Monday, October 10, 2016

Just a bit of sun's glitter on the surfaces of what it means to be alive

That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. There is not any part of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surfaces of the water.   ~ D. H. Lawrence

Last night I was out with my brother driving in the Wisconsin countryside on a crisp, clear October night - deep night, about 1:30 in the morning. The half moon - so bright and orange, its roundness palpable, and so near it felt like I could reach out and touch it - was setting in the western sky freeing up the light of the Milky Way. We stopped on a dark rural road and got out of the car to get a little dose of awe and wonder.

Home. My home galaxy. These days I find this so comforting, to gaze up into the swirl of billions upon billions of stars and who-knows-what-is-out-there and recognize it as my "place" in the universe.

Sometimes it feels crucial to enlarge
- especially when one begins to feel almost claustrophobic on this increasingly crowded, damaged planet. To enlarge, to get things in perspective - even when that perspective is one of the foundations of the deepening crisis of the human here on Earth. 

We have been dislocated by what we now know about our universe. It almost seems that the larger the universe becomes in both space and time and the less significant we understand ourselves and our planet, and even our solar system, to be in the greater scheme of things, the more we insist upon our self-importance, upon old belief systems and cosmologies. We can understand this, yes? this extreme existential anxiety, this crisis of meaning, this need to cling tightly to what we once thought the world to be?

You know, that big question about meaning and purpose - is there any?

I love the D.H. Lawrence quote for all sorts of reasons, one being what he states about the mind. We westerners believe our mind is not of Nature, not subject to Nature, is our biggest boast to importance and supremacy over even life itself, and certainly over Nature, which we have learned to manipulate, rip into pieces, combine into new pieces, and sit back and be proud of ourselves.

Even as the ecological crisis, reflection of what all that ripping and tearing and reassembling according to our whims and desires, unfolds as a direct result of that extreme, and extremely false and impossible separation.

Because the mind, too, is purely of Nature, of how Nature connected all sorts of nerves and neurons and veins and electrical impulses and created these complex brains that can think. There is no mind outside of Nature.

Just the glitter of the sun on the surfaces of water...

Is it the claustrophobia that is making us mentally unstable and so fearful? Is it the smallness of the planet that is making us fear "the other" who is now so near to us? I just viewed a brief video focused on the question: where are the one billion people who will arrive on the planet between now and 2030 going to live? That will put our global population at some 8.4 billion in 14 years. When I was born in 1949, the global population was 2.5 billion.

No wonder we are freaking out! Western culture over a thousand years and more has been predominantly white and dominated by males. It's not that the world was ever majority white, just the dominant western culture, the one that arrived here on this continent as a Conqueror, that enslaved and slaughtered as its path of nation-building. Mind over matter, right? The matter being African bodies and the lives and cultures of those who were living here long before the White Man arrived.

If we think humans are being de-centered and dislocated by our cosmic reality, our awakening to the magnitude of the universe, imagine if you are one of those white males and you are looking around and realizing that all the languages and cultures that surround you are announcing that you're time of dominance is over. Except what you are experiencing is not that it is over, but that it is under threat, and so you have this compulsion to lash out at those others so you can get back into that familiar location.

And if your culture is Judeo-Christian, and your God is so human (and so male, also white), and you believe humans are made in the image of God and that incarnation is only through the human, and especially a male human, what is that mind-boggling expansion of space and time in your consciousness (including the inevitable end of the human, the Earth, the sun, and solar system, even as the universe goes on and on) doing to your sense of identity, meaning, place, and purpose?

Hubble Space Telescope
I ponder these things - a lot! - because as a writer and speaker and workshop leader and contemplative seeker, these ponderings loom large for me, rise like ocean wave after ocean wave, washing away a lot of cultural detritus and revealing some pretty stark truths about us at this moment - especially in this culture, and in these times of chaos and turbulence, ecological, economic, cultural, and spiritual.  

What does it mean for a writer, for this writer? Just that this is part of the context for all my work, that this is backstory and backdrop for all my work, the work that pays the rent and the work of a creative non-fiction writer and incipient poet who is walking through this world with a deep sense of dislocation - and kind of welcoming that, when I am not terrified of what it means, what I see, what awaits us in our future since we don't seem bent on addressing these consequential changes to "mind" with humble acceptance, curiosity, openness, and intellectual humility and vulnerability.

We live in a terrible time for our political and social culture. The toxic nature of our national discourse is not what it appears to be on the surface, but is rather how we are coping with the enormous changes to our human experience on this planet, not least of which is that we have so far extended beyond the limits of the Earth's biocapacity that we are facing the possibility of ecocide unfolding over the next few generations. That, too, faced consciously or not, is rewriting for us what it means to be human, and what it means that we have minds. 

We have used them badly.

The writing I most love reflects the mind that glitters on the surface of the water, that lights up our reality, even when that is painful, and does it with beauty and truth.

Humans have no existence by themselves. But we have tried to live as if we do. I write in part to expose this. I write and speak in the hope that I can help reveal our interconnectedness with everything else, and thus to show how crucial and consequential our lives are - because how we live impacts everything else around us.

And so also of the stories we tell and the poems we write.

~ Margaret Swedish

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