This short piece of writing is a creative philosophical expression whose genre is perhaps a variation on the theme of deep ecology. Deep ecology . . . “is described as “deep” because it is regarded as looking more deeply into the reality of humanity’s relationship with the natural world, arriving at philosophically more profound conclusions than those of mainstream environmentalism.”, states one source. I say – having spent so many years taking the world apart, slowly but surely we must learn to put it back together again, and ourselves along with it.
Here, the style of writing is meant to be terse and lacking in detail in order to retain a close connection between the parts to better see the structure and its progression. Not just so many parts put together but a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. I am more interested in the synthesis and the ultimate point this synthesis attempts to make. This lack of detail then leaves room for the reader to extrapolate the details from the whole based on their own understanding and experience in life – to fill in the blanks as they see fit, or not.
Who is the final authority on what is excessive and what is enough? Are they subjective terms or is there a biological/evolutionary answer grounded in reality and scientific truth embedded within us and the whole of life? This is one of the underlying themes running throughout this writing. And how our personal understanding of these terms strongly influences how we “play our part” in the larger community of life. In this writing, the “human-made order” is primarily that of modern society as we know it, not necessarily that of indigenous peoples who lacked the scope and power now available to us. Yet, much still applies to humans in all circumstances separate from their collectives, characteristic of what might be called the human condition, those things essential to human existence. It is through the collective, the coming together of individuals, which creates the dynamic by which certain aspects of our being are strengthened, and others diminished. And this is based on the underlying goals of the collective, conscious or not, ranging from mere survival to world domination.
Because this writing has such a quick tempo while at the same time being relatively compressed, it is best to read it slowly, perhaps pause from time to time, or only read it in portions, and then step back and contemplate and question. Then maybe, in the end, a seed will have been planted. A work in progress.
As creatures, we are fundamentally free only through our complete dependence on something larger than our autonomous self, a whole of which we are an integral part. All creatures have evolved in relationship to the whole that is the earth and thus each is constrained by it. Their freedom is necessarily limited as they must play their part in helping to maintain its integrity and stability which in turn is the root of their freedom. Concerning each of all the creatures that live on this earth, the question with which our interest lies is not what a creature is in isolation, solely of significance unto itself, but what it is in relationship to the world as a whole, how it fits in to this world by playing its part, and how its ability to play its part is largely dependent on other creatures to fulfill theirs. Though all creatures are the same in their desire to live this desire is inherently and necessarily restrained within a framework of cooperation.
Here on earth, the living world exists at the confluence of two fundamental and seemingly independent and opposing movements – the process of growth, most often synonymous with life, and the process of senescence, most often synonymous with death. Yet, it is together in harmony that they constitute the cycle of life, the means and movement of the great balancing force in the world known as evolution. Death is thus not merely an absence of life but a transformation, an ultimate form of self-renewal as a creature is absorbed back into the endless cycles of material creation. And before a creature is reincarnated in this way it is given the chance to plant a seed. Should this seed grow and make this world its home, a creature may continue to influence the world even as it has passed away.
Through these most basic means, life on this finite planet is imbued with the capacity to forever flourish and evolve. By and large, these processes are for the benefit of the whole, yet so long as a creature plays its part within the whole specific to its evolution, its growth and continuance are simultaneously nurtured. In this interconnected world, a single act is in effect many, simultaneously influencing and supporting other processes and other creatures distant in time and space through an infinite web of relations. These fundamental relationships and processes having formed in perfect reciprocity over time created a world that is complex, dynamic, and diverse, and as a result perfectly stable in balance. So long as this order and stability persist all creatures may continue to play their part in harmony sowing the seeds of creation.
Inherent to this perfectly balanced world is a proportion of imbalance produced by the change that is the inevitable result of the ongoing movement of all life processes. In whatever way it manifests, this imbalance becomes the stimulus to balance and it is the interaction between the two in which one is forever evoking the other that is the impetus to the continual movement of evolution. Almost everything a creature does is an effort to maintain balance, to fulfill their essential needs in the face of this perpetual change so as to remain healthy and whole. If successful, ever so slightly a creature may influence the course of evolution, compelling other creatures to do the same.
