The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Thinking Outside The Box (Part 1)

This blog has often lamented our constrained thinking and the need for different ways of thinking about the state of the world.  Albert Einstein is often quoted:

“We can’t solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”

So, what sort of thinking do we need?  Many suggest that we could do with “thinking outside the box.”  The Internet is awash with how to be more creative in our thinking, or how to use lateral thinking, or how to discover new ways to do something. 

I found little reference, if indeed any, to what the box is.  What is this box that we are exhorted to think outside of?  What is it constructed of?  What constraints to thinking does our cultural upbringing and education burden us with?  In fact, Einstein (who was quoted earlier) also noted that “We are boxed in by the boundary conditions of our thinking.”

Let us think of a box – just a very simple one.  It has six sides.  To think outside those six sides requires breaking through one or more of those sides, or perhaps removing a side or two completely.  Here is a way to think of each of those six sides as representing six Einsteinian boundary conditions (or constraints) to our western-styled thinking system. 

This blog piece will briefly explore three of those sides (constraints.)  The other three will be explored in Part 2.

Side 1 (Materialism):  This side of the box is the side that tells us the world is material.  There is no reality beyond the material.  Matter is the fundamental foundation of all of nature.

This constraint implies that everything can be explained by the material interactions between matter.  Even consciousness is viewed this way, as simply being the outcome of complex interactions between neurons.  And neurons themselves?  Well, of course, they are simply nerve cells (matter) that receive input from our environment and transmit messages to our muscles.

Materialism as a philosophical construct began in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE in ancient Indian philosophy and amongst the Greek Atomists.  In more modern times Thomas Hobbes (16th-17th centuries) set about constructing his social and political system around a mechanistic approach to life.  In his view humanity and society were simply interacting parts – much like the parts of a giant machine.  It is Hobbes who consigned humanity to a life that is solitary, poor, nastybrutish, and short.”

Marx and Engels took this material approach to the state of humanity to postulate their historical materialism.  And we know where that lead.  Capitalism, it must be said, is founded on the same materialism, only it set off on a different path to that of socialism.  Both, however, have constrained our thinking within a materialist and mechanical framework for most of the past three hundred or more years.

In many ways our thinking is still constrained by this Hobbesian idea.

Materialism leads to a mechanistic view of life, the Universe, and everything.  Then, trapped by that view, technological fixes become the default solution to any and all problems.  Yet, in many ways, our reliance on techno-fixes has been a major source for many of the problems we face.  We remain thinking inside this particular side of the box.

Fortunately, a shift is beginning.  Quantum physics was perhaps the first of the “sciences” to push against this side of the box.  Erwin Schrödinger, working in the first half of the 20th century noted that “…consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms.”  His contemporary, Werner Heisenberg, took issue with the very fundamental material world, when he stated simply, “Atoms are not things.”

Side 1 of the box must not constrain our thinking.

Side 2 (Objectivity):  Objectivity tells us that truth can be independently arrived at, without the influence of our own selves.  We can observe without influencing what is observed.  Our emotions, perceptions, intuitions, and other internal biases have no bearing on whatever it is that we are observing.  We can be completely objective.  Or, so the boundary condition tells us.

The Scientific method is grounded on the idea of objectivity.  Science tells us that we can undertake experiments, observe the outcome, and make conclusions from that, all the while remaining detached, independent, and objective.  Whilst the scientific method has much to offer and has allowed us to better understand aspects of nature, objectivity is beginning to be shown as a deception.

In the social world it is possible to notice this lack of objectivity.  Imagine you are walking down the street and someone approaches you with a clipboard and asks you some questions.  How do you answer?  With consideration, thoughtfulness, from a position of what is expected of you?  Now, imagine you are meeting friends in your favourite café a few minutes later and you relate this interaction.  How do you now answer those same questions?  Differently?  More honestly, dismissively?  It depends upon who is observing us, doesn’t it?

Side 2 of the box needs to be broken through.

Side 3 (Linearity):  Effect always follows cause.  A causes B which then causes C.  C cannot possibly cause A.  Linearity is exactly as it sounds: a straight line from point A to point B. 

