Shifting baseline syndrome: When we don’t realize how much nature is changing & learning to see with deep-time eyes

Yes, this is a big concern. Most of us don’t realize how much nature has changed over the centuries and even over the last few decades. We see nature and don’t realize how impacted it is by human activity.

CHANGES OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES

When I grew up in Norway in the ’80s, the garden was brimming with insects, birds, badgers, hedgehogs, and more. We had the windows and doors open in the summer, and the inside of the windows became full of insects when we closed them. We drove a few minutes in the car, and the windshield was covered in insects. After one drive, we had to clean it.

These days, there is very little life of any kind. There are very few insects. I hardly see any on the windshield. The inside windows have just about none. I don’t see any grasshoppers, ladybugs, butterflies, crickets, daddy longlegs, or any of the very familiar insects from my childhood. I don’t see any swallows anymore.1

I suspect most young people don’t realize how much this has changed and how quickly. They didn’t experience it for themselves. This is all they are familiar with. This lack of life is what’s normal for them.

CHANGES OVER CENTURIES AND MILLENNIA

This is also happening over longer timespans. When I look at the rolling hills here in Southern Norway, it’s beautiful in its own way. For my inner eye, I see something else. I see the rich and diverse old forest that very likely was there before humans, or when there were only a few humans there thousands of years ago. I see a multi-layered old forest full of animals, birds, and insects. I imagine the ocean similarly full of life.

When I walk through my childhood forest, I experience it differently from when I was a child. Back then, I thought this was wilderness. Now, I see a monoculture planted for profit. The trees are all the same type and of the same age, planted too close together for much else to grow there. It’s far from the rich diversity of a natural old-growth forest.

CITIES

When I walk in a city or town, I imagine how it looked before humans built it. I imagine walking through the rich and multi-layered forest that used to be there. (Or whatever ecosystem it was.)

LEARNING TO LOOK WITH DEEP TIME EYES

For me, it’s important to learn the basics of how mature and rich ecosystems look, and how it was where I am before humans had a huge impact. It’s important for me to learn to see landscapes and places with deep time eyes.

IMAGINING HOW IT CAN BE

It’s also important for me to learn to imagine how I can be. If we engage in regeneration and bring back a mostly native and rich ecosystem, how would it look? How would it look right here?

GRIEF, HOPE & ENGAGEMENT

If I look at the past, it brings up sadness and grief, and that’s a natural and healthy response. I am nature grieving itself. I am a part of this planet and ecosystem driving the loss of so much of itself.

That’s why I also make a practice out of imagining how it can be. I imagine the place I am in full of life and a rich and mature ecosystem, with human settlement as an integral part of it.

That’s also why I make a practice out of doing something in my own life. When I do something to bring it about, in however small a way it may be, I am part of the solution. It’s meaningful. It brings hope. I get to see that something can be done.

IN MY CASE: SOME OF THE SMALL THINGS I DO

What are some of the small things I do?

In my mid-teens, I got deeply into systems views and deep ecology. In my teens and early twenties, I also got into ecospirituality, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, and so on. I learn to see with deep time eyes. I learned about how the ecosystems used to be before they were hugely impacted by humans. I learned to imagine how it can be, with regeneration and sustainability efforts.

I shifted how I see myself in relationship with nature. I am nature. I am part of this seamless living planet. I am part of this evolving universe. I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I allow this to work on me, and I invite in a deepening visceral experience of it. (Deep ecology, universe story, epic of evolution.)

I learned how we can create a more life-centered and ecologically sustainable civilization. I learned about how our current economic system doesn’t take ecological realities into account (assumes nature is infinite), and how that can and needs to change.

I do small things in my life. I recycle. Use dishwater and shower water for plants. I walk or take public transportation when I can. I try to limit my consumption.

I make connections with and learn from like-minded people.

I have been engaged in several sustainability community projects in the past, especially when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin. (EcoTeams, NWEI discussion groups, Practices to Reconnect, Sustain Dane.)

I am also gifted with being the steward of land in the Andes mountains, and I am engaged in the regeneration of this land. (Roughly a thousand native trees will be planted as soon as the rain returns, and we are also developing a food forest.) We are also using natural building techniques (rammed earth), we use mostly local and/or recycled materials, we will collect rainwater and use it to water the plants, we plan on installing solar power, and so on. It’s a gift and a great privilege to be able to do this.

NOTES
(1) Why is the loss happening? The general reason is that we – in our Western civilization – are in ecological overshoot. We use far more resources than nature can keep up with and replenish. The more detailed reasons are many: Use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers to grow food. Monoculture. Loss of old forests. Reduced diversity in the gardens. (When I was little, many gardens had wild areas and in general had a lot more trees, bushes, and flowers.) More houses. Less wild (semi-wild) areas.

What comes together falls apart

What comes together falls apart. That’s how this world is. That’s how existence is. It’s not wrong. It’s not a mistake. It’s what allows anything to be at all. It’s what creates space for something new.

Seeing this makes it all heartbreakingly beautiful. It helps me more fully appreciate what’s here. I can find gratitude for what’s here as it is, just because it’s part of life, it’s transient, it is something that came together and will fall apart. It’s only here now.

The photo is of Cañon del Chicamocha, taken two years ago. It’s a moment that will never come again – both the clouds and the view and my life as it was then. (Ale, Merlina, and I stayed at the house of friends in the neighborhood we are still in.) What’s here will never come again.

Why I love vultures

A few days ago, I saw a dead dove near our house on Finca Milagros. It had been there for some hours and the vultures likely wouldn’t touch since it was too close to people. I moved the dove up the hill and put up a wildlife camera, and the vultures came after half an hour for their meal.

WHY DO VULTURES (SOMETIMES) HAVE A BAD REPUTATION?

Why do vultures have a bad reputation in some cultures?

I suspect it serves a function. Vultures are connected with dead animals and rotting meat. We are built differently and rotting meat tends to make us sick. So it makes sense, to some extent, for cultures to instill a revulsion against scavengers in general, including vultures.

The downside is that it can make us blind to their right to life just like us and how they serve us and nature in general.

I LOVE VULTURES

Why do I love vultures?

Vultures serve important functions in the ecosystem. They clean up rotting meat which benefits us, other animals, and the ecosystem as a whole.

As mentioned above, they sometimes have a bad reputation. Where we are in the Andes mountains, farmers sometimes put out poisoned meat to kill them. (This seems oddly self-defeating. It puts poison into the food chain which is bad for all of us, and the presence of vultures in our ecosystem directly helps us. Vultures are on our side.) I have a personality that tends to support and defend underdogs. I want to stand up for them and give them a voice.

They are likely consciousness like me. To themselves, they are very likely consciousness, and just like me, they function through a body. The only difference is the type of body. (They are pure consciousness, and the form it takes depends on the bodymind, the particular senses, the nervous system, and so on.)

They are living beings like me. Like me, they wish to avoid suffering and find (their form of) happiness.

They are expressions of this living planet, just like me. They are part of the same seamless living planet.

They are expressions of the universe, just like me. They too are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. They are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

VULTURES ARE NOT SACRED?

I posted a vulture video from my wildlife camera on social media, and received this story:

The Parsis of India depend on vultures to dispose of the dead. Soil is sacred so they can’t defile it by burying a corpse. Fire is sacred so they don’t cremate. Water is sacred so they don’t put bodies in water. Air is sacred so they don’t leave bodies to rot. The vultures are the ultimate recyclers.

Of course, this likely has a practical function as well. It obviously makes sense to not put dead bodies in water. As for the rest, I am not sure. Perhaps they didn’t want to use valuable food-producing land for cemeteries. Perhaps they wanted to use valuable firewood for the living. Offering dead bodies to vultures makes sense, it’s a good practical solution.

At the same time, the traditional explanation above doesn’t quite make sense. Is a dead body not sacred? Are vultures not sacred? I imagine there are annoying people in their culture pointing that out.

The video is from the wildlife camera I set up with a view to the dead dove

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Sting: You could be me in another life, in another set of circumstances

Don’t judge me
You could be me
In another life In another set of circumstances

– Sting in Tomorrow we’ll see

This refrain from Sting frequently comes to mind when I see people in different situations and with other values and orientations from me.

I could be them, in another life, in another set of circumstances.

We are both the product of a slightly different set of infinite causes going back to the beginning of time and out to the widest extent of existence.

Their life, my life, are both expressions of existence, of this universe. We are expressions of this living planet. We are expressions of the same seamless whole.

I can find them in me. I could be them.

In a very real sense, I am them. Whatever story I have about them, I can turn around to myself and find genuine and specific examples of where it’s true. To me, they happen within and as the consciousness I am. The consciousness I am forms itself into my experience of them and all I see in them. It’s me.

A kincentric view on life

This kincentric – or life-centric – view on life is far more aligned with reality than our traditional anthropocentric view. It’s informed by ecology, experience, and common sense.

It’s also crucial for our survival. We need to transform the systems of our civilization to align with ecological realities, and a kincentric view will help us do that.

For more from Enrique Salmón, see Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human-Nature Relationship | I Want the Earth to Know Me as a Friend

“I love you, but I love our ecocidal civilization more”

For decades, we have been in a global ecological overshoot.

If we continue, it can only end one way: A dramatic ecological collapse, and with it the collapse of our civilization. (We are in an escalating phase of that ecological collapse now.)

So why don’t more people take it seriously?

Why do so many, in effect, say to their children: “I love you, but I love our ecocidal and suicidal civilization more”?

THE CRUX OF THE SITUATION

The crux of this situation is not – as many think – greed, corporations, governments, lack of technology, or similar. These all exist within a system that’s out of alignment with ecological realities. People are just fulfilling their roles in this ecocidal and ultimately suicidal system.

The crux is the system itself and the worldview it comes out of.

We have a civilization out of alignment with ecological realities.

For instance, our economic system assumes unlimited natural resources and an unlimited ability of nature to absorb our waste and toxins. This system was developed at a time when we had few enough people and simple enough technology so we could make those assumptions. These days, with billions more people and far more advanced and effective technology, it’s ecocidal and suicidal.

What type of worldview does this come out of? We have a worldview that assumes separation. We don’t viscerally get that our own health and well-being is intimately related to the health and well-being of our larger social and ecological whole. We assume, as mentioned above, unlimited nature while we live as part of a limited planet.

Even more fundamentally, we have a civilization that reflects a power-over orientation. We seek power over ourselves (just look at the orientation in many self-help books), others, and nature. And one that assumes that divinity is a sky-god removed from us, nature, and the universe. By removing divinity from ourselves and nature, we open it all for abuse.

The alternative is a power-with orientation where we seek partnership and cooperation with ourselves, others, and nature. And seeing divinity in nature and the universe, which leads to relating to it all with more reverence, respect, and gratitude.

There are workable alternatives. It is fully possible to have an individual and collective worldview that treats ourselves, others, and nature with reverence. And it’s very possible to have a system where what’s easy and attractive to do, individually and collectively, is also what supports society, ecosystems, and the lives and well-being of other species and future generations of all species. It’s a matter of priorities and collective will.

WHY DON’T WE TAKE IT MORE SERIOUSLY?

So why do so many – through their words and actions – prioritize supporting this clearly suicidal civilization over the lives and well-being of their children and grandchildren? Why do they continue to vote for the same politicians? Why do they feed themselves and their children food grown with poison? Why do they clean their houses with toxins? Why do they use pesticides in their garden? Why do they have a sterile lawn instead of a natural garden that supports life? Why do they continue to live as if we are not in a massive ecological crisis?

As usual, there are many possible answers.

We live within this system so it’s difficult to break out of it and live very differently. Our system makes what’s easy and attractive to do also, often, damaging to our life-support systems.

Many have enough with their daily lives. We don’t feel we have the resources to deal with the bigger picture or long-term thinking.

It requires intention and effort to change our worldview, way of life, and who we vote for with our money and ballots. It’s easier to put it off.

The change required may go against our identity. We have built up an identity around a certain political orientation and way of life, changing it all requires us to go outside of that identity, and that seems difficult and scary.

We live in denial in different ways. We tell ourselves that…. nothing is happening, we have time, others will take care of it, we’ll find a technological solution. We distract ourselves (being busy, entertainment, scapegoating, going into harebrained conspiracy theories, and so on.)

Many misdiagnose the situation. As mentioned above, they think it’s about greed, human nature, corporations, governments, lack of technology, and similar things existing within the system. In reality, it’s about the system itself and the worldview it reflects. Some also seem to think our crisis is mostly about climate change while it’s far more fundamental than that. In theory, we can solve climate change, and we’ll still go into ecological collapse if we don’t solve the overshoot problem itself.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

I don’t know. We can just do our best and see how it unfolds.

Our current civilization will end, as they all do. In the best case, it will transform into a more ecologically sound civilization.

Very likely, we’ll have to live through a massive ecological collapse first. It seems difficult to avoid, considering how far we already are into it, and how most people distract themselves with literally anything else.

And that means a massive loss of different types of species, and – again in the best case – a massive reduction in the size of humanity.

So what do we do individually?

SOME THINGS WE CAN DO

Here is some of what I have done.

I have educated myself about the situation. Early on in life, I learned about overshoot and ecological footprints, studied systems views, and so on.

I aim to orient myself to reality. I try to take a sober and informed view of our situation while also knowing I cannot know for certain how it all will unfold.

I find joy and meaning in my connection with the larger whole, through the Universe Story, the Great Story, the Epic of Evolution, Deep Ecology, and the Practices to Reconnect.

I am working on transforming my worldview – intellectually and viscerally – in the same way, and also through different forms of inquiry.

I have made myself somewhat familiar with what happens when civilizations decline and end. What we see in the world today is partly typical for our civilization, and partly what we would expect when it’s in decline. (That includes people distracting themselves with conspiracy theories, or attaching to super-optimistic views of a coming golden age, lots of people waking up, and so on.)

I take small actions in my daily life. I eat organic, local, low on the food chain, and with the seasons as far as possible. For many years, I only bought (very cool and high-quality) second-hand clothes. When it’s possible, I buy food from local farmers. And so on. Doing this helps me feel that it’s possible to change and that I am contributing, in a small way, to the solution.

I have also been involved in other ways. For several years, my self-created job was to coordinate a relatively large group of people with a passion for sustainability. We used a consistent partnership-oriented and solution-focused approach. These days, I am the steward of 15 hectares in the Andes mountains and we work on a long-term regeneration project there to help the land back to a more diverse and vibrant state.

I remind myself of what I am grateful for. At times, I have done a daily all-inclusive gratitude practice. (Write and send a list to a partner that includes what it’s easy to find gratitude for and what’s challenging, this helps open the mind to find the genuine gifts in anything that’s happening in my life.) Other times, it happens more spontaneously in daily life.

