While I was working in Nepal some years ago, a helicopter crashed. A helicopter, as you might imagine, has a great variety of pieces with a wide range of shapes and sizes, of which the mechanic responsible for the helicopter’s maintenance knows the individual arrangements and functions. The problem with this particular helicopter was in the engine, which was held together by a multitude of nuts and bolts. Each nut and bolt had a small, sideways hole drilled through it so a tiny, 4-inch “safety wire” could be inserted. The ends were then twisted together to prevent the tremendous vibration created by a running engine from loosening the nut, thus allowing it to work itself off its bolt. Simply put, the function of the small hole and little piece of wire was to counteract the engine’s vibration.
Prior to its last maintenance, the helicopter had functioned as it was designed to and had remained safely airborne for many hours. At the required time, it was grounded for maintenance. On its first post-maintenance flight, however, it crashed into the jungle without warning. Why? Upon retrieval of the helicopter, mechanics spent many hours examining all of its pieces to see what had gone wrong. At length, they found out.
One of the mechanics who had helped perform the helicopter’s last maintenance had forgotten to replace one tiny, four-inch-piece of safety wire that held a nut in place on its bolt that, in turn, kept the lateral-control assembly together. The nut had vibrated off its bolt, the helicopter lost its stability, and the pilot lost control. A tiny, missing piece of wire, the lack of which altered the entire functional dynamics of the aircraft, caused the accident. The engine had merely been “simplified” by the absence of a single, out-of-sight component.
Which piece—at that critical instant—was the most important part in the helicopter?
Clearly, each piece of any system has a corresponding relationship with every other piece, and they provide sustainability only to the extent they work in concert within the limits of their biophysical design—a helicopter being of human design and physical materials.
Like the different parts of the helicopter, each person has an innate gift to give. And, like the various parts of the helicopter, each person’s gift is a critical component of the whole—be it a functional human community or the integrity of Nature’s biophysical system. Some people, for example, have a large, obvious gift to offer (analogous to the helicopter’s rotor), whereas others have a small gift, one that both arises and is proffered in obscurity (analogous to the 4-inch piece of safety wire).
These mechanical parts symbolize the challenge of comparison with respect to the value of a person’s innate gift in today’s materially minded world. Namely, whose gift is better, more important, and thus deserving recognition and praise? What is the comparison based on? Size? Expense? Visibility? “Celebrityship”? This is not, however, a question that would enter the mind of an environmental mystic.
A mystic’s only concern is a private one—how to actively demonstrate their abiding love for Mother Earth. This being the case, a mystic’s gift might be simplifying their lifestyle to minimize their material footprint. Or, it could be the conscious creation of habitat for butterflies, bees, and birds in their organic garden. Then again, it could be the simple act of moving an earthworm out of harm’s way to a place where it would not only be safe but also allowed to perform its biophysical function of caring for and enriching the soil.
The singular thought in a mystic’s mind is to leave this magnificent planet spinning miraculously in space a little better for the privilege of having been here amid the myriad forms of biophysical beauty and the wonder of it all.
Each person’s innate gift—whether an environmental mystic or otherwise—is sacred and resonates throughout the universe as a “thank you” to the Eternal Mystery from whence comes the infinite, ineffable beauty that is the surrounding context of our life. In the final analysis, however, it is the love in one’s heart that is the real gift. And, unconditional love—being of the spiritual realm—is beyond comparison to or with anything in the material world.
Text © by Chris Maser 2013. Photograph of the Canadian Helicopter Bell 212 gratefully used from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to CambridgeBayWeather. Earthworm photograph gratefully used from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Michael Linnenbach. All rights reserved.
Posted in SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL MYSTICS | Tags: animal lovers, biodiversity, commons, conservation, ecological services, economic profits, environmental education, fertile soil, helicopter, love, maintenance, my garden, natural resources, nature's inviolate principles, sustainability, wire
To understand the essence of spiritual ecology, close your eyes and visualize a path leading uphill through a meadow with three huge boulders on the immediate right and two on the left. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon on a bright, sunny day, and the shadows cast by the boulders are crisp and clear, making their size and shape readily discernible and catching to the eye. This image of a bright, sunlit meadow, with its distinct shadows, is analogous to masculine consciousness with its penchant for the quantification of discrete objects. Hence, the sun represents the masculine in Greek mythology.
Now visualize the same path on a moonlit night. Again, look at the five boulders. They are not so sharply outlined and thus more difficult to discern with absolute clarity. Their relationship to the meadow is yielding because the diffuse lighting makes the background seem closer to being within the same depth of field. This softer view of the boulders fits more easily with the indefinable edges of feminine consciousness, which is relationship oriented and more-often-than-not has an abundance of questions and a dearth of concrete answers. Consequently, the moon represents the feminine in Greek mythology.
Unlike ecological decisions and consequences, which seem to have relatively direct cause and effect relationships that simply are as they are, regardless of whether we understand them, social issues are difficult to contend with as discrete entities because they ooze endlessly in amoeboid fashion into one another. So it is that genuine social-environmental sustainability is the essence of spiritual ecology for the environmental mystic because it not only unifies masculine and feminine consciousness but also focuses truly on the sanctity and indivisibility of all life within the Eternal Mystery.
Therefore, the environmental mystic understands that nature owes us nothing, and thus offers its services as an unconditional gift within the biophysical principles of its governance. To honor this gift, we must treat the land and nature with respect in the spirit of reciprocity and sincere caring—not the hubris of attempted control through the “make-believe” of management. If we want something from the land and nature, we must ascertain how we need to treat them to allow them to respond, as we desire. After all, neither the land nor nature need us—we need them.
Text and Photos © by Chris Maser 2013. All rights reserved.