The Enlightenment of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries entrenched linear cause and effect ideas.  The logical system this approach enabled suggested that the world was subject to a very stable order; an order that could be identified and then manipulated.

However, many cultures have known for centuries that things are not that simple.  Buddhism, for example, describes a dependent arising (or dependent origination) whereby all phenomena are in continual state of continuous and inter-dependent interaction.  This dependent arising means it is almost impossible to tell which phenomenon is causing another phenomenon to emerge.  It is also impossible to attribute causality to any one particular phenomenon.

Within western science we are beginning to see this mutuality become more readily understood via theories such as Complexity Theory, Chaos Theory, and Emergence.  The straight (linear) lines of the box are being questioned.

Side 3 of the box is crumbling.

Part 2 of this blog-piece (next week) will explore the other three sides of the box.  1. Separation, 2. Control and 3. Mind as the sole source of thinking.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Renewing Our Thinking On Renewables

 We keep throwing our carbon waste into the atmosphere, don’t we?  And just like many of our other waste dumps, it heats up.  We used to call it global warming, and then we realised that the Earth’s climate was changing as a result.  We began to call it climate change.  Then we discovered that the change was happening terribly fast, and it was fluctuating wildly.  We changed the phrase again, and called it climate chaos.

The science confirmed it.  The climate is changing.  The change is because of extra carbon in the atmosphere.  The extra carbon is because we put it there.  And now we don’t like it.

We don’t like sea level rise.  We don’t like arctic ice sheets and glaciers melting.  We don’t like more and worse hurricanes, tornadoes, and super-storms.  We don’t like intense heat waves.  We don’t like longer and more intense bushfire seasons.

We don’t like our potential future!

What to do?  The answer seems to suggest a reduction in carbon emissions.  Next question: how does this waste product of carbon get produced?  Simple: from the burning of fossil-fuels.  Why do we burn them?  To provide us with energy.

That’s it then.  Swap to alternative energy sources.  But not a simple swap.  The new energy sources must be sustainable, they must not add further carbon waste.  And, they must be renewable (re-new-able.) 

Following on down that linear cause-effect thinking process we ask:  what is renewable?  Wind and sunshine.  We’ve solved it.  We invent technology that will harness the energy in solar and wind. 

And that has become the main message.  I may be stating it somewhat bluntly, but the essential message of hope is that if we turn away from fossil-fuels and invest in renewables we can solve the climate chaos crisis.  It is a three-pronged solution: solar, wind, battery storage.

Is it really a Solution?

Let’s ask a few more questions.  Let’s do some further thinking on renewables.

What will be the demand for metals needed for Solar Photovoltaics between now and 2050, if we want global warming to remain below 2 degrees Celsius?  On average, production will need to rise by at least 300%.  Silver, for example, has a current annual production level of about 25,000 tonnes.  It will need to rise to over 700,000 tonnes.1

We know that the wind doesn’t always blow and that the sun does not always shine.  Batteries are the answer to having electricity available for when solar and wind does not provide us with direct energy.  Lithium is a key mineral in battery production.  In 2019 lithium mines produced 77,000 tonnes.  To have sufficient storage capacity over the next thirty years production will need to expand to 30 million to 50 million tonnes per year.  That’s 400 times the present production rate!

What’s more, extracting one tonne of lithium from a mine requires 1,250 tonnes of earth to be dug up.  That translates to 50 billion tonnes of earth being dug up annually!2  And that’s just lithium.

Another suggested solution is to replace our petrol and diesel powered vehicles with Electric Vehicles (EVs.)  Sounds reasonable doesn’t it – until we start asking a few questions.  Questions like: how much raw material needs to be mined, moved, and processed in order to make one EV battery?  One EV battery weighs approximately 450 kg.  However, the answer to the question is 225,000 kg, i.e. 225 tonnes.  That is five hundred times the weight of the battery!

Sounds like a lot of earth needs to be dug up, and lots of minerals mined, in order to reach our “renewable” goals.  Perhaps it can be done.  Perhaps the mining industry has sufficient earth moving machinery, or will procure it.

Well, yes, but!!  But, what are we doing?  Tearing into Mother Earth.  Polluting water supplies.  Disrupting indigenous communities.  The damage to environments and people in South America (where minerals such as lithium and nickel are mined) and the Congo (which produces 70% of the world’s cobalt) is already well known.

