I’ve put that documentary up here so you, too, can experience Michael’s life. Given our situation, it is time to think about what would, could, should human life look like as we work to weather (ha) the changes now upon us. The separateness stance would have us striving to protect our selves from the changing climate, and from each other as things get challenging. There are many among us who will do that.
Michael chose to move away from others to be free to interact with his environment in his own way. Being authentic with your environment is a slow process. It takes time to get to know it, to understand how it lives, and then to bend your needs around what needs to happen, in the place where you are. It is a slow, respectful, process.
His place was beautiful. It did not speak of difficulty or hardship, yet, he was not connected to the traditional electricity, water, sewer system so these taken for granted comforts were managed in an unusual way, a way that did not pollute his environment, or disturb it in a way that would impact its health and vitality.
There was no talk of food, but we know he managed. He had a garden and the ocean. His environment allowed him to be able to gather all year around, so I suspect that storage was not an issue. As we move into warmer times, how will we address that? Food will become a more consistent area of attention. Will we have the bandwidth to keep animals? Will we be able to provide for them as well as us? Will the need for food require us to live in community?
One of the stories that so sticks in the mind, is his five years playing with a pod of dolphins. His comment that their culture was about being polite, is worthy of some reflection. How will we learn to be together in a way that supports OUR survival? Will we splinter in protective groups, groups intent upon robbing from others what we can’t do for ourselves, or will we discover the joys of sharing and working together? I suspect there will be both groups, at least for a time. Robbing of others is a luxury, one that presupposes that someone else is able to survive well enough that they can ‘afford’ that kind of parasitic behavior. How long will that be tolerated?
The story also speaks to the role of play in our lives. That is a big part of the life of a dolphin, and Michael seemed to have enough time, free from life needs (shelter and food) to be able to join them, for at least a good part of the time. That too, is a luxury, on that all successful peoples have found ways of incorporating, play and art are fundamental ways of spending time. Maybe that is even part of the definition of success, having time for play and art. How have we been doing in that department?
He has a strong spiritual practice. His mind has a natural turn to both the abstract and the beautiful. Both are conducive to the spiritual. Still, he found that guidance from another person, and from an established tradition, provided strength and support. Will we, in this new challenging situation, be able to bring forward those traditions that have supported us for thousands of years? Will we lose all of that? Will we develop new ways of understanding the deeper meaning of life instead? There is a lot of conversation, now, about how to rethink a global ethic, and certainly I’m a part of that conversation. Will we look to nature, or remain stuck in trying to figure out how and why we are different from nature? Will we keep that illusion or seek another way of being?
Another point of rumination, for me, is gender. We have few, if any, stories about women who have gone off into the wilderness to live. In thinking about Michael’s story, I’m not sure if I could have done what he did, even in my youth. The simple physical needs of such a life feel overwhelming, to me. Separation comes naturally to men, (this is another whole essay) and it is a path to connection, as Michael so clearly shows. In my experience, women find a joy in connection, that is natural to us. We do not need separation in the same way. This brings to mind several thoughts. In nature there are certain animals who live solitary lives, not many, most living things live in groups. I wonder if that is an expression of how food is obtained. For the human species, I have heard of an experiment by a tribe in Africa, where children were left on their own at five. That tribe was not successful. The ability to feed children, is a mark of success for any species, and that often requires, for humans, community, of some kind.
So, this film, and our situation, makes me wonder what lessons will we bring forward that will help us, not only survive, but replenish? What understanding do we need to carry forward, so we will not repeat this? Will we know enough to manage our numbers? They say that the story of Atlantis was the story of power run a muck. What will they say about this time?
I’d like you suspend belief for a few minutes and go with here. I want to offer a thought experiment and get your response. Most people in this country, and everyone with a Christian background of any sort, knows the story about the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve and the apple. This story has been told and retold for centuries. For me that suggests that it is important, it carries a message that has had meaning and relevance for hundreds of thousands of people. That said, there have been hundreds of books written about what it means. I would dare to say that our Western culture has been created in response to how some people understand this story.
Most of the time this is seen as a gender story, the innocent Adam seduced by his tempted ‘wife’ Eve. Much has been made about the ‘fate’ of humanity, based on the actions of one woman. I’ve been more concerned about the ‘tree.’ The tree of knowledge? The tree of????? The apple is said to have given the knowledge of good and evil, hummmm. I’ve pondered that for years. Good and evil have been philosophical hot beds of controversy for centuries. What is good and what is bad? I get the jist, but the words were far from clear, and that ambiguity gives folks lots of room for propaganda.
There’s another story that comes from this one, the gift of ‘free will.’ Humans, they say, have the ability to ‘freely’ decide what they do. We have choice. We call this free will. Some brain science suggests otherwise, but most people feel that they are free to decide. So, what did ‘Adam’ decide? What was the choice made by these ‘first people’ that has had such a devastating effect on our world, ever since? Remember, this story was written thousands of years ago.
So, imagine with me for a moment that the choice was to ‘just take care of ourselves’ that we are separate and independent, so we can look after ourselves and we don’t need to think about others, or other living things, we have the ‘right?” the ability, to handle it ourselves. When I look at the root cause of all our troubles, they seem to stem from our illusion that we are separate, and therefore condemned to care for ourselves AND not obligated to care for others AND others are not obligated to for us. The ‘apple’ Adam ate was the apple of separation. Perhaps it was under the frame of ‘freedom’ or ‘independence,’ but no matter the rationalization, the effect was the same. We shifted our focus from LIFE to HUMANS, and we have sacrificed other living being to our needs and desires ever since. Taking care of ourselves is a scary proposition, and fear seems to be almost foundational. Separation runs deep!
Part of this thinking comes from my understanding of how our planet has been for thousands and thousands of years. Indigenous folks have always tended the plant life around them and worked with nature, and in so doing created a garden that flourished and thrived. I do not believe that much of our planet has been untended. Just because WE don’t tend it, doesn’t mean it has always been that way. Take our continent, the USA. When Columbus came, what did they see? Huge trees, rich soil, incredible natural riches, riches that had been stewarded by the indigenous folks who lived here that we called Indians. He was so blind that he could not imagine these ‘savages’ had the knowledge and skills to create such wealth, but they did.
Now science is telling us just how connected we are. Dr. Zack Morton Bush, an endocrinologist focusing on the microbiome, says that we have over 30,000 individual species living in us, doing their own thing, but in doing so they give us life. We cannot live without them. The mitochondria, which we once thought were a part of our cells, we now know are separate entities. They have the gift of being able to convert sunlight into energy. That is where our energy comes from. They are in every living cell in our bodies. They came from the soil, and they need the soil to thrive.
Putting your hands in the soil is a great mood enhancer, this is even backed by science. The Earth needs us, and we need it! There is no such thing as separation, that is an illusion! That need is what is called reciprocity. Back to the garden again. What would your life look like if you lived in reciprocity with your family? How about with your neighbors? Then, think a bit more deeply and think about being in reciprocity with the non-humans in your environment. Noticing the gifts, you are being given, and giving back in appreciation…what a wonderful way to live. How rich those relationships become, and how wonderful to know you are never alone. Welcome back to the garden.
Kathryn Alexander MA has been absorbed by trying to understand how we should live. Is there some way to actually determine right from wrong and ensure a moral life - and there is. It does not conflict with any religion, creed or ethnic culture. It clarifies and strengthens them all, and at the same time can be independent of them, as it stands on its own. Live in connection with the Earth.