What, you might ask is an “environmental mystic.” If you were to ask me, I would say: An environmental mystic is a person who communicates with God, the Eternal Mystery, through Nature, who is so deeply loves the beauty of planet Earth that they spend their life in surrender to an inner sense of gratitude for the wonder they behold in the infinite novelty of creation. This love and gratitude one feels brings forth a deep sense of responsibility for taking care of the Earth as a spiritual living trust for all generations—a love guided by the inviolable biophysical principles that, with Divine simplicity and equanimity, govern all of Nature and our place within it. For me, it is an unquenchable need to say “thank you” by leaving this magnificent planet, spinning miraculously in space, a little better for the privilege of having been enveloped throughout my Earthly pilgrimage in Divine beauty beyond words, beyond even the ability of thought to express.
With the foregoing in mind, I find, as I look back over my 75 years, that my life has been choreographed by an inner compulsion, of which Mahatma Gandhi said, “The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within.” That “still small voice” has guided the decisions in my life ever since I can remember. When I say guided the decisions, I must admit that, in my youth, I did not always listen to it—and I reaped the consequences of turning a deaf ear or a blind eye to the spiritual path along which my inner voice attempted to guide me. It is as though I was made blind to the future through my mistakes that I might learn to trust.
For me, as a child, it was the Divine orchestration of circumstances that helped to structure my life by blessing me with a place to feel safe. That place was a humble, roadside ditch in which I have found the wonders of the Universe. And it is the gift of wonder—the Divine endowment of everyday life—that guides that a mystic’s journey. As Mother Theresa said: “Life is a promise. Fulfill it.”
To me, as a little boy, the ditch was a marvelous and wondrous thing, and it had only one purpose, to be my playground. I loved the ditch and all its mysteries. It was my own, private place in the world and that was sufficient unto itself.
The ditch was a place of innocence and wonder; a place of mystery and of boyhood imaginings; a place to touch the Earth, the water, and the sky. It was a place where the green arms of cattails; sedges; and rushes; and the tall, swaying grasses enfolded me, hid me, and bade me stay while I learned the songs of the seasons.
It was a place where the water spoke quietly of the harmonious cycles of life, where grasshoppers and crickets trilled, and gray-tailed meadow mice scurried along their secret runways. It was a place where wandering breezes carried the perfumes of flowers and the melodies of birds, where gaily-colored butterflies dotted magical afternoons and dragonflies rested in the sun. It was a place brimming with life, where red-winged black birds nested; a place where the harmonious cycles of the sun, moon, and stars guided a constant becoming as life flowed through death into life and the seasons melted one into another. And, it was the place where I learned about unconditional love from my friend, Billy Savage, who shared the ditch with me from the ages of 6 to 12, when his life tragically ended.
But most of all, it was the place where I first began to understand that the smallest piece of anything was still a part of the whole and that to understand the whole, I must value the pieces. I not only began to see the eternal flow between the pieces and the whole but also I began the long, slow process of being born unto myself in the greater context of the Universe as one of Nature’s pieces reflected in the spiritual and biophysical perfection of that infinitesimal spot on Earth that Billy and I called “our ditch.”
It was here that I was simply open to the mysteries of the Universe, and they were revealed to me in all their splendor. Here, within the banks of a humble, roadside ditch, I saw the crowning jewel of the Universe unfold. I saw the indivisibility of life and death and change. I saw Creation, and I not only found but also embraced the Eternal Mystery. It was here that my mystical journey began, oh, so long ago.
Text and Photos © by Chris Maser 2013. All rights reserved.
LIFE, THE WONDER OF IT ALL
Chris Maser and Reese Halter
Chris: I am particularly blessed in touching and being touched by the miracle of life—a miracle of which I am an inseparable part. I have been privileged to travel in many lands, near and afar, from ocean strand to lofty mountain, from parching desert to steaming jungle, and through all the seasons of the year. In each have I found beauty unsurpassed: it may have been the unimpeded view of the Southern Cross in the night sky over the western desert of Egypt, the odor of jasmine (from the Persian yasmin, “gift from God” in Arabic) along the Nile, or the smile of a Nubian child with whom I played; it may have been the iridescence of a Nepalese sunbird in the deep forest, the exquisite flavor of a ripe mango in the Terai, or the grandeur of a Himalayan peak seen from timberline; it may have been the fuzzy face of an Austrian edelweiss or a mountain meadow in the Swiss Alps, where a teasing, summer breeze caused the grasses to sway and the flowers to dance; it may have been soft touch of a giant fern in southern Chile or the alert stance of an exquisite, spotted tiger beetle on a jungle trail in Malaysia; it may have been the Pyramids of the Sun and of the Moon in Teotihuacán, Mexico; or it may have been the intricate structure of the Grand Shinto shrine in Ise City, Japan; or it may have been the leaping glide of a flying fish in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Every such encounter is for me a harmonious experience along the continuum of my evolution in consciousness through which the undying wonder of life unfolds.
Beauty in form is clearly visible to our senses, from the microscopic to the infinite, from the delicate design of a diatom to the violent death throes of a star. But the beauty of function is often hidden in the act of living—be it a “lammergeier” or bearded vulture riding the thermals high in the Himalayas, a male rufous hummingbird performing its courtship dive in my garden, a polar bear wandering the Arctic sea ice in search of seals, or the “emergent properties,” by means of which termites in the Australian savannah construct their twenty-foot-tall towers. Each of life’s actions represents participation in a feedback loop whereby life serves life along the evolutionary path of Planet Earth, a lesson that began for me many years ago in a humble roadside ditch.
To me as a little boy, the ditch was a marvelous thing. I loved the ditch and all its mysteries. I neither thought about nor cared a whit whether the water was being brought to or removed from a particular place, or what the reason might be. It had only one purpose, to be my playground.
“My ditch” was a place of innocence and wonder; a place of mystery and of boyhood imaginings; a place to touch the Earth, the water, and the sky. It was a place where the green arms of cattails; sedges; rushes; and the tall, swaying grasses enfolded me, hid me, and bade me stay while I learned the songs of the seasons.