A few months ago Rio Tinto received world-wide condemnation for blowing up a 46,000 year old site of cultural significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people in Western Australia.  Rio Tinto’s CEO and two other senior executives resigned as a result.  This was not the first instance of such culturally significant desecration.

Can we really expect that future miners will not undertake similar destruction simply because the minerals they are exploiting are to be used in renewables?

I can hear the responses already.  The technology will become more efficient.  Perhaps.  If it does though, it will be only small gains in efficiency.  The big efficiency gains have already been made.

There is a limit (known as the Schockley-Queisser Limit) to converting photons to electrons in photovoltaic cells.  It is 34%.  Currently photovoltaic technology is 26% or slightly more.  Most of the potential efficiency is already in the technology.3

Similarly for wind (where it is known as the Betz Limit) the limit of kinetic energy able to be utilised by a turbine is about 60%.  Modern wind turbines exceed 45%.3

Besides, increasing efficiency does not reduce growth in the technology.  Far from it.  Mostly it increases growth.  William Jevons (an English economist) noticed this paradox almost one hundred and sixty years ago.  Jevons realised that technological improvements leading to increased efficiency in coal use, led – contrary to expectation – to greater coal consumption.  The effect has been known as the Jevons Paradox ever since.

What to do then?

Some have pointed to these problems with renewables as evidence that we cannot step aside from fossil-fuels. 

This author is not advocating that conclusion.

However, the above does imply (strongly I would suggest) that we need a renewed approach to how we think about renewables.  That means we need to re-think the solutions we are offering if we intend to remain below a 2 degree rise in global temperature.

The renewable energy solution is one of supply.  It looks to an alternative way to supply the electricity demanded by human beings.

What if we do a rethink, and start asking questions about demand?  That means a renewed approach to our consumption levels. 

Simply put – we are consuming too much.  We are consuming more than Mother Earth can regenerate.

We must stop thinking about renewables and start thinking about de-growth.  We must go into de-tox; recover from our addiction to consumption for consumptions sake.

Notes:

1. These and the following data are from The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, World Bank, 2017.

2.  Presently (as of 2020) 61.1 billion tonnes of metal ore, fossil fuels, and non-metallic minerals are extracted from the Earth annually. www.theworldcounts.com (accessed 25 Nov 2020)

3.  Mark P Mills (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking, March 2019.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Going Back

Have you been involved in conversation with others about the state of the world and at some point been told: - But we can’t go back?

How do we handle such accusations and reality-checks?  Can we go back?

No, and yes.

Perhaps it is true that we cannot return to a time when there were: no cars, no refrigerators, no large shopping malls, no television, no mobile phones…

However, we can go back in another, more useful, and more valuable way.  We can go back to a former way of thinking.  Albert Einstein is credited with perhaps the most famous quotation regarding our thinking.

“We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Einstein never actually said this, although he was the Chairman of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists who sent a telegram to prominent Americans in May 1946, in the wake of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  That telegram included the phrase,

“…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”

In neither case did Einstein mean a thinking that simply produced different results.  He did not mean that we should apply our current way of thinking to come up with new ways of dealing with problems. 

Einstein was advocating an entirely different way of thinking.  He was advocating for a thinking placed within a much wider understanding of our human place in the world:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

A similar understanding is suggested by indigenous peoples who exhort us to use different thinking processes and not simply steal the results of indigenous thinking.1

It is almost seventy-five years since Einstein bemoaned our way of thinking, yet we continue to think – in the same way we have been thinking since at least the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (and possibly much earlier.)

We are still trying to resolve conflict using combative thinking and the strategies of warfare.

We are still trying to make political decisions based on adversarial debating procedures from centuries ago.

And, crucially, currently we are trying to solve the problems of climate chaos using the same technological thinking we used when we began building steam engines.

Such ways of thinking must change.  We must find ways of thinking that do not rely simply upon information and knowledge.  It has been said that “As information doubles, knowledge is halved, and wisdom is quartered.”2

Changing our thinking requires us to let go of our desire for control, mastery, and even of outcomes.  We need thinking that admits to our being “…a part of the whole called by us universe.”

