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Art of Living Journal Musings Nature

Glint

I just finished reading Barry Lopez’s “Resistence”. After I read it I lay in bed as the sun arced past the window, weeping for a long time and yet feeling fierce, too. The questions the book asks threatened to split the fragile veneer of calm that I’ve fitted myself into over the last few years so as to survive this spell in Tokyo without going mad. And it is a form of madness, isn’t it, to hate the place you live, to sit days on end behind the window without ever talking to a friend, or to have lost the joy that once filled me every day in making food or singing songs? I want so desperately to step out of this costume I’ve fitted myself into and not be afraid to run naked and free. I’ve never done well with walls around me and yet, in spite of the turmoil inside, here I am.

Lopez’s collection of short fictional stories highlights defining moments in the separate lives of a group of people who are bound by a need to define their worlds in new ways. In many respects it is Lopez’s battle cry against the shape that society and our behavior towards the natural world has been taking. His lessons are quiet and inward, a plea that we begin to explore our inner landscape and seek value in our participation in the world. His premise, based on Navajo spirituality, that before everything the world is beautiful and we should be learning to fit ourselves into what already exists rather than throw ourselves at redemption, runs through all the stories. Lopez manages to put a face on the ambiguous yearning of those who try to define the value of nature and beauty, amorphous ideals so disparaged by those in love with civilization’s progress.

I’ve been reading a lot of books and websites about seeking an alternative way of living to what the whole world seems to bent on following (“Radical Simplicity” by Dan Price, “The Seventh Cross” by Anna Seghers, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond, to name a few…). I guess all my life something beyond the fray has been calling me and that is one reason why I have never been able to quite fit in anywhere, among any group of people. Recently, though, say in the last five years, the sense of, as Lopez describes in his book, “the premonition of disaster” has grown disproportionate to my own need for belonging, and I feel myself on the verge of making a drastic, and most-likely very unconventional change. I need to act before what is swelling inside me turns violent in some form or other.

Recently Andy of Older and Growing and I have been discussing what it means to live an authentic life and how one might go about achieving it. Both of us harbor an almost desperate compunction to reconcile our biological existence with the physical world around us and a mythical comprehension of what it means to be alive. We sense the possibility of such a way of life, but cannot see it around us, except in our jaunts to the mountains.

It just cannot be that the complexity and depth of our minds and hearts stop at the producing and acquiring of possessions. If I recall all the most lasting and joyful moments in my life they almost never involve things at the center of those moments. Even in work and health frugality has nearly always helped to keep things running smoothly. And mentally, freedom from the tyranny of possession has always allowed my mind less pull in too many directions.

At the end of the book, the character Eric Rutterman declares, “It is good to be fully alive.” I certainly don’t feel this at the moment. But it’s where I’ve been struggling to head toward. I hope the steps I am taking this year will help get me there. One part, I hope, will be in the new focus on the redesigned blog, soon to be up.

Categories
Journal Musings Nature Stewardship

The End of Our World

This article spells out exactly what I have been strongly feeling these last few years, especially with all the recent mad weather around the world and the accumulated news of such things as the melting of the Arctic icecap, the Antarctic icecap, the permafrost in the Arctic, and of glaciers all around the world; the sudden failure of millions of seabirds in the North Sea to lay eggs, of sardines to arrive at their spawning grounds in the Pacific, of the mass plague of wood bore beetles in the Arctic, destroying entire regions of forests; the record snows falling just here in Japan, the monster storms hitting the coasts everywhere, the huge mudslides in rainy climes, enormous flooding, deserts expanding, rain forests falling, islands disappearing under the waves…

You see all this… if you take the time to gather it together in your arms… and you wonder, “What exactly is wrong with us?” It’s like we’re mesmerized by the lights of Vegas, unable to pull away from the slot machine, even though we’re about to find ourselves destitute. Does it take the vast hand-swipe of God to bring us to our senses? The awful part of it is that we seem to deny the reality of the natural world like some peevish teenager; it still never occurs to us that we are not the center of the universe, that the world will erase us as casually as we step on cockroaches or spray mosquitoes. Our absence will be missed by no one and nothing. Only we make so much of ourselves that we would risk our own existence and the stability of the planet to hawk our wares. The utter callousness and stupidity…

I have written about this often enough to know that a great many people will pooh-pooh me for being too alarmist and pessimistic. But I think it is that so few people want to open their eyes and see just how bad things really are. Or, if they do, they will vigorously shake their heads, clap their hands over their ears, and shout, “No! No! No! No! No! No! No!“. They say, “Miguel, why do you have to be so depressing all the time? Life is hard enough without worrying about things we can’t do anything about.” We have the symptoms of terminal cancer, but by God, we’re going to defeat that notion out of sheer optimism and to hell with the doctor!