I know that endings, change, and death is what opens space for something new. The early relatively uniform state of the universe gave way for particles and matter. The death of stars provided more complex molecules that formed themselves into this planet and us. The death of species opens space for other species. The death of previous civilizations created space for ours. The death of individuals creates room for new individuals. Another civilization may come after ours. Eventually, after humanity is gone, other species may develop their own civilization. And so on. I know this intellectually and am deepening into a visceral knowing of it.

I have sought out communities of like-minded people. I was involved with an amazing sustainability organization in Madison, Wisconsin. I was active in natural building and permaculture groups. I did a work trade at an organic CSA farm in Wisconsin.

I notice my more fundamental nature. I bring my more fundamental nature to the foreground of attention. I find myself as what the world – to me – happens within and as. I find myself as capacity for it all. That helps to release some entrenched identification with this human self, a sense of doer or observer, and so on. I sometimes use Headless experiments or the Big Mind process to explore this further. In the past, I did a lot of basic meditation (notice and allow what’s here in the field of experience) to invite my more fundamental nature to notice itself and rest in and as that noticing. This too is something my system is viscerally deepening into.

I have done a lot of inquiry on stressful beliefs and identifications (The Work of Byron Katie), and on my sense fields to soften the charge in identifications (Kiloby Inquiries).

I use heart-centered practices to help shift how I relate to whatever is here – thoughts, emotions, sensations, others, situations – and so on. Mostly ho’oponopono and tonglen.

I have done a lot of body-centered practices like taichi, chigong, yoga, and Breema. This helps shift how I relate to my body and myself and life and helps me find more nourishment and grounding.

I have also done a lot of practice to train a more stable attention. Mostly, bringing attention to the sensations in the nose from the breath.

I have done and am doing healing and trauma work to help shift how I relate to whatever is here in experience and invite healing for issues in themselves. I find Trauma and tension Release Exercises (neurogenic tremors and movements) very helpful. And these days, I mostly use Vortex Healing.

I am sure there is a lot more that doesn’t come to mind right now.

Helpful contexts for my life

I find I have a few contexts for my life that seem helpful

I can also call them pointers or reminders.

Here are some of them, as they look to me now.

DON’T KNOW & QUESTIONS

I don’t know anything for certain, and mental representations are questions about the world.

The nature of thoughts is that they help me navigate and orient in the world. They cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. That’s not their function. They are questions about the world.

The map is not the terrain. Stories are different in kind from what they point to, unless they happen to point to other thoughts. The world is always more than and different from any stories about it, and also less than any story.

To explore: The Work of Byron Katie. Philosophy of science.

MY MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE

In one sense, I am this human self in the world, just like my passport and how most people see me.

And I find I am more fundamentally something else. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what the field of experience – this human self, others, the wider world – happens within and as.

I am what a thought may call consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as this consciousness. The consciousness I am forms itself into all these experiences.

To explore: Big Mind process. Headless experiments. Basic meditation (over time!).

WHAT WE MOST FUNDAMENTALLY WANT

I can’t speak for all other beings, but I have found some things I – and the different parts of me – more fundamentally want. It’s variations of love, acceptance, connection, safety, belonging, coming home, and so on. If I take a surface desire for anything at all and trace it back to something more essential, I tend to arrive at one of these.

These seem essential and I suspect they are quite universal, based on what I see in the world and what others say.

There is something even more fundamental, and that’s a wish to find our nature, to consciously come home to what we already are. That gives us, in one sense, all the things we look for.

And that doesn’t mean that our human self doesn’t have wants and wishes that we can find the essence of and find ways to fulfill – mainly by giving it to ourselves here and now, and also in life.

To explore: Inquiry, tracing our wishes back to their essentials. What do I hope to get out of it? What do I hope to get out of that? And so on.

THE WORLD IS MY MIRROR

The world is my mirror. Whatever characteristics and dynamics I see out there in others and the world is also here. I can take any statement about anyone or anything, turn it to myself, and find more than one genuine example of how it’s true. (Including true at the moment I have the thought about someone or something else.)

This is wonderful in several ways. It means I can use my thoughts about others and the world to discover more about myself. It means I can find more of my own richness in myself and in how I live my life. I can explore outside of what I thought were my limits and boundaries, created by identities and ideas about myself. I can more easily recognize myself in others. And so on.

To explore: Projection and shadow work. The Work of Byron Katie.

OVERSHOOT

Our civilization is in overshoot. We are using far more resources than the planet can generate, and we are putting way more waste and toxins into the planet’s circulation than it evolved to deal with.

We would need two planets to provide for the resource use of humanity as a whole, and five or more to provide for the resource use of the Westernized and industrialized world.

This cannot continue.

That’s serious enough in itself, but there is something more serious. This is like spending money from our savings without replenishing it sufficiently. It looks fine for a while, until it’s empty and our lifestyle comes crashing down.

In our case, it’s not only our lifestyle that comes crashing down. It’s likely our whole civilization.

Will we be able to transition into a new and more ecologically sound civilization? How will the crash impact us? How many will die? How many species and ecosystems will die in the process?

We don’t know but it will likely be very challenging for us and any other species.

To explore: Articles and books on overshoot and the ecological footprint.

DEATH GIVES LIFE

What comes together falls apart.

That goes for this universe, this living planet, our current civilization, humanity, each of us, and everything we know.

Our mammalian psyche may have a problem with that, but it’s actually wonderful.

It’s how anything is here in the first place. It’s how we are here.

We are here because all the states the universe has gone through have come and gone. Stars died and provided most of the matter making up this amazing planet and us. Species died and made space for us. Individuals died and made space for us.

Death opens up space for something new. Death is how we are here. Death is how anything is here.

Impermanence is even how we can experience anything at all. Each moment is gone and opens space for a new one.

Our civilization will be gone, perhaps opening space for a new one. Humanity will be gone, opening space for other species to perhaps eventually create their own civilization. This universe will likely be gone, opening space for a new one.

It’s all a kind of a dream. What’s here is gone, opening the space for something else.

To explore: The Universe story, the Great Story, Epic of Evolution, Big History.

HAPPINESS, CONTENTMENT, MEANING & GRATITUDE

Happiness comes and goes. Often, what creates happiness are small things in daily life. Holding someone’s hand. A hug. A kind word. Ice cream. A good meal. A beautiful sunrise. And so on. We can set up our life to create moments that spark happiness.

Contentment can come in different ways. We may live a life in integrity and be in relative peace with ourselves. We may relate to ourselves – and especially our distressed parts – with kindness. We may find our nature, our more fundamental home, and find contentment there. We may have been lucky with our parents and upbringing, naturally relate to ourselves and live our life with kindness and wisdom, and find contentment that way.

Meaning is again something else. We can find meaningful activities in our life, and those are often about creativity and expression, being of service to others and the larger whole, or a combination of the two.

Finding gratitude can contribute to each of these. I can find gratitude for the things my personality naturally is inclined to find gratitude for. (I have shelter, water, food, family, friends, a beautiful day, the song of birds, a kind word, and so on.) I can also do a more radical gratitude practice where I find gratitude for everything in my life, whether my personality tends to like it or not. This can bring about even more profound shifts.

To explore: Psychology that addresses these topics. See also this book.

KINDNESS TO OURSELVES

Some of the essentials I seek are love, understanding, safety, and so on.

I can give those to myself. I notice a distressed part of me, and I can meet it as a kind and wise parent would a child.

If our parents didn’t consistently do this for us, we likely didn’t learn to consistently do it for ourselves, so this can take intention, attention, and practice. It can be a lifelong process and more than worth it.

To explore: Resources on reparenting ourselves. Heart-centered practices like Ho’oponopono and tonglen directed toward ourselves. Self-compassion. The Befriend and Wake up process I have written about in other articles.

EVOLUTIONARY CONTEXT

I like to see behavior in an evolutionary contest. It helps me find useful and kind stories to understand myself, others, and other species.

We just traveled with our cat to a new place, and she was hesitant to drink the water. That too makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. In a new place, it’s important to be careful with the water. Don’t drink if it’s not moving or if you don’t see others drink from it. I filled a glass with water, slurped some with delight while she was looking, and she happily drank (a lot!) from the same glass. (This is likely also why cats often like to drink water from the same glass as their humans. They trust it’s safe to drink if they see others drink it.)

I don’t have to beat myself up for having sugar cravings now and then. I understand why. It’s because my ancestors evolved to crave sugar because it helped them and their offspring survive. Sugar was found in rare and nutrient-rich foods like fruits, and the cravings helped them prioritize seeking out and eating these foods. In our modern world, this impulse has been hijacked by the food industry to sell products. I don’t have to be too hard on myself for having these cravings or even following them now and then, these cravings helped my ancestors survive. (And I can find practical strategies for dealing with them. For instance, only buying what’s on my shopping list, and having someone to be accountable to.)

When I am sick, I know that most (nearly all?) of my symptoms evolved to help me heal. The general fatigue and illness feeling motivates me to rest, which helps my body heal itself. Fever – increased temperature – helps my body kill pathogens. Diarrhea flushes out pathogens or undesirable food. And so on. This shifts how I relate to what’s happening when I am sick. I find more appreciation and even gratitude for my symptoms. (It also highlights one of the strange things some do in our culture, which is to try to counter or stop the natural self-healing processes of the body like fever, diarrhea, and so on.)

I have a fear of heights. That too is very understandable from an evolutionary perspective. My ancestors likely survived partly because they had some fear of heights, and the ones who did not were more likely to die young and not pass on their genetics. I can still work on this fear so it doesn’t stop me from doing the things I want.

To explore: Evolutionary psychology.

MY CONNECTION WITH THE LARGER WHOLE

How am I connected with the larger whole? Am I a separate being or is something else more true?

When I find my more fundamental nature, I find that the world – as it appears to me – happens within and as what I am. Already there, the ideas of separation break down, at least in how it all appears to me.

Through science, we also find stories of oneness and connection, and these inform our perception, choices, and life in the world.

As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

The universe is one seamless system. It has evolved and temporarily formed itself into you and me and our experiences and everything we know. It will continue to evolve and change itself into something new. (And that may not always conform to our ideas of “progress”!)

Our planet is one living system. Our health and well-being is dependent on the health and well-being of this larger living system.

This helps me feel more connected as a human being, see myself as an expression of the larger whole, and behave in ways that (are more likely to) take care of this larger living system I am a part of.

To explore: Systems views, Universe Story, Great Story, Epic of Evolution, Big History, Deep Ecology.

Image by me and Midjourney.

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Reverence for what gives us life

Worshipping what gives us life — the sun, water, soil, ancestors, fellow living beings, the Earth, the universe as a whole – makes a lot of sense.

And worship here, for me, means reverence and gratitude.

It makes a lot of sense to have reverence and gratitude for what gives us life, and that’s everything.

The Sun. Water. Soil. Plants. Animals. Humans. Ancestors. Earth as a living whole. The universe as a whole. It’s all a seamless system. All of it is why we are here. All of it is what gives us life.

I should also mention something about the meme above. It’s phrased as either-or to get a point across. For me, it’s both-and. I can have reverence for what gives this human self life, and what gives all beings life. I can find myself as the unseen, as the consciousness the world to me happens within and as. And none of that excludes Spirit as an unseen consciousness that everything – all of existence and all of our experiences – happen within and as.

Earth from ISS

A suicidal / ecocidal civilization: Finding a more real, grounded, and kind way to relate to it all

All civilizations rise and fall, and ours is no exception.

An interesting twist is that ours is the first global civilization that rises and falls and we don’t know how that’s going to look.

INDEX

What comes together falls apart | A civilization fatally out of alignment with reality | Sudden change | Familiarity with systems dynamics | We have the solutions but do we have the collective will? | What will collapse mean? | What can we do individually? | Collapse acceptance | Power-over vs power-with | What’s my history with this? | Notes

WHAT COMES TOGETHER FALLS APART

How can we know that our current civilization will fall?

In terms of history, it’s because all past civilizations have risen and fallen. It’s what civilizations do and ours is no exception.

In the bigger picture, it’s because everything does. What comes together falls apart.

We can notice it here and now. Every moment, what was is gone and something new and fresh is here. And it happens at more obvious and larger scales, including at the scale of humanity, culture, Earth, and the universe. It will all be gone.

Everything we know – collectively and individually – has come together and will fall apart.

A CIVILIZATION FATALLY OUT OF ALIGNMENT WITH REALITY

We can also look at specifics of how our civilization creates its own fall.

The most obvious may be that our civilization is fatally out of alignment with reality.

We operate on a worldview that’s out of alignment with reality. For instance, we assume and emphasize separation in a world where everything is intimately connected. We assume the superiority and rights of humans over other beings. We prioritize the current generations over Future generations. And, crucially, we assume that the Earth has unlimited resources and unlimited ability to absorb waste. (See more below under “Power-over vs power-with”.)

This is reflected in all aspects of our culture and all our systems. (1)

Let’s look at our economic system.

We have created an economic system that assumes an infinite ability of nature to provide resources and absorb waste, and that our health and well-being is not dependent on the health and well-being of the larger ecological systems.

We made those assumptions because it fits our general worldview, and because we practically could at the time it was developed.

At the time, our population was relatively small and our technology relatively simple so we didn’t receive immediate feedback from nature. For all practical purposes, nature was infinite.

We still use that economic system. The problem is that we now have a much larger population and a far more efficient technology, so Earth cannot keep up.

Globally, our ecological footprint would require two Earths to be sustainable. And for the Western world, our ecological footprint would require around five Earths to be sustainable.

We are also putting more waste into the Earth’s system than it can easily deal with. There are plastic particles and toxins in just about every living being. We are in the middle of an insect apocalypse because we (insanely) grow our good with toxins. Our climate is changing dramatically from all the heat-trapping gasses we release into the atmosphere.

We are in overshoot and we are not doing anything significant to change it.

And that overshoot has serious consequences.

SUDDEN CHANGE

Ecologically, we are doing the equivalent of living on our savings. If we lived on the interests – the surplus produced by the Earth – it would be sustainable. But we are digging into the savings. That looks OK for a while. We have what we need. Then we suddenly realize the harsh reality. We are out of funds.

Our climate is similarly set to undergo sudden change. Any system tries to maintain equilibrium for as long as possible. We put heat-tapping gasses into the atmosphere, the system maintains a kind of stability for a while. And at some point, it shifts into a new state, and that tends to happen quickly. In the case of climate, it shifts into a more chaotic and unpredictable state.