Can we do it?  We do have thinking that is based in patterns, holism, and complexity.  We have forgotten them.  Let’s go back and look for them.

Notes:

1.  See especially: Tyson Yunkaporta, sand talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2019.

2.  Ervin Laszlo & Jude Currivan, Cosmos: A Co-creator’s Guide to the Whole-World, Hay House Inc., 2008.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Down With Elections! - A Review

As you might guess, Down With Elections! by Campbell Wallace1 is damning not just of the electoral process, but of elections per se.  Tellingly, the subtitle of the book, A plan for democracy without elections,  tells us that this is not a manifesto to overthrow the institution of democracy.  It is not a call to arms, nor is it a voice for socialism, communism, or any other “ism.”  It is, simply, an outline of a mechanism to improve democracy.

Improve democracy?  How?  Didn’t Churchill claim that “… democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”?  Yes, he did.  But he prefaced that comment by saying: No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.”  It is this preface that Wallace addresses in his book.

Indeed, Wallace begins the book by outlining 27 defects of democracy as we know it.  These defects all pertain to electoral democracy.  That is, each and every one of these defects is a defect of voting, of elections, not of democracy itself.

But, isn’t that democracy?  Doesn’t democracy mean elections and voting?  Are not they the same thing, mutually entwined?

No! says Wallace.  Democracy does not have to be wedded to elections, and nor should it. 

What then?  Wallace has a simple answer: sortition.  Sortition meaning the random selection of decision-makers from the entire population.  That’s right.  The way in which we could select our parliaments, senates, congresses, city councils, and other such bodies is by random selection, meaning that anyone could be selected, not just those with the money, prestige, power, charisma, or education. 

“Huh, nice idea,” we may cry, “but no-one has heard of it, so no-one will be in favour of it, and it won’t happen.”  Exactly.  Three pages before the end of his book, Wallace, notes this exact criticism.  His answer is perhaps obvious:

“The only real problem with sortition is the fact that it is not widely known and accepted, which is why I have written this book.”  Well done, Campbell Wallace.  This book is needed now, at a time when democracy all around the world is showing signs of aging.

Down With Elections! is part Manual, part Manifesto.  In it Wallace describes why it is that elections are not bringing us the results we would like (27 defects), explains what sortition is, and outlines a thorough implementation plan.

For those new to the idea, then the first four chapters and the last two are possibly sufficient reading.  Those who have come across the idea before and have assessed what it has to offer may be drawn more to Chapters 5-10.  In these chapters Wallace outlines in detail the make-up and practices of a nation state where sortition is the means of selecting decision-makers.  He addresses questions such as; how are bills proposed, what salary should selected members get, how long is their term of service, how many members should be selected?

Wallace also addresses some common criticisms, such as; will there be sufficient skill and knowledge in randomly selected bodies, won’t foolish decisions be made?  Wallace takes these criticisms seriously, and answers them with equal seriousness.

Has it been tried before?  Yes, it has.  In fact, it was Athens, the supposed birthplace of democracy, that first tried it out, and found that it works.  Wallace does not mention this until at least one hundred pages into his book.  This may be my only, minor, criticism of the book.  That sortition was used in the crucible of democracy is one of its most compelling features.  I would have liked to read that earlier in the book. 

This book is a welcome addition to the growing body of works exploring sortition. 

Note:

1. Available from https://www.amazon.com/DOWN-ELECTIONS-plan-DEMOCRACY-WITHOUT/dp/B0851M9H3F


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Old Age Wisdom, or Age Old Wisdom

In 2019 an international study into The Future of Ageing was published.1 

Online interviews were conducted in 28 countries with 20,788 adults aged 16-64 about their expectations for aging. 

Asked to define the age at which someone became old, the global average was 66.2  Asked if they expected to be fit and healthy in old age, over 80% agreed in South American countries, China, and Malaysia.  Tellingly, less than 50% answered in the affirmative in many European nations, the US, Australia, Russia, and Japan.  Yet, with the exception perhaps of Russia, aren’t these supposed to be the countries with the highest standard of living in the world?

A little commented upon aspect of the study looked at wisdom.  14% of those interviewed thought that becoming wiser was the best thing about aging.

