community, culture, God, history, Life, philosophy, religion, spirituality
“These extraordinary creatures have spread to all corners of the earth in an unprecedented way. They live on the ice of the Poles and in the tropical jungles on the equator. They have climbed the highest mountains where oxygen is cripplingly scarce and dived down with special breathing devices to walk on the bed of the sea. Some have even left the planet altogether and visited the moon.”—David Attenborough, Life On Earth
The thirteenth—and last—chapter in David Attenborough’s nearly 4 billion year survey, Life On Earth, is titled The Compulsive Communicator, and of course deals with a Johnny-come-lately species that has multiplied and spread to every corner of this wondrous globe: humankind.
Homo Sapiens as merely one branch on the majestic 4 billion year old tree of life? I like that. A special branch? Who’s to say? A sentient, cognitive one, for sure. But what if that very cognition, that very capacity for signing, learning and thinking, serves, not to make us more aware of the Great Tree from which we blossom, but less?
Sure, the New Age is drunk on holistic living. Nutritionally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, we are exhorted and seduced toward a more ‘holistic’ outlook, which invariably promise all sorts of rewards and benefits.
But these pursuits are often engage in individually, and only after finishing our formal education, which hopefully ensures gainful employment and the material benefits associated with it. How many times have I heard the tale of a search for meaning and purpose only after the completion of studies and as a direct counterbalance to what went on in school?
Clearly, something went on in school which requires addressing afterward with some form of pilgrimage back to wholeness. What?
That’s easy. Compartmentalization and Specialization. Dividing and conquering. It’s at the very heart of problem solving. History, Art, Philosophy, Literature, Theology, Political Science, Psychology, Economics, Geography, Geology, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Mathematics, all their own special domains. With guards posted at the doors wielding arcane buzzwords designed to ward off interlopers.
It’s no wonder graduates the world over, moved on to career and family, are engaged in the problem of recapturing some form of balanced ‘holistic’ wholeness in their lives.
And what does that say about us as a society, where we are and the challenges we face?
Anyway, Attenborough’s Life On Earth is a step in the right direction, as is Joseph Campbell’s Masks Of God series, which takes up largely where Attenborough leaves off, bringing the story of humankind grouped in culture up to the present. And, sadly, in most cases, away from the Great Tree of Life.
I picture us–you, I, and the seven billion others inhabiting Planet Earth–lying on an immense therapeutic couch, obsessing over our human triumphs and tragedies. But our inquiries and researches always end up too self-referential, too limited in scope. Across from us That Which Can Never Be Put Into Words, the Great Ineffable we parochially refer to as God–Life, having traded in His/Her majestically flowing silver-grey beard for a more stylish goatee, nods His/Her head pensively and says: “But it’s not about you!”
What a great post.
Yes, today’s society is one of extreme specialization. And the more we progress down a certain path, the more we are expected to compartmentalize. For example, I started off studying “history,” and ended up doing 18th century intellectual history/history of science (primarily french at the time). But yet, its not in our nature to be comfortable with so much specialization, at least not mine. In fact, I’ve never been good at compartmentalizing my life. It may have been the reason I formally studied not only history, but physics, anthropology, literature, psychology, and as you said, its definitely the reason that now, as a full-fledged, card-carrying adult, most of my life consists of trying to find a harmonious balance.
And I’d say What a great comment.
“…It’s not in our nature to be comfortable with so much specialization, at least not mine.” Oooh man, (or woman), nicely put. With specialization comes inflexibility, which can lead to…. what Jared Diamond described in his book ‘Collapse’. Rigidity, ossification, petrification, and the consequent inability to change and adapt. It’s what doomed the dinosaurs. And what crowds psychotherapeutic couches.
The become, that which has stopped evolving, growing, is what our schools excel in. When dealing with Life, the becoming, that which is still in process of growth, development, blossoming, it falls silent, uncomfortable with a concept it cannot get ‘mind’ around.
This is getting pseudo-poetic, Thanks
Beverly Penn said:
It’s interesting, you are kind of skirting on the edges of the Rousseau’s philosophies about children as closest to real understanding. I suppose if “lower beings” (as we like to refer to them) are more in touch with the workings of things — the inherent, nature, the cycles of life — then our children, before programmed by societal institutions and traditions, are in fact nearest to Truth; whatever that truth may be. I am thinking here of Walt Whitman’s famous sentiment: you can see the meaning of life in the eyes of the cattle. Infancy as a stage closely mirrors the understanding and thought processes of other animals. So, though I hold Reason dear, I also know that it perhaps engenders lofty ideas, and an unworthy sense of egotism. Perhaps, as Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out, solving mathematical equations is really not that far from stacking cubes or hunting in packs. We just perceive it as such, with our own human limitations and notions of grandeur. For us, reason is just a method of survival, just like any other animal’s ability to hunt or see in the dark, etc.
Children as closer to selves and unalloyed being, absolutely. As progressively derailed, or detoured through education, surely. But a return to childhood as coming back into touch with the ‘working of things’, not so much. It’s the teaching of the working of things as we move towards adulthood which need be deepened, broadened, to my thinking.
Though probably when adulthood has gone astray, as it does every so often, we can do worse than take example from the innocence and wholeness of children in our quest for a paradise regained.
Thanks very much for the comment, and (I was going to say Happy New Year, but there is a New something or other every minute of our lives, if we only let it in) Cheers.
William Lawson said:
Beliefs form the boundaries of our imagination. Axiomatically, the less you believe, the more you see. Which is something you’re clearly and broadly beginning to discover. But a word of advice: If you keep going in this direction, keep your sun glasses handy. You’re going to need them. 😉
“Beliefs form the boundaries of our imagination.” I’m not sure I can get my head around that one. As with many of the things you’ve lobbed my way, Will, I’m not sure I’m willing to try. Above all, the road I find myself travelling upon is an adventurous, joyous one. What would I or anyone else need sun glasses for?
Stulang Laut said:
The vehicle is really cool
Sure is. It’s an actual Saturn V command capsule, blackened by re-entry into earth’s atmosphere, on display at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida.