“We do not, as children, first enter into language by consciously studying the formalities of syntax and grammar or by memorizing the dictionary definition of words, but rather by actively making sounds – by crying in pain and laughing in joy, by squealing and babbling and playfully mimicking the surrounding soundscape, gradually entering through such mimicry into specific melodies of the local language, our resonant bodies slowly coming to echo the inflections and accents common to our locale and community.

“We thus learn out native language not mentally but bodily. We appropriate new words and phrases first through their expressive tonality and texture, through the way they feel in the mouth or roll of the tongue, and it is this direct, felt significance – the taste of a word or phrase, the way it influences or modulates the body – that provides the fertile, polyvalent source for all the more refined and rarefied meanings which that term may come to have for us.” David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Learning and creating languages is an interesting intellectual pursuit, but I think there’s more depth to it than that, something I’ve discovered in my exposure to other languages. The idea being that language goes back to our primal roots, through cries, grunts, murmurs, screams. The calls of animals we hear in the wild places are the primal matrix from which languages evolved, like the first light sensitive cell on a microorganism that eventually became an eye.

Our first experience of language acquisition is instinctive, not intellectual; it is something experienced by the body, and from there our learning of language is built up. Looking through a dictionary we might be mistaken that language is a purely intellectual pursuit, something “raised above” our instincts, and that translation between languages is just a logical pursuit of matching meanings of the words and/or parallel grammatical approaches.

Perhaps this is the reason I never learnt French in school (despite 6 years of learning), because the formal approach in a school doesn’t resonate emotionally or instinctively with us; it doesn’t access the roots of language. It’s well known that emersion in a language is the best way to learn, and that’s certainly the case with me: I’ve learnt more French and Spanish since living with them.

Sometimes I say something in Spanish, not because I know intellectually that it is correct, but because I have a gut feeling that some words or phrases are correct. I think even if I make mistakes in another language (or my own even) it is understood because I am learning to speak from a “gut feeling” level and am understood at the same level. The flow of the words (or even their non-flow) can communicate more than the words themselves.

I think even the written word, though supposedly abstracted from our bodies, can have an effect on us. Going back to gut instinct, we can get a feeling for the words on a page, not just their dictionary meanings. So much has been done so that our experience of the body is distrusted, and I think that use of language has a lot to do with it. If we trust the sensations of the body through our languages a whole new level of communication is accessible.

“This, in essence, is the hypothesis that Lovelock and his close collaborator Lynn Margulis were to call “Gaia.” The idea significantly modifies the central Darwinian paradigm of modern biology. Competition – natural selection at the species level – becomes much less important than the overall integration of living things within a symbiotic global network. The basic unit of evolutionary survival becomes the biomass as a whole, which may select species for their capacity to enhance the liveability of the planet.” Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

There can be said to be three interpretations of Gaia; scientific, theistic and philosophical. The science, which I have described briefly, is basically about looking at the Earth physiologically, as a body, and the practical implications of that. But I’m not a scientist, so although I take an interest I can only explain it up to a point. Theistic Gaia is the view that the Earth is sentient, and is literally seen as a single living being. Not something I believe in, but the image is interesting and certainly useful in a poetic sense.

What really interests me is a Gaian-based philosophy. This stands somewhere between science and theism, using scientific ideas and mythological images as a model that we use to view the world and as an ethical guide.

For a while we have had a view of evolution as something competitive and the Earth as an arena in which this biological struggle is played out. Although science is not meant as a tool to give us meaning or ethics, anything that gives us a view of the world, whether myth or science, also gives us a sense of meaning and ethics. Sometimes it is obvious though mostly it is subtle.

The view of competitive evolution has become a tool to legitimise a “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself” attitude. In this view the Earth is a resource and the world is seen as a hierarchy of power where the strongest preys on the weakest. And to some extent this is true, if you see the relationship between some species, and individual organisms of the same species, you will see there is a competitive, even violent, relationship. However, in the same way the classical view of physics breaks down in quantum mechanics, the localised competition of species breaks down in the broader ecological view. Each species fulfills a role in the bigger ecological system; any competition is just one aspect of a cooperative network.