Yet, the notion that age brings wisdom is a myth.  Wisdom is identified with elderhood, yet, as Stephen Jenkinson laments:

“The proliferation of old people has not meant the proliferation of elders… The presence of elders in a culture turns out not to derive from an aging population.  We’d be awash in wisdom if it did.  We are awash in information, and an often inarticulate kind of mass blunt force trauma we call ‘experience,’ instead.”(3)

The study gives no hope for this sad observation to likely change.  Whilst 14% looked forward to becoming wiser, between a quarter and a third of respondents said that they looked forward to very individualistic futures (holidays, travel, hobbies, and leisure.)  Only 10% indicated they were looking forward to being able to help others, through volunteering.  This disparity in percentages does little to suggest wisdom.

Yet, we live in a world today where wisdom, and the functions of elderhood, would be greatly welcomed.

That wisdom comes with old age is a myth.  Old age wisdom is a fiction.

Age old wisdom however may be more what we need.  That means that those of us who are now of an older age need to let go our pretentions towards a good life, towards the comfort of old age.  It means opening our eyes to what is really going on in the world.  It means becoming aware of and awake to: the cries of young people, the pain of indigenous cultures, the injustices perpetrated on our behalf by transnational corporations, the degradation of landscapes, forests, and oceans.

If we had been aware of these issues in the previous decades of our lives, now is not the time to sit back and take it easy.  If we had not been aware in our previous decades, then now is the time to get out of our stupor and discover what is happening.

Stephen Jenkinson is worth quoting again.  This time from a talk he gave at a 5-day immersion on Stradbroke Island (Queensland, Australia) in May 2019:

“Now is not an okay time for okay people to be okay.”

Notes:

1. Ipsos, The Perennials: The Future of Ageing, February 2019.

2. I celebrate a birthday in a couple of days’ time that puts me a couple of years into the “old” category.

3. Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, Bereley, California, 2018


Thursday, 29 October 2020

Fear Of Death = Loss Of Life

Western-styled culture is highly death averse.  We have a greater fear of death than other - indigenous and nature-based – cultures.  Not only do we fear death; we are also fearful (or at least, reluctant) of talking about death.

In life we also have a fear of nature.  This fear manifests in our desire to control, dominate, and eliminate nature.  Could there be a connection?  Could our fear of death trigger our fear of nature?

Perhaps those who are best able to answer that question are people who have had a near-death experience (NDE).

For those who have had a NDE their fear of death afterwards reduces significantly with many studies into the phenomenon showing that post-NDE the incidence of people reporting they have no fear of death is well above 90%, often 100%.  A ten-year longitudinal study in Holland during the 1990s found that after a NDE the fear of death dropped considerably in the first two years following the NDE, and continued to diminish as time went on.  This wasn’t an initial response that then lessened, the lack of fear remained and heightened.1

A reduction in fear of death wasn’t the only change in people’s lives.  Other changes occurred – primarily related to what they valued in life.  Eight years after their NDE more than 80% of people reported that nature and the environment in their lives was of greater importance.  Many regarded everything as connected, that there is a one-ness to life, with most recognising this unity for the first time in their lives.

Following their NDE people also found that they had a much greater desire to help others, empathy, and to show compassion, with more than 70% indicting these.

Other factors to increase significantly in people’s lives following a NDE included: a heightened sense of social justice, accepting of others, willingness to listen to others, and a greater understanding of life and oneself.

Interestingly too, following their NDE people’s appreciation of money and possessions dropped markedly, and the importance of a higher standard of living reduced significantly.  The importance of ordinary things increased.

A further remarkable outcome of the study was that interest in spirituality increased greatly and, seemingly paradoxically, their church attendance and involvement with organised religion decreased significantly.

What Can This Teach Us Of Life?

If these changes come about after a NDE, then must we wait until we go through a near-death experience ourselves for this to happen? 

There is certainly a correlation between a lack of fear of death and the changes in values for those experiencing a NDE.  Perhaps then, it is our fear of death that is a driver for our fear of one another, our disconnect from nature, and our avaricious consumption of the Earth and what she provides? 

