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A WGREN Meditation for the Week of June 29, 2008
In Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, entrepreneur Paul Hawken describes a situation that arose in Borneo in the 1950s due to the World Health Organization's attempts to eradiate malaria.Many Dayak villagers had malaria, and the World Health Organization had a solution that was simple and direct. Spraying DDT seemed to work: Mosquitoes died, and malaria declined. But then an expanding web of side effects ("consequences you didn't think of," quips biologist Garrett Hardin, "the existence of which you will deny as long as possible") started to appear. The roofs of people's houses began to collapse, because the DDT had also killed tiny parasitic wasps that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. The colonial government issued sheet-metal replacement roofs, but people couldn't sleep when tropical rains turned the tin roofs into drums. Meanwhile, the DDT-poisoned bugs were being eaten by geckos, which were being eaten by cats. The DDT invisibly built up in the food chain and began to kill the cats. Without the cats, the rats multiplied. The World Health Organization, threatened by potential outbreaks of typhus and sylvatic plague, which it had itself created, was obligated to parachute fourteen thousand live cats into Borneo. Thus occurred Operation Cat Drop, one of the odder missions of the British Royal Air Force.
While our first response is to laugh at this anecdote, it ought perhaps to be an uncomfortable laughter. We all know about unintentional consequences and on occasion have had to watch as such consequences arose through what we thought at the time was an innocuous action. Sometimes the results are humorous. Sometimes though, as in the case Hawken describes, the results can be disastrous. The real disaster though is the absolute cluelessness (i.e., ignorance) that appears to drive the WHO's actions. The realization that seems to escape the WHO here is the fundamental interdependence between all life and the natural environment. It is a realization that most indigenous cultures possess, as well as those who live in a closer relation to the natural environment. The Japanese even have a concept that captures this interdependence - esho funi. The lesson here, and one that ought to guide both meditations upon and interactions with the natural environment, is that we need to adopt a larger and longer range perspective. The inclination however is to focus on immediate problems and concerns and ignore all the rest. The problem though is that the distance between 'ignore' and 'ignorance' can be (and has all too often been) catastrophic. Do we want the measure against which future generations will judge current policies and actions to be the unintentional miseries we continue to visit upon the earth? In the end would it be a better testament to human stewardship that the natural environment's destruction was through ignorance and good intentions than through deliberate indifference and maliciousness?Mark H. Dixon
Department of Philosophy & Religion
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of June 22, 2008
My walks abroad are typically quiet ones. The soundscape is a gentle one, geese overhead, a red headed woodpecker high in a tree, squirrels rushing through the undergrowth seeking dry leaves for their nests. But the wood is no stranger to violence. Yesterday, I saw a raptor carry off one of the squirrels. But today my walk was punctuated by something different, the barking of dogs becoming increasingly aggressive. My anxiety quickened and I head the sounds of sudden violence as several turned on one. Howls of outrage pierced the woods with sharp pitched yelps signaling surrender. Sounds of pain rang ahead of me. I ran toward the cries as fast as I was able. Pushed through the bracken trying to distract the dogs that had one on the ground. Limbs in a jumble, heads pushing each other, backs rearing. Was the one injured? I couldn't yet tell, but it was definitely frightened. My heart was pounding too. I ran the fence line, clanging my weights. It had about as much effect as ringing the tingsha might do to attempt to initiate meditation during a high school rumble. I wasn't giving up. As I noticed that the dog that was being hectored was itself quite large, a small voice in my head asserted, "This could quickly become bad for you as well. . . ." Without thinking further, I was yelling now, "Stop that! Leave him alone!" Over and over again. Charging the fence. The aggressive dogs quickly became more interested in me. The one who had been down got up and ran toward its house. I could see no blood or obvious signs of real damage. But I did notice that all the dogs involved belonged to one household.
I have had a convoluted history with violence. Perhaps most of us have. Constitutionally disposed to resist bullies of all kinds, I often put myself in harm's way, trying to offer some kind of protection. But I was readily provoked to respond in kind; "Come over here. You won't find it so easy to do that to me. Let's see what you think of your own medicine." Not skillful means by a long shot. But I have always sided with those who were vulnerable, dispossessed or abused.