Because the reciprocity of the natural world manifests with such efficiency, organized as it is to automatically and instantaneously heal all disturbance to its order, the difference between balance and imbalance is often imperceptible, manifesting more as an undulating flow than a series of fits and starts. It is thus unbeknownst to most humans, perfect balance as typically believed to be a static state is death, for the essence of life is constant movement, perfect balance a moving target, and our every attempt to keep things static only restricts our freedom to move with this flow, to maintain balance in the face of change.
All creatures instinctively understand the amount of energy available at any given time and place is finite. Thus they are not only opportunists who are quick to utilize available abundance but also conservationists who follow the way of least resistance as the most beneficial to their survival. Those creatures best at maintaining balance with a minimum of resistance by means of a sensitive reciprocation, in which they conserve energy by reducing stress, are those most likely to persist. For to remain balanced in the face of change a creature must allocate much of its energy to constant self-maintenance and the absence of energy to perform this essential task quickly leads to its demise.
Yet despite a creature choosing the path of least resistance their life cannot be maintained indefinitely. By necessity, the balance is eventually tipped and in senescence and death, a creature is returned to a state of greater simplicity as it is recycled back into the endless stream of material creation. Change is thus the very root of life, and so long as it fits within the natural order, change is fertility. And it is this continuous flow of fertility as a means to renewal that imparts stability and continuity to life.
Most humans are aware of the changeful and impermanent character of this ever-evolving world yet often they are only subconsciously aware of how it can manifest within us as anxiety and fear. This existential anxiety and fear are felt most poignantly at times of significant loss yet more routinely from a misunderstanding and lack of acceptance in the natural order, particularly its inherent impermanency, the most significant limitation it imposes on us. Instead of lessening our anxiety and fear by coming to understand their nature and origin, we attempt to overcome them by reordering the world to how we desire it to be which largely involves the impossibility of removing from life those things which make us anxious and fearful and to hold on tightly to those things that don’t. Yet many of these things we wish to remove from life, particularly loss and death, are in due course essential for the continuation of life, intrinsic to its self-renewing character. And many of the things we wish to increase in order to feel more secure, are not.
The seeming dichotomy of harmony and disharmony, balance and imbalance, is not the same as our conditioned ideas of what is good and bad. What humans consider bad may be beneficial to the whole, and what is considered good, might not. And often what we consider strength is actually a sign of weakness and vice-versa. Though we believe we are improving the world through our effort of reordering, it is of such heightened control and resistance to the natural order that it becomes the greatest source of anxiety and fear in our lives as it throws not only us but the whole of life out of balance. By our holding on to the impossible, in our misunderstanding of what is good, we stifle not only ours but the whole of the earth’s ability to renew, and consequently grow and evolve.
Upon this separate human-made order we become completely dependent as we give our full faith in its seemingly secure structure of materials and means, values and beliefs. Yet unbeknownst to us, the human-made substitutions we come to rely on are not wholly sufficient and often a distraction to the ultimate end of completing ourselves by reuniting with the source, the fulfillment and significance found therein. The result is we end up consuming vast amounts of resources, severely stressing the natural and human-made orders alike with our excessive demand. Isolated and lost within this human-made order we are unable to see and understand the full consequences of our actions and of how our actions affect the wider world. It is thus upon close examination all complications in human affairs can be seen as the result of our divergence from the baseline that is the natural order, in which every step away is ultimately one step closer to our return.
Once locked in this struggle to find balance and fulfillment in the world our mind is drawn into a state of self-absorption through which we become conditioned to think and act in ways more often than not detrimental to our well-being. At the core of this conditioning is a blinding excessive self-concern. An inability to let go of our preoccupation with our self and our affairs. Gradually, imperceptibly, our mind develops into a separate world of its own by which we continue to define our sense of self solely in relation to the human-made order and its norms. Though largely out of touch with reality we come to believe it is more real and attempt to make reality conform to it at all costs. This abstract conditioned mind and its desire for permanency become an ever-present source of resistance to the simplicity, openness, and fluidity of our being.