That’s what we can expect with our global ecological system as a whole. In the coming decades, we can expect to see a series of sudden and likely dramatic shifts. These shifts feed into the system to trigger a cascade of other shifts.

What may happen?

Several moderate changes are already happening: More extreme weather. Stronger storms. More drought. Heavier rain and flooding. Crop failures. Species extinction. Mass death of insects impacting the whole ecosystem. Mass human migrations away from areas that become unlivable from drought, flooding, and rising ocean levels (eventually tens of meters). This, in itself, is serious but manageable, at least initially.

We may also see more extreme changes: Changes in ocean currents may significantly impact regional climates. The oceans may die due to rising water temperatures, acidification, and low oxygen levels, and this – loss of oxygen production from plankton, etc. – will seriously impact land life. Forests may collapse in large regions due to drought or they may lose their ability to produce oxygen because of increased temperatures. And so on. These are all things experts in the field say can happen, and will likely happen if the current Earth changes go far enough. If any of this actually happens, it’s not realistically manageable for us. It may not be compatible with human life.

FAMILIARITY WITH SYSTEMS DYNAMICS

If we are not familiar with big-picture thinking or systems theories, we may assume a kind of linear and gradual progression. That means we have time. Things look mostly OK so far, so why change too much too soon?

If we are familiar with overshot and systems views, we tend to see it differently. Then we know that things may look mostly on for a while, then there is a sudden shift, and we are screwed. We don’t have time to wait. Changing things within our current sudden is not enough. We need a deep transformation of our civilization as a whole.

WE HAVE THE SOLUTIONS BUT DO WE HAVE THE COLLECTIVE WILL?

We have the solutions.

We know some (humane) ways to reduce our population. (Educate women, provide economic safety nets for everyone, and so on.)

We have many technological solutions that are part of the puzzle.

We know how to create an economic system that takes ecological realities into account, and where what’s attractive and easy to do – individually and collectively – is also ecologically sound. (We have the big picture and know in what direction to move, and the details will be worked out.)

We have the worldviews necessary for a more sustainable civilization. Some elements may be ecospirituality within each of the major religions, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, deep ecology, systems views, integral views, and so on.

The question is: Do we have the collective will? Will we find it in time?

We are already too late to avoid massive changes to our planet which will impact all of us, so we have minus time in that sense.

Will we be able to create an ecologically sustainable civilization in time to prevent the fall of our civilization? We have to work towards it as much as we can, but it is unlikely.

What we tend to see at the end of civilizations is what we see in the world today: A few who recognize what’s happening, take it seriously and sincerely work towards creating a better and more functional civilization. Many who go into denial, continue much as before, or wait for others to do something. Polarization, infighting, distractions, and the privileged holding onto their privilege even if it’s suicidal. Of course, all of this is common anyway.

There is also a great deal of simplistic misdiagnosis of the situation. Ideas that focus on aspects of what’s happening within the system but not the system itself. Some blame greed, governments, or corporations. Some think there is a technological solution. Some assume it’s mainly about climate change. Some think we still have time because the changes will be gradual and incremental. And so on. All of it is simplistic and myopic. This misdiagnosis reflects and comes out of the worldview that created the situation in the first place. And the misdiagnosis is part of the problem.

WHAT WILL COLLAPSE MEAN?

I don’t know.

What we know is that it will look different from the collapse of past civilizations. They were regional and this one is global. People in those civilizations continued to live their lives, just in a slightly different context. A lot from those civilizations was passed on to other and emerging civilizations. In our case, we don’t have another place to go. We have destroyed our global life-support system to the extent that it may no longer be able to support us, or at least very many of us.

The best scenario may be significant ecological changes, a significant reduction in the size of humanity, and a new emerging civilization – hopefully with some lessons learned. This requires that the more extreme Earth changes – like the death of the oceans – don’t happen.

The worst, from our perspective, is the end of humanity. (Along with many other species and ecosystems.) The Earth’s system changes to the extent that it’s no longer compatible with human life. In this case, the end of humanity happens sooner rather than later. If the changes are as dramatic and rapid as some scientists – and especially those familiar with systems views – think, it may even happen within one or two generations.

In the bigger picture, these are not disasters. This is just what happens. It’s how reality is set up. Things come together and fall apart. Death is the price of life.

WHAT CAN WE DO INDIVIDUALLY?

The question then is: What can we do individually and in small groups?

We can do what we can in our own life.

We can find what we are most drawn to, and do that. Joanna Macy talks about three categories: Stopping actions. Creating and living alternatives. And developing and spreading new worldviews.

In my case, I eat organic and local as much as possible and do a few more things in my personal life. I used to be actively involved in local sustainability organizations. I do healing work for myself and others. I currently have 36 acres in the Andes mountains I am helping regenerate and make into a food forest. (I realize the last one is not everyone can do, and I didn’t expect it in my life.)

We can all find something we are drawn to that’s meaningful and a small part of the solutions. We may not be able to save the world. But we can save our world. We can save ourselves by doing something meaningful.

We can realize that we live within a *system* that’s not ecologically sustainable.

That means that what’s easy and attractive to do is not ecologically sustainable. We all, inevitably, contribute to the destruction of ecosystems, just by going about our own lives. That’s not our fault. It’s inevitable. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for it. (And we don’t need to use it as an excuse either.)

We can find ways to nourish ourselves through our connections with the larger whole.

We can explore the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, Deep Ecology, ecospirituality, systems views, integral views, and so on. Whatever we resonate with.

We can spend time in nature. We can connect with and nourish our physical body and sense-oriented animal self.

We can get familiar with the bigger picture.

Through the Universe story, the Epic of Evolution, systems views, Big History, and so on, we can become familiar with the bigger picture.

We expect what comes together to fall apart.

During the end of a civilization, we expect an amplification of what we generally see in society: Polarization, infighting, distractions, denial, people holding onto privilege, and so on. It’s what humans do.

We also expect some to do the work to create a better functioning civilization.

And we expect to experience grief, anger, hopelessness, and a wide range of emotions as a response to what’s happening.

We can find more peace with death and change.

Change happens. What comes together falls apart.

It happens continuously, which we notice if we look closely. And it happens at a more obvious and larger scale, sooner or later.

Change and death are what allow something new to exist. It’s what opens up space for something new and different. It’s what allows experience. It’s what allows evolution. It’s how we are here. It’s what allows anything to exist at all.

Everything and everyone is born to die.

It’s meant to be. It’s perfect. It’s how this universe is set up.

We can find gratitude.

We can find the gifts in death and change. As I have mentioned above, it’s what allows anything to be at all. It’s what allows us as individuals to be. It’s what allowed humanity and our current civilization to exist.

It’s what opens the space for something new. When our civilization is gone, who knows what will come in its place? Perhaps some humans will survive and create something new, and even something more aligned with ecological realities. And when humanity is gone, who knows what will come in our place? Perhaps the descendants of the octopus will create a new and amazing civilization that would not be possible if we were still here.

We can allow and welcome our grief, anger, and other responses.

It’s completely natural to experience grief, anger, hopelessness, and a range of other emotions in the face of what’s happening with our world. And it helps to make friends with it and even welcome it.

It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s something we can channel into action.

We are, in a very real way, a local part of the Earth grieving itself. We are the Earth grieving itself.

These are universal emotions. All humans experience it and many or most species likely experience it in one form or another. It’s one of the things that tie us together. Even what triggers these emotions is universal in its essence.

We can find gratitude.

There is a lot to find gratitude for here.

We are an expression of all of existence. We are part of this amazing and beautiful larger whole.

We are alive. We are alive at the peak, in some sense, of our civilization. We have the basics for life and often a lot more. Many of us live beyond what anyone could have imagined in the past, and better than 99.9% of all humans that have lived in terms of healthcare, food availability, convenience and so on.

We are aware of the larger context of impermanence and can allow it to inform us in sobering and beautiful ways.

By viscerally getting impermanence – including of ourselves and all we know – we can find deep and equally visceral gratitude for our life and what’s here now.

We can find kindness towards ourselves.

We can learn to relate to ourselves and our world with more kindness.

That, in itself, makes a big difference.

It makes our life easier, and we are giving ourselves something essential we all wish for. It’s what we often are really looking for when we think we are looking for something else.

It’s something our civilization doesn’t really teach us and something we don’t learn unless we are lucky with our parents and upbringing. So this work is also part of changing our civilization and our individual and collective worldview.

One of the things I do for myself is to aim at being a good parent to myself, especially when thoughts and emotions visit that it’s difficult for me to meet with kindness. And I also use the befriend & awaken approach.

We can find kindness towards others.

We all do our best with the cards we are dealt. When people go into denial, short-sightedness, and so on, it’s their way of dealing with living in this world. A lot of it, or all, comes from fear.

We can be of service.

We can find meaning and joy in being of service, in whatever form that takes for us. Whether it is supporting humans, non-humans, or ecosystems.

We can find fellowship.

We can find others like us. We can find and create communities. We can support each other.

I did this in the past and lost it to some extent (apart from what I carry with me) due to illness and other life circumstances. Now, it may be time to refind and rebuild community.

We can find our nature, if we are drawn to it.

What do I mean by our nature?

It’s true enough that I am this human self in the world.

And if I look more closely, I find that in my own immediate experience, I am more fundamentally what my field of experience happens within and as. I am, more fundamentally, what a thought may call consciousness, and the world, to me, happens within and as this consciousness. This is what mystics across cultures and throughout time have described. (And talking about it this way is compatible with a range of worldviews.)

Just about anything is an invitation for us to notice and explore how it is to live from our nature. And these types of more dramatic and massive change even more so.

Of course, many won’t be drawn to it. But if you are, then there are ways to explore this. The ones I have found that seem most effective are: The Big Mind process. Headless experiments. Kiloby Inquiries. Basic meditation. And supportive practices like training a more stable attention.

What does this do for us? Not much, necessarily. But it does feel like coming home which is a relief. And it does change the context for everything.

COLLAPSE ACCEPTANCE

What does collapse acceptance mean?

It means accepting that what comes together falls apart.

This civilization will come to an end. Human civilization will come to an end. Humanity will come to an end. Each of those deaths will leave space for something else, which could be a new human civilization or new species eventually developing a new civilization.

It also means accepting the possibility of a more imminent collapse than many expect.

It’s a possibility, it’s not inevitable. We don’t know for certain.

To me, it also means using this to fuel our life – our gratitude, zest for life, engagement, connections, and so on. We can use it to deepen our conscious connection with our life, the life of others, and life in general. We can use it to be good stewards of our own life and life in general. It’s immensely precious as long as it’s here.

POWER-OVER VS POWER-WITH

A few more words about worldviews.

The worldview of our civilization (post-agriculture) has a power-over orientation where we seek power over ourselves, others, nature, and so on. We have a transcendent sky-god out there somewhere and not in or manifesting as everything, including ourselves, others, and nature.

That allows us to see nature – and ourselves and others – as primarily a resource and something to use (and abuse). This is internalized in all of us, and we can train ourselves to recognize it and support and emphasize alternatives ourselves and our culture.

The alternative is a power-with orientation where we seek partnership and cooperation with ourselves (different parts of our psyche), others, nature, and the universe. It’s also to see all of existence as sacred, as the divine or an expression of the divine. (This includes ourselves, others, nature, the universe.)

When this is internalized, it leads to a very different life individually and collectively. We’ll still need to use natural resources to support our own life, but we’ll do it from a different place. We’ll do it with more gratitude, reverence, and seek to find ways to do it that supports not only our own life but the larger living system, future generations, and life in general.

Of course, there will still be times when a more narrow view takes over – times of crisis or when we are caught in trauma, and we’ll make mistakes because we don’t know better – but that will still happen within a larger context of a general power-with and immanent Spirit orientation. And there will be systems in place to protect the interest of life – our own and the wider living systems – to prevent the worst anti-life behaviors.

This is not idealism. It’s what’s necessary for our own survival. It’s how we protect our own survival and the survival of our descendants.

WHAT’S MY HISTORY WITH THIS?

I loved nature from a very early age. As a child, I always said I wanted to become a zoologist. (What I really meant was ecologist but I didn’t know that word then.) I loved being in nature. I loved the hiking, skiing, and cabin trips with my family. I loved sleeping under the stars in the mountains of Norway. I loved the nature documentaries with David Attenborough and Sverre M. Fjelstad. I loved Cosmos by Carl Sagan, which had a huge impact on me and – in many ways – changed my life. (“We are the local ears, eyes, thoughts and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.”)

In my mid-teens, I got deeply into Fritjof Capra, systems views, and the people he references. I also got deeply into Deep Ecology (Arne Næss, a fellow Norwegian) and eco-philosophy, and I got deeply into Jung. I read all the books I could get my hands on from these authors.

Climate change became a big topic in my later teens, in the ’80s, and even then, I saw it as just one expression of the problems inherent in our civilization. We need to make the changes anyway, climate change or no climate change. (Discussing the details about it and whether it’s human-caused or not is a distraction and sometimes an intentional distraction.)

In my twenties, in the US, I read everything I could find about ecospirituality (from any and no particular tradition), ecopsychology, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, and so on. I used the Ecological Footprint a lot in my work with sustainability. (I was the initial paid coordinator for Sustain Dane in Madison, Wisconsin.) I organized several projects where we used the ecological footprint as a central theme, and also several events and workshops (and one longer retreat) where we used the Practices to Reconnect and the Council of All Beings.

These days, I work on a regeneration project (15 hectares) in the Andes mountain. It feels deeply rewarding to help this land become more vibrant and healthy again and support the lives of innumerable beings. An integrated food forest will provide food for non-human beings and humans. And it may also eventually be part of local eco-tourism. We’ll see. Anything can happen.

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Michael Dowd

Michael Dowd died unexpectedly last Saturday. I met him the first time in the ’90s in Wisconsin, where he led an ecospirituality workshop hosted by some (amazing) local nuns, and several times since then. We were both involved with the EcoTeams at the time, and we both share a love for ecospirituality, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, and so on. Over the last few years, his focus was mostly on post-doom no-gloom. He and his wife, Connie Barlow, both did exceptional and very important work, and I am sure she will continue.

On a personal note, I feel sad that two of the people I have felt the most resonance with have recently died (Bonnie Greenwell and Michael Dowd) and that Adyashanti recently retired (although he will still put things out there).

I thought I would share some resources here:

Michal Dowd – his official website with videos and more.

The Great Story – a huge amount of resources.

Michael Dowd on Wikipedida

Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World – I love this book

Interview with Michael Dowd on Buddha at the Gas Pump (2015)

A recent sermon.

Deep time overlay in daily life

All of us are informed by a myriad of mental images and words in daily life. Many or most of these operate without being consciously noticed although we can train ourselves to notice more.

