Missing the Obvious

In a chapter (in “Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It)”) devoted to how we miss what is obvious, Roger von Oech narrates a story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson going on a camping trip 

“They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, Holmes awakened and exclaimed,”Watson, look up and tell me what you deduce.” Watson opened his eyes, and said, “I see billions and billions of stars. It is likely that some of these stars have planetary systems. Furthermore, I deduce that there is probably oxygen on some of these planets, and it is possible that life has developed on a few of them. Is that what you see?” Holmes replied, “No, you idiot. Somebody stole our tent.””

There are cognitive reasons why we sometimes miss the obvious — the way our brains are wired. There are also other reasons why we choose to miss, or ignore, the obvious — reasons having to do with  power — “priestly, oligarchical, dictatorial, and so forth”, as George Orwell puts it.  Reviewing Bertrand Russell’s “Power: A New Social Analysis” in 1939, George Orwell begins: “If there are certain pages of Mr. Bertrand Russell’s book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

George ends his review pointing out that they live in a “time of universal panic and lying” — we must remember that World War II began that year. He goes on: “Mr. Russell is one of the most readable of living writers, and it is very reassuring to know that he exists. So long as he and a few others like him are alive and out of jail, we know that the world is still sane in in parts.”

Peace 🙂

The planet’s health is our health

In a piece published by Lion’s Roar on 1st December 2020, we read Thich Nhat Hanh:

We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the earth and are part of the earth. The earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the earth and we are always carrying her within us.

In “Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson”, Rachel (who was one of the launching-forces of the modern environmental conscience) writes that life’s “living protoplasm is built of the same elements as air, water, and rock.” She goes on: “Our origins are of the earth” — part of “the natural universe”, part of “the whole stream of life.” We are not separate from Nature.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, mystic, and scholar of comparative religion, sings in a poem titled “On Sweet Irrational Worship” (published in (“In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton”): “I am earth, earth….”

In a pure-gold OnBeing conversation on 16th September 2010, Joanna Macy, the ecologist and Buddhist scholar, tells Krista Tippett:

We’ve been treating the Earth as if it were a supply house and a sewer. We’ve been grabbing, extracting resources from it for our cars and our hair dryers and our bombs, and we’ve been pouring the waste into it until it’s overflowing.

But our Earth is not a supply house and a sewer. It is our larger body. We breathe it. We taste it. We are it.

Photo by Jacek Dylagon Unsplash

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’s 2019 Global Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” points out the main forces that contribute to our assault on Nature are “underpinned by societal values and behaviours that include production and consumption patterns, human population dynamics and trends, trade, technological innovations and….governance.” 

Our very way of life is causing harm, and we appear to have forgotten (or are choosing to ignore) something obvious, yet profound.

The Head of the UN Environment Program, Inger Andersen reminds us  (in a UN First Person report published on 5th April 2020) — “the health of people and the health of planet are one and the same”.

Peace 🙂

The Battle inside

A story that is attributed to many sources (including the Cherokee Native Americans) tells of a man chatting with his grandson. “A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy.

““It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continues, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied: “The one you feed.””

In a Nautilus conversation on 14th October 2020, Steve Paulson tells the neuroscientist David Eagleman: “You write about a constant battle going on inside our brains between different sets of neurons, fighting over who gets control of certain parts of the brain.”

David replies:

There is a competition at all levels, all the way down to individual neurons. If you walk through a forest, it looks serene and beautiful. The same thing is happening there. All the trees and shrubs are competing for sunlight, so some shrubs grow low and broad, while others put all their energy into growing up tall and spreading out leaves to catch sunlight. That’s exactly what’s going on with neurons. When you look at neurotransmission, when one neuron spits out chemicals that send a signal to the next neuron, it comes from this aggressive background of neurons fighting against one another. If you take this perspective, it explains a lot.

In “Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil”, Stephen Batchelor writes of Mara,  the Devil, which is really the evil wolf in us.

Stephen tell us insightfully that “Mara is Buddha’s devilish twin. Buddha needs to let go of Mara in order to be Buddha. And not just once as an episode in the heroic drama of enlightenment. As long as Buddha lives, he is constantly relinquishing Mara….The two are inseparable…..Mara….is really Gotama’s own conflicted humanity.”

Photo by Sam Syon Unsplash

Juan Mascaro writes of this in the introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita. “We find in the Gita that there is going to be a great battle for the rule of a Kingdom; and how can we doubt that this is the Kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of the soul? Are we going to allow the forces of light in us or the forces of darkness to win?”

In the introduction to his commentary Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (“Meditation as Spiritual Culmination — Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali”), and explanations on Verse 1.12, Swami Sarvagatananda writes of the person who is always “mindful….in thought,  word and deed” — a person who examines the mind “thoroughly”, and becomes “aware of all….thoughts, tendencies, urges and modifications.” Such a person, Swamiji says, is a “yogi.” She/He is able to “stand up and say: “All the devils are in me — and all the gods are also in me….”

Juan exhorts us to cultivate the Yogi’s spirit. He encourages us to persevere with Faith in the good wolf within. “In the battle of the Bhagavad Gita there is a great symbol of hope: that he who has a good will and strives is never lost, and that in the battle for eternal life there can never be a defeat unless we run away from the battle.”

Peace 🙂