It was a place where the water spoke quietly of the harmonious cycles of life, where grasshoppers and crickets trilled, and gray-tailed meadow mice scurried along their secret runways. It was a place where wandering breezes carried the perfumes of flowers and the melodies of birds, where gaily-colored butterflies dotted magical afternoons. It was a place brimming with life, a place where the harmonious cycles of the sun, moon, and stars guided a constant becoming as life flowed through death into life and the seasons melted one into another. And it was the place where I learned about the wonder of friendship and love.
But most of all, it was the place where I first began to understand that the smallest piece of anything was still a part of the whole and that to understand the whole, I must value the pieces. I not only began to see the eternal flow between the pieces and the whole but also began the long, slow process of being born unto myself in the greater context of the universe as one of Nature’s pieces reflected in the spiritual and ecological perfection of that infinitesimal spot on Earth that my friend, Billy, and I called “our ditch.”
It was here between the ages of six and twelve, that I was simply open to the mysteries of the universe, and they were revealed to me in all their splendor. Here, within the banks of a humble, roadside ditch, I saw the crowning jewel of the universe unfold. I saw life and death and change. I saw Creation, and I found the Eternal Mystery, which many refer to as “God.”
A ditch starts out as a raw, naked wound; a furrow in the skin of the Earth, for whatever reason it had been dug. Then Nature takes over, molding and sculpting the furrow with erosion, using wind, water, and ice as implements. Slowly the gapping furrow begins to round and crinkle as flowing water moves jousting grain and shifting pebble here and there. Little by little the ditch bottom loses all sign of human tool, and the once-raw wound becomes a labyrinth of nooks and crannies, each with a pair of eyes silently watching the world.
As the ditch’s bottom transforms, Nature plants seeds along its banks, creating a backdrop of swaying grasses and brightly colored flowers, of protecting shrubs and stately trees. On this stage unfolds Nature’s play, enacted with the animals that live along the ditch, burrow in its banks, and visit with the seasons, wherein each adds a touch of creativity to the overall effect. Crickets lead the orchestra, with birds as minstrels and butterflies as the chorus line. Add two little boys, and magically you have a portrait of the ditch that was to be such an integral, formative part of my childhood. Then, as I got older, I saw a ditch as habitat for small creatures wild and free and as a mural for Nature’s seasons.
Now, as I follow the labyrinth of contemporary life through the decade of my seventies, I increasingly understand that everything in the universe is connected in a cosmic web of interactive relationships powered by the eternal exchange of energy; all entrained in vibrant, ever-changing, self-reinforcing feedback loops. In turn, each relationship creates a never-ending story of novelty manifested through the dance of cause and effect, stories that began with the original cause—the Eternal Mystery.
As Providence would have it, I met Reese Halter in my sojourn on this magnificent Planet Earth and found a friend who, in his own way, not only sees the beauty of Nature but also writes about its wonders.
Reese: I grew up on the Northern Plains of Canada on land my family owned along of the Assiniboine River within the city of Winnipeg. I spent my early childhood summers exploring glacial Lake Winnipeg. My earliest memories are of my Dad, my brother Jason, and me planting trees every spring either on our land or at the lake. After the long winter, I relished our spring tree-planting ritual.
Springtime on the prairies bustles with activity, and it all seems to happen at once. We had a wood-duck nesting box strapped onto an old Manitoba maple tree. Each year, for as long as I can remember, I would go down to the river carefully and climb the nearby tree to see if the box was active. Avoiding being dive-bombed by the male, I thrilled to finding the box occupied.
One year, however, the river was extremely high with a late-spring melt, jammed with ice crunching at break-up. I couldn’t get down to investigate the box. I was eager to reach the box when the waters receded, but saddened to find no signs of nesting. A couple days later, while investigating another part of our yard, I noticed some unusual activity in an old elm tree. Sure enough the wood ducks had returned! They were living in an old woodpecker cavity instead of our box near the river.
Later that spring, I witnessed two remarkable events. Eight wood ducklings left their nest for the first time, in an epic 11-foot fall. Each miraculously survived hitting the Earth, bouncing a couple times before coming to a stop. Their mother, anxiously awaiting their arrival, lined them up and marched them off on their first trek to the river’s edge, 1,600 feet away.
Equally memorable was the interaction of the wood ducks with our family dog. She was a Doberman named Bruni, gentle as a lamb, but with a bark that would stop you in your tracks. She too happened to be in the vicinity of the ducklings’ inaugural march. As she started toward them, I bellowed a command, stopping her in her tracks. She sat down obediently, and we both watched as all eight ducklings waddled to the river.
One of the most pleasant times of my childhood was autumn. I loved the odor of autumn on the prairies, raking leaves, and making leaf forts. I admit to enjoying burning leaf piles. I can’t tell you how many maple helicopters, winged maple seeds, I picked and threw, but it must have been thousands. I always marveled at how active all the squirrels were as they assiduously collected acorns, maple seeds, and any other seeds they could find before the onset of yet another long and cold winter.
My blissful experiences observing Nature as a child fostered a deep appreciation for the natural world. And it was in those formative years that I knew my passion for nature would somehow lead me into the study of forests. I studied at three universities, spanning both hemispheres, being duly admitted to a doctorate in tree science from The University of Melbourne, Australia.
The natural world is all around whether we are in urban or rural settings. Yet, what it really takes is to be aware of it. Some people seek out a wilderness experience, but local parks or preserves are sanctuaries for many. Each season has truly distinct scents, sounds, sights, and tastes. I encourage you to take your children to these special outdoor places so they too can experience Nature’s seasonal wonders.
Chris and Reese: If we humans are willing, there is much we can still learn in our immediate surroundings about ourselves as a species, about the geological processes of Planet Earth and the universe, and about the reciprocal partnership we must forge with the land if we are to enjoy and pass forward to all generations any semblance of the environmental integrity bequeathed to us by Nature. So, with this background, we invite you to come with us, and together we will explore the wonder of life.
