempt from the regulations. The public responded to the advertising message that confirmed the true believer’s delusional story. The thought train must run something along these lines, ‘I’m basically a good person and choose to drive this oversized vehicle, therefore, either climate change science is a hoax or driving does not cause it.’ The convoluted logic of magical thinking has replaced the pain filled awareness of a difficult moral issue with the fake simplicity of a fairy tale.

Please understand this is only being used as a concrete illustration. There are a thousand other reasons people chose to buy SUVs, many of them noble such as concern for the needs and safety of loved ones. Similarly, dealing with climate change is speaking only of the most well known of the frighteningly large family of ecological breakdowns heading our way. We are discussing driving as its cause because it is the most obvious confrontation with our ecological madness most of us encounter every day.

There are others, equally obvious simple steps we need to take. The steps are simple, taking them, however, under the existing set of beliefs is all but impossible. For example, engineering investigations of the capacity of renewable energy sources are unanimous in saying that society will need to use less power. We could use less power today. It would require we prioritize hospitals and schools and de-prioritize, say, the excess light displays in New York City, Las Vegas, Shanghai and Tokyo. The fact that for most people on the planet such an idea seems nihilistic defeatism (a sin against progress!) and absolutely not ever going to voluntarily happen, shows just how committed we are to our delusional beliefs.

It might be easier to believe that with the magic of a bomb vest you can live forever, than that your life will be one of struggle in a poisoned, poor and violent world. It might be easier to believe that with the magic of a renewed trade deal you can restore fossil fueled industrialized civilization to its glory days, than that our economic options are now severely limited by resource constraints. It might be easier to believe that the magic of a little solar and wind power will wash away the oil stains on our future, than that the real road forward is one of using a whole lot less energy altogether. It might be easier to believe the ecological crisis unfolding everywhere around us is really not all that bad, than that these are the days of nightmare and mourning. It might be easier, but it is not going to help.

The ecological message, that business as usual has no future, fights to be heard in our time of globalization promoted by a mass media dominated by quarterly profit driven corporate interests. The ecological message is fighting an upstream battle each and every day. This ceaseless fight can drain the energy and enthusiasm of even the most passionate lover of earth. The one thing that can sustain people who are so outnumbered, unpopular, and shunned, is their conviction that what they are saying is the truth. No one wants the dismal analysis of the industrial world’s devastating impact on the viability of the earth’s ecosystems to be right. The picture that unfolds from an acceptance of the ecological facts is one in which the human population will wither, the land remains poisoned for centuries, abandoned cities become little more than sources for recycling materials that can no longer be manufactured, and predictable climate is a thing of the past removing food security from food harvests. No one wants this. The people, like myself, who insist on talking about it are doing so because we have come to believe this is the most probable truth.

Truth is more important than utility by my way of thinking. It might be easier to get through the day believing self-driving cars and Mars terra-forming are just around the corner, but it does nothing to help stop the juggernaut that is poisoning the air, water and land on which all future life depends.

This then is our next boulder of simplicity: we need to value truth above utility.

We are better off staying with the original pain of our opposing values than letting them drive us into the blind alleys of cognitive dissonance. Only in this way can we avoid the allure of the Pied Pipers, the ones external to us and the ones we have internalized, as they pipe temptations designed to exploit our gullibility.

Black Friday

“The essence of hermeneutics, an art widely practiced in former times, consists in adding further analogies to the one already supplied by the symbol: in the first place subjective analogies produced at random by the patient, then objective analogies provided by the analyst out of his general knowledge. This procedure widens and enriches the initial symbol.”
Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 7

“Every interpretation necessarily remains an ‘as-if.’ The ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described.”
Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9

 

Our ecological position is actually very simple to understand; we just do not want to see it, do not want to hear about it, we pretend not to grasp it, and we insist we do not feel its despair. We have raised the denial of Limits to Growth, climate change and the sixth extinction to an art form. All the most powerful people are doing it.

magicalcongressIsn’t it interesting that this image pops into the collective mind right at the time the US congress is about to be populated by magical thinkers quick to deny climate change science?

The view I have shared in these posts over the last few years has included a type of archetypal analysis of the social mind.  Just as a depth psychologist will look to a patient’s dreams to pick up clues to what the individual knows outside of their narrow ego awareness, so we can look to the ways in which our societies seek one thing consciously, yet leave clues as they do so about the larger questions of history and meaning those societies are dealing with. It is a working premise of mine that all cultures are deeply engaged in what scholars call the history of ideas. With one eye on mythological themes and another eye on the unfolding of history under the aegis of the Limits to Growth constraints, those who contemplate ecology are well equipped for such activities.