I have diabetes. It is incurable. I will most likely die from complications that it causes. And I know what it is to deny an awful truth in yourself. People who love me tell me, “You have to be more positive about the disease, Miguel. Fight it!” Of course I fight it. What else can I do? And yet the kernel of truth resides within me and there is no denying it. It is a hard, impersonal truth, with no feeling this way or that whether I live or die. God, nor any other god, is not going to step in and save me.

I think that’s what the world’s populace is waiting for, some deus ex machina to come floating down from the clouds to grant us absolution and sprinkle fairy dust over the land, curing all wrongs. But volcanoes and earthquakes and floods and hurricanes and tsunamis act like the gods… supremely indifferent to our existence. And like the gods, when the mortals deem to insult them, the retribution is terrible. The Elders of our tribe long ago understood this intrinsically. We make fun of them today, calling them ignorant and backward.

Perhaps it’s, as Lovelock pronounces, too late. If so, our entire civilization is about to end. Can we even grasp that? And if the reality hits home, what can we do about it? Or more importantly, what can we do about ourselves? Is there dignity in extinction?

Categories
Nature Stewardship

Here We Go Again

This is what it takes to get people’s attention: virtual total destruction of your habitat…

Over 80% of the forest that covered almost the entire archipelago of the Philippines has been decimated. I remember as a boy in 1971 visiting the Pagsanjan river south of Manila and being overwhelmed by the heavy lushness of the rain forest overhanging the banks of the river, the trees filled the calls of birds and monkeys, and then visiting again in 1992 and finding the water flushed brown with mud, floating with garbage so thick that you could barely see the river water, carcasses of pigs and dogs in various states of decomposition bobbing past the dugout canoes being punted upriver while the river guides, in between demanding “Pipty dollars, you hab?, and with banks bare and dusty from clear-cut forest cover and the silence of birds and monkeys long gone. This has happened throughout the Philippines and the soft, volcanic mountainsides have given way to treacherous erosion that now contribute to the disaster of the four ferocious typhoons this week.

Flowering dogwood getting ready for winter

People can complain that they are helpless to do anything; that the problem of environmental destruction is beyond our individual abilities to change, but that is merely an excuse to continue with the way of life we are all so used to. As long as we don’t seriously act the world will continue its gathering momentum of decline until we will truly be helpless in the throes of planetary reaction: worldwide monster storms, coastal lands drowned by huge seas, massive starvation, wars and mass migration that make Iraq look like mites at play. Exactly what will it take for the whole world to finally take heed?

Ten years ago I saw a tiny article at the back of the Japan Times announcing the death of the last wild Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
It was such an uncaring side note to such a magnificent bird (a full grown Philippine Eagle stands about 1 meter (3 ft) tall, with a wingspan of about 2 meters (almost eight feet) ) that I broke down weeping alone in my apartment. And the sad thing was that it was something I could not share and find solace with anyone I knew who would truly comprehending why I was crying. I mentioned the article to one colleague I was working with and his reaction was, “So, it’s just a bird. There are a lot of poor people in the Philippines.”

That’s just it… we think of ourselves as more important than anything else. We are “above” nature and woe to anyone who would seriously suggest that we are anything but. Constantly we seek confirmation of our superiority; the television stations airing animal shows are constantly revealing “amazement” at the intelligence and versatility of other fellow creatures, as if it is merely an aberration that an animal might exhibit the same characteristics that we humans seem to consider our moral claim. Yes, there are a lot of poor people in the Philippines. I’ve met them, eaten with them, even stayed in some of their homes. But if we cannot empathize with and feel the desolation of the disappearance of our living home and the fellow creatures in it, we can feel nothing.

Clearcut Philippines

Philippine EagleThis blind disdain will be our undoing. No creature that thinks of itself beyond dependence on its habitat can long survive. As long as we think of ourselves as independent of the natural world… call it the mother of all egos… the imbalance will continue to grow, until one day it all comes crashing down.