“Bravo, bravo! It was an absolute joy to read. As you’ll see from the long gaps between comments, I often became so immersed in the story that I forgot I was reading to see what was missing. You both weave together rich ideas, science, personal narrative, facts, and exposition in a very nimble way. What I appreciated most was the time you spent on everyday subjects: hummingbirds, copepods, tea, and Chinese emperors—and how you made these things relevant to universal experiences. You truly evoke a profound sense of wonder for LIFE. Better yet, you inspire readers to examine the makings of their own LIFE, as a trustee, beneficiary, and participant in this ongoing narrative of relationships.
“At first I was hoping for some more philosophical discussions of what we’re to make of all this, or how we ought to live—not in a prescriptive sense, but more in the way of ideas. But, the end really drives this home.”
“Let’s go back to a very important beginning, a childhood event with mystery and emotional connection that exposes us unknowingly to an uncontaminated truth of the human spirit for the first time. An ancient union with nature, although we are no longer trained to recognize it. Having had a similar childhood experience as those described by Chris Maser and co-author Reese Halter, I wanted, but could not find, a willing ear as a child to describe the resulting feelings, much less avoid mockery, which reflect the loss of important cultural connections. This book recognizes these critically valuable events with nature as a portal to ancient wisdom and happiness. Although, as individuals, we may allow these experiences to affect us, we usually tuck them away to be lost in the illusions of modern economics instead of the miracle of natural systems.
“This book reminds me, with strong scientific descriptions, that we all should cherish those first insights right up front, like a totem to tell again our relationship to all else. Chris Maser masterfully integrates different areas of science and ecological principles into a holistic understanding, like no one else I have ever known. Assimilating the scientific and its philosophical significance with cultural history, Chris sends the reader to peek above the clouds of political spin, economic growth models, agricultural production models, and general utilitarian nonsense to vividly see the parts with the whole and the reason we must all take responsibility to protect ourselves (with a far greater understanding as to what, when, where, and why) from loss of the very elements of nature that make life worth living, and so prevent our own demise.”
“The overall concept—tracing life’s myriad interconnections from the big bang to the Earth’s present sorry state—is wonderful! You have given us many moments of beauty: your wondrous ditch; the miracle of dragonflies; the notion of conduit; the fall of snowflakes. For me, the narrative itself is at its best when it focuses on these specifics. Of course, you need the larger concepts to hold it all together, but it is these small and individual moments I look forward to as a reader.
“By the time you get to Nature’s Commons, and introduce the concept of living trust, I realize how carefully you have laid out the steps of the journey. I think you have prepared us well for the emperor’s wise gardener and the notion that each of us internalizes the wonder you have described.
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and comment. I believe this will be a volume many of us will treasure: read, pass on but insist on getting it back for a second and third read.”
Jane Braxton Little
Life, the Wonder of It All. Global Forest Society, Banff, Alberta, Canada. (2013) 370 pp.
If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.
Text © by Chris Maser and Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.
Posted in BOOKS, DESCRIPTIONS | Tags: biodiversity, children, clean air, clean water, climate change, commons, ecological services, economic exploitation, economic profits, ecosystem, evolution, global warming, leadership, love, natural resources, nature, nature's inviolate principles, politics, science, society, sustainability
OF PARADOXES AND METAPHORS
Understanding Some of Life’s Lessons
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that life, as an idea, is a gigantic paradox composed of paradoxes, and the purpose of life is to understand the paradoxes and to put oneself in accord with them. To put ourselves in accord with life’s paradoxes, we must daily interpret the unfolding of our never-ending story because we are, in a sense, spiritual detectives charged with finding, understanding, accepting, and living the highest Truths of Universal Governance—Truths secreted within the unity of each paradox.
I have therefore titled this book, Of Paradoxes and Metaphors: Understanding Some of Life’s Lessons, because the expression of our human awareness is based on words, those metaphorical symbols whereby we give recognition to our interactions with life. A word, even a string of words, like beads on a necklace, no matter how well crafted, is still an approximation of an experience based on the symbology of language. Nevertheless, language is the portal through which we approach an experience, but without the ability to grasp its totality because the rigid boundaries of language are an absolute barrier to expression beyond the appearance of what is. This “No Trespassing” sign, as it were, defines the boundary of the Transcendent Mystery, which is simultaneously beyond our comprehension and within our experience.
As I am write this book, I realize that each book I have written is the outer manifestation of my inner journey, a glimpsed unfolding of the never-ending story of my life. To gain a sense of where I have come from and where I might be going, I have revisited the pages of my life over the last quarter century in a sort of animated editorial to select and update what I think I have learned about life’s paradoxes and lessons, as expressed through the metaphor of language sandwiched between the covers of my various books. The book you are holding is an accounting of my efforts.
Despite the expressive freedom and exasperating limitations of language, I have often wondered why humanity seems to learn so little from history, why youth thinks itself invincible, and why I have been so incredibly blind to many of life’s little nudges toward a higher consciousness of cause and effect. Of late, as the count of my years passes well the mid-heavens of my sixties, I have reach a greater height from which to survey the terrain of my inner landscape, and I find the view clearer than in the lower elevation of my younger years. It’s from this vantage of greater experience that I see a story emerge from the distant land of memory, a story about a Chinese priest in search of the “Book of Knowledge.”
The priest had spent his entire adult life fighting dragons, thieves, armies, and demons of every kind that seemed to block his path to the “Book of Knowledge,” a path he followed without knowing where it led. Finally, after years of struggle, he found himself at the edge of a great sea, and there, high atop a lava pinnacle, was a monastery.
With the last of his strength, for he was now very old and very tired, he climbed the narrow, winding stairs to the monastery, where a monk greeted him and bade him enter. The monk then told him to rest, for his way had been long and arduous.
When the priest was rested, the monk came to him and said: “You have traveled from afar to this monastery following a path that led you knew not where. In so doing, you have shown the strength of your faith through obedience to that which has guided you from within, and your courage has been well tested along the way. I am the keeper of the ‘Book of Knowledge.’ Having proven yourself worthy, I give you permission to look within.”
The old priest looked at him and asked: “And what shall I find?”
Whereupon the monk replied: “Only what you bring with you. Only what you take with you.”