Though this resistance at first is largely imperceptible it becomes glaringly evident when it unconsciously triggers our desire and our grasping in our vain attempt to regain balance, to find something to hold onto to slow the tide of change, yet only draws us further from the source until we are completely lost. Layer upon layer the source is thus obscured and our excessive desire becomes the primary influencing force behind our actions, that is until the world tells us in a way we cannot dismiss that we must stop.
As this conditioning blinds us to the world it likewise increases the likelihood of our awakening to it yet without order or intention. Having lost touch with reality we eventually and inevitably come into conflict with the inexorable and ever-present truths of life, the natural restraints embedded in the natural order which altogether may be known as the limits. Sooner or later, by means of the limits, our mind is forcefully awakened from its state of self-absorption, and our sense of reality is brought sharply into question as we are compelled to question the reality of our conditioned self. In the confusion and uncertainty, we encounter our humility, which may be embraced through letting go of our attachment to our conditioned self, thus relieving ourselves of our resistance. In letting go we are brought to humility, and through humility, we learn how to voluntarily let go. In the end, the resistance and consequent disturbance characteristic of the conditioned mind becomes an impetus to change, creating the fertile conditions in which something greater may potentially grow.
Everything has limits because everything is in balance. And everything is in balance because everything is in relationship, that is, in balance with something else. It is thus in this finite and interconnected world we are always living within limits. Not only in the conspicuous activity of physical growth and consumption but in knowledge, language, thought, perception, and freewill. Everything is restrained by a multiplicity of limits from within and without which altogether are the means embedded in the natural world by which everything in nature remains receptive, balanced, and whole. It is the limits that make us who we are as creatures by defining what we can and can’t or should not do. They teach us that a creature is only as strong and enduring as what it is a part and that in its complete dependence it is equally fragile. We need but wonder for a moment what this world would be in absence of the many limitations that structure it, to see how essential they are notwithstanding the significant restraint they make on our desire.
The greater control we attempt to exert over the world to the fulfillment of our desire the more likely we conflict with the limits and eventually we fall out of balance and are forced to correct our course. For both the collective and the individual alike the essential lesson of the limits is the same: We cannot maintain our fundamental stability and at the same time fulfill our every desire for they are inherently at odds with each other. So long as we fail to understand the root of our fear and desire they manifest as excessive behavior by which we are forced to exceed the limits of this finite world setting us against one another and the rest of creation as we struggle for survival.
Humans are but one species of creature among many playing their part to maintain the whole that is the earth. Like all creatures, our survival and success are contingent on our ability to live within the limits of this finite world. Yet unlike other creatures, only as humans must we commit ourselves to the understanding everything that surrounds us in nature, in the intricate web of life, is born from the same source and thus deeply corresponding in a union of perfect reciprocity, which ultimately is the root of love. And as we are supported and maintained within this web of intimate relations we are allowed the freedom to evolve by making conscious our own capacity for evolution, which among other things entails our actively nurturing this force of loving reciprocity in a way no other creature can. We learn to complete ourselves, to evolve into our greater self by consciously reconnecting with the living world through the discovery of humility and love.
Once born into this world all other creatures naturally find their place within it, but it is only through humility we humans find ours. Through humility, we are made aware of and willing to accept the limitations of our conditioned self and compelled to let go of our attachment to it. This willingness is founded on the understanding we are not what we think we are and that our perception of self and life is incongruous with reality, thus limited. As we learn to actively embrace humility and to accept the limitations of the self we become receptive by simultaneously opening within us the necessary space for love to reside. This love then becomes the impetus and energy source for the continued growth and perfection of our awareness as it directs our attention to what is most necessary and fulfilling in our continued existence on earth. In a circular and reinforcing way, our awareness then becomes the very means through which we are returned to the universal love that is the spark that first set this process in motion, and the circle is complete.