Can the body’s major organs compete with each other? Can the heart win or lose against the lungs? Of course not, they are major organs and are completely and utterly interdependent with one another. However, minor organs or biological features can compete. A species of fish whose ancestors got trapped in a cave system lost their eyes because there was no need for them. The digits and claws of whale ancestors have eventually receded to be replaced by more useful flippers. The long grasping digits on the feet of our tree climbing ancestors have been reduced to small stumps on the end of our feet. But these minor “competitive” adaptations are relative compared to what is going on in the whole body.

We can use this analogy to look at the Earth. It too has major organs, species or certain groups of species that cannot be replaced. For instance, I remember in a biology class being taken out by my teacher with the class and being asked “Can plants live without animals or can animals live without plants?” No one answered plants, and yet that was the answer. Most plants, because they get energy directly from the sun, are self-sufficient, so if the animal kingdom inexplicably disappeared many photosynthesisers would be able to survive. Not so with animals.

There is, what I consider, to be a myth about humanity as the “dominant species”. We might have become very powerful and intelligent but that’s a very superficial dominance. Let’s put it this way, prey do not depend on predators but predators depend on prey, the foundation of a building does not depend on the upper floors but the upper floors depend on the foundation. This echoes a fairly Taoist principle and gives a different spin on Jesus’ “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

We owe our existence to the almost omnipresent microbial lifeforms, like bacteria, that were the first life-forms to exist and surely will be the last ones to exist. When Gaia was young this was, and still is, the basic components, “major organs” or major organisms, that sustain her existence. Without them nothing larger, like humans, could exist.  So it really does turn the concept of dominance on its head. We owe our existence to life-forms that are smaller, simpler and far less intelligent than us, which is humbling really.

We are left with an image that humanity is an interesting but unimportant contribution to the Earth’s evolution. We are left with the principles of respect, humility and cooperation. A good starting point for how we might conceive a Gaia-based philosophy. But this philosophy isn’t just for individuals to choose, as one philosophy amongst so many to pick and choose from; it is the context of all other philosophies. In a sense all organisms are gaian by default. All organisms derive their evolution from a long history where biological traits are developed within an ecological context. To defy this context is to upset the balance and threaten your own existence. Only humans need to make a mental effort to align with gaian-based principles.

This philosophy is something that has to be built into the structure of society itself, a structure that operates with respect, humility and cooperation to the home it depends on for its existence. We cannot go on thinking and acting the way we do, seeing Earth as a resource to be used and abused in service of commercial consumerist philosophy, and other humans and other nations to be viewed as opponents to be beaten in some never-ending economical and fashion-driven race. This cannot work anymore, there needs to be a reform in human civilisation and I think we are waking up to realise it now.

“Often during initiation rites, Native Americans would take on a new or special name to reflect their new identity and to acknowledge that while still ordinary, the very purpose of their existence has changed. A man’s worldview is changed by his vision, and his life takes on a new or different meaning.” C.T.B. Harris, Ph.D., Emasculation of the Unicorn

The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomms Druidcraft Tarot

The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomm's Druidcraft Tarot

 

 “Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”  Claude Bernard

I stood on the edge of a precipice, looking into a vast chaotic confusion of nothingness. My stomach sank and seemed to fall into it. I felt like I’d lost my base, I’d lost the context which gave my life meaning. It supported me and stopped me falling in. It was the day I left my childhood behind and became an adult. Here I was standing before the raw power of a universe filled with nihilism. Events happened; stars were born and died; planets spun aimlessly around their suns; and humans committed the greatest atrocities and the greatest acts of benevolent service. All the while the universe remained seemingly unmoved, apathetic and without pity.