That said, the old priest opened the long-awaited Book and found within a mirror, and the reflected image of his own face. And within that reflection was all knowledge contained, for it revealed the relative wisdom of what he had learned and thus become as a result of his trials, inner struggles, and the choices he had made along the way.
He saw, for instance, the moment in his life when he learned that discrimination of choice determines the path one’s feet are destined to walk. He saw the far-distant circumstance in which he had learned that a life without desires is the key to freedom from the prison cell of materialism’s continual temptations and discontent. He saw, by contemplating the cumulative events of his life, that good conduct is the sole responsibility of the individual traveler, and is not dependent on the behavior of another.
He suddenly understood that all the demons along his path were only distortions in the house of mirrors, those disowned parts of himself that lived in the shadowland of his ego. All these precious years he had been washing the window of his soul on the outside, while the dirt he most wanted to remove was on the inside. He suddenly understood that wisdom can neither be taught nor given away, that wisdom, the distillation of life’s experiences, must be earned; and that unconditional love, which asks nothing, overcomes all obstacles.
He slowly closed the Book, with ever-so-slight a sigh, and reconciled himself to the fact that the sacred Book was in reality a mirror reflecting the opportunities and the choices he had made along his journey of incarnation, as well as the lessons he had learned—lessons presented to him by the Lords of Karma. In retrospect, he saw within the great Book the sum of his living and realized that he was, in the end, alone with his experience of life.
Today, I realize that the Priest and I are one. I say this because one, long-ago night, when I was eight years old, I stood gazing at the stars of the Milky Way and realized deep within the core of my being that I was alone in the universe, totally alone—and that it was okay. I knew, beyond a doubt, the universe would take care of me, and thus knowing, felt myself an inexorable, inseparable part of its flow and ebb, its Eternal Mystery. And now, having been graced with an infinitesimal peek inside my own “Book of Knowledge,” I think I’m beginning to understand the connotative essence of the Eternal Mystery in living: Life is a paradox composed of paradoxes—much like a box with a smaller box inside it, with a smaller box inside it, with a smaller box inside it, ad infinitum, as well as a bigger box outside of it, and a bigger box outside of it, and a bigger box outside of it, ad infinitum. I cannot explain why it is this way. It just is.
This said, I now find myself in the gateway to the “eternal present,” that reality beyond time, which transcends the material world humanity deems its domain. Only when I stand in the threshold of the ineffable present, the reality between the illusions of past and future, can I participate fully with life.
I say “ineffable” present because the gateway is like sitting alongside a large river of mild current in which that part of the river immediately in front of me represents the eternal present, that which flows towards me a dream, and that which is already by me a memory. There is no stopping the flow of the river, just as there is no past or future, only the fluidity of the present moment—the Tao, the Chinese gateway of eternity. The ancient Greeks also knew the gateway, but by another name: Paradoxos, which means “unbelievable.”
A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory, but when understood, expresses a truth that illuminates the humor embodied in the “essential truths” of the Transcendent Mystery of the universe. Here, it is reasonable to ask how one might gain an intellectual image of a paradox.
Paradoxes are the windows of the soul. I say this because life’s paradoxes are a “double vision” of sorts, like peering out of a house through a pane of glass. Through the window we see objects that lie outside the house and simultaneously reflections of things that lie within. And the glass, through which we peer, at once transparent and reflective, represents the unity of the Transcendent Mystery, whereas the view without and the reflection within represent the pair of opposites that comprise our intellectual understanding of the material world.
. . .
Similarly, we can observe the workings of the outer world of Nature through physics and biology while at the same time Nature reflects back to us the inner workings and images of our own psychological maturity. This phenomenon is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the night sky, where stars and constellations bear names and images of our mythological heritage, while concurrently serving as an entry into the scientific understanding of the biophysical Universe. With this intellectual view of our world, you might wonder how can we every “see” a unified whole. . . .
“A child of nature turned scientist, Chris Maser, is a modern day transcendentalist. In his book Of Paradoxes and Metaphors: Understanding Some of Life’s Lessons, he leads us in a gentle spiral of stories, experiences, and observations. Maser looks at our world through relationships personal and global. His questions for the Great Mystery spring from interactions within the human web. He nudges us to our own questions for the Universe, which will point each of us toward our own truth, and asks us to have the courage and humility to find that truth.”—Linda Saurenman, Los Angeles, CA.
“Mesmerizing. Reading Of Paradoxes and Metaphors is like sitting around a campfire, listening to the wisdom of the ages as shared through the stories of a dear, wise friend and mentor. Through reflections on his own life, Chris Maser provokes the reader’s reflection on her or his life-stories and, ultimately, the mystery and wonder of being human. That process is both calming and challenging because it leads to the truth that, ultimately, we are each solely accountable for how we respond to and experience of our time on this Earth. Fully understanding and embracing that responsibility forces us to give up the “comfort” of blame, self-pity, anger, and other aspects of being a victim. The joy is the rediscovery of the knowledge that lies within us … that life is unfolding in each moment, and we have the power to respond in the manner we choose.”—Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner, Minneapolis, MN.
Of Paradoxes and Metaphors: Understanding Some of Life’s Lessons. Woven Strings Publishing, Amarillo, TX. (2003) 235 pp.
If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.
Text and Photo © by Chris Maser 2013. All rights reserved.
BIRTH OF THE CORPORATION
The corporation, it turns out, is an invention of the British Crown through the creation of the East India Company by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, which, being the original, transnational corporation, set the precedence for today’s impunity with respect to economic greed.
The East India Company, “found India rich and left it poor,” says author Nick Robin. The corporate structure of the East India Company was deemed necessary to allow the British to exploit their colonies in such a way that the owner of the enterprise was, for the first time, separated from responsibility for how the enterprise behaved.
This conscious separation of personal responsibility from the act of looting is not surprising because “looting” is, theoretically as least, considered immoral in Christian circles. The corporation is thus a “legal fiction,” that lets the investors who own the business avoid personal responsibility whenever the business dealings are unethical or even blatantly illegal, despite the fact that such unscrupulous behavior profits them enormously.