DEEP TIME IN MY WORLD

Since I know my own world best, I’ll use myself as an example.

In my daily life, I often notice mental images and words relating to deep time.

My mind is creating an overlay from history, evolutionary psychology, and the universe story, and it’s using it to make sense of the world.

EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY

I often check in with evolutionary psychology if I see a behavior I am curious about.

For instance, when I hear or hear about the stress many experience, it’s natural to check it with an image of how our distant ancestors lived – in smaller groups and a much simpler life focused on gathering and hunting. That life had challenges too, of course, but it is simpler than our life so contrasting the two immediately gives us some understanding of why modern humans experience so much stress, anxiety, and depression.

When I see people who are overweight, or hear about eating disorders, or walk into a grocery store full of sugary things, I am also reminded of the environment we evolved in. We evolved to love sugary things since they were fruits, we didn’t so often come across fruits and they are full of valuable nutrients and energy, so it was good for us to have a strong desire to eat them. These days, that impulse is hijacked by the modern food industry where we are surrounded by sugary temptations and it’s not so easy for many of us to resist.

HISTORY

When the pandemic happened, I was not surprised for long by most of what unfolded.

I knew that pandemics happen roughly one hundred years apart (there are obviously exceptions) so this one came right on time. (A century after the Spanish Flu.)

I have read and studied some epidemiology since my teens, so I knew what works in terms of measures we collectively can take to reduce the impact. So I was not surprised by the measures taken by most governments. They just followed standard pandemic guidelines based on what we know works from history. (There were some variations, of course, with Sweden and China as polar opposites. And that’s very good. That allows us to study and learn from it in hindsight.)

I was also not surprised by the upswing in conspiracy theories and groups of people being upset about some of our collective measures. In pandemics or other collective crises, there is an upswing in conspiracy theories, scapegoating, and fear relating to any change. (I was disappointed that some of my friends fell into it without apparently much awareness of how they were just repeating patterns from history.)

UNIVERSE STORY

Sitting here, and often in daily life, I am also aware of how I am literally stardust.

I and all of Earth are created from matter forged in ancient stars.

I am aware of my distant ancestors going back. to the very first single-celled beings Earth formed itself into.

I am aware of my intimate relationship with all Earth life.

I am aware that the universe has formed itself into all I am and all I am aware of.

MORE FUNDAMENTALLY CONSCIOUSNESS

There is another aspect here that is not really deep time, but maybe more a (kind of) deep psychology.

For a few decades now, I have found myself most fundamentally as consciousness.

To me, the world happens within and as this consciousness. (That includes anything within the content of experience, including this human self, any thoughts and emotions, any sense of a doer, observer, and so on.)

So when I see or imagine other beings, I assume that’s how it is for them too, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. I see an image of them too most fundamentally being consciousness, operating through and as the body-mind they function through and as.

That gives another depth to my world.

GOOD TO NOTICE

All of this is how my mental field gives some depth to my world.

And it’s very good to notice.

It’s good to notice that it is a mental overlay.

Although it gives depth and richness, and my personality mostly likes it, it’s good to hold it all lightly.

TRAINING OURSELVES TO NOTICE

We can train ourselves to notice these mental field overlays.

For instance, as I am sitting here I am aware of my mental images of the world beyond what I can take in with my senses, I am aware of mental images overlaying my visual field, I am aware of words and images roughly outlining the next few paragraphs, and so on.

The most effective way to learn to notice this that I have found is traditional sense field explorations and modern variations like the Kiloby inquiries.

And this helps us hold it all a little more lightly. Or, at least, notice when we don’t!

DEEP TIME RESOURCES

How do we develop a more of a deep time overlay on the world?

What resonates the most with you? What do you have curiosity, fascination, or passion about? What are you drawn to?

If you like history, take a look at Big History.

If it’s nature and the Earth, then deep ecology may be a good place to start.

If it’s spirituality, then just about all religions have an ecospirituality wing. You can also explore pagan or shamanic approaches.

If it’s science in general, systems views and an integral approach may be a good fit.

If it’s evolution, check out the epic of evolution and evolutionary psychology.

If it’s awe and a connection with the universe and existence as a whole, try the Universe Story.

If you are more interested in a direct and experiential approach, try Practices to Reconnect and different forms of inquiry (Kiloby Inquiries, the Big Mind process, perhaps also The Work of Byron Katie and Headless experiments).

Searching on any of these will bring up online groups, videos, podcasts, websites, books, and other good starting points. There is a lot out there on these topics.

Personally, I got into the Universe Story first, through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when I was about ten. It changed my life and set me on this course. In my mid-teens, I got into deep ecology and systems views through Arne Næss and Fritjof Capra. I read everything I could get my hands on. In my twenties, I got into evolutionary psychology (as part of my psychology studies), Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), the Universe Story, and the Epic of Evolution. I have organized several events where we used the Practices to Reconnect.

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How we relate to other species

A neighbor cat comes to stay with me most of the day and evening, although I don’t give him food and he has to go home to his family at night.

His family is home most of the time, so he is not here because they are gone. I suspect he comes because I give him attention, because I may be a novelty, and perhaps most of all because I treat him as an equal.

SEEING HIM AS EQUAL

I see him as consciousness, just like me, that just happens to operate through a slightly different body.

This consciousness here operates through this body, which happens to be human. And that consciousness there operates through that body, which happens to be a cat.

In the realm of stories, it’s similar. We are both expressions of life, existence, and the universe.

He is the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe, just like I am. He is the universe taking the form of a cat. I am the universe taking the form of a human.

And in terms of evolution, we are closely related. What we have in common is infinitely more than the little that differentiates us.

In all the ways that matter, we are equal. We are the same.

HOST, STEWARD, FRIEND

Just like I would with any visitor, I try to be a good host for him. I give him water. I let him out when he wants to go out if the door is closed.

Just like I would with a child, I try to be a good steward of him while he is here. I rescued him when he fell down into the basement. (He fell into a ventilation shaft while exploring, and landed on a cardboard box and was unharmed.) I make sure he goes home at night to spend the night with his family.

And just like I would with a friend, I am attentive to his needs, wants, and moods. I try to be a good friend to him.

SEEING CATS AS CATS OR SOMETHING MORE FUNDAMENTAL

Many treat cats as… cats. They see them as mainly different from us, and they adopt a lot of the cultural baggage of how we in the West treat non-human species. Cats are generally OK with it, but it does create a sense of division. Humans see themselves as divided from cats, and cats sense and adapt to and respond to that.

I and others treat them as equals. We are all living beings. We are all fundamentally consciousness to ourselves. We are the universe taking these local and temporary forms. And cats respond to that as well. They seem to enjoy it. Just like us, they enjoy being related to as equals.

That may be one reason why cats seem to want to spend time with me. (And why I have a history of “stealing” cats in that way, which people tend to not like.)

BEYOND NEIGHBORS VISITING

This, of course, goes far beyond non-human neighbors visiting.

This has to do with how we relate to all of life – ecosystems, this living planet, and future generations.

Since I live in our current system, my life inevitably is mostly destructive to life. That’s how it is for just about all of us. For instance, I fly in commercial airplanes, and that contributes enormously to my ecological footprint.

I also try to help shift us all – and the system we have created for ourselves – in a more life-centered direction. I worked with sustainability for many years. (I was the coordinator of a local organization that helped individuals and groups make shifts in a more sustainable direction.) I have volunteered a lot. I write some about it here. I vote for the Green Party. I am creating a nature reserve in the Andes Mountains. And so on.

It’s a drop in the bucket, but many drops create an ocean. And I am a very small part of helping shift our current system into something that can be far more sustainable.

Photo: The photo above is from last night. He has been coming here for the last two weeks since I moved into my parent’s house to get it ready for sale. (My parents just moved somewhere else.)

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Robin Wall Kimmerer: We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn

In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings, with, of course, the human being on top—the pinnacle of evolution, the darling of Creation—and the plants at the bottom. But in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger brothers of Creation.” We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn—we must look to our teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is apparent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure things out.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer

That’s how I see it too.

THE WAYS WE ARE THE SAME

In some essential ways, we are all the same. We all share ancestors going back to the first living Earth being. We are all parts of the same evolving living planet and the same evolving universe. We are all part of the same larger seamless whole. We are all the expression of the universe, just like any being and anything else.

A YOUNG SPECIES

And yet, as a species, we are very young.

We are especially young when it comes to dealing with civilization and advanced technology. We have a lot to learn from how ecosystems work and other species, especially since most of them have been around far longer than we have. Mainly, we urgently need to learn to take ecological realities into account in how we organize ourselves and how we see the world.

HOW WE RELATE TO MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS

As a species learning to use mental representations in a complex manner, we are also young. We are still in the early phase of learning to relate to these mental representations intentionally and consciously.

It’s a new(ish) tool, and it takes time for us to figure out how to use it effectively. As it is now, we partially put it to good use, and we partially misuse it.

How do we misuse it? Mainly by not recognizing our mental representations for what they are, and taking them as more true than they can ever be.

And how can we learn to use this tool better? The essence is simple. By learning to recognize our mental representations for what they are: They are mental representations. They are not inherent in what we project them onto. They are questions about the world. They are provisional. They are here to help us orient and navigate. They cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth.

Although the essence of this is simple, actually doing it sometimes requires a lot of examination and untangling, individually in our own lives and collectively as a culture and civilization.

And that is something we, as a species, largely have to figure out on our own.

OUR CHALLENGES FROM BEING A YOUNG SPECIES

Many of the challenges we collectively (and individually) face today come from being a young species. There are many things we haven’t figured out yet.

We have an economic system – and a civilization – built on the assumption that nature is limitless. That’s understandable considering our history with far fewer humans and far less efficient technology. Today, with billions of us and efficient technology, it’s clearly suicidal.

And we tend to hold some of our mental representations as truth, which creates a lot of distress and conflict – with ourselves, with others, and even with the rest of this living planet.

Image: Midjourney scene of a jungle

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Animal communication

I have been fascinated by animal communication since my early teens, and maybe before. I remember Carl Sagan writing about dolphin communication in one of his books, and I have always thought that if we arrive at a better way to communicate with animals, our relationships with them would change as well. Hopefully, for the good of them and us.

HUNGER FOR WORDS

A few years ago, I discovered Hunger for Words through an online article, and I immediately thought that this was one of the breakthroughs I had been hoping to see.

Hunger for Words is a project created by a speech therapist. In 2018, she got a dog (Stella) and wanted to see if some of the methods she used with children would also work with Stella.

Specifically, she started using buttons that each represented a word or simple phrase and taught the meaning to Stella.

I started my experiment with just a few recordable buttons that Stella could push to say, “outside,” “play,” and “water,” and the same language facilitation strategies I use with children.  Since introducing those first words, Stella has progressed far beyond what I ever thought could be possible. Now, Stella uses a homemade communication device to say more than 45 words (and counting!), combine up to 5 words together to create unique phrases, ask and answer questions, express her thoughts and feelings, make observations, participate in short conversations, and connect with us every single day. 

CLOSE RELATIVES & SHARED ANCESTORS

It’s amazing to watch videos of Stella and other animals using these buttons to communicate. They are creative in how they put sentences together in a way that demonstrates a real understanding of language.

And why would we be surprised? Dogs and cats are mammals like us. We are cousins. We share most of our ancestors. They may not naturally have words, but they do communicate clearly. And through this method, they learn to communicate with words so we can more easily understand them.

THE EFFECTS OF IMPROVED COMMUNICATION

As this becomes more common and commonly known in our culture, what effects may it have?

I hope it will help us recognize non-human species as sentient beings like us with emotions, wishes, needs, hopes, and fears like us. They wish the same as we do, which is to be free from suffering and have a good life.

And that, in turn, may shift how we treat our fellow beings. They are like us. More than us versus them we are all “us”. So why not treat them as we would have wanted to be treated in their situation?

Why not give them a voice, even beyond this type of communication? Why not assign people to speak up for non-human beings in places where we make decisions that impact them? (Government, courts, board rooms, and so on.)

Why not give them stronger legal rights and ways to enforce these rights?

SHARED INTERESTS

Some may assume that this is not in our interest. After all, don’t we sometimes need to use non-human species for our own good? To take their land so we can grow food or build houses? Keep them captive for our entertainment? Keep them imprisoned so we can eat them?

It may look that way from a short-term and narrow-interest perspective.

And yet, from a bigger perspective, it looks very different.

Here, we see that we share interests.

We are embedded in the ecosystems of this planet. We are all parts of this living evolving system we call Earth. We share fate. We are all dependent on a healthy, diverse, and thriving ecosystem and planet.

And by giving non-human beings a metaphorical and literal voice, we not only take care of their interests but our shared interests. We take care of our own long-term interests.

This is essential not only for them but for us.

GIVING A VOICE TO THE VOICELESS

This is not by any means idealism. This is realism.

For our own survival, we need to give a voice to those who do not have one in our society. We need to give a voice to non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations. And that voice needs to be backed up by laws and the legal system to have a real impact.

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Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature?

I recently watched the last season of His Dark Materials, and find I have as much and often more empathy with the dæmons as I do with their human counterpart. (The dæmons are animals representing an aspect of the people, their inner self, anima/animus, or something similar.)

Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature? Why is it sometimes easier to find love for a non-human being than for some fellow humans?

There are many answers and they all (literally) come out of one.

Here are some that come to mind:

MISTREATED

Non-human beings are often mistreated by humans. I tend to side with the underdogs, and in this relationship, non-human beings are almost always the underdogs. I have a natural empathy with non-human beings for that reason. (I know this particular dynamic is rooted in my own history and experiences.)

INNOCENCE & DIFFERENT HISTORY

The natural world has everything from cooperation and care to fights and mercilessness.

At the same time, we see an innocence there. For all their savvy and specific skills, knowledge, and experience, many of them generally function cognitively at the level of human children or babies.

Most non-human species must have mental representations and use them as we do, to orient and function in the world. And yet, it seems they are much less likely to elaborate on and believe these imaginations. They use them in a more simple and direct way.

For many of us, it’s easier to find love for animals. They are simpler. In some ways, they are innocent like children. For that reason, we don’t experience the same friction with them as we do with humans. We don’t experience the clashes of hangups and worldviews we experience with humans. And most of us have been more hurt by humans than non-human beings, we have a different history with them.

For all of these reasons, it’s often easier to find love for non-human beings. And especially the ones we know personally and live with.

MIRROR

Animals mirror me in several different ways. I see myself in them.

They mirror my animal nature. They mirror how I am with a simpler mental field. They mirror how I am minus my more complicated – and complicating – human mental field with elaborate ideas, beliefs, identifications, etc.

