“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!”