What happens when we forget who we are and lose sight of our intimate relationship with “other”.
By E.F Nicholson The other day my daughter asked me why skin heals when you cut it, why doesn’t it stay there like a scratch on wood does? So with my limited knowledge of how bodies work I told her that the body knows there is a cut and all these cells come together build new skin. I was hoping she wasn’t then going to ask what is a cell? She asked me a typical question that 6 years asks, how does the cells know when to stop building, how does it know when to stop growing, like, who tells it? I told her that it was a really good question, the answer of which I don’t know, although there must be something in the skin cells that just “know” or something in the process that informs it that it’s time to stop growing. In her mind she was picturing this skin just growing and growing ascending into the sky. It is simple phenomena like this that never fails to amaze and astound me.
The marvel of what we are..
For me it shows an order or intelligence that is just there. Throughout all of nature, be it our bodies, plant life, the oceans, the natural world has a built in knowing of growth and decay, expansion and contraction, that is hardwired into its makeup that allows it to continue to thrive. The growth of something allows whatever that something is, to fulfil and live out what is in it. A seed of an orange tree growth to produce oranges, the same process is replicated from microscopic to colossal, from stars ,horses and bacteria ,growth seems to be strive to become something , peak and then decay and contract. The environment places restriction on what can grow, where and how and organism have that awareness coded into its nature. Yet for whatever reason we have mentally choose perceive ourselves outside of nature, observers of it. We talk of coming into the world, rather than from the world, like pebbles being dropped into a jar, when in reality our existence it is more like fruit from a tree.
Yet despite being in nature and of nature, this separate to nature thinking sees nature as something we are surrounded by nature. As result it seems we have inadvertently divorced ourselves from its most simple of principles and practices. Now humanity seems to be like the skin cell that doesn’t know when to stop because some part of the cell became disconnected to the encoded knowledge of what its role or function was. Skin that never stops growing is no longer a team player, working in weird and wonderful harmony keeping this human alive, rather it just grows because it can, its grows because no one can stop it. It grows forgets something fundamental to its nature, that it is not a “thing unto itself.”
I can’t helping looking at modern society and our unbending obsession with infinite growth as being sustainable, as it is not even following basics of how nature, which is who we are, not in, actually works. This macro picture of societal growth shows itself in the seemingly endless supply of “stuff” and “things”. Factories spread all over world are like strange rectangular beasts that are feeding on substances from the earth which they live, be it oil, coal, cotton, copper or steel. With this ingestion they start birthing “stuff” be it millions of plastics bottles, or millions of mobile phones, and birthing more and more of itself, to birth of more and more stuff. These rectangle creatures then defecate their waste into the sky, seas and land. Then the measurement of how all this is made, consumed, sold and traded is called “economic growth”. The more the better. Within political and corporate world growth is an unquestioned assumption and expectation of human existence. All societal infrastructure , work and monetary systems are devised around perpetuating unquestioned growth .What we are growing into and what we are growing for, seems not to matter.
Then there is us..
Then on the micro picture of the everyday life for the majority of the world’s population are directly or indirectly drawn into the momentum of “growth”. For most, participation is compulsory to ensure they have income to buy what’s required to live and look after those we may be responsible for. Yet that can easily be forgotten, as mind and hearts are co-opted by modern media. which has become an apparatus wrap around our culture and interactions that pumps out the ceaseless message of consumption, being the life blood of growth. Our media has become mechanism that allows us to thinks the abnormal obsession with growth and consumption is normal. Even more than normal, the greater you mimic the god of growth, you have more, make more, the more exemplary and outstanding you are considered .So people set off to make something of themselves and try make the meaningless, meaningful. Yet anything we do is hollow if it is divorced from its role within co-inhabiting space this earth is. This brings us to the gap that now exists between what we are told our purpose and role is and what it truly is. There are so many individuals and societies that are not thriving, they are not flourishing, rather they are locked into a path of mindless servitude to growth for growth sake. Even though its appears to be hastening us to our own demise as species, as our growth pushes the earth’s climate systems to a tipping point, its vice like grip still isn’t loosened, not even a fraction. For people or societies to remain loyal and unbending to a way of living and existing on this planet that is against their very wellbeing, can only be considered total madness .Yet more than madness it’s a natural response to being unaligned or living unaware of that fundamental principle that this world is shared space.