And the different animals mirror different parts of me as well. Whatever story I have about any type of animal, I can turn it to myself and find specific and genuine examples of how, where, and when it’s true.

And since I wish to have – and have – some love and care for these parts of me, I have the same towards the beings mirroring these sides of me.

WE ARE CLOSELY RELATED

All Earth life is closely related. We are all, literally, part of the same family. We share ancestors. We are cousins. We are far more similar than we are different. We share far more than what’s unique and different.

We are “we” far more than we are “us” and “them”. And we all know this in our cells and bones and our mind when we subtract our complicated human mental field. Any ideas of separation come from our ideas, not from reality.

PART OF THE SAME SYSTEM

We are all part of the same living and evolving system we call Earth or Gaia.

We are subsystems in larger living systems.

We are subsystems in the larger systems we call the Earth and the universe and all of existence.

We are all expressions of the same larger living wholes.

We are part of the same metaphorical body we call life, Earth, the universe, and existence.

And that’s not just metaphorical or poetry or wishful thinking. It’s what current science tells us.

As Carl Sagan said, we are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are existence bringing itself into consciousness.

We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

EXPRESSIONS OF THE DIVINE

We can call existence and reality God, Spirit, or the divine.

Here, we can say that we are all expressions of God, Spirit, or the divine.

We are all the divine expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

We are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the divine.

We are the divine bringing itself into consciousness through and as us.

PART OF THE ONENESS I AM

There is also another oneness here, and one that’s far more immediate.

In one sense, I am this human being in the world.

Ehen I look in my own first-person experience, I find I am more fundamentally something else. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am.

I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

To me, everything – including any being – is part of the oneness I am.

And to the extent I allow this to sink and infuse and transform my human self, this gives birth to a natural love that’s not dependent on feelings or states. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right.

WORDS AND LANGUAGE

I use the word “animal” here since that’s the terminology most people use these days.

In reality, we are all animals. We are all living beings.

There is no reason to create a hard and imagined boundary between us and the rest of Earth life.

We are all closely related. We are all in the same boat. We are all embedded in the same larger living systems. We are all expressions of the evolution of the universe. We are all expressions of existence. We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself through and as us.

When I hear the word “animal” I am reminded of the old Greeks who used a similar mind-created division. They called any non-Greeks barbarians. I assume future generations may see our current human-animal distinction as equally quaint and old-fashioned.

Today, there is a growing awareness of all the many ways racism and sexism is expressed in society and our language. In the future, I assume there will be a similar awareness of how our anthropocentrism is expressed in our language and society, and a movement to change it.

CULTURE & OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

How we see humans versus the rest of life is obviously dependent on our culture.

In some traditional cultures, all life is seen as related and part of the same whole.

The irony is that in our culture, that’s the view of science. Science tells us all life is closely related and part of the same living evolving systems. And yet, most people operate on an outdated and misguided idea of the basic separation of humans from all other life. We operate on misconceptions while we know better.

Why? I assume it’s not just because of tradition and habit. It’s also convenient. It allows us to keep using and abusing non-human beings and nature in general.

And that brings us to saw over the branch we are sitting on. It’s out of alignment with reality, and operating on ideas out of alignment with reality has consequences. In this case, the consequence is the destruction of the living systems we are fully embedded in and dependent on.

NOISE

I’ll add one topic that’s been on my mind since my early teens.

I have personally never liked noise or loud music. I love silence and natural sounds, and less human-created sounds (apart from some music).

And, as far as I can tell from research and personal observations, it seems I share that with most non-human beings.

So why do some humans apparently love noise and loud sounds and music?

I don’t know but I assume it has to do with our noisy and complex mental field and what happens when we take certain (painful) ideas as reality. (Taking any idea as reality is painful in itself, no matter what the idea tells us.) Perhaps the outer noise masks the inner noise, at least for a while? Perhaps it’s a strategy to distract ourselves from our own discomfort and pain?

Perhaps it’s a sign we haven’t found peace with our own experience, as it is? A sign of war with our experience?

In our culture, we act as if we are at war with nature, and we act as if we are at war with our own experience. The two are closely related. They depend on each other. And they may break down together.

FINDING PEACE WITH OURSELVES & PEACE WITH NATURE

In most cases, if we find peace with our experience, we tend to find a deeper love for nature. And finding a deeper love for nature tends to be reflected in finding more peace with our experience.

Of course, both take work. And even if we find this peace, and wish to live in a more peaceful relationship with life in general, we are still living within a social and economic system that is inherently destructive. It was created at a time when we didn’t need to take the limits of nature into account. And now – with increasing human numbers and more efficient technology – it’s obviously destructive to life.

We can personally experience peace with life, but our life is not peaceful to life as long our collective human system is as it is.

It takes personal intention, skill, and work to find peace with our experience.

It will take a similar collective intention, skill, and work to find real peace in our relationship with nature – and transform our collective life so it takes ecological realities into account.

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How old am I?

I had a birthday yesterday, and it brings up the topic of age.

How old am I?

It’s a simple question, and if I take it seriously, it can reveal a lot about my nature.

THE AGE ON MY PASSPORT

In a conventional sense, I am the age my passport tells me. It’s the age in my official documents, and the answer most people expect if they ask the question. It’s not wrong, but it’s a small part of a much bigger picture.

MY BODY’S AGE

In another sense, my body has a certain biological age. Depending on genetics and lifestyle, it can be older or younger than my conventional age. This age has some importance in terms of my health. (And depending on how it’s measured and what criteria are used, it will likely change somewhat.)

THE AGE OF THE UNIVERSE

In yet another sense, I am the age of this universe. According to current science, I am roughly 13.7 billion years old. This can sound like an answer that’s meant to be cute or clever, but it’s far more real than that.

Everything I am as a human being is the product of 13.7 billion years of evolution of this universe.

Every molecule is the product of this evolution, most having been forged in ancient stars blowing up and reforming into this planet which formed itself into all of us and this living evolving world.

Every dynamic in me is the product of the evolution of this seamless system we call the universe.

As Carl Sagan said, and I often quote: We are the ears, eyes, thoughts and feeling of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

Everything I am as a human being is the product of the evolution of this larger seamless system I am a local and temporary expression of.

In a very real sense, I am the age of this universe. Everything I am as a human is the age of this universe.

This age is important since it’s a reminder of the reality of the oneness of the universe. It’s a reminder of what current science tells us about our more fundamental identity and nature.

TIMELESS

All of that has some validity to it. And yet, am I most fundamentally this human self? Or even a local and temporary expression of this seamless and evolving larger whole?

If I look in my own first-person experience, what am I more fundamentally?

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, including this human self and anything connected with it. I am capacity even for any thought or sense that I am fundamentally this human self.

I find that any experience – of the wider world or this human self – happens within and as my sense fields. (Sight, sound, sensations, taste, smell, mental images and words.)

To me, the world as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am.

This is my more fundamental nature, in my own immediate experience.

Here, I find I am what any ideas or experience of time happens within and as. My nature is timeless, allowing and forming itself into ideas and experiences of time and change.

LAYERED

My age is layered.

As a human being, I am the age in my passport and my body’s biological age.

As a local and temporary expression of this larger seamless evolving system, I have the age of this universe. (And that will change somewhat depending on what science says.)

And in my own first-person experience, I find my nature is timeless. I am the timelessness any ideas and experience of age happen within and as.

I love the richness of my age. I love that there are many answers and that some change over time.

I love that each one makes sense in its own way.

WHY DON’T WE USE OUR UNIVERSE AGE MORE OFTEN?

If science tells us we all are 13.7 billion years old, why don’t we use that age more often?

It may seem a silly question, but it’s actually a very important one. Science tells us our more fundamental age is 13.7 billion years, so why don’t we collectively take it more seriously?

It may be because this story is still relatively new so it hasn’t had time to sink in yet.

Also, we are used to using our age in our passport so most people stick with that. Much in society is dependent on separating us by age. (School, tickets, pension, and so on.) And many seem to like to follow that orientation.

For me, it’s beautiful and important that this is an age we all share. Everything that exists has the same age. That’s amazing and wonderful to me. It’s a reminder of what ties us together and that we are all local and temporary expressions of the same seamless evolving whole.

That’s far more fundamental and important than the age we happen to have as local and temporary expressions of this whole.

WHY DON’T WE ACKNOWLEDGE OUR TIMELESS NATURE MORE OFTEN?

Similarly, why don’t we acknowledge our timeless nature more often?

It’s not because it’s not here to be noticed. Based on my own noticing and what I hear from others, it seems we all have this nature. (It’s the nature of the consciousness we all inevitably are to ourselves.) (1)

It’s not even because it’s difficult to find. I assume most can find it with guidance and within minutes.

So why don’t more people acknowledge this?

I assume there are many answers here too. The obvious one is that we live in a society that tells us – directly and indirectly – that we most fundamentally are this human self, an object within the field of our experience. As we grow up, we see that this is what others do so we do the same. In our innocence, which is very beautiful, we train ourselves to do as others do.

There are also many misconceptions about this. Many traditions suggest that finding our nature is difficult or takes a long time, or that it’s for special people, or that it’s about something distant, or that it gives us special powers.

In reality, it’s right here. It’s not only what we are most familiar with, it’s the only thing we are familiar with. It’s what all our experience consists of.

Since it’s about noticing what we already are, it’s for all of us.

It doesn’t give us any special powers, it’s just a noticing of our nature. (And that can be profoundly transforming for our perception and life in the world.)

And with good guidance, most of us can find it within a relatively short time.

How can we find it? The best approaches I am familiar with (so far) are the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

Of course, finding it is just the first step. It’s just a glimpse. If we want to continue exploring it, we need to refind it here and now. We need to explore how to live from this noticing. We need to investigate anything in us out of alignment with it, anything created and operating from separation consciousness.

And that takes dedication, passion, and a lifetime. (Or more if there are more.)

(1) Why don’t we acknowledge our timeless nature more often? It’s not even because it’s illogical. Based on logic, we find that in our own experience, we have to be consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, we inevitably and most fundamentally have to BE consciousness in our own experience. And the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We have all of the characteristics of consciousness, and since the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are, that too – to us – have those characteristics.

We are what’s inherently free of time and space and that our experience of time and space happens within and as. We are the oneness any sense of distinction and separation happens within and as. And so on.

This just says something about our own nature in our own first-person experience, it doesn’t say anything about the nature of existence or the universe. And that’s more than enough. If we are led – by existence – to take it seriously, that’s profoundly transforming.

Image: A look at the distant relatives we call the “Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.)

Why do we love our land? An evolutionary perspective on landscape

When it comes to understanding anything human, I often do a quick check-in with an evolutionary perspective. And the same obviously goes for understanding the behavior of any species.

My wife and I are stewards of beautiful land in the Andes mountains.

Why do we see it as so beautiful? Why do we feel so connected with it?

We fell in love with it within seconds of our first visit. And it feels as if the land chose us as much as we chose it.

OUR ANCESTRAL HOME

One answer, which came up in my environmental psychology classes at the University of Utah, is that humanity comes from the Great Rift Valley in Africa so we are naturally drawn to that type of landscape. It’s our ancestral home. We love open landscapes with trees and shade. It’s the environment we co-evolved with.

Our pre-human ancestors likely lived for innumerable generations in that landscape, and our first human-like ancestors lived there before they started migrating out to the rest of the world.

In this case, there is a clear similarity between this land and the landscape of the Great Rift Valley. (Not surprising since both are close to the equator and about the same elevation.)

Many if not most of the ancestors in me feel at home there.

BIOPHILIA

There is also a much deeper and general reason for our love – and sometimes fear – of nature.

We are nature. So we love, and sometimes fear, nature.

The universe is a seamless whole. It’s a holarchy, a whole with wholes within it.

It’s also an evolving system, expressed through and as – among everything else in the universe – our living and evolving planet and us as a species and individuals.

As Carl Sagan said, we are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

When we look into the universe, we are looking back at ourselves. When we experience nature, we are experiencing ourselves.

We co-evolved with all of it.

We find nature beautiful because we recognize ourselves in and as it, whether we are conscious of it or not.

THE LANDSCAPES WE ARE ATTRACTED TO

At a more conventional level, there are other reasons why we tend to find nature beautiful, and why we are especially drawn to certain landscapes.

Our ancestors lived with, from, and as nature, so it makes sense to be attracted to nature. It helped them survive. (Neutrality or aversion would not be so productive.)

It makes sense that we tend to be attracted to open landscapes. Having a view helped our ancestors to survive. They could see prey, friends, and enemies from far away and prepare accordingly.

It makes sense we tend to be attracted to green landscapes. For our ancestors, it made sense to be drawn to green landscapes since it means vegetation, and vegetation means shade, protection, and food.

It makes sense we tend to be attracted to moderate climates, for obvious reasons.

It makes sense that we are attracted to running water since it means fresh water for drinking, bathing, and cooking food.

Many love sitting by a bonfire or a fireplace, or even just a candle. For our ancestors, these types of smaller and controlled fires meant food, warmth, protection, and community.

The ones who were drawn to these features of nature were more likely to survive and they passed these inclinations on to their descendants, including us.

And it makes equal sense we are afraid of or slightly repulsed by certain things in nature. Most of us have some fear of heights, and this fear has helped our ancestors avoid dangerous situations. We tend to have some fear of snakes and some insects for the same reason. We avoid places that smell musty, moldy, or rotten.

Our ancestors who experienced some fear or repulsion to these things were more likely to survive, have children, and pass these tendencies on to us.

CULTURE AND ANYTHING HUMAN

Human culture and anything human – all our experiences, thoughts, and feelings – are obviously part of the seamless whole of existence. It’s all the evolution of the universe and this living planet expressing itself in these ways, through and as us and our experiences.

We obviously find a lot in humans and culture beautiful. But not always. Why is that?

Again, an evolutionary perspective can give us answers. If we see an open and infested wound, it makes sense to experience some repulsion since it can help us not get infected. If we meet someone who is chronically caught up in anger, blame, or similar, feeling less attracted to it can help us to avoid problems. If we see a building or village in disrepair, it may be best to find another place to go. And so on. (This is obviously a very simplified outline.)

On a more immediate level, what we find beautiful and not has to do with how we relate to our thoughts about it. If we believe our thoughts about something or someone, it will often create attraction or aversion.

HOLDING IT LIGHTLY

As usual, it makes sense to hold all of this lightly.

An evolutionary perspective on psychology and behavior helps us arrive at educated guesses at most. It’s not something we can verify once and for all.