But then Life sparks something in me, and I feel hope and a will to live replace despair.

I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!

I looked at this nothingness with new courage, standing there and facing it. I did not try to escape from it; no running, no ignoring, no denying. I faced it and from the nothingness itself I extract my hope, meaning and infinite potential, using it as a source for raw material and transforming it through my dreams and visions, through the alchemical powers of my life-force in the depths of my being.

This day, the day I became the creator of meaning in my life, without needing the regurgitated meaning of others, was the day I became an adult. I stood for my independence. I stood for my life.

The universe is like a dying bonfire, and all stars are its embers. If it does not collapse in on itself, annihilating and restarting the universe, eventually all matter will dissolve and all energy dissipate into I-don’t-know-what (I’m no physicist!). All because of the entropic decay inherent in all things of the whole universe. But as our sun burns itself up, it sheds excess energy; scientists call it “free energy”, which is lost in space. But some of the energy isn’t lost because a little pocket of life and meaning collects it, feeding from and being energised by it. Living from it. A “little pocket” we call home; the planet Earth. Without free energy, life would not be possible in our entropy dominated universe.

I spoke at the beginning as though there was a void of nothingness around me, but that is not quite true. The living Earth, or Gaia, is context enough for us to find meaning. If we were rooted in this reality, where human existence was seen and felt as part of the planet’s ecology, there would be no such void or lack of meaning around us. Why do we feel a void around us? Why do we lack meaning from the world around us? Each breath, each step, each sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, is filled with meaning, filled with a context through which we live our lives. When we are disconnected from the wholeness of our environment then meaning can become disconnected from the process of living itself. When we replace living in a forest with living in a city, when we limit our human-nonhuman community to human-only community, when the sustenance of our lives comes from human manufactured technology and not from non-human sources, an individual can easily swim in a nihilistic void. They can become more abstracted and less responsive and sensitive to the world that they depend upon for their existence.

The life of the individual, when it matures from childhood into adulthood, does find itself in a “void” of sorts. We no longer rely on our parents or other role-models to show us the way in life, we have to find it and make it for ourselves. This reminds me of The Fool card in the tarot. The figure is often depicted stepping onto empty air, symbolizing that the next step in life isn’t always certain. Many people avoid the “empty air,” suckling on the teat of societal conventions and never growing up and some see the “empty air” in despairing terms and throw away their lives into meaningless activities (not much different to suckling on societal conventions) or even ending it completely.  But that empty air isn’t empty, it is filled with the presence of life, because without it we’d die. It is our lifeline to the Earth. So the fool, leaping from solid ground into “empty” air, isn’t leaping into nothingness, he (or she) is leaping from its parents support to find its own direct connection with the Earth and everything it contains.

If, when an individual is weaned from parental dependence, they have been guided into the world well and connected with it well, empty air becomes an opportunity for the individual; they can take the next step in life knowing that they will not fall. Their feeling of being part of the human-nonhuman world is strong and also they have enough individual presence to fill any “emptiness” instead of conforming to the roles, social conventions and stereotypes of their society, being who they are, not “what they should be.” This creation of a new self-image, instead of being isolated from society, can in turn contribute to society, transforming its dynamic into something relevant in the world, becoming a healthy guidance and supporting system for future generations, one that leaves space for their individuality and sense of connection with Gaia as a whole in her human and nonhuman aspects.

Although the Earth seems to be swimming in an empty void, we certainly are not, as we can see in James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis. We have emerged within an ecological context that has been evolving for many millennia, ever since life appeared on the Earth and humans are a continuation of that. We have been gifted by this evolution with life; it is our right to live it fully. Yet also we have a responsibility to work for the continuation of life on Earth. For most organisms, this worldview is biologically innate. But for humans this needs to be learnt and we need cultures and societies that will facilitate this worldview so that deep down we all know that we are a part of Gaia’s evolution and that, through our distinctive human creativity, we can contribute and become cocreators in this age-old process alongside all other organisms.