It is thus, from the selflessness of humility naturally arises unconditional love, the ultimate human means of maintaining balance in the world. This love is a power of discernment whose exclusive focus is the good of all, the integrity of the whole. It is not designated to one species of creature but the whole of creation, not only a spontaneous emotion but a conscious commitment to the preservation of life born of our deep sense of its interdependence. Within humans, this love is a self-maintaining force as it compels us to evolve toward greater stability.
In the selflessness of humility, we also discover a stillness of being, an emptiness of mind with which we spontaneously return to the source. Free and empty of all ideas about life, in stillness, we sense and perceive the world in its wholeness and ourselves as integral to this whole. Grounded in this state of empty awareness is a perfect balance, an ultimate point of reference by which we know where we stand. Here we are able to detect imbalance in various forms of discomfort and disorder as we attentively watch the play of the conditioned mind rising and falling within the wider context of the whole. Furthermore, we see as is most evident in nature, maintaining our own sense of balance in the world is likewise a dynamic process of continual adjustment and adaptation, though which involves loss and death, results in growth and renewal.
Even though we in large part create the conditions of our mind it is a separate and largely subconscious and contextless world to which we are ill-adapted, in which we find but a false sense of contentment, and to dwell there for too long results in great anxiety and fear. Imperceptible and intangible here our senses are useless, our actions ineffective, our perception and understanding obscured. Isolated and ungrounded, we become lost within. Because this internal world of the conditioned mind exists solely within the mind itself we naturally accept its validity without reason. And in order to adapt to it, to control it, we accordingly enter into it more deeply, that is, we use more elaborate means of thought to control thought. But this only strengthens the very conditions we are helpless to control, and in our helplessness we are led to behave excessively, to control and possess the world outside us above and beyond what is necessary to live.
Rarely does it occur to us that the only way out back to reality is to simply cease to believe this other world exists, at least to the degree we have constructed it within our mind. But this process of letting go of the conditioned mind is easier said than done, for our sense of self has become embedded within, it is part and parcel of this world. It seems our conditioned self is the only self that exists and without it we are nothing. Yet here we find the true means to control: It is our capacity to observe and question the contents of our mind, to determine what is real and what is imaginary. We must use thought but as a means to curtail it, to let go of our thoughts altogether, instead of attempting to grasp and validify them for they are even more fleeting and ungraspable than the tangible world we physically inhabit.
Having detected imbalance within, we learn to awaken and balance ourselves by looking impartially at the content of our mind, to see how our thoughts color our perception, and determine their basis in reality. Once we have acknowledged and accepted them for what they are, when then let them go, returning ourselves to the stillness of the empty mind in which we are in union with the living present. Though time and again we become self-absorbed, unconsciously clinging to our thoughts, again and again, we awaken ourselves as we sense even the smallest amount of resistance they may generate, and let go. Not only is the living present the confluence of life and death outside us in the forms of growth and senescence but within us in the coming and going of thought. It is here, our being in alignment with the living present, that we come to understand not only the nature of life but the nature of our mind.
To live in the present our mind must exist at the confluence of fundamental and seemingly independent and opposing movements – the process of receiving, most often synonymous with living, and the process of letting go, most often synonymous with dying. Yet, it is together in harmony that they constitute the cycle of the mind, the means and movement of the great balancing force of evolution as it exists within us. Letting go is not merely the emptying of the mind but a form of self-renewal as we once again become receptive and able to sense and perceive the world around us. Furthermore, we see we are given the chance to plant a seed by which we are imbued with the capacity to influence the world so that it may forever flourish and evolve. By and large, this seed is sown for the benefit of the whole, yet so long as we are a part of the whole, our growth and continuance are simultaneously nurtured.
