Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Empty oceans

Today as we took the ferry across the murky, earth-red bay between Shanghai and the northern peninsula of Nantong, a woman strolled between the cars, selling live turtles. A brace of good sized ones, box turtles, suspended in a nylon net.

The moment was typical of China- a country where most animal life is appreciated strictly from a food-value point of view- but especially poignant for me, as I’m currently reading Carl Safina’s “Voyage of the Turtle” (highly recommended.)

The book raises a lot of very difficult questions about both the wholesale destruction of turtle populations, and of worldwide fishing industry practices in general. Do you know what we’re doing?

Reality check: in less than 300 years, human beings have managed to strip the oceans of what probably amounts to about 90% of its fish and reptile populations. The prospect of having nothing left is directly in front of us as immanent reality, not fear-based speculation. Yet as a species, we just don’t take it seriously.

It reminds me of Gurdjieff’s description of mankind: biped destroyers of nature’s good.

Why has mankind ended up this way? ...Perhaps one explanation is as good as another when it comes to diagnosing depravity? Or is there some more basic issue we aren't seeing?

My own take on it is as follows:

I was standing in the hotel elevator this morning and a group of young girls got in the elevator. As I watched them I abruptly realized that none of them had any sense at all of the connection between their minds and their bodies: not a single one of them understood the question of the organic sense of being from a personal or practical point of view—

nor were they ever likely to.

At that moment, these sweet young girls struck me as... well.. nothing more than monkeys.

Human beings just don’t have the proper senses any more. The organs within them that need to awaken and connect them to themselves—the sense of their marrow, the sense of their breath actively feeding their life, the sense of every single cell in their body as a living, respiring part of their organism- those organs are entirely dormant.

In fact, with very few exceptions, humans don’t even know this ability—the potential for which resides within every human organism--exists at all, so no one bothers trying to attain it.

Even within the body of active practitioners in the Gurdjieff work, I get the impression that this intimate organic sensation of self remains largely theoretical. The one teacher who truly emphasized it- Madame De Salzmann- is dead, and with it, apparently, a good deal of the discussion of this fundamental practice, which ought to, in my own opinion, be a central point of group work.

We may suppose, fairly enough, that people don’t speak of it because it is still, for them, an idea, not a reality. And perhaps that is a respectable position to take.

However- let me assure you, my friends. This premise--this possibility--is not theoretical.

It’s clear—at least to me—from what she said that De Salzmann quite rightly understood this question of an organic, global, durable sensation of the body as the foundation stone for the beginning of an inner work that is truly awake and alive within the organism, instead of residing within the psychological parts. We speak here of a sensation that does not go away in daily life—a sensation which is awake in its own right and supports the organism in its efforts. In Zen, they call it attaining the marrow.

The organic sense of being inevitably awakens within one the sense of being connected to the planet. De Salzmann spoke often of how we needed to work lest the planet “go down” precisely because of this connection within her.

She knew what we are.

The organic sense of being, in and of itself, begins to help us form a correct understanding of our relationship with nature, which we have forgotten. Part of self- remembering is to "remember" this:

Our identity is not limited to the confines of the organism we inhabit.

If we understand this, turtles—and all of nature in general—become much more interesting to us. We are all, as a whole, participating in this magnificent experience called organic life on earth together. One is a little less likely to inflict wholesale damage to nature once one perceives it as a part of one’s self.

At this point, readers may quite rightly ask: how does one acquire an organic sense of being? And why should we care about it more than blah, blah, blah? (Substitute your favorite cause of choice here.)

It’s not as complicated, vague, or obscure as it may sound. It does involve submitting to a long term, systematic discipline. Like absolutely all other questions of inner development, it has everything—everything—to do with right formation of connections between the inner centers. There is a practical, a definite, one might even say a scientific method of undertaking this particular work, and the keys to an understanding of it reside in the enneagram.

As to caring—well, we should care because the planet needs this work.

I can’t exactly explain that in the esoteric context, which has to do with cosmological questions of identity too great to address in a blog (or probably anywhere else where words are necessary.) I can, however, explain that forming a right sense of being is vital to understanding what we are, where we are, and how we need to approach the question of inhabiting our lives.

And as to the when and the why?- We should do it now, because it is needed. We might want to recall that in many of mankind’s creation myths, the earth was formed on the back of a great turtle. When we fail to form a right connection within ourselves, we’re killing the turtle.

But who’s interested?

These days, it appears as though no one cares if the ocean is empty, as long as the waves look good.

May your trees bear fruit, your wells yield water, and your turtles swim free.

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