A corporation, after all, has but one purpose—to make money for the owners. Economist Milton Friedman gave voice to this pinhole vision when he answered his own rhetorical question: “So the question is, do corporate executives, provided they stay within the law, have responsibilities in their business activities other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible? And my answer to that is, no they do not.” In fact, the “corporate system,” say analysts, “has no room for beneficence toward employees, communities, or the environment,” a notion endlessly demonstrated on a daily global scale.
Founders of the United States, such as Thomas Jefferson, recognized the dangers of corporate greed, which accounts for why the founding fathers believed corporate charters should be granted only to those entities willing to serve the greater public interest. Throughout most of the 19th century, therefore, states typically restricted a corporation they chartered to the ownership of one kind of business and strictly limited the amount of capital it could amass. In addition, states required the stockholders to be local residents, detailed specific benefits that were due the community, and placed a 20- to 50-year limit on the life of a corporation’s charter. Legislatures would withdraw a corporation’s charter if it strayed from its stated mission or acted in an irresponsible manner.
METASTASIZING INTO THE ECONOMIC SLAVE MARKET
Although the power of modern corporations dates back to this era, it has been greatly augmented by two major legal dodges aimed at giving them unencumbered authority to serve only the self-interest of a few people. This was accomplished first by the piecemeal removal of those restrictions imposed to protect the welfare of the public from the self-serving interests of the few.
The second change came in 1886, when the U.S. Supreme Court made the corporation all but invulnerable by decreeing, in a case brought by the Southern Pacific Railroad against Santa Clara County, California, that a corporation has the right of “personhood” under the 14th Amendment (originally intended to protect the rights of freed slaves) and, as such, enjoys the same constitutional protections that you or I do as individuals. This second change was reaffirmed in 1906, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, “The Corporation is a creature of the state. It is presumed to be incorporated for the benefit of the public.” Within a century, the corporation had been transfigured into a “superhuman creature of the law,” that is legally superior to any American citizen because the corporation has civil rights without civil responsibilities.1
WHEN PEOPLE AND NATURE BECOME MERE ECONOMIC COMMODITIES
We, as a society, are losing sight of one another as human beings—witness the Wall-Street money chase in which numerous, large corporations discount human value as they increasingly convert people into faceless commodities that are bought and sold on a whim to improve the corporate standing in the competitive marketplace. After all, market share translates into higher profit margins, which translates into political power, both of which exacerbate the corporate disregard for people, the rampant destruction of Nature, and the squandering of natural resources for all generations.
Science-based technology is the seed of human exploitation of the world’s resources, including people. As such, it’s appropriate to examine what the word “resource” means, because the term is sadly misused. Resource originally meant a reciprocal gift between humans and the Earth, but today it is defined as the collective wealth of a country or its means of producing wealth; any property that can be converted into money.
First we covet what Nature produces. Then we exert “ownership” over that which we covet, and finally we convert Nature into money—through the economic euphemism of “conversion potential.” The technological efficiency with which we convert Nature into money has even become the measure of social success and stature. We thus transform spirited and lively mutual gifts, including the people, into lifeless commodities. Where does this kind of thinking lead us when we consider one another and ourselves only as “human/economic commodities”?
We can begin by looking at the education of our “resource managers.” As soon as we demand, in this lifeless, linear sense, that education serves some immediate purpose and that it be worth a predetermined, monetary amount, we strip education of its intrinsic value, and it becomes mere “training.” Such is the traditional training of foresters, range conservationists, fishery biologists, game biologists, soil scientists, and many others, all of whom are trained in the traditional schools of “resource management,” which abound in North America. Once we accept so specific a notion of utility, all life becomes subservient to its commercial value. Consequently, its social/spiritual value is drained, and imagination is relegated to the scrap heap. In turn, these patterns of thought determine the core of a society’s culture.
Let’s take another look at the term “resource.” Resource (= re and source). Re means to put back, to replenish, and source means the original supply, the point of something’s origin. Interpreting the word in this way can be the inspiration for the rebirth of its original meaning—to use something and then allow it to replenish itself in a sustainable manner for others to use in their turn. How would this change in meaning affect our sense of trusteeship of our magnificent home planet for all generations?
LOSS OF THE TRADITIONAL WORKWEEK/ENSLAVING THE WORKERS
There was even a time when people were valued for who they were as individuals. Although American workers have long had an limited workweek of 40 hours, there now is an insidious infringement into personal life due to pagers and cell phones, which allow corporations to “own” employees 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Businesses seem to have no moral compunctions about calling employees whenever they choose—”for the good of the company.” For those who would either choose to—or have no choice but to—live by this corporate proverb, the Families and Work Institute said these employees are more likely to:
• lose sleep
• have physical and emotional health problems
• make mistakes on the job
• feel and express anger at employers
• resent co-workers who they perceive are not pulling their weight
• look for different jobs
In the workplace, such feelings translate into more injuries and thus more claims for workers’ compensation, increased absenteeism, higher health insurance and health-care costs, impaired job performance, and greater employee turnover—all of which are counterproductive and costly not only for employees but also for employers.2
At home, these feelings are often converted into a sense of not enough time to care for once-loved pets. About four million pets were brought each year to 1,000 shelters surveyed during 1994, 1995, and 1996, the vast majority of which were dogs. Of those, about 64 percent were killed. Only 24 percent were adopted; others were primarily lost pets that were ultimately reunited with their families. Most of the owners who gave up pets were under 30 years of age. When asked why they were giving up their pet, many said that the hours they were being required to work disallow time to adequately care for their animal.3
Moreover, if American workers want more time with and for their families, the corporate response is: “If you aren’t willing to do the job the way we want, we’ll find someone who will.” This attitude raises the question of what comes first today in our land of opportunity, where supposedly one is free to seek liberty and the pursuit of happiness—love or money? This question seems all the more relevant in light of the Enron debacle.