This week the recent holiday comes in for some hermeneutic treatment. This type of analysis never reaches firm and final conclusions. It is in the spirit of playful creativity, finding insights by circling around and around an idea or symbol. It is an engagement with what things might mean for us.

This hermeneutic treatment is offered as a framework for introducing the next cognitively simple idea on which we can build an effective response to the ecological crisis. I am calling these boulders of simplicity. This is another bolder on which a mindfulness of ecological reality allows the contemplative to sit in some assurance that they actually know a little bit of what is really going on in the world. The more we learn to think like a mountain, the less tempted we are to fall for cognitive will-o-wisps pushed by the talking heads. It does not behoove us to hitch our star to some horseshit that is here today, gone tomorrow. We are looking for boulders easily able to weather the years.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time in which extended family gathered together to share a meal they cooked themselves. It is done in commemoration of the very important story to citizens of the United States in which the Native Americans’ generosity saved the first pilgrims from dying during the harsh winter in their new land.

There are so many things wrong with this, at least from the point of view of those whose job it is to keep the collective mind of the consumer society primed for consuming. It could be it is the most dangerous holiday: the one in which the contrast of values is greatest between classic Christianity influenced culture and the post World War public relations influenced culture. Let’s take it point by point. Extended family was targeted early in the mass marketing campaigns. You can sell more things to isolated nuclear families than to those who already have much of what they need by retaining multiple generations of goods. Cooking a meal together and then sharing the feast are not pastimes that should be encouraged because they can provide moments of happiness wholly unrelated to market place transactions. White pilgrims needing the help of Native Americans runs counter to our images of ourselves as the self-sufficient, self-made country. The Native Americans were repackaged as primitive savages to justify our land grab and besides, don’t they have way too much concern about ecology and walking lightly on the land to be modern anyway? They insist on such ridiculous things as water being more valuable than oil.

These are just the outer wrappings around the Thanksgiving holiday that threaten the consumer value system. These might have been manageable, in fact are. The one unforgivable feature of this particular holiday is the thanks-giving in Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for what one already has is the death knell to endless growth economics. To give thanks is to be in a place of psychological contentment. This is not acceptable to those who need to sell things.

And so Thanksgiving Thursday gained a parasite: Black Friday.

A tradition has grown in the land of consumerism. It started rather small and mostly unobtrusive, though it was a parasite from the beginning. First it was seen as an adjunct to the Thanksgiving holiday, a few bonus coupons and sales. Then the hours the stores would open on this special Friday were moved earlier and earlier. Lines forming at five in the morning became news worthy. The years went by and now many of the “best” bargains are made available at the stroke of midnight – the final capitulation to the instant gratification value system of consumerism.

This is how I would characterize the social phenomenon we have christened Black Friday: it is consumerism’s holy day. It is a special time set aside for obeisance to the first world gods of money and markets. The holy day breaks out of ordinary time in all the ways holy days usually do: there are special rites that change the time people do things (setting my alarm for 4 am to go shopping!); special markings granting boons from the gods (20% Off Today Only!); Dionysian danger to test the faithful (Shopper Crushed by Ecstatic Mob); participation in the nation’s most sacred sport, pushing shopping carts, and as a member of the largest national sport team each participant is granted the opportunity to give their all to beat the competition (Black Friday Sales up 17% this Year); if the magical rites are successfully carried out the gods will bestow their blessing on the coming new year (Retailers Report Consumer Confidence Restored!).

Do you begin to see how this hermeneutic analysis can aid us in orienting ourselves in our own time and within our own culture by locating things like this new secular holiday within the context of larger human experience?

Black Friday gets its name from the accounting profession. It marks the official opening of the holiday shopping season, which is when many retailers make the lion share of their profits and their accounting books move from being in the red to being in the black. That is the explanation of the name we use consciously, publicly. Those who designed the name for this special day, of course, did so with an equally powerful message for our unconscious minds following the standard dictates of the advertising profession.

Good Friday – Black Friday is the obvious linkage. I think very few of us have never made the connection, at least semi-consciously, but without some training in hermeneutics did not know what to make of it and quickly filed it in the interesting coincidences drawer and forgot about it.

Christ Friday. This god died to put an end to human sacrifice. This god endures pain and suffering for the greater good of the whole human family. This god dies to save the human race from sin.

Its inversion is simple enough.

Shopping Friday. This god demands human sacrifice. This god offers instant gratification, or at least distraction and narcosis, to soothe the isolated individual. This god lives to ensnare the human race in compulsions and obsessions.

