Archive | August, 2010

Reconnecting with nature

11 Aug

I have been reading The Bill McKibben Reader, at first because I thought it might prove advantageous for my interview to go to Mexico this December, but I gradually realized that it’s not that sort of book that can fill me with mind-bogglingly profound statistics about climate change that can wow people less acquainted with the topic. No. It’s rather a memoire of McKibben’s journey as a journalist. Not heavy reading at all. But I rather liked it and read on. I rarely read hard and fast for required tasks at hand anyway. I find the space of the unknown and unintentional so much more entrancing.


Tonight I stumbled upon a paragraph that I particularly stood out for me because I happened to be discussing this with Joy today. I had, shamefaced, asked once more for her confidence. It seems sometimes when I have a matter troubling me I like to sound it off people I trust – for their love, encouragement, support and sometimes guidance when I am in dark emotional turmoil. I like to get trash out of my system as soon as possible so I can function well in the other curious states I’m in, and continue making more mistakes with a clear conscience.


So I asked Joy for her confidence, and remembering that a relationship is give-and-take, asked first if she had issues which she would like to share.


The thing she shared, of family troubles, came out rather on a positive note. I really enjoy her company because of the positivity she exudes. And now I was getting a glimpse into what upheld her strength of character. She said that whenever she was troubled, she would almost always find answers to her dilemmas in the Buddhist texts. She also told me about this time she meditated, how it felt to her. I was interested so far as her experience but could not remain too interested – when a person is relating her feelings it may sometimes be hard to relate to when there is not a situation at hand to imagine, and it can be bogglingly difficult to imagine how a meditation should feel like. However, she told me something I found very, very interesting. She said that there was a session of meditation she participated in that lasted for five days, and for the whole interim they were not allowed to speak, only to feel their own being. She said that during this time she came to understand why the ancient Chinese considered that the human body is made up of gold, wood, water, fire and earth. ( that’s the part I couldn’t get) She also said that you came to understand that humans are one with everything, you feel yourself as one with nature, with the universe, that all creatures are equal and everything in the universe is a part of you, and has given to you.


I was reminded, during this dialogue, of Jill Taylor’s TED talk.

I wondered whether there is this portion of our minds at work, or more shifted towards that direction, when our bodies are placed under constraints of stillness and our minds instructed to slow its ravenous pace… there must be an explanation for why meditation makes people feel the way they do. I’ve had meditation recommended to me by my friend Ankur before. He says it’s good for concentrating. I have fun with the way my mind goes flippy-flappy all over the place sometimes and so never got up the discipline to try meditating.


And now I shall come to the McKibben passage which I found so interesting. In this article he is talking about the reasons his Adirondack community had for restoring wolves to the area. He mentioned how it is a matter of human consumption – that we want to consume the sound of the wolf howl, the excitement of the sighting of a wolf, the same way we may wish to pet a dolphin. It is all massive egotism on our part. But then he says that perhaps the restoration of the wolf will serve to inspire something else as well – a closeness to nature that is generally lost to us, and with that, perhaps, a hope to preserve it. Here is the passage he uses to narrate his point:


I’ve had some of the same sense of dissolving into the world on days when I’ve stood staring at grizzly tracks in Alaskan mud. But I felt it much more one day in the woods behind my house. I was wandering along, happy for the exercise but lost as usual in some plan, lost as usual in my own grandness. Suddenly, the fiercest pain I’ve ever felt boiled up my torso toward my face. I whirled, staggered downslope, cracked into a tree, fell; by now I could see the yellowjackets coating my T-shirt. I ran, flicked, ran; eventually they were gone. But I could tell I was reacting to their venom. Hives popped out across my upper body. All I could think of for a minute were all the risks I’d heard dismissed by comparing them with bee stings: “you’re less likely to die by tornado/plane crash/shark attack.” But as I jogged back through the woods the few trailless miles to my house, I found those thoughts replaced by another almost overpowering urge. The urge to pray, and not a prayer of supplication but a prayer of thanksgiving. The trees had never looked more treelike, the rocky ridges more solid and rich, the world more real. The dram had somehow taken me out of myself, and though the sensation faded as the weeks passed, it has never disappeared altogether.


As I tried to describe the experience to others, I would say it was the first time I had felt a part of the food chain. But that is glib. In some way it was the first itme I’d felt a part of any chain other than the human one. The first time I glimpsed the sheer overpowering realness of the world around me, the first time I’d realized fully that it was something more than a stage set for my life.


Now a new-age hippie might find something creative in this and decide that a new way to experience a hallucinogenic closeness to mother earth is to get stung by yellowjackets. I couldn’t agree more with this perception, though I’d be more wary to try it. Rather, I’d like to look at records of people being stung and interview them for their experience. The closer it is to the experience the better the memory. Is it merely pain and the knowledge of the source that caused this supernatural sense of connectivity? Or was it due to something in the yellowjacket venom? Does one have to, like McKibben, have prior appreciation of nature to develop this revelation?


I’ve wondered why there have been polls showing a regression in American acknowledgement of climate change being anthropogenic. And then the recent one of Australians, who are considered among the best informed population of environmental issues in the world, having a rather fragile ecosystem themselves. (see Collapse, Jared Diamond with his chapter on Australia. Though in looking this up I happened upon an article that expresses some skepticism about his work which I would give the benefit of doubt until proven wrong).


The Independent, Aug 9 2010 Australians change their mind about climate change


What we can refer to, perhaps, is by the advent of the industrial age most of England’s urban population, from which sprang most of their politicians, was living as detached from nature as it is possible to get. It is rather impossible to view us as a part of nature when raised in such a manner, and unfortunately it was this urban attitude that was propagated across the world as the best method of human survival possible.


In contrast, the native American Indians were living as a part of nature and had passed down a wealth of tribal wisdom concerning how to live in harmony with nature. They were able to maintain this because they were constantly in contact with nature and reminded of their humility in the grand scheme of things.


Recently on my first couchsurfing experience I went to the foundation of a man named Joseph, whose main interest was using wilderness camps as therapy for at-risk youths. After reading this passage I begin to understand a little why wilderness camps may be effective therapy. Not only is there the element of survival (as I’d read about Mira Rothenberg’s attempts to bring traumatized children into connection with society – see book Children with Emerald Eyes) that would push a child to fend for himself and develop independence, but there is also this massive humbling effect of nature that pulls us out of our petty, self-focused world into a world perhaps where we are required to act as part of the chain because it is what is natural and best. We do not push nature to do our bidding. Rather, we are part of nature and its survival is deeply connected to ours.