I am reminded these mild early fall days of warm sun and cool nights, of our symbiotic relationship to the natural world. As much as we may wish to bask in our autonomy, the fact is we are of nature, simply a small fairly insignificant component of the natural environment. It’s pretty clear our very existence, dependent as it is on an oxygenated atmosphere and water-rich environs can’t really be separated in any meaningful way from our supportive world.
We are nature, nature is us. If we were pressed to name this embracing entity I suppose we might refer to it as God.
I’ve been reading that the divisiveness so prevalent these days among folks of differing political persuasions is caused to a not inconsiderable extent by media narratives that posit the news in terms of winners and losers. Rather than defining contemporary problems as mutual and in need of consensus solutions, stories in the news all too often portray ideological differences as warfare pitting one side against the other in a battle which will ultimately determine winner and loser. And, since news outlets no longer see any necessity in offering a balanced story line with pros and cons for any particular stance, partisans can gravitate to the site of their preferred ideological narrative, reinforcing the corrosive divisiveness.
So, I’m wondering if there’s any way to get everyone in the same army in the same camp or on the same team: to get Republicans and Democrats, creationists and scientists, Russians and Islamists and perhaps the entire animal kingdom wearing the same uniform. I fear it will happen only under the threat of imminent cataclysmic disaster. Of course the potential Armageddon will be attributed variously to godless atheism, head-in-the-sand anti-intellectualism, capitalistic excesses, the Infidel, whatever.
I guess that takes us back to where we started. Will we all ultimately be losers?
So, it’s come to my attention that through virtually my entire educational existence, a culture of relativistic truth has undermined the notion that some truths are truly and necessarily objectively true. I’ve come to realize that, through careful observation of nature using inductive reasoning practical truths have been and will continue to be established.
I guess this idea of virtual relativity has lodged itself into the peripheries of our intellect in part, at least, because social truths and values have been shown to vary with different peoples. And, I have to admit that sensitivity to cultural pluralism is certainly a good thing. But, I guess it’s led to the confusion that all truths are relative to the unique and differing perspectives of each of us. Moral truths, for instance, will differ depending on one’s sense of religious propriety or lack thereof. But, the process of science which involves painstaking data collection by numerous researchers over extended time periods that lead to useable innovative ideas and are regularly peer reviewed must necessarily be perceived as objective.
Anyway, I have to keep telling myself this, having been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the culture of relativity. Sustaining a healthy natural environment threatened as it is by the onerous pressures of human habitation depends upon accepting the objective findings of science.
As I understand it, science is a discipline whereby observations lead to evidence. The greater the number of observers along with the ever increasing number of observations lead to increasingly firmer, sounder more believable evidence. And, as time goes by and the multitudes of observations reinforce the evidence, truth appears; of course absolute truth can never be achieved because the possibility, as remote as that maybe, of new evidence entering the discussion can’t be discounted. But, practically speaking, from a pragmatic standpoint, science does sometimes reveal truths. And, in it’s unadulterated purity science continues to seek truths which improve quality of life, understanding of the natural world and the origins of our existence.
Unfortunately, skepticism as to ulterior motive has led some to doubt scientific evidence, and, I guess, for good reason. On the one-hand vested interests claim justification in the name of science for activities that benefit a few and may potentially do harm. Then, also, those who find scientific findings contradicting their preferred world views tend to discount the evidence as atheistic. And so, science becomes politicized, in part because the complexity of the evidence is difficult for us non-scientists to understand; in fact, it sometimes sounds like nonsense to our untrained ears.
So, political science (not to be confused with the discipline that studies scientifically the way politics works) may very well become political pseudo- science when in the hands of the politically astute, casting doubt, for many, on all scientific findings. Which is, indeed, unfortunate. It kind of sounds oxymoronic doesn’t it.
I’ve been reading, lately, that we apparently don’t all live in the same ethical world, that our moral perspectives diverge sometimes pretty dramatically, and, that this fact may very well account for the conflicting religious and political stances which seem so prevalent these days.
On the one hand you have those who champion the individual, operate according to the ethic of the golden rule: do no harm, treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated and exercise compassion for all vulnerable living things. And then you have another sizable constituency whose ethics centers on a sense of sacredness, pledge loyalty to a higher authority and firmly believe one’s social benefits be tied to one’s contributions.
It certainly seems to me both of these ethical worlds exist upon pretty sound foundations and I suspect the residents of each respective world probably have more in common, ethically speaking, than the on-going, divisive, media narrative presents. Maybe it’s time to invite my neighbors (who I’m pretty sure are firmly ensconced within the opposing camp) over for tea. As long as I can come up with conversational topics that don’t involve politics or religion.