The being part of human
Our goal should be to know and understand what role is required of us, we, who have been gifted with self-awareness within the community of other living beings. You don’t have to be a tree surgeon to know a tree is dying or is sick it is because something will have poisoned it or it has been deprived of some essential variable it need to live. That’s what I observe all around me, a world full mentally, emotionally and physically sick people. We are a species cut off from its true purpose and true relationship with “other”. The problem with defining what is the true purpose for humans, is how we name the very experience of being human. We are each defined as a person or a human, a particular unique object of flesh, existing within the world. Yet understanding doesn’t inform as to what the experience of being unique to a human. That is rather than human is it more accurate to turn our nouns into verbs and say I am humaning, I am in this state of being a moving and interacting is-ness. The Zen teacher Alan Watts often spoke of this “an apple tree apples and the earth peoples” .(This understanding of wording could apply to many aspect of how we are, instead of being depressed, is it more accurate to say we are “depressing”?) If that is the case, what am I humaning toward, humaning for? If an apple tree apples and the earth humans, what is that humans do? What is the fruit of being human? If an orange tree bear the fruit of an orange, in it optimal state, what do we bare? What if instead of Ewan I was “Ewan-ing”, what is it to Ewan, to be really in oneself? What that is I don’t fully know, I get inklings of it, yet I do know what I am not from this earth to do. I am not of this world to shop, to take ,to hurt and harm, to hoard, to control. Others may think they are but I don’t feel that’s what it is to be human. I think at a minimum to be human in a sustainable and healthy way there must be something that knows it’s part of this world, not separate from this world. That to be fully who we are, we should know we can be the cell and the body, the person and the world. That paradox of being both separate, yet inter-dependent and inter-connected is an understanding that ultimately defines what it is to be human.
Our inescapable other
As that essential understanding, that we are not separate, cannot be left out in whatever it is we define as our purpose. As is so basic and fundamental it means if we miss it or forget it that consequences will also be fundamental , which is exactly what we are seeing now. Course you could argue it from another angle .If you think that nature doesn’t make mistakes in the sense it “is what it is” and we evolved to think we are separate then, that’s how its meant to be. You could argue what we see as “imbalanced” is in fact part of some wider balance nature or life is attempting to brings about. Yet life or nature has also given us this unique ability to be self-aware, to know that we know. That we have been given this consciousness for some larger and more profound purpose that I would like to think is more than just to experience a self-aware societal suicide.
A collective growing up
Maybe humans place in this world is still more teenager than adult. Maybe humanity is like the crazy adolescent that take their new found freedom and go out and do dumb and stupid things .Actions that are reckless and without care or consideration for those around them. At some point the wild teenager obtains some maturity and they stop to consider their action in relation to others, that thinking about others wellbeing is just as important as thinking about their own. So I think humankind needs to find a kind of collective maturity. We humans have been gifted with our minds and hearts. This means that not only can we love and be kind but can bear witness to those very acts. As we can not only be here in and part of this world, but we can also stand back and know we are and appreciate and celebrate all its profundity. Yet now we must harness that self-awareness, not for control over or to separate us from our environment, rather to awaken that memory we have forgotten. As in in knowing that “as I do to my brother I do to myself” we rouse from the amnesia we have fallen into. Like a snake eating its tail, we have become so possessed and locked into our illusion of what we are not, we cannot see what we are gorging on, is in fact ourselves. We don’t have to disappear in that way, we do have some choice, as far away from the power of that choice we feel it is still there.
Being aware of my doing
That choice I support by being a human that lives with that awareness of its connection to all of what is. Because soon as I start to think about large social change, in terms of numbers, power, influence, control, all the things I have very little of, I put myself in the centre of the very worldview that I am trying to shake from my mind. As it is some form of “Me against other” or “I verses it” that is the foundational illusion, all other illusion are made from. As soon as I know I am all of this and all of this is me, then I approach all of what’s before us with less fear and despair. Then I can put my focus on what is humaning really is and what it really is to Ewan, what happens when I am Ewaning. This I can do, actually I am already doing it, in fact it’s all I have ever done .Now I am just aiming to be more aware of that fact.