When in stillness we align our being with the whole of the living present we become conscious of our connection to an endlessly flowing source of energy, and we see all energy is ultimately borrowed energy, the direct result of our union with the source. And our self, but one of the many ways this energy has been concentrated in the world, and which must eventually be let go altogether in death, a stark reminder it is not ours. Despite our letting go we carry on, yet with greater ease, for without our asking we are nurtured by the universal love that exists in the wider world, a love that cannot be taken from us while we are alive, only obscured. Once we learn to receive this love we are in turn compelled to reciprocate, to nurture, and to love the world around us. It is in our deep commitment to life and to our evolution – the development of our awareness, sensitivity, and capacity to love – that we voluntarily learn to let go, to self-renew while we are still alive. To maintain our stability by relocating and grounding our self in the present where we are aware of how we must play our part.
Having spent most of our life treating the world as our possession, manipulating it to the fulfillment of our every desire, we find we have never truly known life and our relationship must be made anew. Once we have learned to let go and to dwell in the stillness of the empty mind, our resistance turns to receptivity and we reawaken to a completely different way of seeing and relating to the world, a way of experiencing which is fundamental to us as creatures but has been overlooked and unmaintained for a lack of understanding.
As creatures, we have evolved to live within the whole of our experience, in the context of nature. It is a total sensory experience that by necessity grounds us in the present, and through which we come to know where we are, not only by name but through feeling. This way of sensing and perceiving is a heightened state of awareness, a strength of attention that enables us to observe and appreciate not only the most basic and subtle sensations and phenomena but of how these phenomena come together to form a whole. When we feel the world around us in this way it is as if it is born anew – known and at the same time unknown, both ordinary and extraordinary. It is thus the constantly changing, dynamic world of nature becomes the intrigue of our senses. And though it may seem all phenomena in life are fit for an explanation, this direct sensing of them is a wholly profound and mysterious act, in which we see life is far deeper than we can ever fathom and bigger than we can grasp.
The degree we experience the world in this way is the degree we feel alive. For to be alive is to sense and feel the world around and within us, and if in some way our awareness and sensitivity are diminished, so too is our aliveness. We are alive to the degree we are present, in which we know and feel at this very moment we exist. As we repeatedly experience life in this way our perspective gradually and permanently changes, and we no longer have any doubt as to the nature of life and of the self and how the two must meet. We see that to live is less a matter of having, of possessing, but of being, in a state of emptiness and openness – selflessness that is uttermost humility. As we learn to let go and open ourselves to receive the world in this way we are at once liberated from the confines of the conditioned mind and deeply rooted in the world.
The absence of such fundamental and formative experience has always been the missing link to our wholeness and the cause of endless unrest. For only in this way do we come to know and feel we are an inseparable part of the whole that is the earth. As this experience somehow expands our little being beyond imagination we sense with a depth of feeling otherwise unknown simply being a part of something as significant as life is fulfillment enough. Here we find the root of our contentment, to know within this world we belong, that everything is in its place playing its part and thus the world is working as it must. To look upon the living earth in this way is to perceive the most perfect harmony, to see for ourselves this is as it should be, this is how it is without our intervention, and in humility, we peacefully find our place within.
Living in the present, at the source, is a path to contentment founded on simplicity. In simplicity, we come to rely on quality instead of quantity. Instead of strength of possession, we invest in strength of attention. And it is the quality of attention we give to our daily life that largely determines the degree of satisfaction we derive from it. Should we live wholly in the present, giving it our full attention, we find a little goes a long way and we desire to have but enough and no more. More than enough can then easily feel like too much should it somehow interfere with the quality of our attention. Not only do we find we need far fewer resources to sustain our existence, freeing ourselves from the burden of a complex, high-maintenance, and energy-intensive way of living, but we simultaneously allow for the rest of life to flourish to the benefit of all, unburdened by our humble existence. The energy thus conserved is made available for the ongoing maintenance of daily self-renewal by which we remain in contact with the source. In absence of this contact, instead of the ultimate source of freedom, simplicity is felt like deprivation.