Semi-consciously, the cleverness is recognized. Good Friday is Christianity’s highest holy day, Black Friday is the Anti-Christ’s highest holy day: aka not giving to the least of these but glorying in the world trade of Babylon. People are dying in desperate poverty, poverty all too often exacerbated by first world foreign policy and crony capitalism controlled foreign aid. People are dying from wars, wars all too often exacerbated by first world rapacity in its need for oil and other industrialization resources. The Black Friday holiday represses all these truths, and others like them, behind a slick set of ad campaigns. It turns our attention from the needs of the world, to the needs the advertisers have created.

It is as if we needed to show all the world that we have raised another god above us, one that will take from the poor and give to the rich. This god is beholden to petroleum, cloaking itself in the black mantel of that toxic Dragon’s Blood. If the Good Friday Christ was the light of life rising in the golden dawn of a new day, this Black Friday Christ is the dark of death sinking in the leaden twilight of a violent night. One said “man does not live by bread alone,” the other insists he does. Like the contest between the ecologists and the economists, only one of them can be right… and time will tell.

Finding the meaning of human society in the act of shopping shrunk our souls, leaving us little more than robotic husks going through the motions, waiting for the axe to fall. A good dollop of mindfulness can see right through this whole set of fun house mirrors. A good dollop of compassion can playfully watch the whole cognitive house of cards built by the ad men come tumbling down.

This then is our next boulder of simplicity: There really is no way to justify the destruction of the biosphere for short term profits. It really is that simple.

It Has Begun

“I don’t know about you but I feel like Jung was certainly right. I mean, I have mentioned before that what we do affects the next seven generations. In other words, I am carrying the history and experiences of the past seven generations. Some will say that it is not fair, that it means I am carrying baggage. But you have to remember that it goes both ways. I am also carrying the beauty, strength and knowledge of the past seven generations. Sometimes it is also about remembering or investigating where we come from, so we know better who we are today.

The history of the Native Americans is sadly filled with trauma and what I would qualify as genocides. Massacres such as Wounded Knee, need to be remembered as they affect the soul of all. Such massacres also affect the land they took place upon. The memory of what happened lives within the Earth. The bodies, the blood lives within the soil. If you think about how Native American culture emphasizes the connection to the Earth, a wound to the Earth is a wound to the people. It is a wound to the earth-connected side we all have, thus a wound to the soul. The feelings and the hurt of those who passed away on the battlefields do not die with them. They remain in each of us. The Land holds our stories, the land will evoke our personal and collective stories, it will remind us of them. As the land is also living. Violence to the people or the land led to the suffering of the following generations, as it is stored in our collective unconscious or psyche.”
Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious and Native Americans

“No law shall be passed that harms the children.”
Native American Tribal Counsel

 

It is all together too easy to lose our personal power. One person gazing with horror at the non-stop carbon dioxide production of our global footprint – what are we to do? Words by the billions have already been written, detailing what we know about humanity’s ecological relationships with the biosphere. Studies have been funded and conferences have been held, speeches have been given and protests have been organized. Prayers and songs have been offered, tears and blood have been shed.

Still the amount of carbon dioxide pollution increases at a frightening rate year after year. Still each year is a record breaking one, warmer than the last. We are all living in a slow motion train wreck. Those with window seats are traumatized, and in my mind, they are the lucky ones. Those who are called to become mindful of ecological relationships between the human footprint and the biosphere are given sacred knowledge. We cannot use it, we can allow it to use us.

If we ask how we can make a difference that will really make a difference, it is difficult to imagine anything we could do that has not already been done. There is not, in fact, much a single individual can do to change the trajectories we are on. It does no good to pretend otherwise. This is the shock of the horrified, the shock that comes to those who are given a glimpse of the Juggernaut we have built. Have you seen it? Have you watched Homo Colossus tear up the earth? It’s metallic maw chews up rain forests and ocean reefs then spits out cancerous waters darkened with sickness and starvation. If we are honest with ourselves, it is as if some part of ourselves simply flat-lines staring at the wall of ignorant indifference. We are numbed by the planetary powers in play of truly titanic proportions.

——————————————

Yesterday I saw a graffiti of ‘Trump’ across an ecology sign along a park walkway. Gave me the feeling of darkening Nazi skies. There is a perception that ecologists are freaks; forever going on about chipmunks and creeks, moss killer and robins. Freaks that should just be run over if they insist on standing in the way of making America Great Again.

It doesn’t do any good to pretend we are not who and what we are. We are tempted to pretend we do not have a point of view running as deep as these boulders. As if by denying these passionate, simple commitments made in our hearts we could assure the world that we too are just like everyone else. Something to bear in mind when thinking about these things. Your own simplicity is the path.