Personally, I often use it to find more understanding and empathy for myself and others. I find a plausible explanation in an evolutionary context, and that helps me see that our experiences and behavior are not as personal as they first may seem. It all comes from somewhere else.

Note: The photo above is from our land in the Chicamocha Canyon.

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Video: You are not where you think you are

A reminder that any perspective has limited validity and only makes sense in a specific context. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. It doesn’t mean the different perspectives are equal in their validity. (They often have different types of validity. And in a conventional sense, some work much better in practice and are supported by much better data.) But it does mean it’s important to hold it all lightly and see it in context.

Joanna Macy: If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by… people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear

If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.

– Joanna Macy

That’s what creates any change. When our love is greater than our fear. When we realize that continuing will be more painful than making a change.

Mother’s day

It’s mother’s day in some countries today.

We can look at mother in many ways, including literally, as a projection, and metaphorically.

And although much of it may be pretty obvious, it can also help us shift our perspective. We may be able to shift out of habitual views and into views that are more new and fresh to us, and hold them all more lightly.

And that, in itself, is often valuable. 

LITERAL MOTHERS

The most obvious is our own human mothers – whether it’s our biological one or the one(s) who raised us.

Can I find love for my human mother even if she wasn’t perfect?

The more we resolve any issues with our mother and those in our early life, the more we tend to resolve many of the more central issues we have. If you wonder what to find healing for, a good place to start – and end – is your mother and father and anyone important in your early life.

The more we find healing for our relationship with our mother, the more we can find genuine gratitude for her, as she was and is.

Another side to this is that, to us, our mother is as much or more in here as out there. Finding healing for our relationship with our mother (and father) helps us heal parts of ourselves.

MOTHERS ALL THE WAY BACK

There is also the lineage of mothers.

This lineage goes through all our human mothers through the centuries and in many geographical locations, going back to the early human migration(s) from Africa.

It goes back through our non-human humanoid ancestors. The ones that may be somewhat similar to primates today.

It goes back to our non-human and non-primate mammal ancestors. The small ones that lived during the dinosaur era and even further back.

It goes back beyond this, to our non-mammal ancestors. The ones who left the ocean for land, and the ones who lived in the ocean.

It goes back to the very simple organisms that were the pioneer lifeforms in the oceans.

And it goes back to the very first single-celled organism that’s the ancestor of all life today.

All of these are our mothers. They tie us to all Earth life.

Without them, we wouldn’t exist and the amazing living planet we are part of wouldn’t exist.

MOTHER AS A MIRROR

We also have the mother in all of us.

These are the mother qualities of nurturing, understanding, fierce protection, and so on, and also the distorted version of these.

When I see mother qualities in others, whether nurturing or protective or more distorted, can I find it in myself? What stories do I have about my own mother and other mothers? WHat do I find when I turn this story to myself? Can I find specific and genuine examples of how each one is true?

OUR CHILDREN AS OUR MOTHERS

We think of mothers as mothers of children. Is the reverse also true?

Yes, in a sense, our children are our mothers. They are part of making us who we are.

Can I find appreciation and gratitude for this as well? 

MY EXPERIENCES ARE MY MOTHER

At first glance, it may look as if the situations I am in are my mother.

The universe, planet, ecosystem, culture, subcultures, and family I grow up and live in form and shape who I am.

All my experiences – whether I call them small or big – are my mother.

THE WAY I RELATE TO MY EXPERIENCES IS MY MOTHER

When I look more closely, I find something else is more true for me.

It’s the way I relate to my experiences that forms and shapes me and who I am in the world.

The way I relate to my experiences – the way I relate to myself, others, situations, and so on – is my mother.

MOTHER NATURE

Nature is our mother in a very real sense.

Without this living planet, we wouldn’t exist. Every molecule in our bodies comes from the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. All of it comes from the wider ecosystems we are part of.

We are an intrinsic part of this living system and a local expression of this living system.

Our own health and well-being, individually and collectively, is dependent on the health and well-being of our mother, of this living system we call planet Earth. 

MOTHER UNIVERSE

Similarly, the universe is our mother.

All of existence, going back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and stretching out to the widest extent (if there is any boundary), is our mother.

We depend on all of it for our own existence.

Without the whole, just as it is, we wouldn’t be.

WE ARE THE MOTHERS OF EXISTENCE

The reverse is also true here. We are the mothers of the universe.

We bring existence into form and life – locally and through and as our experiences and life.

We are the local expressions of existence as a whole. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

As Meister Eckart said, we are the mothers of God.

CAPACITY AS THE MOTHER OF ALL

There is also the mother of existence, which is what allows it all – as it appears to me – to happen.

When I look at what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience, I find my nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me.

I am capacity for any and all experience – whether it’s of this human self, the wider world, or anything else.

This capacity is the mother of the world as it appears to me. 

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Wolfwalkers & our relationship with the wild in nature and ourselves

I loved this movie in many different ways. And as any good story that deals with primal archetypes and archetypal dynamics, it can be interpreted at many different levels.

It can be seen as a metaphor for how humans treat each other, including how the English have treated the Irish. It can be seen as a more literal story about how humans treat nature and the wild. And it can be seen as a mirror for dynamics in ourselves, and how we civilize ourselves at the expense of the primal aliveness in ourselves.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WILD

It’s easy to imagine a history of the human relationship with the wild, and it will – by necessity – be somewhat speculative when it comes to the early history.

Before agriculture and civilization as we think of it, people lived in nature, with nature, and from nature. They may have had more of a partnership relationship with nature and the wild, and they likely respected nature out of necessity. They had a more nature-oriented spirituality. They didn’t have much property so they didn’t have much hierarchy. They may have had a more matriarchal culture. The inevitable damage to nature was limited since their numbers were small and their technology simple, and they also moved if they needed to which limited their impact on the areas they were in.

With agriculture, this all changed. We could accumulate wealth. We had more division of labor, tasks, and skills. We developed a hierarchy. The ones higher up in the hierarchy developed a wish to control others and the general population. We got culture as we know it. We got more removed sky-God religions. We got a more patriarchal culture.

We lived in tamed landscapes or towns and cities. With agriculture, we depended more on tamed nature. We lived more distanced from the wild. We depend much less on the wild. The wild became “other” to us. For those higher up in the hierarchy, it became in their interest to also tame the population.

We learned to tame nature and ourselves, and find this comforting and the wild scary and unsettling and perhaps even evil.

Our human relationship with the wild shifted. We went from living in and from the wild to becoming distanced from it and viewing it often as something scary and suspicious. We learned that taming ourselves and nature was safer.

WHAT DOES TAMING OURSELVES MEAN?

We know what it means to tame nature. It means to make the wild into agricultural land, towns, and cities. Replace wild forests with planted forests. To kill any animals – typically large predators – we see as competitors or any danger to ourselves. And so on.

But what does it mean that we tame ourselves?

In one sense, it just means that we learn to live with others and in civilization. We learn to express our feelings with words instead of through actions that may harm others. We learn to cooperate. We learn to take others into consideration when we make our choices and live our life. This is natural for us since we are a social species and it doesn’t necessarily come at much or any cost. 

In another sense, it can mean that we tame ourselves at the cost of our aliveness, sense of connection and meaning, and authenticity. This happens when we take taming ourselves in a slightly misguided way. We may deny our emotions or needs, wishes, and desires instead of acknowledging or expressing these and finding ways to get our needs met. We may disconnect ourselves from our body and nature and feel disconnected, ungrounded, and aimless. All of this tends to come as a consequence of believing painful beliefs and identities and perceiving and living as if they are true. And these painful beliefs and identities tend to come from our culture or subculture. They are passed on and shared by many if not most humans in our culture, and some may be common across cultures – especially in our modern world.

HOW DO WE REWILD OURSELVES?

Rewilding nature is a popular topic these days, and very much needed for the health of nature and ourselves and our culture.

But how do we rewild ourselves?

There are several approaches, and what works best is probably a combination of the ones that resonate the most with us – and that may change over time.

We can connect with nature through spending time in nature, gardening, spending time with non-human species, learning about nature, spending time in the wilderness, learning to survive in the wilderness, spending time at a bonfire, looking at the stars, and so on.

We can connect with our body by walking barefoot, receiving bodywork, doing different forms of yoga, learning to recognize and take seriously the signals from our body, and so on.

We can engage in nature-centered spirituality and rituals, including the Practices to Reconnect from Joanna Macy.

We can shift our worldview from one of separation to connection and oneness, for instance through deep ecology, the epic of evolution, the universe story, ecospirituality, system views, integral models (AQAL), and so on.

We can engage in actions on behalf of other species, the Earth, and future generations. These may be small and “invisible” everyday actions or more visible in the world. These may be actions to stop damage, change our culture, or envision and implement life-centered alternatives.

We can learn to notice and acknowledge our emotions and wishes, needs, and desires. We can find ways to express this and meet our needs in a kind way. We can find a more authentic way to live that’s kind to ourselves and others.

We can identify fears we have of rewilding ourselves.  What’s the worst that could happen?  What does my culture tell me could happen? What do I find when I examine these stories? What’s more true for me? How is it to meet and be with the fear and allow it as it is? How is it to find love for it? 

We can find healing for any emotional issues that create a sense of separation and lack of connection, aliveness, groundedness, and meaning.

We can identify and investigate the views and beliefs that create a sense of separation – with ourselves, others, nature, and the universe as a whole. We can identify beliefs passed on through our culture. We can find them in ourselves and inquire into them and find more freedom from them and what’s more true and honest for us.

We can connect with and taste the wholeness we are at a human level, through a combination of meditation, body-centered practices, emotional healing, and more.

We can explore what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. At one level, we are a human being in the world. And what do I find when I explore what I am in my own first-person experience? I may find I more fundamentally are capacity for the world as it appears to me. And what the world – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. I may find myself as the oneness this human self and the wider world happen within and as.

This is not only for the benefit of ourselves. It benefits our culture. It may help our species survive. And it will likely benefit other species, this living planet, and future generations.

Note: This article itself is an example of rewilding ourselves. I saw the movie three or four weeks ago, made a few notes, and allowed it to rest. Today, I was moved to write the article and it came out easily and naturally, without much if any effort.

When I saw the movie, I noticed I wasn’t ready to write the final article. I knew that pushing it would be uncomfortable and likely wouldn’t give a good result. So I allowed it to rest and digest on its own, and I waited for it to come to fruition in me and move me to write it.

I planted the seed, waited, and it sprouted in its own time in the form of this article.

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Cells and oneness

Someone I talked with brought up the idea that we are like cells in an organism. Just like a cell is a part of a larger organism, we – as human beings – are part of a larger organism. We are holons in larger holarchies, just as we are a holarchy for smaller holons. We are part of the seamless system of this planet and the universe and all of existence.

This is all accurate at a story level, in terms of science, and so on.

At the same time, we are something else. To ourselves, in our own first-person experience, we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. We are what the world – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. We are oneness and love.

These two are complementary. In the world and as human beings and at a story level, we are like cells in a larger organism. To ourselves, when we look, we find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what the world happens within and as. We are oneness and love, and we are the oneness and love that – to us – the world happens within and as.

Alan Watts: You are it!

They say in the Upanishads, those ancient texts of Hinduism, they say: Tat Tvam Asi. You’re it! Ha! You are everything that’s going on. In other words, you are a partiucular place in which the whole universe is focused.

– Alan Watts, see this video on FaceBook

For me, there are two different parts to this.

One is that to me, I am everything that’s gong on. My nature is capacity for every experience I have and am. The world and universe as I experience it happens within and as my sense fields. The universe, to me, happens within and as what I am. This is something I can explore in my own first-person experience and find for myself.

The other is that I am a particular place in which the whole universe is focused.

As this human self, I am a part of the seamless and dynamic whole of the universe, a holon in a wast holarcy.

Every experience, thought, feeling, action, state, and so on, that I experience (and am, in that moment), has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is a beginning) and out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is a boundary). What’s here as this human self – and any experiences and activities of this human self – is created by the universe as a whole.

As Carl Sagan said, I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am the universe bringing itself into consciousness. 

This is something I can find within stories, including western science, the universe story, the epic of evolution, and so on. 

What’s most important to the divine?

What’s most important to life or the divine?

Of course, we cannot know for certain.

And the question itself rests on a lot of assumptions that are questionable.

IF ALL IS THE DIVINE

But if all is God or the divine, then there is a simple answer.

What’s most important to the divine is what’s here now.

If something else was more important, that’s what would be here now.

THE WILDLY RECKLESS SIDE OF THE DIVINE I

From here, we see that for the divine, suffering, eradication of species, and the possibility of ecological disaster and the collapse of civilization is more important than constant bliss and comfort for all beings all the time, or preserving all lie and species, or even preserving this civilization.

If one civilization goes under, the divine may create itself into another. If one planet goes dead, the divine may – through evolution and over time –form itself into another living planet.

As life, we are naturally biased towards life. We love life. But who is to say that life is inherently better or more important than nonliving parts of existence? The nonliving parts seem far more common, so those must also be important to the divine.

THE WILDLY RECKLESS SIDE OF THE DIVINE II

In a sense, the divine is wildly reckless.

What’s here now is gone the next moment and something else is here. (A thought may say it’s the same, but when we look more closely, we may find that what’s here is always new.)

The divine forms itself into what’s here, into something that has never existed before, does not exist any other place, and will never exist again. And then it’s gone and the divine forms itself into something else.

The divine is like a sand artist on the beach, creating amazing sculptures knowing they will be gone without a trace – apart from the sand itself which is ready to take other forms.

THE FULLNESS OF IT ALL

Of course, what’s important to the divine is also experiencing bliss, happiness, joy, working to preserve life and protecting ecosystems, and so on, because that’s also happening through many of us.

The divine is wildly diverse. It wipes the slate each moment and allows for something new and different. It has both stable and wildly reckless sides. And we can even say that the divine seems to take some delight in the wild diversity of it all.

BRINGING IT HOME

These are all stories about existence as a whole.

We can also ground it and find it here and now.

To us, this is all happening within and as what we are. We are all capacity for the world as it appears to us, and it happens within and as what we are.

The nature of what I am is to form itself into all my experiences. Each one is new, fresh, and different from what has been and what will be. Nothing leaves any trace. (Although we tell ourselves it does through our mental representations and as part of dynamics and patterns we can reflect in our stories.)

My nature is wildly reckless. It forms itself into my experience here and now, wipes the slate clean, and forms itself into something new. (Again, my stories will create a sense of continuity, but it’s not here in immediate noticing.)

My nature forms itself into whatever is here, including suffering, struggle, reactivity, hangups, delusion, enjoyment, comfort, kindness, wisdom, insights, and so on.