The ordinary, everyday activity of fulfilling our essential needs must be a significant source of contentment in our life, at least in part by our being the ones to fulfill them directly from the source. It is in this way we most routinely engage with the world, by which we discover the true value of a thing, and what is enough. Not only do we come to see life’s miracle of abundance and renewal but at any given time and place we are living within a finite world, where there are very real, tangible, and ever-present limits in its ability to renew itself, to provide us with what we need, and of how we choose to live. And our desire is always a potential threat to our remaining balanced within these limits. So as not to take the essentials of life for granted and to deepen our appreciation, it is not only vital we directly participate in meeting our needs but every so often feel what it is like to be without, to not have enough, and to suffer the loss of those things though essential, we have completely lost sight of for their ubiquity.
Living close to the source, in both body and mind, we are provided the essential understanding that is the inspiration for all: The fundamental means with which we make a life are first and foremost a creation of nature, not of man, and thus the root of our wealth is undoubtedly the natural world. It is this fundamental understanding which underlies our reverence for nature yet gives us no ground to elevate ourselves above the rest of the world and instead brings us back down to earth. Humility thus becomes the essence of our life, never too far away to remind us of our situation. And yet the beauty and wonder of life are likewise close at hand, assuring us in humility there is nothing to fear, on the contrary, humility is the very solution to our fear as it brings us closer to life. The simple act of living in the present, at the source, is not only an integral part of the path to contentment but an ultimate act of love and veneration for life.
The purpose of the human-made order, our own specific manifestation of the natural order, is to support our harmonious integration into the natural world particular to the time and place we live – by helping us choose and nurture those parts of our diverse nature most conducive to our wellbeing. Like all creatures we are meant to bring order to this world, to use the gifts of creation to make it our home, so that we may play our part. And in order to do this, one of the most important things we must understand is how much of this order is enough and when it is too much before it is too late. Ultimately, it is this understanding that is the highest order and culmination of all our effort. So long as the human-made order attempts to wholly take over the natural order the balance of the world is severely disrupted and the human-made order then becomes the greatest source of resistance to the organizing force of evolution itself. In our genuine need to counter our anxiety and fear, to feel secure in this world, and to find contentment, we are right to think we must have some control, yet the question of how looms large.
The desensitizing of our self through our attachment to, and identification with, the stream of conditioned thought that preoccupies our mind and separates us from living reality is perhaps the greatest threat not only to our self but to the whole of life. In this way that our experience of life instead of deepened is made shallow and consequently such simple experiences which constitute most of our life and form the most essential parts of our being, do not hold our attention or receive our appreciation and instead are taken for granted. The result is the living world can no longer penetrate and awaken us to the living reality that is life and we become increasingly blind to its basic substance and quality. We are then compelled to vainly look elsewhere for fulfillment and meaning further separating us from living reality. Not only impartiality but to intimacy is our understanding of life tightly linked and thus we fail to understand what we are separate from and prone to destroy it, not necessarily with intent, but with lack of experience.
There must be a way of living no matter who we are or what we have we may find contentment, other than desiring, possessing, and holding on, for this way of living is the greatest of misunderstandings and ultimately unfit for this end. It is fundamental we learn emptiness is not empty, to be without possessing is not to be without possession, to live with humility is not to be without self, for then we know it is safe and fulfilling to let go and live simply. As our perspective of life broadens we eventually come to see there is no fundamental separation between us and the world except that maintained through the conditioning of our mind. And though now we see our separate self as comparatively insignificant we also see our relation to the world is not and that therein lies our greater self.
Wherever it is we may reside what forever remains most beautiful and beneficial to our well-being is our intelligent, sympathetic, and full participation in the natural processes of life, the very processes that make us who we are and exemplify on the grandest scale the most fundamental aspects of living – growth and change, reciprocity and balance, limits, loss, death, and renewal. For us to understand, accept, and appreciate life as it is, to find contentment, we must be committed to a way of being grounded in a receptive simplicity. From year to year, season to season, in this way our relationship with the world is deepened as we mature into our greater self. Eventually, humility comes to us all, for, in the end, we all must face death. Yet, we may also die in peace having learned to truly know and love the world and having sown the seeds by which it continues to flourish. For one last time, we willingly let go, to make room for the next generation by which we continue to live.