When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing, when I
was the sky
No one ever asked me did I have a purpose; no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
for there was nothing
I could not
Human nature and human awareness, or psyche, arise within Nature. Nature, in its widest sense, includes the energies of the cosmos – supernovas; cold emptiness; galaxies beyond comprehension – as well as the elements and forces of the planet we inhabit. All the forces and forms – organic or inorganic – we can name, happen within Nature. Nature is the context and ground of being within which all life emerges and passes away.
Life has existed on earth for almost four billion years; mammals for 200 million years; humans for two and a half million, and our current version – Sapiens — about two hundred thousand. For the vast majority of that time, life evolved through genetic mutation coupled with natural selection. Nature, and all of life, was natural. Five thousand years ago, that began to change.
Agriculture developed around the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates rivers as people started to modify nature. Food surpluses allowed cities to develop. Increased populations led to specialization, social stratification, accumulations of wealth, bureaucracies, armies, etc. The “natural world” retreated to the forests and deserts beyond the tilled fields and human settlements.
Domestication or subjugation of nature accelerated. Forests were cut for fuel or fields; rivers were dammed and channeled into irrigation ditches; animals were domesticated and bred; seeds were selected and separated for future plantings. Slowly, over centuries, this “artificial selection” turned wild oxen into cattle, wolves into innumerable breeds of dogs, wild boars into pigs, and a few red junglefowl into nineteen billion chickens. In the world of plants, grains were domesticated; teosinte, a wild grass, morphed into maize, then corn; and wild mustard – selected for buds, leaves, or flowers – transformed into Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, all found in every “natural foods” store.
Today, artificial selection no longer takes centuries. Gene-splicing technologies – genetic engineering –allows us to select characteristics, and modify (or even create) new species tomorrow. Order a hundred mice from a lab and you can have your choice of color. Green and pink are among them.
We now have the ability to alter ever-more aspects of the world. The foods we eat are fattened by hormones, treated with antibiotics or pesticides, irradiated to kill germs, or genetically altered to produce greater yields. We can also modify ourselves – inject steroids to increase muscle mass, change gender with the aid of surgery and hormone therapy, or tune in to news of the world that only reinforces our pre-existing political opinions. Soon – via gene splicing – we will protect our children from inheriting our diseases, or choose what qualities they inherit or don’t. But, when the ground we stand on is made of shifting sands, how shall we choose among these options wisely?
Seeking an Unfragmented Life
Inner and outer conditions reflect each other. As the world is chopped up and changed, something similar happens in our psyches. Our lives become splintered and disconnected as the daily world is broken into bits. In the outer world, the planet is sectioned and carved into nations, cities, streets, and blocks, the once-unbroken landscape now cut by roads, private-property “lots,” and walled -off by chain link fences. Forests are surveyed, divided, and sold. Some — leveled and paved in asphalt – are painted with parallel lines to make parking spaces.
Time is also hacked into pieces. The natural cycles — revolutions of stars or phases of the moon – are mostly forgotten, as days are clustered in groups of seven. People consult appointment books and obey clocks and calendars with no relation to nature or the body. Working the day or night shift, taking lunch and coffee breaks, biological rhythms become attuned to mechanics and economics. We fall asleep and awaken with alarm.
Adrift within a fragmented culture, in a world of unlimited options, we try to make wise choices with nothing solid to stand on.
Nature is organic, interdependent, and seamless, while our urban and suburban environments are artificial and almost entirely human-created. Little is natural within them. People stay inside flat-surfaced cubicles with bottled water and conditioned air — their entire sensory reality created by an industrial process. The “world” most people live in is an artificial one, and — in important and fundamental ways — unreal.
As modern life removes us from our roots and interaction with our natural habitat, it becomes difficult to truly know who we are. How will we “meet our maker” by staying inside environments we have altered or made? To discover our depths and authenticity, we must step outside the physical forms – apartments, cars, computers, and classrooms – and the ways of thinking that separate and disconnect us. We must engage and embrace that world – Nature – which created us.
The word “human” comes from humus – to be of the earth. To have all your instincts and abilities alert and working together – common and necessary in nature – is rare for the civilized human, while the disconnected, split-off, altered state of “normal reality” is common. In this sense, actual human beings may be as endangered as other species. As Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda, “Our true mind, has been relegated to obscurity. The mind we use daily for everything we do, is a foreign installation.”
The natural world – left alone – has integrity. Its laws won’t change through drafting legislation or voting out Trump. Its environment is seamless, every moment is visible, audible, tactile… Our faculties function in a world that’s multidimensional and multi-sensory. Watching the sunset, you feel a rock against your back, a breeze cooling your scalp. Rivers, wind, leaves, birds… merge their songs as you catch the fragrance of pine. You experience a sense of living fully; a feeling of belonging and relatedness.
We’ve separated ourselves from the rest of life, changed the environment and parameters in which we live. But the result of his separation has been a loss of belonging; unease in our bodies, and a disconnect between our human concerns and larger, more meaningful contexts.
We exist in two worlds – a world of primal, natural reality and a world of inter-subjective and social interactions. One is solid, stable, objective – its laws immutable — while the other is fluid, artificial, and arbitrary. We cannot roll back time or have the option to live in some pre-civilized state of consciousness. Living well in the year 2018 requires engaging in a world where contexts, values, and choices are all relative and shifting, where every choice, no matter how thought-out, can also be wrong or inconsiderate. To do this well is difficult. To do it without having solid grounding in a more visceral and natural world is impossible.
~ Sparrow Hart, January 2018
It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came;
and I wept; I wept. And tears
I had never known
So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged – I begged to wed every object
And when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
And he did not say,
“Where have you
For then I knew my soul – every soul –
had always held
— Meister Eckhart