It was an interesting victory a few days ago for the long patient Standing Rock protest. Their prayer and ceremony was powerfully effective on a number of levels. The ripples from these events are bound to play out along lines both joyful and sorrowful, beautiful and ugly for a long time to come. People mindful of ecology will most certainly want to keep an eye on this pipeline project as it has become a rumbling of earth spirituality through the federal government of the United States. If my intuition is right there is considerably more riding on the wings of those prayer feathers than first meets the eye. Water protectors are of the elemental realm. They have witnessed to a level of purity and fundamental truth about our times. The troubled American psyche marks the moment: water turned against water protectors, veterans involved, treaty rights of this land’s indigenous peoples questioned again, the Army Corp of Engineers involved, energy corporations involved, ecological legal regulations involved, and all attended by a popular uprising of people insisting that the wholesale destruction of the earth must stop. Now.

Mark this moment. Grandfathers, please pray for us.

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Sustainability (def.): of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

The changes to the ocean acidification recorded in the last hundred years will take ten-thousand years to work their way through the system. Are there words for this? Has a generation ever before claimed so much for themselves alone?

This is a simple boulder of truth: that which cannot be sustained, will not be sustained.

I have no more words.

Let’s just sit and watch the reason we brought this disaster upon our children, the wonderful bounty of our happy modern lives. Koyaanisqatsi.

Cruelty and Compassion

Ego rightly fears the highs and lows of emotions by which the psyche can be carried away. Crimes of hot passion and cold revenge haunt our history books. Overwhelmed by grief the ego has been dragged to hell, overwhelmed by bliss it has been transported to heaven. Until it has plumbed the heights and depths itself and extended its compassion to all the parts found within, that fear of being overwhelmed by what has been repressed remains. The Self seems to guide the ego along the lines of overcoming these fears, given the chance. Along the way our conception of who and what we are remains, of necessity, mundane and restricted. Our conception of the universe we find ourselves in also remains similarly mundane and restricted. When we look into our minds and allow only a small glimpse of their potential to effect us, we intentionally narrow our view. A larger glimpse of their potential can lead to a larger view.

Most often we narrow our view by turning our attention to ourselves. We ruminate about our life stories; replaying past events and imagining future ones. This is how we learn and set the goals by which we energize the present moment. There is nothing inherently wrong about these types of cognitive activities; they are what the mind naturally does when placed more or less in neutral, unless the mind is unaffected by fear. Without fear the mind more naturally turns its attention out away from one’s own life story. In neutral it then unleashes its inborn curiosity and ponders this existence we find ourselves a part of. Contemplation along these lines can lead to gratitude and awe born from a profound respect for the intelligent pattern everywhere displayed.

The logical third possibility is that the contents of narrow attention will consist of some combination of ego considerations and an awareness of the vast environment it finds itself a part of. Here, at the interface, is where so many of our deepest dissatisfactions with our existence arise. It seems as though we rarely can get what we most deeply long for from the universe. Peace and contentment escape us for we cannot long rest content with our achievements, nor can we avoid the heart rending suffering of love lost for long. Many of our most basic needs and desires are related to our relationships with other people, but other people do not appreciate us enough and the world certainly is not giving us our proper due… All these kinds of thoughts come naturally to the ego and provide it with the fuel it uses to get up off the couch and work hard to make things a bit better.

This, however, is not optimal. To be inspired by the energy of what is basically a childish temper tantrum is to be enslaved by one’s own existence. Gratitude and awe before the vast reaches of inner and outer space is a much more liberating psychology from which the ego can live. Moving the ego’s center of gravity from the tantrum to the gratitude requires that it comes to know it is valued, just as it is. It needs to come to know it is loved by god as a child of god, as it is said in western religious terms. It needs to come to know it is valued as a Bodhisattva in training, as it is said in eastern terms. It needs to fight off the inner bullies that would wound its very being with shame and deny it has any right to exist, as it is said in psychological terms.

The modern view of that which is real is so vast in time and in space that it intimidates us. It threatens us with such minuteness that we fear our lives to be little more than meaningless grains of sand, specs of dust in the wind. It is worth noting that this cosmic vastness has been part of the view of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism since their inception. Both of these eastern traditions are rich in teachings that point to the inner world of the psyche as being equally vast and finding thereby some measure of belonging within the infinities which surround us on all sides. This is in no small part where the differences between the psychology of the east and the psychology of the west have their roots. Modern cosmology has brought the eastern view to the west. It can shake the girders of our souls, waken us from our dogmatic slumbers, if we let it.