The collapse of Enron highlights how some corporations are using people simply as commodities to boost company earnings. While Enron’s employees were both forced to purchase and simultaneously prohibited from selling company stock in their Enron-heavy 401(k) retirement accounts, Enron executives cashed out more than $1 billion in stocks when it was near its peak in value. Regular employees, however, had to watch helplessly as their Enron stock plummeted in value and their life savings disappeared.4
Clearly, the punishing free-for-all of globalization in the economic marketplace has not invited love into its house and thus is as much about the fear of lost opportunity as it is about maximizing profit. And now, as fear enters into the monetary counting houses, one must realize that any rosy face painted on the economy is done so with far too many temporary and dead-end jobs.
THE “TEMPORARY” TRAP
The growing use of long-term, temporary workers by American businesses has created a new kind of employment discrimination, but not across the board because some people actively choose such an arrangement. Employers typically hire contingent workers, such as independent contractors and temporary workers, to fill gaps in personnel, especially to meet high seasonal demands in business. Because legally they are not “company employees,” long-term, temporary employees or “permatemps” can work at a job for years without being entitled to paid vacations, health insurance, pensions, and other benefits (such as rights and protections under federal labor statutes—equal pay) enjoyed by permanent employees who do the same work.5 Although not all corporations operate this way, the arrangement is, nevertheless, desirable from the employer’s point of view because it holds down the cost of labor, which means higher profits.
The result is millions of employed people in the United States who cannot afford the basic necessities of food, housing, clothing, and medical care. This problem is well depicted in the movie “Hidden in America,” which shows that below the image of shining prosperity is a hidden layer of poverty with its desperate but proud parents and hungry children.
There is also a kind of sweatshop alive and well in the United States—faster and faster with no time to slow down. A Gallup Poll in the summer or 1999 found that 44 percent of working Americans referred to themselves as “workaholics.” Yet, 77 percent said they enjoy their time away from work more than they do their time while working. In fact, our American quest for material wealth—the money chase—leads to profound unhappiness, emotional isolation, and higher divorce rates because we are so busy striving for income there is no time for normal, human relationships.6
MAKING OURSELVES INTO ELECTRONIC ABSTRACTIONS
Our American ration of irony, however, is that the more connected we become electronically, the more detached and isolated we become emotionally because we are losing the human elements of life:
• the sight of a human face,
• the sound of a human voice,
• a smile,
• a handshake,
• a touch on the shoulder,
• a kind word.
In essence, we’re losing the human dimension of scale in terms of time, space, touch, sound, and size. We are physically and emotionally losing one another and ourselves. Nothing makes this clearer than such things as home fax machines, laptop computers, cell phones, smart phones, beepers, Palms, BlackBerrys, and iPods.
People are now “on-line” at home; in transit to work; at work; in transit to home, in airplanes, on trains, in cars, on bicycles, and on foot. In other words, people are virtually tethered to work. Such workaholism is not only expected by employers, it’s often demanded if one wants to keep their job, which, by the way, has added “24/7″ to our lexicon.
This kind of workaholism is especially hard on women because they are increasingly expected to work outside the home, juggle childcare, school activities for their children, and also maintain the home as though they had to nothing else to do. In addition, the 24/7 phenomenon hit the American work scene shortly after woman became a major part of the workforce.
As things pile endlessly upon one another, the whole of life seems to melt into the maw of one gigantic obligation that becomes increasingly difficult to meet because there simply is not enough time to get everything done, let alone done well.
I’M SO BUSY
A standard greeting today is: “I’m so busy.” This greeting is worn like the “red badge of courage” was in the past, as though our exhaustion is proof of our worth and our ability to withstand stress, which, in turn, is a mark of our maturity. In fact, we seem to measure our importance by how busy we are. The busier we are, the more important we feel ourselves to be and, we imagine, the more important others think us to be—which is reminiscent of the underlying theme in the British television program, “Keeping up Appearances.”
Rest nourishes our minds, bodies, and souls, which are poisoned by the hypnotic trance of perpetual motion as accomplishment and social “success.” If we do not rest, however, we lose our way, which is especially true for many who are self-employed, because action without time for reflection is seldom wise.
In the quarter century following World War II, giant corporations—like Ma Bell, General Motors, General Electric, and Westinghouse—were the place to be, representing, as they did, the pinnacle of what capitalism had to offer workers: extraordinary job security, a cornucopia of benefits, as well as a sense of being valued as person and employee. In fact, college graduates tripped over one another seeking life-time careers with these bedrock corporations because they could expect a comfortable house, a generously financed retirement package, lifelong health insurance, and, more often than not, a 9-to-5 job that allowed an organized man to form a healthy balance between work and family.
That was the era when job security formed the underpinnings of the corporate operating principle. In 1962, Earl S. Willis, manager of employee benefits at General Electric, wrote, “Maximizing employee security is a prime company goal.” Later, he wrote, “The employee who can plan his economic future with reasonable certainty is an employer’s most productive asset.” In recent times, however, General Electric’s John F. Welch, Jr., was known as “Neutron Jack” for shedding 100,000 jobs at the company.
Job security has vanished at numerous companies. Today, chief executives dump thousands of workers in the blink of an eye, hoping such moves will please securities analysts and thus investors, so their stocks will inch up 5% on the stock exchange. In addition, corporate managers slash away at employee benefits as though employees have suddenly ceased to be humans and have become commodities that can be forced into a more efficient mode of production with less cost to the corporation. They also phase out “defined benefit” retirement plans in favor of the far-less expensive 401(K) “do it yourself plans.”
Many employees of the post World War II era, until the latter part of the 1960s, were true believers in their companies. They were also exemplary employees who worked 12 and 14 hours days, six and even seven days a week, whatever it took to ensure their company’s success. They did this enthusiastically because their company’s success was the foundation of their job security, and hence their success as family providers.
