The night wood is a cavity, looming in the darkness before dawn. Winter′s rain and wrath are past – the turned page of a book – yet spring is not entirely settled on the waiting land. Sky glows faintly through the dense black tracery of trees, a beckoning of brightness. Time has almost no existence here.
The rooks begin their hoarse and clattering exchanges. A grey green paleness spreads across the east. A robin sings a tentative few notes and some slight fragrance draws notice to the primroses, glowing in their scattered clumps like markers for a landing site.
Now the fields across the valley are aglow. The sun lights up a tasseling of hazel catkins. Chaffinch, wren and blackbird sing the day into existence. With the day come time and space. I have articles to write, many spring-time jobs to do. My mind begins its usual agitated dialogues.
These trees are for the most part native sessile oaks. That′s changing. More frequently now, young sapling beeches sow themselves on their northward march attributed to global warming. Beech seedlings can outgrow and over-shade the slow maturing seedlings of the oak. As steward of this piece of land, I wonder how, or if, to intervene.
It appears to me that humanity is in that awkward stage between the states of childhood and maturity. Aren′t we like a population of teenagers who start to see the limitations of our way of life; our institutions and authorities, our infantile gods and our monstrous, vertically-integrated corporations? And, like teenagers, we see the illness and don′t want the medicine. Shouldn′t we grow up?
It′s just a phase, says one voice in my head.
Just a phase? replies another. Killing off the earth that gives us life is just a passing phase?
We′re all going to die! cries a third.
Yes and take the planet with us into nonexistence.
We are drowning in a slough of problems and you call it just a stage?
The mess of problems are perhaps one problem.
What? Global warming and vanishing resources, one problem? Water, land and air polluted, deforestation, widespread desertification one problem? What about economic meltdown and mass migrations, the chronic worldwide interlock of starvation and obesity, rising nationalism, incurable viral epidemics, holes in the ozone layer, the die-off of species, the risks of thermo-nuclear disaster, global food insecurity just one problem? Add to the above - extreme weather events becoming the new normal and you call it just one problem?
Aren′t you wasting the magic of a morning in the ordered chaos of these woods to tangle with a set of profoundly useless questions?
What don′t you understand? The rape and plunder of our planet has to stop. Or we won′t have any woods. We are killing off the planet. Including ourselves.
Yes, ecocide is suicide.
So what′s your useful question?
Have you noticed that we who look for solutions to the problem are just as much the problem as the ones who don′t? In solving one problem we create another set of problems?
That′s offensive! Please tell us, Mr. Know-it-all, what then?
Isn′t the problem the modern mind? Primitive man has lived a million years in harmony with Mother Nature. Sometimes there were struggles; sometimes there were die-offs and migrations: always we accepted we were part of nature′s breathing in and breathing out. With modern mind we have transcended nature so we think.
The grumbling conversation of the rooks has risen to excited chatter. I watch a score of birds rise in the air calling their alarm. I hear the danger; a throaty croaking draws me to a pair of ravens spiralling above the woods. Unfazed by the rising cloud of rooks, they circle lower, calling to each other. Kraaak. Kraaak. The rooks rise high above the pair and dive-bomb them so diligently that, very soon, they drift towards the East.
The human mind is a brilliant tool. It has taken us from the primeval forests into every corner of the earth and beyond. As an instrument of imagination and creation the power of the human mind is seemingly unbounded. And here lies the problem, the single existential problem of today. Modern mind is a good servant but a poor master. Mind as conceptual thought has become the high chamberlain who displaces his king, the footman who supplants his master, the tool that controls the hand that wields it.
In sport they talk about being “In the Zone” to describe an unusual state of mind. The racing driver Ayrton Senna spoke about it. “I was two seconds ahead at the ’88 Monaco Grand Prix and suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car. It was driven by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension.”
Anyone who ever saw my youthful hero Pele playing football will understand him saying, “Suddenly I feel a strange calmness. It is a type of euphoria. I feel I can run all day and not be tired, that I can dribble through any of their team or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically. I feel that I cannot be hurt. Generally I often feel confident, but not with this feeling of invincibility.”
These peak moments of super-consciousness describe the sportsman being in the present moment. Sports demand that of its players to be totally in the here and now. But mind does not dwell in the here and now. Mind is always in the future or the past. Sportsmen are competing and yet they must cooperate with flowing, unfolding events. They have all submitted to the disciplines of their training and, at a certain point, fresh energy arises, another layer of consciousness emerges.
Sportsmen aren′t the only ones who have such vivid moments of course. Dancers, poets, artists of all types are having them, expressing them, searching for them. And kids are mostly dwelling in them. All of us have had them at one time or another; in nature, in the shower, during sex, on a long journey, listening to a piece of music; unexpected moments of utter calm and unity.
Is not this what the wise men down the ages have been showing us? We are the peace we seek. We are not separate from the whole. This state of heightened awareness is ours for the asking. It is our birthright. We don′t have to be kids or artists or sportsmen or religious to arrive at this awareness. These fleeting moments can become our permanent state of being.
Awareness, say the Sages, develops through meditation. It is awareness that demonstrates to us our absolute connectedness with nature with all that is. This awareness does away with greed and fear, anger and desire. Rules and principles and codes of conduct are very useful handrails when we cannot see what′s needful or is right. Most countries passed a set of laws to make the wearing of a seat belt mandatory in cars and later laws to ban tobacco smoking in a public place. This saved the lives and health of many of those who did not know or did not want to know that cars and tobacco can be dangerous. Laws are important but the real thing is a change of mind; to live with more awareness. That cannot be legislated for, that comes with growing up, meditation and education. Then there is no need for any commandments. Then it is seen that killing your neighbour or your habitat is indeed killing yourself. Respect spontaneously arises.
The Western conceptual mind promotes the science of outer reality to create this iPad that can tell me, in the middle of a sun-bright, song-filled, Devon wood, how Mr Einstein′s theory of relativity is reconciled with quantum mechanics by shadow images created as the Big Bang banged; how maths and intuition dance together. Western mind knows the objective truth and has forgotten subjective wisdom; denies inner reality, our consciousness.
Conversely the Eastern wisdom has explored the subjective reality and largely ignored matter as revealed by Western science. It has developed the science of the inner to create unbroken lines of enlightened beings; those who live in the world but are not tainted by it, who live in awareness, love, compassion and an existential harmony.
One of the great contemporary mystics, Osho has created dozens of meditation techniques for the modern man who is largely unable to live at peace with himself or to understand his integral place in nature. To meditation he has brought humour, psychological insight and a practical understanding of the needs of humanity at this time.
Through meditation a state of being, not a state of mind the chatter and the contradicting and confusing inner voices become still and we bring ourselves again into this sun-warmed, patch of woodland, the clustered blades of bluebells rising through dead leaves, the hum of honeybees amongst the dandelions and the ever-constant cadence of the song thrush calling from a cherry tree trembling into blossom.
We are part of nature. Ecocide is suicide. We need to change our mind.