And I can add stories to this. I can say that this is the most important to existence or the divine, and that may not be wrong. I can say that life or the divine enjoys the wild diversity of it all, and although it’s an assumption and kind of projection, that may not be exactly wrong.

THE PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES

Any worldview has practical consequences, and those are arguably what is most important in any worldview.

So what are the practical consequences of this one?

I notice that this one helps me be more open to considering that what’s here now is what’s most important to the divine and life. It helps me shift out of a worldview based on my own personal preferences. It helps me hold my own personal preferences less tight.

It invites me to find here and now what this worldview points to. I can find the freshness of any experience here. I notice the constantly clean slate allowing for something else and new.

I also find that holding my preferences more lightly is not compatible with acting from whatever wisdom and kindness is here, it creates space for doing just that. It invites me to act from the more kind and clear sides of myself and do my part in preserving life and supporting this civilization to transform into a more life-centered one. 

Note: This is a slightly rambling and unfocused article. One reason is my fatigue and brain fog which often makes it difficult to keep a clear focus and organize articles well. I may go back and redo this one later, or just leave it as is. We’ll see.

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Why do we find nature beautiful?

Why do most of us find nature beautiful? Especially if it’s mostly natural and untouched by humans, or mimics a more natural state?

There are many answers to this question.

CO-EVOLUTION

We have co-evolved with the rest of nature. We evolved as part of Earth’s living systems. So naturally, we’ll tend to experience an affiliation with the rest of nature.

EVOLUTION

We have evolved to find certain types of nature attractive. We tend to be attracted to landscapes that serve our survival needs. Landscapes with trees, sun, wind, water, lush vegetation, shelter, abundant life, and so on.

CULTURE

There is obviously a cultural component to this. We learn what’s beautiful in nature and what’s not, and this is often rooted in something that makes sense in a survival context. Sometimes, it made sense several generations back (for instance, wanting to get rid of competition in the form of large predators) and not so much anymore.

SEAMLESS LIVING SYSTEM

We are, in a very real sense, Earth taking the form of us. The living systems of Earth take all the forms we see around us. We are Earth locally seeing, feeling, and experiencing itself. When we experience a tree or a landscape, we are Earth experiencing these parts of itself through and as us. And conversely, when the rest of nature encounters us, it’s Earth experiencing that part of itself – us – through all these other parts of itself.

SEAMLESS EVOLVING UNIVERSE

More fundamentally, we are existence experiencing itself. In the words of Carl Sagan, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. No wonder we find a lot of the universe and existence beautiful.

OUR NATURE / WHAT WE ARE

There is yet another fundamental answer to the question.

And that is that, to us, all our experiences happen within and as what we are. Our nature is to be capacity for all our experiences, and any and all experiences happen within and as what we are. We are oneness, and we are the love that comes from this oneness recognizing itself. We may not notice, but that doesn’t change our nature.

We naturally have preferences, including from evolution, culture, and our own biology and experiences. And because of this and sometimes our beliefs, hangups, issues, and so on, we find certain things distasteful or even ugly.

And yet, we tend to find much of nature very beautiful.

Why? One answer is because it is already and inevitably happening within and as what we are.

WHY DON’T WE FIND EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL?

Looking at all of this, another version of the question comes up:

Why don’t we find everything – all of nature and all of existence – beautiful?

I have already hinted at this earlier.

The answer is partly in our evolution, culture, biology, and personal experiences. We have natural preferences and biases because of all of these influences.

And the answer is partly in our beliefs, identifications, hangups, issues, and so on. These cause us to find certain things repulsive and unattractive, or even just boring and neutral.

The two often overlap, and the second tends to build on the first.

So the more we heal our beliefs and issues, the more we heal our relationship with all of life, and the more we notice and live from our nature, the more we tend to find everything beautiful.

We’ll still have our preferences. We’ll still be a good steward of our life and choose some things and not others. And we’ll tend to find more and more – and perhaps even everything – inherently beautiful.

CHANGING DEFINITION OF NATURE

Through this, we see a changing definition of nature.

I started out by defining nature in a more conventional sense, as relatively untouched ecosystems.

We went through defining nature as us too. Everything we are, do, and experience is – in a very real sense – nature. All of what we are and experience is part of the living seamless systems of Earth and the universe.

And we end up defining nature as all of existence.

Each of these is accurate in its own way.

Image: Scott Kelly, ISS

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Tiny in a huge universe

Modern science has shown us that we are close to insignificant in size compared to the vastness of the universe. How do we take this?

IF FUNDAMENTALLY SEPARATE IN OUR OWN EXPERIENCE

If we see ourselves as fundamentally separate from the larger whole, then this can be scary or depressing or confirm the meaninglessness of it all. It can easily tie into some of the emotional issues or hangups we have.

CONNECTED WITH THE LARGER WHOLE

And if we perceive ourselves as part of this larger whole, then it can become a source of awe, fascination, joy, and a sense of deep connection. I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am the universe bringing itself into consciousness. Everything I am and experience is something this amazing universe forms itself into here locally as this human self and this life and these experiences.

ONENESS IN TWO FORMS

As suggested, this goes beyond being a part of a larger whole and connections.

There is a very real oneness here in two ways.

We have the oneness of the physical universe. The universe is one seamless system. We and our life and experiences are local expressions of this larger system. We are a holon in a holarchy.

And we have the oneness we already are in our own first-person experience. It’s easy to perceive ourselves as something within the content of our experience, and specifically this human self, an I, a me, a doer, a man or woman, and whatever other identities our minds create for us. After all, that’s what most of us learn we are and what’s correct in most cultures.

And yet, when we look more closely in our own first-person experience, we may find we are more fundamentally something else. We may notice that our more fundamental nature is as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and that we are what the world – and all our experiences – happen within and as.

And here, we find another oneness. We find that to us, as it appears to us, the universe and all of existence already is one.

DEEPEN INTO A PERCEPTION OF CONNECTIONS AND ONENESS

How can we deepen into this perception of connections and oneness?

We can learn about the universe a seamless system, and this planet as a living evolving system. (Systems theories, Gaia theory, and so on.)

We can do the practices to reconnect and similar rituals to get it into our bones.

We can explore what we are in our own first-person experience, for instance using structured inquiries like the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process. Or even exploring the sense fields or using basic meditation, heart-centered practices, and so on.

Genealogy and holarchies

A long time ago, in what feels like another life, I worked with translation, history, and genealogy.

I understand why people want to know more about their family history. It gives a context for one’s own life, and it’s interesting to know a bit about our ancestors, what they did, and where they lived.

For me, it’s also interesting with the two ways we have a family: Genetics and lived family life. Sometimes they are the same, and sometimes they are different. And sometimes, there are family secrets coming up through genetic testing, and people respond to it in all different ways.

Ultimately, we are all family. In the context of Earth life, all of us humans are relatively closely related. In the context of the universe, all Earth life is closely related. The history of humanity is our shared history. The history of the living evolving Earth is the shared history of Earth life. The history of the universe is the shared history of everything and everyone, including possible life in other places in the universe.

It’s all part of the same story. The story of the universe forming itself into all of this.

The story of existence forming itself into all of this.

And this story includes us and all of who we are and do and experience.

Seed: I was contacted by a family member passionate about genealogy.

13.8 billion years old

It’s my birthday.

How old am I?

Am I the age my passport tells me? In a conventional sense, that’s my age.

Am I the age of this universe, if it really has a beginning? Am I 13.8 billion years old? That’s equally or more valid. Everything I am as a human being is the product of 13.8 billion years of evolution. I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am a local expression of what the universe has spent 13.8 billion years to form itself into.

Am I timeless? I can find that too. When I look, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what forms itself into my experience of the world – including time and space.

As an individual, I am few decades old. Everything I am – all the dynamics, patterns, and processes I am – are the result of 13.8 billion years of evolution. And I find myself as timeless and capacity for time and all of these stories.

Photo: Crab Nebula (Messier 1), NASA / ESA.

Carl Sagan: I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship

I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship.

– Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

Yes, science can certainly be a form of informed worship.

Science is a more formalized way of learning about our world, and it can be approached with curiosity, receptivity, and awe. And a recognition that we are, in a very literal sense, the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the universe, locally and in the form of us, exploring and discovering itself.

Everything happens for a reason?

As usual, there are many ways to look at this.

EVERYTHING HAS CAUSES

Everything has causes so everything happens for a reason. That’s the literal and wonderfully boring answer.

WHAT HAPPENS IS THE LOCAL EXPRESSIONS OF THE LARGER WHOLE

Everything has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and the widest extent of existence (if there is any). What happens here is the local expression of movements within the larger whole, within all of existence. Seeing it that way can, in itself, be meaningful.

It’s meaningful because of the reminder that everything is existence as a whole locally expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself.

MAKING IT MEANINGFUL FOR US

The other side is how we relate to what is happening. We can make what happens meaningful to us. We can relate to it more intentionally and use it to support something important to us.

We can use it as an opportunity to deepen our connection with ourselves and others. Finding receptivity. Authenticity. Deepen in healing and maturing. Exploring living from noticing what we are. And so on.

ASSUMING MEANING INHERENT IN WHAT IS HAPPENING

There is also another way to look at this. We may have ideas of a meaning that’s somehow inherent in reality or given from divinity, or something similar.

For me, this is a reminder to take a closer look at what’s happening.

When I look at this, I find a projection. I find my own ideas about a meaning, and I find a thought saying this meaning is inherent in reality or life or given from the divine. The reality is that it’s an imagination.

Ultimately, trying to find some meaning inherent in what’s happening is a futile exercise. At most, it’s a guess. And more honestly, it’s a projection.

And I also know that imagining a meaning inherent in what’s happening can be helpful in some phases of our process. Any assumption is a kind of crutch, and these crutches are necessary until they aren’t.

The universal person

As human beings, we have a certain unique flavor.

And it’s also all universal, in several different ways.

Everything in us comes from somewhere else. The innumerable causes of everything we are and experience go back to the beginning of this universe (if there is any) and stretch out to the widest extent of existence.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the local expression of the universe and how it locally brings itself into consciousness.

The world is our mirror. We can take any story we have about anyone or anything, turn it around to ourselves, and find several specific examples of how it’s true for us in the moment and at times in the past.

To us, the world happens within our sense fields. It happens within and as what we are.

There is even a universality to our unique flavor. Every being has a unique flavor. Every being is a slightly different way for the universe to express, explore, and experience itself.

John Mohawk: The real intelligence isn’t the property of an individual; the real intelligence is the property of the universe itself

Seneca scholar John Mohawk wrote that according to his culture, “an individual is not smart […] but merely lucky to be part of a system that has intelligence. Be humble about this. The real intelligence isn’t the property of an individual; the real intelligence is the property of the universe itself.”

– “Hearing the Language of Trees” by Robin Wall Kimmerer in Yes! magazine

Aspects of oneness

We can find oneness in several places.

I’ll make this short since I have gone into it in more detail in other articles.

ONENESS IN IMMEDIATE NOTICING

One general form of oneness is what we notice in our own first-person experience.

Here, I find my nature as capacity for all my experiences – for the world, this human self, and anything else as it appears to me. One place I find oneness is my nature as capacity for the world as it appears here.

Another place I find oneness is within my sense fields. All my experiences – of the world, this human self, and anything else – happen within my sense fields. Within sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thought, and so on. These sense fields are a seamless whole. Any sense of boundaries and any labels come from my mental field overlay. This is another oneness.

I find that all my experiences – of the world, etc. – happen within and as what I am. This is yet another aspect of oneness.

These are all aspects of the same, and all ways to explore and find oneness for ourselves.

ONENESS IN A CONVENTIONAL SENSE

We also find oneness in the world, in a conventional sense. And many of these stories of oneness come from science.

The universe is a seamless evolving whole.

All we know and see and know about is a part of this evolving seamless system.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

All Earth life share ancestors. We are all intimately related. We share huge amounts of DNA with a large number of species – whether we call them animals or plants.

And so on, and so on. There are always more examples of oneness in the universe and the natural world.

ANTIDOTE TO A SENSE OF SEPARATION

Why is this important?

Because it’s an antidote to a one-sided sense of separation. Especially in our western culture, it’s easy for people to feel disconnected and separate from just about anything – themselves, others, society, nature, existence.

Exploring the connections, and also exploring these forms of oneness, is an antidote to that sense of separation and isolation.

We can find the oneness already here, in our immediate experience. And we can find it in the universe and nature – which we are an intrinsic part of.

We can engage in all sorts of practices to explore this for ourselves.

We can explore the first general form of oneness through inquiry, basic meditation, heart-centered practices, body-centered practices, and so on.

And we can explore the second through deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, epic of evolution, the universe story, big history, shamanic work, rituals, and Practices to Reconnect.

We can find these two forms of oneness for ourselves, and allow it to transform us and our life in the world.

Photo: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, spiral galaxy NGC 4651

Life is living itself

I saw this amazing rainbow (firebow) a couple of nights ago, took this photo, put it out on social media, and it has around 3000 likes so far. Partly because I shared it in two groups with a large number of members. (The amount of likes is more than for anything else I have put out there.)

I see that I could take this as a feather in my cap. I could make it about me. All these likes mean I am a great guy, or it means I am lovable, or good enough, or accepted, or something like that.

For me, none of that rings very true. What’s more true is that this is about nature. Nature created that scene. I just happened, through grace and coincidence, to be there and had a camera to capture it. I was given the role of a messenger, someone who was able to give others a small taste of what nature created here at that moment.

I could also think that this is about my skills and sense of aesthetics. I am a good photographer. I have built up some skills. And so on. Although there may be some truth to it (not so much in this photo since it’s so simple), something else is more true.

All of that also comes from beyond me as this human being. I was born. I was born into a family that values art, aesthetics, and nature. They passed it on to me. Evolution made us humans so we can see and enjoy beauty. It gave us these bodies with eyes and a brain. My parents bought this cabin many years ago, making it possible for me to be here now. I live in a peaceful society making it possible for me to be here. Someone built this cabin. They learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else. Someone grew the food that’s kept me alive for long enough to see that rainbow and take the picture. Someone made the phone making it possible to take the photo. Innumerable generations of very smart and diligent people worked out the technology that eventually became that phone. And the same for the technology that makes internet and social media possible. The evolution of Earth was required for this photo to be taken. The whole universe, and the evolution of the universe, had to be just as it is and has been for me to take that photo and others to see it on their phones and computers.

This photo was taken by me, but it’s not about me. It’s about the whole world and all of the universe, going back to the beginning of time.

When I am grounded in reality, it’s clear that this is about what’s beyond any one of us. It’s about existence as a whole.

