06 April 2009

abstracting ourselves from reality

All cultures have grown from the same seed. Every form of rudimentary religion arose from the admiration, observation and study of Nature. Primordial calendars and timepieces were based on the lunar cycle or solar cycle. Ancient Gods were representatives of natural elements like the Sun, Wind, Fire etc and also animal forms. Without the aid of global communication systems every culture stumbled upon the same form of worship in every far part of the globe without even knowing that other forms of human civilization existed. The obeiance of Nature has been the common belief system before the onset of organized religion. Now the practice of the most instinctual form of spirituality is termed 'alternative'.

Poets have written about the subject of Nature for millenia. Wordsworth proclaimed Nature is my guide, guardian and philosopher. Tagore said Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven. Artists from have drawn inspiration from nature for countless centuries with Monet declaring The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration. Scientists from Galileo to Newton to Einstein to Stephen Hawkings, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins have been overwhelmed by nature's playfulness, mystery, precision, thoughtfulness and endlessly perfect symmetry. The contemplation of Nature is not merely romanticism but the most fulfilling lesson there is. Charles Lindberg has aptly described this by saying In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.

In midst of the fine thoughts and overwhelming respect and reverence by a select few there are others who have not contemplated nature's enormous depth. The loss of the natural world represents the loss of an intrinsic source of inspiration and the loss of the trigger to creativity. The natural world is amazingly resilient. Life is amazingly resilient but both have boundaries that need to be respected if we are to ensure the survival of the human species.

James Lovelock with his Gaia Hypothesis suggested that the Earth has several self-calibrating methods to ensure the survival of life. This mechanism does not pay heed to human species but answers only to the laws of the Universe. When the tipping point of destruction is reached, the Earth will set to restore itself regardless of whether humankind survives or not. Whether we're heading towards self-destruction or not, is a question that is out there for grabs.

This deterioration in our connection with the world around us can be attributed to many things. It could be blamed on the advent of technology, industrialization, fast paced lifestyles, the decline of suburbia, the loss of woodlands, increase in cityscapes, poverty, rise of packaged food and supermarkets etc etc. The fact remains that the vast majority of us have lost this connection and some of the younger generation never have had it. Respect and awareness of natural surroundings does not come from watching television or playing with a Playstation. It comes from having a tree-house, making a bird feeder, having an ant-farm and playing outside. These are the precepts of childhood or at least, the way childhood was. Interaction with natural surroundings on such basic levels is meant to give us a better sense of who we are and make us less prone to depression, obesity and discontent. Today we have everything and more but yet there is a high degree of unhappiness which can only be attributed to the fact that we are abstracting ourselves from reality.

Industrialists are only just realising that free market economics is by and large based on sustainability. In our quest to strive, to seek and conquer we've ignored the first law of viral infection: Don't destroy the host. This is exactly what we are doing. We have essentially forgotten what John Muir said those many years ago When one tugs at a single thing in nature; he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

So what can we do about this? Go back to the basics: ditch the TV remote, take a walk in the park, take up bird-watching, go camping - aim to interact with your surroundings, engage all your senses and observe. Aim to be overwhelmed. This is a connection so instrinsic to every human being that it cannot be lost for ever. Learn from the ones that came before and the ones that still depend on nature for their basic sustenance. We say we are the so-called advanced civilization and yet there is so much that we don't know and some things we may never learn. Do we just choose to ignore our ignorance and instead revel in our baseless superiority?

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