Sunday, February 15, 2009

Growing Up

Mountains above the cities rise,
On humanity's youth look with ancient eyes.
On the racket and din of children there,
Whose aromas of digestion rise through the air.
Like babes unwilling to give up the suck,
Or gambling fools ever pressing their luck.
Cities of toddlers, teeming with those
Who know not what the Mountain knows.
Rivers of life through the unwitting pass,
But unwitting children make them a mass
Of all that their childish digestion spits out;
Soiling the garment of their brother, the trout.
Unwitting of siblings and of older kin,
Like brain-damaged children who know not they sin
When they strike out at relatives and elevate those
Who know not what the River knows.

What lessons would Mountains and Rivers give
To us, their children, whose lives depend
On Rivers and Mountains, in order to to live?
"To childishness," they say, "put an end.
"Live now as siblings upon the earth,
Life was not meant for just you alone.
Look now to your siblings and know you their worth.
This World was your nursery, now make it your home.
Put away now your toys, for the time has come:
The time when the time to be children is done.
So quit being spoiled and spoiling the land,
Or Mother Earth may do more than just smack your hand.

I was sitting on the side of Mount Helena looking down on the city when I wrote this. It had occurred to me how foolish all our striving and struggling must look from the perspective of millennia. And how like spoiled and ignorant children we must seem from that perspective.

Consider the life of the mountain to the life of the valley. On the mountainside many things live, each taking what it needs from the environment and not imposing on its neighbor, not denying others the ability to live and to make use of the environment as well. Because of this, many types of life flourish on the mountainside. In the valley though, only one type of life flourishes, us.

Always demanding more for ourselves, needlessly imposing on the ability of others to live, assuming that we have the right to whatever we can lay our grubby little mitts on. We refuse to live on equal terms with other kinds of life and so the valley fills with our buildings and our parking lots. What other life exists there is only what we allow.

Besides our inability to live as equals with other species, we can't even do it amongst ourselves! Never has the disparity between rich and poor been so great as it is today. Unimaginable quantities of wealth are acquired while billions hover on the edge of starvation. In this respect, the aboriginal societies that were displaced by our ever-expanding Western "Civilization" were much more advanced that we are today. Sure, they didn't have i-Pods, but no one was starving to death either, unless it was absolutely unavoidable. One of the great ironies of industrial civilization is that while it now has the ability to ensure that all death from deprivation is avoidable, it has instead increased and worsened these deaths through distributive inequalities. And these inequalities are perpetrated in the name of The Economy, whose purpose is supposed to be to provide for the material needs of society.

As a species we have become like a narcissistic child, having lost all touch with reality. We no longer have any concept of what is actually needed to live. As individuals we have forgotten that to live beyond our needs is to contribute to the disequilibrium in our human and natural worlds. How many people could be fed with the resources that we use to manufacture Swiffers(tm)? How many forests and rivers have been destroyed to provide for such un-necessaries? To be able to help and to do nothing is to give consent to the problem, and tacit participation in our species-narcissism is still participation.

If we are to grow up as a species we must learn to act like respectful adults who do not impose on one another. Part of this means dispensing with a wealth-hoarding mentality which is the mentality of a narcissistic child. Our economists, however, tell us that we should all impose on each other; that by everyone imposing on everyone and everything else some sort of just order will emerge. But what emerges from this juvenile fantasy is neither just nor ordered. We must reject this mentality if we are ever to free ourselves from the injustice and chaos this mindset has created. We must learn to live more like the creatures on the mountainside, taking only what we need and living in harmony with the life around us. If we cannot stop living like spoiled, destructive children, we will ultimately destroy ourselves, along with much else besides. It's time to grow up.

Addition, 2/18/09: While reading Walking in the Sacred Manner: Healers, Dreamers, and Pipe Carriers--Medicine Women of the Plains Indians, by Mark St. Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier, I came across this story of the advice given to 'souls' about to be born into the world. St. Pierre and Long Soldier quote it from Oglala Women by Marla N. Powers:
Somewhere to the south theres is a large camp in which beauty and peace abide. There is a council lodge, and inside it sits one they call Grandfather. One day he calls out to a man and woman, and both of them come sit in his lodge.

And he says to them, "You are now going to make a long journey, so do the best you can. someday in the futute you will come back here again. And then you will be asked to tell about how your journey fared. So go now, both of you. But never own more than you need.
--Admonition of the Creator to New Travelers
[empahsis mine]

This sage peice of wisdom goes to the heart of what is necessary if we are to become worthy inheritors of this place we call Earth. We need, on an individual level, to decline to own more than we need. Individual over-consumption drives societal and species over-consumption. This concept, however, of not owning more than you need, must seem truly radical in a society such as ours that equates happiness with ever-increasing wealth and unnecessary spending.

The Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota (commonly referred to as the tribes of the Souix)have an often used prayer,
Mi'takuye' Oya's'in, which, roughly translated, means "I acknowledge everything in the Universe as my relatives." We need to regain this understanding of our relatedness and interconnectedness to everything, so that we can learn to live as responsible siblings in this world, rather than spoiled and demanding infants. As St. Pierre and Long Soldier put it, "...through the mysterious act of creation all things in the world are permanently related, as is a human family."

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