What if we found a way to let go our fear of death?  Perhaps a start would be to talk about death.  We mostly do not talk about death until someone near us dies, and even then the conversations can often be simplistic, prejudiced, and brief.

Overcoming our fear of death may be the first, and essential, first step in healing ourselves and healing our planet.

1. This research is reported in the book: Pim van Lommel, M.D. Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience, HarperOne, New York, 2010.  All subsequent statistics are also from this book.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

The Chimp And The Tigress

 

Photo left: We Don't Deserve This Planet.
Photo right: © Sergey Gorshkov, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020.

 

Two images caught my attention last week.  The images contrast, yet they are connected.  The first was posted on the Facebook site We Don’t Deserve This Planet on 15 October 2020.  The second is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 announced on 14 October 2020.

The photograph of the chimp sitting on the stump of a destroyed tree evokes feelings of sadness and compassion.  The fold of its arms and the look on the chimp’s face shows deep loss, anguish, and despair.  The chimp has not only had a home destroyed but has also lost a loved companion.

As if to prove that animals are capable of love, the second image clearly reveals the depth of the possible love between a Siberian tigress and a Manchurian fir.  The tigress visibly appreciates and respects the tree and the forest.

Both photographs reveal the connection between love and grief.  Grief has been likened to loving that which has disappeared.  Love, as grief’s corollary, as a way of grieving that which has not yet slipped from view.1  Grief and love are twins, one is not possible without the other.

The chimp and the tigress show the reality of this twinship.

What if we look beyond these two photographs?  Is it possible to recognise what is not in the frame, what is missing?  In neither photograph is the photographer seen, revealed only by name.  The lack of a seen photographer could suggest a false objectivity, a false distancing of photographer and photographed.  Yet nature, of which we are a part, is not an assembly of disconnected objects.  All is intimately connected.

Our emotional responses to these photographs confirm that inter-connection.

Something else is missing, at least from the first photograph.  Missing is the human, or humans, who chopped down and destroyed the tree upon which the chimp laments.

Our human destructiveness is rooted in an inability to recognise the connectedness of everything.  Our disconnect and destructive desire is eloquently revealed in the face of the chimp.

Yes indeed, both these photographs show the love that these two animals have for their habitat and for the trees of the forest.

Both photographs also allow us to recognise what is not revealed, what is not captured via the camera lens.

Sometimes we need to look beyond appearances.

Note:

1. Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2015.




Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Seeking Our Uncomfort Zone

Photo: Pars Sahin at Unsplash.com
Often major personal changes in our lives come about as a result of a traumatic event, or at least via some difficulty.  Carl Jung, the ground-breaking psychologist, noted that “there is no birth of consciousness without pain.”  Yet, many people journey through life with little, or no, truly painful or difficult interruption.  Does this mean that there is no chance of personal growth or consciousness-raising for these people?

Not at all.  Not if they are prepared to seek their Uncomfort Zone.

This is not easy, as our western culture and lifestyle stress the seeking and maintaining of comfort.  From the time of our birth to the time of our death our lives are geared towards comfort and the elimination of anything uncomfortable.  Once inside our comfort zone we seem extremely reluctant to step outside it, even in small ways.  (A quick aside:  our personal “comfort” zone may actually be depressing, miserable, or unhealthy, yet somehow our undeveloped psyches tell us that this is where we are “comfortable.”)

By way of example of what I am writing here: Recently I was part of a conversation amongst a group of men and the topic of camping arose.  I queried how much “camping” was involved if one towed a large caravan and took with them all the comforts of home, including TV, fridge, stove, and a warm, comfortable bed.  I was met with remonstrations that “I like to feel comfortable,” or similar.

Sadly, such unwillingness to seek our Uncomfort Zone is all too prevalent within western culture.

Our Uncomfort Zone may not necessarily have to take us into extreme territory.  The following simple physical acts may be enough to begin our exploration of Uncomfort and perhaps embolden us to go further:

·       Step outside on a cold winters day and feel the chill against your cheeks, rather than remain inside and switch on the (fossil fuelled) heating system.

·       Take off your comfortable (and comforting) footwear and walk around the block in bare feet.  Feel the different sensations of differing terrain.

