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A WGREN Meditation for the Week of July 27, 2008
There was once a beautiful garden in the desert. All year long its trees flowered with large white flowers with pink centers. It held bushes with leaves of every color and bushes with every type edible berry, such as blueberries and red raspberries. Every type of bird with every color of plumage made nests in the trees and bushes. The grass was so thick throughout the garden it was like a woven blue-green carpet. In the center of the garden lay a spring that nourished all of the trees and bushes and the grass and the wonderful birds. Its water was cold with a coolness that refreshes and was so clear that when you looked at its surface you not only could you see the deep azure sky, but you could even see the heaven beyond the sky.
One day a great king passed by the garden. He was very tired because for many days he had been fleeing for his life. His son had taken his kingdom, a city called Jerusalem, away from him, and now the king was fleeing into exile. But because he was much loved by his people, one thousand of them had come with him into exile. The king saw the beautiful white flowers in the majestic trees and heard hundreds of melodious birdsongs. And because he was very tired, both in body and soul, he entered into the garden to rest and restore his spirit. And all thousand of his people did too. As the king walked back and forth exploring the garden so did his people and soon they wore through the beautiful blue-green carpet of grass and made hard-packed dirt paths. The king saw the cool, clear spring and because his body was not only tired but hot and parched, he pulled up his tunic and jumped into the water. It didn't take long before the coolness of the water refreshed him and gave his heart peace. Then he sighed and smiled, something he had not done ever since he had begun his flight. And because his people loved their king so much, they too jumped into the water, splashing and playing in it to their hearts' content. But when they left the water, the spring had turned all muddy and turgid and you could no longer see the heaven beyond the sky reflected on its surface.
The king now felt relieved in spirit but his body needed rest. So he lay down under a tree and soon the perfume from the beautiful white flowers had put him fast to sleep like a child asleep in its mother's arms. The captain of the guard looked upon the sleeping king and was gladdened that rest had finally come to his liege. But then he looked up to the brilliant fiery sun and feared lest the powerful rays harm his lord. He decided to put up a tent to protect the king. The people saw the tent going up and said, "That's a good idea." And they all put up tents. They tore up the the bushes to make level places for the tents and they dug up the beautiful blue-green carpet to fill in the holes where the bushes had been. By the evening the encampment was complete.
When the king awoke at sunset, he was refreshed in body and spirit. He had a light supper while watching the scarlet reds and deep royal purples play upon the high wispy clouds in the west. For the first time in many days the king sighed a sigh of deep contentment and for the moment was happy. Seeing this the captain of the guard said to the king, "My lord, this beautiful garden has restored you in body and spirit. The people too are content and peaceful. This is a wonderful site. Why do we not settle here and build our new kingdom on this spot? We could build homes for all the people and thick walls for protection. We could have busy streets and marketplaces. This garden could become the center of our new capital city!"
Ah, if only he could have seen that the New Jerusalem had been there all along!Bill Fuller
Department of Mathematics
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of July 20, 2008
It is common in more holistic ethical and environmental philosophies to insist that it is essential to renounce the various dualism that govern our lives and interactions - us/them, culture/nature, human/other and so on. These dualisms ensnare us in complacent attitudes and foster the illusion that our linguistic categories mirror the moral and natural realms' actual structures. Perhaps the most insidious (and without a doubt the most pretentious) division has been, and continues to be, that between human and other.
As descriptive and practical distinctions these dualisms are rather innocuous. It is the implicit moral evaluative component that is problematic. In each case one descriptor is seen as superior to the other. Thus 'we' (and who could ever doubt it) are superior to 'them', 'culture' is superior to 'nature' and 'human beings' are superior to all else - which we force, against all reason, into the all-inclusive concept 'other'.
While the natural environment's conception as other is the traditional attitude in Western philosophies and religions, it is essential to realize that this conception is no more than a cultural and historical construction and it is possible to see the relation between human beings and the natural environment (and all its non-human inhabitants) as being much more intimate.
In the Australian aboriginal worldview there is a realm known as the Dreamtime that exists prior to and continues to exist alongside the phenomenal universe. It is in the Dreamtime that the Ancestors emerge to create the earth. Prior to its creation the earth was featureless and malleable. After their emergence however the Ancestors wander across the earth and sing the land's various geological and climatological characteristics into existence. These ancestors all have animal guises - there is Kangaroo Dreaming Man, Frilled Lizard Man, Emu Woman, Tortoise Woman and so on. Through their travels then each Ancestor creates a unique song that corresponds to their particular path across the land and its characteristics - a songline.