But there is hope. Some of us are waking and taking the first steps toward re-harmonizing. In April this year, Kabayan (“countryman”) became the first captive bred Philippine Eagle to be released into the wild. All indications (the Philippine Eagle Foundation) say that Kabayan is doing quite well. These are the kind of efforts that we, as individuals, can definitely do. Bring us all together and we have a worldwide turnaround.

This is our home. All of us.

Categories
Journal Living Things Nature Stewardship

Ebb Tide

Shetlands Seabird Nursery
Sea bird nurseries in Orkney and the Shetlands. Fulmars with chicks. The Orkneys and the Shetlands, Great Britain, 1995.

This will not make world headlines and most likely will not trigger most people around the world into a mass hysteria, but when I read the news in the Independant yesterday about the massive drop in sea bird populations in the North Sea, I couldn’t help but feel a great chill sweep through me akin to the shock I felt when first hearing the news of the New York tragedy. In fact, as I sat contemplating the repercussions of what is happening in the Orkneys and the Shetlands, and broadened my perspective by connecting the dots between what is happening there to all the interconnected ecosystemic failures around the world, a slowly dawning horror spread through me like a pool of blood. Global warming is no longer just conjecture. It is no longer the day after tomorrow. It is happening right here, right now. And the consequences to us are truly terrifying; they make the New York tragedy look like a garden party in comparison.

And of course, there will be lots of debating whether there really is any danger at all, whether the data is slanted, whether the loss of the seabirds will have any bearing on us financially or in disrupting our merry lives. The focus will remain on Iraq and the American election and our global habitat be damned. It’s always about just us, and always we disassociate ourselves with any relationship to the respiration of the planet. We like to think of ourselves as astronauts within our own homes.

Fulmar CuddleI traveled to both the Shetlands and the Orkneys in 1995. I sat on the cliffs for hours gazing at the teeming millions of Fulmars, Guillimots, Black Guillimots, Razorbills, Gannets, Cormorants, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Arctic Terns, Great Black-Backed Gulls, Glaucous Gulls, Common Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Shags and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the sheer clouds of wings and metropolis-like vertical cities on the cliff sides. To think that by next year this will have vanished, like a great hand sweeping across a clock face, defies belief. It is like my heart has been raked over and my own existence and culpability questioned.

Here in Japan, a supposedly temperate climate, this summer the days are troubled by daily tropical storms, exactly how the Philippines, a tropical country, receives its summer costume. Mornings beamed into by a beating sun, followed by afternoons of thunderous showers. This is not Japan at all. The gods must be playing the wrong game up there among the clouds. Could it be a shift in values? Are the regions playing musical chairs and roles reversed? Am I going to have to learn to grow bananas and papayas now? Or will the Great Ocean decide to clean house and inundate the lowlands with an angry bath that will have us running for the hilltops in our shoving, thoughtless billions?

How much longer will the pastoral last? If the structure of the world we know falls into chaos, how long, for instance, will I survive without the medical elixir of insulin to keep my diabetic blood from consuming me? (a few days, perhaps? A month, as my body slowly eats itself to death and I crash into a coma?). Will we be left alone among the heat waves, to contemplate our mass stupidity and finally, but too late, take the blame for our irresponsibility?

Or can we learn now, before our brothers and sisters who sustain us vanish, that there is no hierarchy and that our ape-like motivations coupled to immense power makes for a time bomb that we must learn to deactivate now, or we all perish?

People want soft words and comforting scenarios. They cringe at the the idea of the romance disintegrating. But the natural world is as real as the hard knocks of the real human world. They are, in fact, one and the same. So when are we going to wake up and manage our home (the “eco” of ecology and economy) the same way that we are so compelled to do in our workaday lives? When will the natural world become our work and our livelihood? When, if we can imagine it so, will we become animals once again?

Categories
Journal Musings Nature Stewardship

Voice of Reason

Kurt Vonnegut writes a chilling evaluation of the direction we are heading in as a species. The last line had my hair standing on end.

(Thanks, Robert Brady)

Lately the advertisements for the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” has hit the media here in Japan, and the scenes of the Earth in its dying throes has caused a lot of people to turn their heads. One evening while on my way to work, the entire interior of the train was plastered with posters and flyers of the movie.