·       Walk or bike the five kilometres to the local shops, rather than getting into a comfortable car and driving.  Perhaps you will meet a neighbour, or hear birds singing in the trees.

·       Camp overnight with just a tent, sleeping bag, and a simple cooker to heat your food.  Maybe the stars will startle you, or perhaps you will hear an owl hoot.

When simple actions like this are undertaken it can be surprising what questions come to you.  Questions about your own lifestyle, or perhaps broader questions relating to your place in the cosmos, or maybe questions related to the inter-connections of everything.  These questions will be different for everyone.

These simple physical actions are just the beginning of our journey into our Uncomfort Zone.  There is much much more to explore, farther to go, deeper into our Zone of Uncomfort.  But, there is no need to rush, the zone will always be there.

And that is just the physical journey into a Zone of Uncomfort.  How would we go about journeying into an emotional or spiritual Uncomfort Zone?   

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Gather Around The Hearth

What images arise when the word hearth is said? 

Perhaps a fire blazing in a stone or wooden cottage on a heath in northern Europe during a cold winter, a cauldron of soup on the boil.  Or perhaps a blazing fire in a cave with people wrapped up in animal furs.  Maybe an image from our childhood days around a fire in the living room listening to mother or father reading a bedtime story.

The hearth is central to our human journey.  Until the last half century or so we have probably sat around a hearth, sharing a meal, telling stories, and warming our bodies for millennia.  It may be only the last two thousandths of one percent of our human journey that we have not had a hearth to enjoy.

Is it any wonder then that the word hearth is the container for words such as: Heart, Earth, Hear, Ear, Art?  Perhaps its simple coincidence.  Perhaps its not.

Etymologically the word heart is derived from the Old English word heorte which, alongside the name for our internal organ, also included the sense of memory.  Further back, the word derives from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word kerd which also gives us words such as: cordial, courage, credence, creed, and concord.

Intriguingly, we get the word hearth from the PIE word kerta (meaning heat, fire,)  very similar to kerd.  The two words hearth and heart have been close cousins for millennia.

Dropping the H from the word hearth we get the word Earth.  Figuratively we may see that sitting around the hearth brings us closer to the earth, and being mindful of our earthly connection is symbolically signified in our sitting around the hearth.

Our ability to listen is held within the hearth, containing as it does the words hear and ear.  This reminds us of listening to stories; fireside stories, campfire stories, stories of our ancestors.  It reminds us to listen, listen to Mother Earth, listen to our shared stories of who we are and why we are here.  Hear and ear remind us to listen to the stories of elders, those who remember the stories of their grandparents, and their grandparents before them, stretching through many many generations.

And, right in the middle of hearth is art.  Again, perhaps coincidental, perhaps not.  Whether coincidence or intentional we are reminded of our creativity.  Stories are creative means of telling our history, our mythology, our knowledge and wisdom.  We might also picture our ancestors sitting around a hearth, fire blazing, in the middle of a cave watching a colleague painting some of the first cave art.

When we trace the word art back linguistically we find that it is derived from a word that meant to fit together and also gives us words such as: arm, army, harmony, order, ordinary, and ornate.  Once again, we see (or hear) a recognition that we are part of everything, not separate.  Our art speaks to us of this connection.

Hearth suggests fire.  For time immemorial we have used fire to warm ourselves, to cook over, and to tell stories around.  The phrase “keep the home fires burning” is a reference to the importance of place.  We keep fires burning so that we can offer a welcoming place of warmth, comfort, and companionship.

In Aotearoa (New Zealand – my birthplace) Māori have the phrase Ahi Kā, literally meaning burning fire, it means to keep fires alight, signifying continuous occupation and a link to the ancestors.

So, the word hearth reminds and suggests to us just how connected we are, and how we are part of the earth, not separate from it.  When we open our heart and our ears and truly hear the voices of elders, of our ancestors, of Mother Earth, then we are able to build a fire that warms us, nourishes us, keeps us connected, and provides a space for us to tell stories.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

No Measure Of Health

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”1 This quote, attributed to

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)
Jiddu Krishnamurti, pithily states the Catch-22 state we find ourselves in.