In traditional aboriginal culture what determines the clan a child is born into is the geographical place the mother is at when the child first moves in the womb (i.e., at quickening). The child will later be taught the song-segment that represents that particular path-segment on the original songline. As David Abram writes in The Spell Of The Senuous, this song-segment represents the place on earth where that person most belongs - it represents the person's deepest self and essence, which is identical to the geographical place and terrain it corresponds to. The person is the land, and the land is the person! What more intimate connection between human beings and nature could there be?
No person learns the entire song, though in the past all the members in a particular clan would gather at a certain times to sing the entire songline in sequence. On a personal level it becomes the individual's obligation to travel their path-segment on a regular basis and to sing the song-segment that corresponds to that area. Through this process the land undergoes continual re-creation.
Such conceptions about the intimate connection between human beings and the natural environment have become rare and even the Australian Aborigines struggle to preserve their traditional cultural values and practices - some song-segments have been lost forever. It seems then that the time has come to do more than contemplate the connection between ourselves and nature - it is essential to re-conceive the relation between human beings and the natural environment. Critical to this re-conception will be the realization that dualisms such as culture/nature and human/other are no longer tenable - at least in their evaluative dimensions. The natural environment does more than ensure human survival, it also determines who we are in the most fundamental sense - our deepest selves. What is certain is that it will ill behoove us leave such considerations and connections to our meditations and dreams.Mark H. Dixon
Department of Philosophy & Religion
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of July 13, 2008
Death came to visit yesterday and took its seat in the furthest bed of my back garden. She regarded me at length, allowing me a close view. Of course, I could only look upon her, who knows what would have happened had I attempted to touch her?
Perhaps you're remembering the scene from the beginning of the Seventh Seal? Death, as a wan man wrapped in a black cloak. But I'm no knight and I gave up chess thirty years ago. So, when Death came to my house, she presented herself as a Cooper's Hawk.
Sharp eyed, fierce beaked, rotund to immobility by the size of her recent kill; she regarded me evenly. I heard the words of the ancient chant, "In the midst of life, we are in death. To whom should we turn for succor but to Thee, O Lord?"
Whenever I see raptors, I'm reminded immediately of the way that the life of one is sustained by the blood and suffering of another. And I long, with a passionate intensity, for a better way. Would I then, like the Buddha feed the hawk from my own body? As soon as the idea crosses my mind, another thought pursues it at speed. "But I need that hand." Stinginess and self interest assert themselves. "If I lacked that muscle I wouldn't be able to. . . ." I can directly observe the scope of my attachment to my own safety and well-being.
However, one of my most profound desires is for vibrant and peaceful living for us all. Not clever enough to solve the riddle of Death, I weigh the lives of the doves and hawks, the foxes and voles. I plead, "Can't each be saved?" Something exceptionally powerful in me longs for the Garden where we would all be herbivores. Stained with another's blood, I see us as debased.
Peace, peace. I know this is not the only way. There are other philosophies of blood. But when this bird or its cousin, the Sharp Shinned Hawk pay me a call, my eyes linger upon their prey. Drawn to the open chest of the Blue Jay, its shredded muscles and protruding cartilage. Locked in immobility, I witnessed its terrified efforts to escape. No gentle Death came here. And now feathers coated with sticky blood swirl around us all.In the midst of life, we are in death,Kathleen M. Dixon
To whom should we turn for succor, but to Thee, O Lord?
Who for our sins art justly displeased.
Do not deliver us to bitter death.
- Balbulus Notker, "Media Vita"
early 10th century work cited in
Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death.
Department of Philosophy
Bowling Green State University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of July 6, 2008
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your home
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
- David Whyte
The darkness that David Whyte is talking about here is perhaps the same as that to which John of the Cross refers when he says, "If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." This is a darkness that we gain once we give up visions of worlds which reflect our inner subjectivity and once we release all the worlds that our imaginations construct. We even need to let go of the worlds we borrow from others. In this darkness we answer the ethical call to walk beyond our constructed boundaries and learn to see our world just as it is: a world beyond and yet within. We discover that this darkness gives us perspectives broader than can be contained in any vision. We find that this new realm has freedom at its core and a love so intense that it is living. And once we have experienced the essential livingness and love and freedom of the darkness, there is no going back. The dark has become our home and we are sure of our road.Bill Fuller
Department of Mathematics
Ohio Northern University