After the confrontation, I discovered that I was lost in the woods. This doesn't happen to me often, although I easily become confused and disoriented in a town or city. Trying not to stumble through the bracken I looked for the path and considered violence whether it moves like a whip or binds slowly like tendrils of ivy.
How often have anger and rage made me lose my way? I'm embarrassed to say. These days, I try to walk with the peacemakers. My heart is naturally tender and ready to bind another's wounds. But there is also something in me that is prepared to fight, that relishes it, in fact.
Stilling my rapid and too shallow breath, trying to calm my racing thoughts and blood, I searched for the path. We are those dogs. Faces distorted by a snarl, lunging at each other, teeth hoping to catch on another's hot flesh.
As I considered my own foolishness and wondered how best to make and sustain peace, I saw a friend-Alice-straining on her leash to meet me. She's a young yellow Labrador and if she's had a sour moment, I haven't seen it. She plunged towards me and danced in place until I brought my face closer so she could kiss it.Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
- Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
Kathleen M. Dixon
Department of Philosophy
Bowling Green State University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of June 15, 2008
The idea that we must eat a substance identical to ourselves is ludicrous. The concept of the 4 basic food groups is saying just that. "Let's make a representation of ourselves on our plate and then eat it."
- Kay S. Lawrence, M.D.
in Fit for Life,
by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
Recently I was re-reading Fit for Life and came across this passage by Kay Lawrence. The idea created a small shock to my system, an "aha!" moment as Martin Gardner would say. I looked up from the book and burst out laughing. If we ignore the question of the veracity of Lawrence's thesis and also the faintly cannabalistic overtones rustling under the surface and focus on the mental activity that is being described, we can perceive an all too familiar aspect of our human condition. One of the major themes of current popular nutrition is that we are what we eat. But what if, instead, it were really true that we eat what we are? Or at least what we think we are? For the next few days I paid attention to what I was eating and asked what my food choices might indicate about who I think I am or, rather, how I represent "myself" to myself. The salient question then became: Do people who eat junk food think of themselves as junk?
Well, I hope you've just had a good chuckle. While it is tempting at this point to detour into depth psychology, let me merely encourage you to run a similar experiment and to ponder the results for yourself. You might find yourself chuckling over your own food tendencies. But it is no laughing matter when we transfer this behavior to the world around us. And we do! In our behavior toward Nature are we not content with dining on our own representations of the natural world and ignoring the actual food of the living reality of Nature? In our discussions of environmental issues do we not prefer mathematical models and statistical analyses over the testimony of first-hand experience? In our society's debate over acid rain, for example, why do the results of models of wind drift advection of sulfur-containing molecules based on systems of partial differential equations seem to carry more credibility than first-hand lived observations of woodlands and their evolution? Part of the answer may be found in that very few of us actually have such first-hand experience of our forests. And that is the point: most of us have grown accustomed to dining on our own representations of Nature while ignoring the real banquet that surrounds us. And just as we cannot live for long on a diet of pictures of food, as a society we cannot in the long term live on cognitive reconstructions of Nature. Each of us desperately needs Nature as a living part of our daily experiential diet.Bill Fuller
Department of Mathematics
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of June 08, 2008
BLUE RIVER BLUES
The river of love flows lazily on the sand,
not always in monsoon flood, but tenuous
in its meandering flow. On its wide desert
spaces lagoons of sand nurture melon vines,
while on the high bank where the green begins
orchards of guava, mango, and papaya thrive
on the blessing that flows through the veins
of the hard earth from the river of love.
The evening sun still shines on the far bank,
while the temple steps in shadow here are
lit by the oil lamp of the priest lifting it high
above his head while the bells are clamoring
louder in obeisance to the river of love where
the god once sported with his consort and
we watch this nightly worship from a boat
straddling the shadow line in the river of love.
It begins at the glaciers high in the mountains
still thundering through gorges past temples
built into rock faces, spilling onto the plains
to bless crops and the machineries of progress
without favor, until there is no blessing left
but the dark trickle through the widening sands
where few turtles now bask in the sun on the banks
and the crocadile is seen no more on the river of love.