Ego works hard to find love and food, shelter and some sense of meaningful participation with the rest of the world. Where it fits in the vast cosmic panorama is harder to say, whereas what it needs to do today is usually rather clear. It is not easy to be self-conscious. Touched by sorrow the ego has tasted hell, touched by love it has tasted heaven. As mentioned, overwhelmed by grief it has been dragged to hell, overwhelmed by bliss it has been transported to heaven. All this has taken place without ever once setting foot anywhere but on the solid ground of this very earth on which we live. Where the human being fits in this vast cosmic panorama is hard to say, but it is the nature of our minds that each of us must take these journeys of the soul into the outer reaches. No one wholly escapes the responsibilities of the shaman.

Lovecraft, reflecting a modern sensibility, warned that mankind was not meant to venture far into the reality of our vast cosmos. In what is probably his most well known quote he predicts that if we were to awake to our true position in the vast scheme of things we would run quickly back into the comforts of a new dark age. For Lovecraft that would be a return to barbarism and religious superstition in which we try once again to appease primitive gods, granting at least some small degree of control over what happens to us in our own deluded minds. It is not a pretty picture of our psychological potential. For Lovecraft, the modern western author of cosmic horror par excellence, madness threatens those who seek too deeply into the nature of nature.

Against this view what defense does modern man have? I will argue interdependence, the view embraced by ecology and systems science. Size alone, in space or in time, should not intimidate us. The human brain is the most complex organization of connections in all the known universe. The evolutionary role of emergent consciousness, which is what mankind is involved in, is closer to quantum weirdness than it is to the now discredited mechanical universe Lovecraft was reacting to.

When another person dismisses your existence as meaningless and worthless, as elitists of every stripe do with such ease, it is as if they are embodying this view of a vast heartless universe, our modern horror. In what psychology knows as a reaction formation people who have become assholes have reacted to this repressed threat to their ego by overcompensating for the impotency it makes them feel. This is much like the closely related phenomenon in which the bully uses cruelty and violence to maintain a repression over their inner insecurities. ‘If the universe is just going to use and abuse us, well I’m nobody’s fool, I’ll use and abuse people even more,’ the twisted thinking of the asshole-elitist runs. Next thing you know we are dealing with the unique cruelty only human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another: we will never see rabbits crucifying one another or wolves hooking pain inflicting electrodes to each other, or even, Orwell’s prescient Animal Farm not withstanding, will we see pigs creating totalitarian governance systems.

Compassion is anti-assholism, anti-elitism. For some reason there are other people that react to this same environment differently. This view of vast time and space opens these people to extend loving kindness to others as much as they can. They do not perceive the universe, just as it is, as a threat to their ego stability, but as the supporting context from which it arises and draws its being. At some deep level, beyond what ego can directly control, they have become convinced that whatever is most precious to them cannot be destroyed however outrageous one’s folly might be.

We do not know the determining factors that decide which way an ego will come to view its place in the grand scheme of things. Something beyond what ego can control is guiding this process as far as we can tell. This is why depth psychology needed the concept of the Self as a larger whole within the psyche of an individual than the ego alone. What we do know is that these things seem to be related to how a person has been handling the highs and lows they experience in their innermost heart, their center of emotional life. Here is where the mystery of consciousness is most acute, here in the inner sanctum of the real temple.

The compassionate protectors will discipline themselves and others as a tree is pruned, to facilitate future growth. The will never harm the health of the seed and sap, as it were. The destroyers, on the other hand, use discipline as a means of dispensing with existence, denying that life has any right to exist just as it is. It is as if the destroyers miss the seed and the sap, the Buddha Nature, the state of grace, that everywhere is manifest in sacred world.

We find both protectors and destroyers within and without. It is good to know how to identify who is who. Those who would treat you cruelly, and exalt in that cruelty for cruelty’s sake, do not confuse the minds of their victims. They are easy to identify. The torturer and the bully in their pure form are self defeating. It is when the torturer claims to be working for the Holy Inquisition, and the bully claims to be working for the patriotic military (aka Holy Hosts) that the confusions abound.

Those who would treat you cruelly and claim it is compassion, that it is For Your Own Good, are liars. They are claiming, thereby, to have found themselves heartless in a heartless universe. They are claiming the earth is dead, a place where feeling and consciousness are epiphenomenon, where all that is really going on is a meaningless clash of robots. They have made all things over into the image of the machine. Or, if they are of a religious instead of secular bent, they claim to have found the only heart in a heartless universe. Their savior and story are the one thing that really matters; earth is the dead backdrop against which the all important drama of the human soul takes place. If we need to kill the village to save it, this thinking runs, so be it.

This is a simple truth: there is a universe of difference between treating oneself and others with cruelty and treating oneself and others with compassion.