While I am curious about the movie and would like to see where it takes the whole issue of caring for our planet, it bothers me very deeply that most people will probably just watch the movie for the thrill is induces, as if the degradation and destruction of all of life is just a media event and has no direct bearing on their lives.

As Vonnegut points out, we are all in for a terribly rude awakening.

Categories
Journal Musings

Heart Massage

Irori House

I want to wish everyone a hearty

Happy New Year!

Thanks for all your wonderful company throughout last year and your heartwarming support during this rather difficult end/ beginning of the year. I’m still quite surprised by the number of responses to my last post, but it is very good to know that we have all formed a close-knit community and that most likely if we all lived near one another we’d be getting together and clashing glasses of champagne or beer. I look forward to a time when that can actually take place.

It wasn’t exactly the best of holidays. It wasn’t awful, like last year… I guess I’ve learned how to take things as they come and adjust my mind to them… but I wouldn’t exactly say the time was a barrel of laughs. I spent most of the time holed up alone in my apartment with the flu, followed by a bad, lingering cough that just won’t let up. Since without exercise my diabetes tends to get worse, my immune system hasn’t been exactly up to the challenge. I’m wondering if I’m missing important nutrients in my diet (I know that I don’t get enough vitamin B’s), so I started looking for good sources of information on maintaining a balanced diet. After watching a program on the Discovery Channel about ayurvedic medicine (interesting that the spell checker doesn’t recognize this word…) I wandered about the web and Amazon seeking information about ayurvedic cooking. Would anyone have any suggestions on good nutritional and eating information?

I was hoping to get out to the winter mountains this vacation, but it looks like that will have to be postponed for now. Maybe it’s a good idea to start the year off small. But this year I want to make a difference in my life and, hopefully, in the lives of others and to the planet itself. Beth said in her latest post about 2003 that for her it was the Year of the Blog. Yes, indeed it was, and it will be fascinating to see where it goes from here. But it was also the Year of Lies and War. I am not an American and so have no recourse to voting Bush out of office, but I will join the ranks of millions who will do all we can this year to remove Bush from office. What happened last year was intolerable. I’m sure a lot of others must also feel that our inner resources have been renewed and that clearly it is important that something be done about the current political climate. Perhaps I can’t do much, but I can speak and, at the very least, I will open my mouth and try to add weight to tip the rolling boulder.

Then there are two landscapes that I want to try to nurture back to health. My body/mind and something somewhere of the Earth. Buddhism has figured a lot in my thoughts over the last two years and, seeing as I live in a Buddhist land, I might as well take advantage of the institutions that exist here. I’m starting to look around for some temple or organization that I might get involved with that appeals to my cosmopolitan outlook and that doesn’t base its philosophy on evangelical, money-grubbing hocus-pocus. I know very little about what is available at the moment, so it will take a little while to winnow through information.

For my body I hope to get out to the mountains as much as possible this year. That means getting into a vigorous routine of daily exercise and as many weekends as possible out among foothills, because walking with a loaded pack is really the only way to train for this. Of course, just getting out there, being among the trees and under the sky is reason enough to get out.

But I am also thinking of taking up a martial art, such as shorinji-kempo (the Japanese version of the Shaolin Kung-fu… similar to aikido, but with less emphasis on ground work) or possibly, if I can find a good instructor, (difficult here in the land of the the katana, the Japanese broadsword) taking up fencing again, which I used to do in college. I’m thinking I need a sport which not only strengthens my body, but also requires an immersion in mind exercise, an evaluation of self and surroundings.

This year ought to evoke a lot of self-exploration and harder questioning and looking about at the world around. It is no longer enough just to talk about things; it is time to actually make things happen.

And thereby I also want to contribute something real to the planet. Another face of last year was clear evidence of global warming. If I really love the Earth and its creatures as much as I’ve said I do I must practice with my fingers in the soil. Maybe plant trees. Maybe clean a river. Maybe develop my little garden into a haven for birds. Maybe start an educational gathering or getting out into the villages and helping to revive the traditional husbandry of the commons. There is so much to do. And it seems I’ve been sleeping for so long!

Perhaps it was good that Bush and company stomped all over the world. It’s woken me and others out of our stupor, determined to protect what we love. A tranquil heart is required, and compassion. A great wing of water to douse the fire.

May this year bring peace and hope for everyone. Come warm your hands at the hearth, and let’s talk.