Another thing I miss while alone in the wilderness is distraction. Other than the occasional animal rustling or bird song there are no distractions here. I can’t even get a cell phone signal.
The awareness of not being distracted makes me think I must be distracted a lot usually. I wonder how much of my life I spend distracted.
Which is one reason I didn’t mind falling in the water while trying to get into my canoe so much. It temporarily distracted me. Wilderness is so in your face, so absolute, such stark reality.
So, to deal with stark reality I brought along some distractions in the form of reading material and, obviously, writing pad.
One of the books is Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. The person telling the story in this book reminds me somewhat of myself. She goes on and on about whatever comes into her head. She tells in the book about having once been mad. I don’t think she ever fully recovered by the end of the book. I don’t know what that says about me.
I’ve been alone in the wilderness now for more than twenty-four hours. Other than the occasional canoe passing by I’ve seen or talked with no one.
Nothing particularly unusual has happened here other than last evening I fell in the lake trying to get into my canoe. I spent considerable time after that rigging up lines to dry things out which they pretty well were by morning.
So, I was thinking about what I miss being in the wilderness and one of the first things that came to mind is music which when I’m not in the wilderness I am usually listening to or is at least playing in the background.
I find it interesting how some musicians’ names seem to fit their profession so well. Take Esa-Pekka Salonen or Luigi Boccherini or Antonine Dvorak. When I say these names out loud I just want to repeat them over and over because they’re so rhythmic sounding (well, maybe not Antonine Dvorak so much).
The composer I’m thinking of now is Aaron Copeland who I guess doesn’t have a particularly rhythmic sounding name but his music seems to suit the wilderness. It seems to me Appalachian Spring would be really good background music for where I presently am. I’m not in Appalachia and it’s not spring but never the less.
I do know the title of that work really doesn’t refer to the season but rather a water source. I found this out only recently. Even so I still am inclined to think of the season when I hear the piece. Also I think of Jody Foster who sang Simple Gifts in an episode of Kung Fu for David Carradine who played Kwai Chang Caine even though he’s Caucasian.
The movie that I think of when I think of Jody Foster is Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro. In it she plays an adolescent prostitute.
I’m all alone in the wilderness. At least it’s someplace I would call wilderness. I know for a fact no one lives within miles of here and there aren’t any roads within miles of here either.
That’s not to say there aren’t people around. I saw four people just minutes ago but they aren’t within sight now. For all intents and purposes I’m all alone. At least I have been for the last three hours and seventeen minutes which is how long ago I entered the wilderness.
Right now I’m looking out across a lake.
Although it’s been a couple of minutes since I wrote that last sentence I’m still looking across the same lake in so far as I haven’t moved from the spot I was at when I wrote the last sentence. It’s a beautiful scene; the sun sparkling off of the water, the variety of greens in the trees on the far bank, the multi-colored rock outcroppings reaching down into the dark water. It could be a painting.
Of course I know it couldn’t really be a painting because then what I’d be looking at would be some sort of pigment spread on canvas or paper or something rather than the real water and rocks and trees I’m seeing.
That’s not to say if what I was looking at was a painting that the painting wouldn’t be real. It is real in my imagination in so far as I can imagine this scene as a painting.
So I guess there’s no reason to think that the painting I’m imagining of the scene that I’m looking at is any less real than the water, trees and rocks.
I’ve been engaged for the last eight minutes or so maintaining awareness of the reality before me; not focusing on anything in particular, just contemplating the here and now. Thoughts occasionally enter, generally from the left, and pretty much pass right through and out to the right. Sometimes a thought gets stuck on its passage through so I have to give it a nudge so as to bring myself back to the here and now.
Traveling, as I am, down the road right now, the here and now is changing by the second; probably not an ideal situation for meditation; kind of distracting, really. And, having traveled this road numerous times before familiar objects come suddenly into view that bring thoughts to mine; thoughts that need to be ushered out stage right, lest I be drawn into thoughts of past circumstances and lose the here and now. Even as I concentrate on the here and now ‘veneers’ of association supervene adding layers of meaning that I gently, lightly erase without disturbing the here and now.
I’m up to about ten minutes now and my concentration is kind of fading in and out. With effort I know I can bring it back, aware, as I am, of the enormous benefits of mindfulness.
My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.
In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.
The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.
Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the lawn needs mowing and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.