Much of the helping/caring professions of western society are rife with people and practices that assist others to adjust to society, to fit into the norms and expectations of our culture.  To be well-adjusted is to be; obedient, status-driven, goal-oriented, productive, and primarily, a consuming member of society.

But, what if, as Krishnamurti suggests, society itself is sick?  What if our culture is unhealthy?  What if our ‘normal’ way of life is creating the very conditions in which individuals experience anxiety, depression, alienation, paranoia, and other ‘mental health’ issues?

What if ‘normal’ gives rise to alcoholism, gambling (and other addictions), domestic violence, homelessness, narcissism, and obesity – to name just a few means of coping in a sick society?

What if ‘normal’ means destroying our own nest?  Soil depletion, deforestation, water pollution, toxic waste, and species extinction are all examples of fouling our own nest.

The more we look around us – at individual, social, and global scales – the less we are able to claim that we live in a healthy society.

Bill Plotkin has a rather caustic term for our society – Patho-Adolescent he calls it.  However, unlike many within the caring/helping professions, Plotkin maps out a process for attaining individual and social health.2

The process/journey is not an easy one.  Raising healthy children into healthy adulthood and thence to elderhood is far from straight-forward in an unhealthy society.

Re-establishing a healthy society is unlikely to be brought about by unhealthy individuals.

Catch-22!

The journey must entail both personal and cultural work.  It is of little value joining a march or rally, or signing petitions, if there is no commitment to undergoing personal work on the self.

Similarly, it is of little value spending one’s hours on a meditation cushion, or attending personal growth retreats if no work is being done to help transform the cultural-social milieu.

Both forms of work are necessary, and neither is pre-eminent.  There is no need to wait until my personal development work is complete (it never is) before embarking on cultural transformation.  Nor can one afford to wait until the social setting has been transformed (it never is) before healing oneself.

Returning to the Krishnamurti quote that began this blogpiece.  It is also of little value helping others adapt or adjust to society if no attempt is made to at least challenge the society in which the person acquired their addiction, anxiety, depression …

Yes, it is not an easy journey.  However, it is a doable journey; it is also a rewarding one.

Notes:

1. Although attributed to Krishnamurti, I have been unable to locate the source, except in a reference in a book by Mark Vonnegut (son of the author Kurt Vonnegut) – The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity, 1975.

2. See especially: Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Mother Nature On The Run

Fifty years ago this week Neil Young released his classic album After The Goldrush.  The lyrics of the
title track include these prescient lines:

“Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the Nineteen-seventies.”

Once the millennium ticked over and we moved into the next century, Young updated that lyric and it became:

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the Twenty-first century.”

Mother Nature has been on the run from humans for many years.  During the seventies she had to increase the pace.  Now, fifty years later, Mother Nature is sprinting, and she is losing the race.

Over the past fifty years the world’s wildlife population has declined by almost 70%.  Species are becoming extinct at a rate between 100 and 1000 times the natural background rate – because of human activity.

The first human made plastic was demonstrated at the International Exhibition in London in 1862 (just 160 years ago).  In 1970 less than 50 million tonnes of plastic was produced world-wide.  Fifty years later we produce over 400 million tonnes, much of it ending up in the world’s oceans.  It is estimated that ninety percent of all plastic produced ends up as waste.

Approximately one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the past fifty years.

More than one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost since 1970.  Human activity has increased erosion by 10 – 50 times the usual rate through our agricultural activities, deforestation, urbanisation, transport infrastructure, and climate change.

Mother Nature is losing the race.  She is exhausted.

Humans have chased her down, cut down her trees, slaughtered her fauna, decimated her flora, and poisoned her with waste.

We have also captured her, tamed her, and put her in a cage.  Nowadays it is possible to download an app of nature sounds to your phone,1 or watch and listen to a video of a gentling flowing stream, or rustling leaves on your laptop.

Isn’t it time we stopped chasing Mother Nature?  Isn’t it time we stopped the race?  Isn’t it time we let Mother Nature out of the cage, and let her return to the wild?  Isn’t it time we helped Mother Nature heal and recover?

Isn’t it time we realised that we are racing the race against ourselves?

Note

1. A google search for “nature sound app” returned 167 million hits. Roughly the number of trees cut down every week or two.(accessed 22 September 2020)