Living on the water, the air and sea are articulate with wonder. There’s an entire spectrum of birds that promote this feeling. The loons swim together in charmed circles in front of our boat while the heron stands solitary and silent on a rock submerged near the shore; and the eagle with his sharp look rides the last avalanche of light above the pines and then veers on the blade of its wings and plummets for his catch into the waves below. The dock is the marine equivalent of a tiny rainforest, full to bursting with life, a polychrome feast of life and color; in every crack or crevice waft the cilia of anenomes and the slow opening and closing mouths of mussels and clams. This structure rocks and sways under the press of the tides, the current and the swells. If it weren’t for all the yachts and sailboats I’d feel like I’d stumbled out of a diorama at a sea world exhibition, probably one teaching schoolchildren about the disappearing wonders of our planet.
Could I teach such a class? I don’t think so. There’s so much history behind creation, big, hairy-chested million year history. I think it might be a spirit-slapping, soul-sapping experience. Baby boomer parents have tried to insulate their kids from hardships and discomforts and we’ve ended up with greater class divisions in society, a disappearing ozone and economic meltdowns. The boomer generation, with its immaturity at having to grow up, is to blame that our kids have taken egoism to a new level. Is economic growth the cause of our ecological crisis? Do we even care enough to investigate? I think we find ecological stewardship difficult, even boring. That’s because our world view as westerners consists of humans standing above, or outside, the rest of creation. We are separate subjects acting upon separate objects, but to be inside the circle is to be of the circle, an integral part of the whole. Inside the circle, the subject-object division dissolves. Ancient society used language as windows into the old ways of thinking and knowing, and theirs was a non-egoism attachment, because they realized that we were far more interconnected with the rest of life than we moderns typically imagine.
one of the West’s key assumption in education is that each child is a separate individual and that it is important to develop the ego of the child. This includes the idea that thinking occurs in separation from others, that we are a separate self that then projects our individual awareness upon the world. But a child’s initial sense of self comes from a feeling of being alive in the universe, a kind of sensuous immersion. I think it’s similar to the kind of rush a person feels skimming over the surface of the water in a kayak – a tremendous sense of release is experienced when a person no longer feels his controlling ego. As adults we are more jaded and our ration minds put a distance between ourselves and the experience of phenomena. What does this do to the child’s development of language?
Our lineal view of time has pulled us out of the circular flow of the cosmos.. it’s baked into our language which is why English is full of nouns……nouns imply a solid, stationery world. We have trouble expressing the flow of nature; it causes us to simplify reality, it’s something made up of separate objects while everything in between is just ‘space’, a frozen picture of the world. We don’t really understand old and ancient world cultures which originally had no linear view of time, we dismiss them as primitive or mythical even though they are suited to harmonizing and synchronizing with the unfolding changes of nature. Technology gives us partial knowledge. We’ve become dependent upon ‘googling’ knowledge to the exclusion of opening ourselves up to nature. We identify with our thoughts too much – it leaves us feeling isolated and alone. In ancient societies the identification of self was tribal, not individual……perhaps we need to allow for the mysterious in life to augment our moment-to-moment awareness.
In indigenous languages changes in nature are expressions of a cyclical phase of becoming rather than events occurring on a linear timeline: everything is connected in the former and repetition is not so tedious. Repetition is part of nature’s way of unfolding the whole. But we are impatient with repetition. Stewardship of the land and of the waters is difficult because we loathe repetition and lose interest in those activities that demand it. We experience ‘wonder’ and a blanket of rationality covers it over quickly, or explains away our direct perception. For us, native atrocities are over, but for native peoples they still reverberate, held in the vibrations of the land itself. The same belief – that time is a circle, not a line – is prevalent among Asian peoples……the circle of life repeats, or evolves, or unrolls, into a spiral, like the structure of DNA.
The cataclysms that scientists warned us about happening in a century or two are happening now – destructive droughts, superstorms, melting glaciers and disappearing species. Certain names will go down in infamy, like the oil and gas executives who continue to exhume fossil fuels from the earth as the planet grows hotter by the year. But, fortunately for the future of life on the planet, there’s a type of activity at work today – in the streets, in the classrooms, in the courtrooms – in which wisdom is being used. This wisdom, in the service of life, must continue to grow. It’s our only hope.