Then things changed. The corporate mind-set closed and corporate attitudes hardened. Now, despite their dedication, despite all the birthdays, bedtimes, and school events they have missed as their children grew up, many have been chopped from their company’s payroll in a “merger,” “re-engineering,” “rightsizing,” “downsizing,” and “re-deployment.” Bitter at the callous way they have been treated, many workers regret having been so dedicated, only to be treated like commodities that are discarded at a whim and will.7
“In a personal sense, it hurts, but in a macro sense, it is the action we’ve got to take to remain competitive,” says Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. “Ultimately the adjustments that the economy is making is going to set us up for the next strong period of growth.” What Naroff seems to be saying between the lines is: While it hurts to be fired, it’s not personal; it’s business.
Others contend, however, that companies may well harm themselves by firing the people who purchase their products, potentially damaging the economy in ways that cannot be rectified with quick fixes, such as tax cuts or lowering the interest rate. In other words, layoffs (especially large, continuous ones) can only hurt the economy.
An economist, on the other hand, would counter with the notion that what really matters is how consumers view the situation. Some would even suggest that workers have become relatively used to being fired for the market convenience of their employer, as though that makes it “acceptable,” even “okay.” One could also rationalize that many of the job cuts will be less painful than they sound, in part because companies in a tight labor market have scores of unfilled jobs that are easy to eliminate. And then there is the argument that many other cuts would be spread over years, and some might not even occur.8
While this all sounds very “rational,” workers and consumers act on emotions, not what passes for economic “logic.” Consequently, announced layoffs can lead them to panic, because uncertainty and fear of the unknown are powerful allies when it comes to irrational thinking and the often-unwise actions it spawns. Thus, even if nothing in a person’s own job changes, the fact that their company has fired people to increase the economic bottom line can, and often does, drastically change an employee’s attitude about the wisdom of loyalty to the company and thus cripples the company’s real wealth—the allegiance and imagination of its employees.
No wonder it ‘s called “downsizing.” The end result is that a worker’s dignity levels out near zero! And what does the corporation lose when employees are fired—especially older, long-term employees? The corporation loses its collective memory and its history, both accrued through years of loyal service.
CONSUMPTION—“THE END-ALL” AND “BE-ALL”
All of this revolves around consumption and consumerism. Consumption to the economist is the “end-all and be-all” of production. It means economic growth. Consumption is the heart and soul of capitalism itself. The rate of consumption by a populace is also the standard economic measure of human welfare.
Consumption as an end it itself arose with the conceptualization of “the economy” as a macro-social entity and “economics” as a macro-social science—rather than as household management, which is the true meaning of the word economy. To this end, Adam Smith wrote: “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production.”
Because consumption and consumerism dominate social discourse and political agendas of all parties, consumerism hogs the spotlight at center stage as the prime objective of Western industrialized societies, which, in the collective, are known as “consumer societies.” Within these consumer societies, the purpose of consumption is: variety, distraction from daily stresses, pleasure, power and the status (= measure of recognition) one hopes it will bring, which is assumed to translate into happiness and social security. None of this comes to pass, however, because people themselves are increasingly seen as economic commodities. How can a commodity find security from another commodity? In this sense, the marketplace satisfies only temporarily our collective neuroses, while discarding the values that give true meaning to human life.9
A MATTER OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Author James B. Twitchell puts it nicely: “Once we are fed and sheltered, our needs are and have always been cultural, not natural. Until there is some other system to codify and satisfy those needs and yearnings, commercialism [consumerism]—and the culture it carries with it—will continue not just to thrive but to triumph.”
In the final analysis, it is doubtful many people really subscribe to the economist’s notion that human happiness and contentment derives solely from, or even primarily from, the consumption of goods and services. It’s therefore surprising that such a notion has come to hold nearly dictatorial power over public policy and the way industrialized societies are governed.
We are today so ensnared in the process of buying and selling things in the market place, that we cannot imagine our life being otherwise. Even our notion of well-being and of despair are wedded to the flow and ebb of the markets. Why is this so much a part of our lives? It is largely because people have yet to understand the notion of conscious simplicity, which is based on the realization that there are two ways to wealth: want less or work more. Put differently, true wealth lies in the love one gives and receives, as well as the scarcity of one’s material wants—as opposed to the abundance of one’s material possessions.
1. The discussion of corporate beginnings is based on: (1) Jim Hightower. 1998. Chomp! Utne Reader. March-April:57-61, 104; (2) Nick Robins. 2001. Loot. Resurgence 210:12-16; and (3) David C. Korten. 2001. What to Do When Corporations Rule the World. Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures. Summer:48-51.
2. Diane Stafford. Workers feeling overwhelmed. Knight Ridder Newspapers. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. May 21, 2001.
3. Dru Sefton. Busy owners are abandoning pets. Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. June 7, 1998.
4. The Associated Press. Enron retirees: Collapse wiped out life savings. Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. December 19, 2001.
5. Tony Pugh. Sad Ballad of the Long-Term Temp. Knight Ridder Newspapers. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. December 7, 1999.
6. The Editors. 2000. No time to slow down. U.S. News & World Report. June 26:14.
7. The preceding four paragraphs are based on: Steven Greenhouse. After the Downsizing, a Downward Spiral. The New York Times. April 8, 2001.
8. The preceding three paragraphs are based on: Adam Geller. Economists fear cuts will affect consumer spending. The Associated Press. In: Corvallis Gazette-Times, Corvallis, OR. February 1, 2001.
9. The preceding three paragraphs are based on: Paul Ekins. 1998. From Consumption to Satisfaction. Resurgence 191:16-19.
Text © by Chris Maser 2012. All rights reserved.
This essay is based on and primarily condensed from my 2004 book, The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence: Rethinking the Future. Maisonneuve Press, Washington, D.C. 373pp.
Posted in CONSIDER THIS, DEMOCRACY—ITS PROMISE AND CHALLENGE, LEADERSHIP'S RESISTANCE TO CHANGE | Tags: biodiversity, children, climate, commons, development, east india company, ecological services, economic exploitation, economic profits, fear, global warming, government, leadership, libya, natural resources, politics, science, society, sustainability, understanding fear, women
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
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