“Gaia can regulate without the need for foresight or planning by the biota. The regulation is entirely automatic.” James Lovelock

“Pooh hasn’t much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right.” Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh

“Only the development of his inner powers can offset the dangers inherent in man’s losing control of the tremendous natural forces at his disposal and becoming the victim of his own achievements.” Roberto Assagioli

Once upon a time our animal ancestors had an automatic and unconscious balancing system between internal instinct and external environment, there was no need to think about it. This also meant that we had our place in the universe, a context and meaning, which was an innate part of us which didn’t need thinking about.

The meaning of life is automatic for most plants and animals, no thought required, they have an organic initiation into the mysteries of the universe. But humans are no longer so automatic, we have minds that need to find a meaningful place in the universe because it is not automatically given to us through our genes or environments. Instead we require a cultural initiation, one that involves the abstract creativity of the human mind, making definitions and values that weren’t there before.

This has been a creative leap forward for us, with so many great arts and sciences that have moved us into new ways of living that our instincts alone cannot create. Unfortunately this also means we can no longer have a care-free existence, we are no longer automatically regulated by nature’s processes, instead we have to regulate ourselves. This lack of self-regulation is shown in our abuse of our environment, polluting and destroying it, which in turn changes the environment’s balancing system to our disadvantage.

We have to create our own balance, we cannot use our societies or governments to do that because who guides them? Each individual should learn its own balance and creativity. And if we rely on Earth to balance us, well, at the moment she’s reacting very badly to our imbalance and trying to dislodge us. If we want to survive we have to take our own balance into each and every individuals hands.

Once upon a time I was into the Taoist philosophy which to me was about “going with the flow.” The idea I read about was a bit anti-intellectual. It saw the human condition as marred because instead of letting things be organic and “flowing” the intellect would set up false definitions and “deform” the Uncarved Block, a concept used to describe things in their original nature before they were tampered with.

In some ways we do need to learn to “go with the flow” at least as far as nature is concerned. It is something that needs no guidance. As James Lovelocks quote above says, Gaia is an entirely self-regulating sysem, it’s too big for us to take the responsibility of running it. In Nature, there is a natural flow and rhythm to things which industrial humanity has tried to struggle against and take short cuts through, much to the detriment of the earth’s life, which includes humans.

What I don’t want to “go with the flow” with is the aspect of humanity that disturbs humanities place on earth and sends it into ecological disaster. Flowing with any society with a mindless herd mentality means being flooded in the Inner Space in “service” of its external pressures. My self-meaning, self-motivation and inner context can be hijacked by the flow of society, which itself is unconscious and with a materialistic view that humans live to work, to earn money, to buy stuff and the earth is premanufactured consumer stuff. This time I’ve got to be focussed and use my intellect to discriminate what flow I should “flow with” before I’m in carried away unconsciously by forces that I want nothing to do with.

Earth does not need regulating, but its humans need regulating. By what? The earth’s changes would kill us off, and the “higher powers” of human society aren’t always the most ethical choice for guidance. So then, we have to regulate ourselves, which brings the quote from Robert Assagioli into focus, that we can only look inside ourselves, at our own powers and learn to develop them in harmony with Gaia before we destroy ourselves with them. The tragic thing is that the Earth may change so much that humans may no longer be able to participate in the Earth’s evolution, we may become extinct, though life here will still carry on in some form without us.

Now one challenge remains for us, which is, are we as a species so stupid that we ruin the chance for future generations to continue participating in the evolution of Gaia, expressing humanities unique place in it? For me I have hope that humanity can be intelligient enough to continue existing. I am optimistic enough that humanity can change its ways, because to be proved wrong doesn’t bear thinking about.

Here’s an article from http://www.global-mindshift.org that has provided me with much inspiration for this blog; http://www.global-mindshift.org/discover/viewFile.asp?resourceID=224&formatID=252

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