Straddling the river like a great and heavy harness,
a steel bridge carries pilgims, lorries, trains, cows,
all indiscriminately — the democracy of progress
that seems to mock the river of love with its
ancient fantastic tales of gods and nymphs and love
still honored in the temples along the bank where
great city thrives while the river diminishes into the
darkness of poisons which threaten the river of love.
This poem was inspired by a book entitled River of Love in an Age of Polllution. The book deals with the Yumuna River in India which flows past the city where I grew up. The author, David Haberman, describes the river, the present pollution of it, and the theology of the Krishna sect of Hinduism which is centered in the area around our city, Mathura. Krishna is the teacher-god in the Bhagavad Gita on which Mahatma Gandhi largely based his theology of nonviolence and reverence for all life. The thesis of the book is that Hinduism does have a good theological basis for the environmental reform that is beginning to work in some parts of India, though not yet on the Yumuna River unfortunately. The prime cause of the pollution is modernization and the overpopulation of Delhi, about ninety miles upstream from Mathura. Every dam that the central government builds along the river diminishes the once beautiful blue river and spreads the poisons of overpolulation.
In this poem I call attention to the difference between what I remembered about the Yumuna and what the author of River of Love describes; but even more I'd like to give a sense of the deeper tragedy of pollution. The river was already polluted in 1940, though not nearly as much as it must be now. One of my last memories of Mathura is of seeing a twenty foot long gharial trussed up in a bazaar lane near the river. I understand they are now all but extinct, at least in the section of the river south of Delhi.Lawrence Templin
Emeritus Professor of English
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of June 01, 2008
To be alive is to experience. Indeed this is what the concept 'sentience' means - to be able to experience. It is through the senses that the mind interacts with the environment and acquires the basic perceptual components that constitute experiences, i.e., sights, sounds, tastes, textures and smells. Each moment the senses communicate so much information that it is impossible to process it all and so the mind must filter and then organize this continuous and immense perceptual onslaught, otherwise it would all be chaos and confusion.
Perception is an intricate physiological process that operates in such a seamless manner that we seldom bother to consider the processes that underlie it at all. Perhaps even more wondrous though are the experiences that are the result - the wind against one's face, an iris' aroma, the particular and unique color that the evening sun in summer bathes the landscape in. As human beings it is possible to do more that live through such experiences, we can also live in them. As with thoughts though, more often otherwise, these experiences arise, register their presence in the most indefinite manner and then fade into the experience that follows. This is the continuous current that is our conscious lives - and our thoughts and experiences so much flotsam and jetsam that are caught up in the current.
Since we so seldom do focus on the moment (at least in this culture), the common assumption is that doing so has little value. It is possible though to live in these individual experiential moments in a manner that is more reflective and that has immense philosophical and even spiritual value. It is this power to focus on the moment that underlies most meditative practices - whether one meditates through zazen or in the garden.
The problem is that meditation is thought to be too arduous and to consume too much time. While both can be true, one must wonder at an attitude that dismisses spiritual progress because it is too strenuous - as though it is easier or more beneficial to be miserable. Nevertheless there are some meditative practices that are possible to cultivate in the spare moment - though to practice them well will still require considerable time and focus. One such practice is the Japanese haiku. The original intention that underlies the haiku pattern - three lines, in which the 1st line has 5 syllables, the 2nd line 7 syllables and the 3rd line 5 syllables - is to capture a particular experiential moment. The idea then is to describe in these three lines the experience's perceptual essence. No hopes, desires, thoughts or judgments enter into the description - it ought to be egoless, pure experience. This is the real meditative challenge that haiku poses - to contemplate and describe our experiences on a deeper and more reflective level. It can also allow one to live more in the moment, with all the insight, appreciation and pleasure that produces. So take a moment and attempt to capture, and meditate on, some recent experience. Here is one modest attempt:Clouds obscure the sun,
Blossoms spiral in the wind.
A storm approaches.
Mark H. Dixon
Department of Philosophy & Religion
Ohio Northern University