Ultimately, this photo wasn’t taken by me. The scene was created by life and existence. It was taken by life and existence. It’s enjoyed by life and existence. And all of it is made possible by life and existence.

Note: The photo ended up with around 10,000 likes.

I am in you and you in me?

When you call me European, I say yes. When you call me Arab, I say yes. When you call me black, I say yes. When you call me white, I say yes. Because I am in you and you are in me. We have to inter-be with everything in the cosmos.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

This can sound like a poetic expression or well-intentioned wishful thinking.

And if we look more closely, we may find something else. We may find it’s an accurate description of how it already is.

BIOLOGY

We share ancestry not just going back to the first cells but to the beginning of this universe. We share 99.9% of our genetic material.

We are basically the same, in all the essentials. We have the same basic needs, wants, fears, and so on.

PROJECTIONS

If I have a story about you, and turn it around to myself, I can specific examples of how it’s true for me as well. I can find how it’s as or more true for me.

You are my mirror. You help me see myself. (If I allow it and notice.)

In this sense, you are me. What I see in you is what I know from myself, whether I notice or not.

WHAT I AM

My experience of you happens within my sense fields. If you are here, or I see a movie or picture of you, you happen within my sight and possibly touch, smell, and so on.

Whether you are here or not, you also happen within my mental field. You happen through my mental representations of you – my mental images, labels, memories, and stories.

I find I am capacity for you. You happen within and as my sense fields. You happen within and as what I am.

In this sense, you are me. You happen within and as what I am. And I am you. What I am takes the form of my experience of you.

I AM IN YOU AND YOU IN ME

In several ways, it’s true that you are in me and I am in you.

It’s true in a biological sense.

It’s true since you are my mirror. What I see in you is what I have in myself.

It’s true since my experience of you happens within and as what I am.

The question is: if I keep noticing this, and keep exploring it and seeing it’s undeniably so, what does it do to me? If I take this seriously, how do I live my life?

Alan Watts: For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new

You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate ‘you’ to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new. You do not ask what is the value, or what is the use, of this feeling. Of what use is the universe? What is the practical application of a million galaxies?

– Alan Watts

There are two ways to look at this.

One is talking about existence itself, which is more of a third person view and philosophical.

And the other is how it is in our own immediate experience, which is from noticing.

UNIVERSE STORY

We can say that the universe is existence exploring, expressing, experiencing itself in always new ways, including through and as innumerable living beings.

As Carl Sagan said: We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

Our most fundamental identity is not as this local and temporary human being, but as the whole of existence taking all of these forms and always changing itself into new forms, expressions, and experiences.

This is a view that can be deeply inspiring and meaningful, and it can deepen our sense of belonging to the universe and all of existence.

We may also find that sensing, feeling, thinking, and living becomes meaningful in itself. And the more this is felt and visceral, the deeper is the sense of belonging.

DIRECT NOTICING

We can also explore this through our own immediate noticing.

When I look, I find I am not most fundamentally this human being. I am what all these changing experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happen within and as. I am capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as.

In that sense, the world as it appears to me is a magical illusion and a fabulous game. It’s all happening within and as me. It’s all an expression of the creativity of existence and the mind. The only real “me” is capacity for all of it, and all the always-changing content of experience – whether I call this my human self or the wider self or the whole of the universe. To me, it’s all happening within and as consciousness, and it’s all – in a sense – existence looking at itself from a billion points of view.

COSMOLOGY AS A MIRROR

Here too, we find that cosmology is a mirror.

We may have ideas about the universe similar to what Alan Watts describe, and what we find in the Universe Story and the Epic of Evolution, and these may be grounded in science and what we observe.

And we can find it here and now. We can find these mental representations here and now. And we can find what these stories point to in our own immediate experience.

In that sense, cosmology is both a projection and a mirror. We place our mental representations on the universe, and can use them as pointers to what’s already here in our immediate experience.

And there is likely some truth to both. We may be onto something about existence as a whole, and also – equally or more important – about our own true nature.

Feeling our connection with all life

When we hear about our connection with all life, or see a video illustrating the evolution of our distant ancestors, do we see it as something interesting and not much more? Or do we feel it?

Do we feel that these are are ancestors? Do we feel that all life is related?

In a practical – and social and political – sense, that makes all the difference.

If our connection with all life remains intellectual for us, it doesn’t do much for us or life.

But if we feel it, if we feel it in our body and bones, that makes a huge difference for us and possibly for all life. That’s when it gets translated into action.

How do we feel the connection with all life?

So how can we shift from knowing to feeling?

One is intention. If our intention is to take it in and feel it, we have a much better chance of doing so.

Another is through combining our knowledge with feeling. When we watch the video above, how is it to take in that these are our actual ancestors? How is it to let it work on us? How is it to feel it?

We can also seek out whatever evokes this feeling, for instance through being in nature with the intention of noticing and feeling our connection with all life. We can also do this through poetry, documentaries, movies, and fiction writing. And we can seek out talks, books, and workshops about deep ecology, deep time, the universe story, and the epic of evolution.

The Practices to Reconnect from Joanna Macy is also a powerful way to bring this alive for us and feeling it more deeply and directly.

For me, watching the Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when I was ten had a profound impact on me in this direction.

Additional ways to open up for feeling our connection with all life

There are also approaches that may seem indirect but deeply support these shifts.

The more comfortable we are in feeling our own sensations and our own body, whatever it is that’s going on there, the more we’ll feel our connection with all life.

The more our heart is open, the more it’s open towards all life. We can open our heart in many ways, including through finding comfort with whatever we are feeling, and heart-centered practices.

We can do inquiry on any of our beliefs that separates us from the rest of life. For instance, that we are a separate being, that humans are inherently different from the rest of life, that’s it’s scary to feel a connection with all of life, that compassion for all life will be overwhelming, and so on.

We can find ourselves as what our experiences – of ourselves and the wider world – happens within and as. Here, we find that the world happens within and as what we are. In our direct experience, the world is one and it always was, we just didn’t notice.

Each of these and many more approaches helps us open to feeling a connection with all life, deepening that feeling, and act on it and bring it into our daily life.

Why is this important?

Knowing about our connection with all life is a start but it’s not enough for real changes in our perception and how we live our life.

The more deeply we feel our connection with all life, the more we act from it. The more we make choices that bring us and society and our civilization one step further in a more ecologically sustainable direction.

Wait a minute, isn’t this mostly about stories?

Yes, some of it is. It’s about stories from science.

When we watch the video above and use it to feel our connection with our ancestors and all life, we use a story to evoke a feeling. We use stories from science to evoke and deepen our feeling of connection with all life. That’s what the universe story and the epic of evolution is all about.

That’s not a problem, it’s just good to be aware that this is what we are doing.

The one thing here that’s not dependent on a story is finding ourselves as what all our experiences – of ourselves and the world – happen within and as. Here, there is an immediate recognition of oneness, and to the extent we take this in, it leads to a transformation of our perception and life in the world.

Feeling and acting our age

I thought I would add a quote from the QI social media feed earlier today.

We aren’t entirely ‘made of stardust’. About 9.5% of the mass of the average human body is made up of hydrogen atoms that are older than the stars, formed in the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

Do I take this as an interesting fact and not much more? How would it be to take it in? To feel it?

How is it to feel that a part of this body and who I am, is made up of matter unchanged since the beginning of this universe? How is it to take in and feel that the rest is matter from the beginning of this universe, transformed in stars?

How would it be to act my age?

Karl Schroeder: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature

Karl Schroeder

I love this quote. It’s a take on Arthur C. Clarke’s: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And it highlights the hugely advanced “technology” of nature which is far beyond anything we can do or even understand very well.

We do best when we ally ourselves with this technology, and when we make use of it in a way that interferes the least with the natural processes of Earth and all the living systems we are a part of.

In a very real sense, we are one of the many examples of the technology of nature. Everything we are and do and think and feel and create is an example of this amazing technology of nature.

Lila here and now

Lila or Leela can be loosely translated as the “divine play”. […] Within non-dualism, Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute (Brahman).

Wikipedia article on lila

Any map, cosmology, and idea about the world reflect what’s here and now.

So what about lila – the play of the divine? Can I find that here and now?

What is lila?

Lila refers to the divine – or reality, existence, the universe – exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways through and as all of existence. A thought, a feeling, an insight, a painting, a leaf, the ocean, an ecosystem, this living and evolving planet, the evolution of this universe, and so on, are all lila, the play of existence.

Can I find it here?

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world, we notice that all our experiences happen within and as what we are. And that means that lila, too, is right here.

Said another way, lila is a projection of what’s here onto the rest of existence. We know it from here, and imagine it on all of existence.

It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It does look like lila happens here in and as us and also in and as existence as a whole.

Ways of understanding lila

We can understand lila in a few different ways.

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and all our experiences happen within and as consciousness, so all seems like consciousness to us. That means it’s easy to imagine all of existence as consciousness, and from there it’s a small step to call it the divine or Spirit. And say that all of existence is the play of the divine, Spirit, Big Mind, Brahman, or whatever similar label we would like to use.

We can also say that lila is the play of existence, life, or the universe, and this is something that can fit just about any worldview. This universe and all we know – including our thoughts, feelings, and experiences – can be seen as the metaphoric play of life, existence, and the universe. It’s all the universe metaphorically exploring itself in all of these ways.

Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi in The Purity of Desire: 100 Poems of Rumi, reinterpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

This question sometimes comes up for me as a kind of life-koan. For health reasons, I am doing far less in the world than I used to and imagined I would, so this comes up for me. Does my life have meaning and value even if I am not doing the things I imagined I would do in the world?

What do I find when I look into this?

The essence – taking it literally

We can take the poem literally and look at what our activities do for the universe.

If we are engagest in the simplest of activities, and perhaps appear to be doing very little, how can that be doing as much for the universe as anything? Does our existence, in itself, do as much for the universe as anything?

What first comes to mind is that I cannot know. I cannot know if not laughing, or petting a dog, or singing isn’t doing as much for the universe as anything. Perhaps just existing and experiencing what I am currently experiencing does as much for existence as anything.

We can also look at this from a systems view. We can see the universe as a seamless evolving system, and we and all beings are parts of this system. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. In this sense, any activity or experience may do as much for the universe as anything.

And if we see the universe as the divine itself, then our experiences and activities are the experiences and activities of the divine. Here too, the simplest of activities and simply existing may do as much for existence as anything.

We can also bring it home. Here, I find that my current experience does as much for me as anything. In other words, it does as much for my universe as anything, and it does as much for this local part of the universe I call “me” as anything. Right here, I find how it’s true.

The essence – bringing it home

Often, these apparently metaphysical questions are about something more immediate and simple.

Does my life have meaning and value? Even if I don’t do what I had imagined? Or as much as I imagined?

This is where it makes sense to talk about meaning and value. My life as it is, even in the simplest of moments, is of immense value to me and to those who love me.

For our personal lives, this is perhaps the most important and the essence of the question.

Our sense of meaning and value is often colored by less-than-helpful assumptions we have adopted from our culture, perhaps telling us that our value is tied up with what we do, so it’s helpful to notice these, examine one at a time, and find what’s genuinely more true for us.

Some painful beliefs worth examining may be: My life doesn’t have value. If I don’t do X, my life doesn’t have value. I need to do X to be loved. And so on. What this really is about is often something universal, vulnerable, simple, innocent, childlike, and essential for us as human beings.

IN A BROADER CONTEXT

I’ll go into a few related topics and angles since it has direct consequences for how we live our lives, and the choices and priorities we make individually and collectively.

There are a few related but distinct questions here: What does an activity or our existence do for the universe? What does the activity or existence of anything do for the universe? What’s the value we assign to these things and how does that influence our perception, choices, and life?

Protestant work ethic and value through productivity

Coming from northern Europe, I am familiar with the protestant and capitalist work ethic suggesting that we have our value from what we do in the world. Productivity equals value.

Is that really true? What about a baby? A baby isn’t productive and still considered valuable. Is it just because we expect it to become productive later? Is someone with a handicap not valuable? Someone in a coma? Does nature only have value for what it produces for itself and us?

It all depends on how we look at it. People with a disability are loved by someone, and that makes them valuable to that person – and others who value love. And the same for a baby, and even someone in a coma.

Cannot find value outside of what the mind assigns to it

Of course, the idea of value is an idea created by the mind. It’s not inherent in reality.

We – collectively and individually – decide what’s valuable, and it’s good to remember that this is, quite literally, imagination and fantasy. At a collective level, it does help with coordination and cohesion, and it’s also something we can question. We can recognize it as imagination.

This also means that we can, as individuals and even collectively, assign value to what we find useful to us. For me, it seems useful to assume that all living beings, all ecosystems, and all life has value just from existing. Beyond that, I would assign value to all parts of Earth since the non-living parts of Earth – water, air, rocks – are as integral and essential to this living planet as anything else. All life, including ourselves, depends on it for our life.

Assigning value to all life and Earth as a whole allows us to live in a way that honors the living systems we are part of, and even ourselves independent of productivity or anything else. It’s practically useful since it opens up for some reverence for all life and makes us consider if we can meet our needs in a different way. Perhaps one that minimizes harm to life, and may benefit life overall.

A systems view

If we see the universe as a seamless system, then we see all things as part of this evolving system. All parts of the system have value as parts of this larger dynamic system.

We can also see all beings as the universe locally bringing itself into consciousness. In the words of Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. All life is, in its own way.

If we see it this way, it’s natural to also see all life as having value and all things having value in themselves.

Divine creation or the divine itself

We can see all of existence as divine creation, and as such, it has meaning and value in itself.

We can also see all of existence as the divine. We may see the physical body as the divine taking physical form. And this opens up for even a deeper sense of reverence for all of life and all of existence.

Capacity for the world

When I find myself as capacity for the world, and that which anything I think, feel, see, hear, and so on happens within and as, this all looks a bit different. Here, everything has value. Everything is what I am. Everything happens within and as the one. We can also say that everything is the divine.

Here, the reverence for life and all of existence comes from direct perception.

Values and a pragmatic approach

We can choose to assign value to all life, and that doesn’t mean we won’t prioritize and make difficult choices. For instance, we can choose ecosystems over individual life, and we may choose our own life over that of plants we eat to survive. We always make these kinds of choices, and it’s good to be conscious of it.

Life is a mix of destruction and giving life. We eat life to stay alive. We ourselves are eventually consumed by other life. That’s how things work here.

As mentioned earlier, by assigning value to all life, we may live with more reverence for life and find different strategies that minimizes harm to life and perhaps even benefits life overall.

And as Albert Schweitzer said, by living we put ourselves in debt to life, and we can do our best to repay that debt through how we live our life.

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