The Nature of Reality
Bill and Melinda Gates and U2 troubadour Bono were named Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year. Apparently on the short-list was Mother Nature. While what the Gates duo and Bono are doing for Africa is a very commendable enterprise alas the “person” with the greatest impact on our lives last year was Mother Nature. In Toronto, ever so far from the real action, all summer I heard people complaining about the weather. Oh how hot it was. Record heat and smog. Bring it on says I. Maybe not the smog.
I discovered that the reason Canada is such a peaceful country is we as citizens spend so much time talking about the weather and generally agreeing how crappy it is we have no time for major disagreements leading to disputes and violence. Maybe we need to send a team of expert meteorologists to Quebec. The weather can distract.
But by the by as it can distract it can draw our attention to the true starkness of our reality. All of human history can be seen as a species trying to come to terms with its environment. Human kind went from being the victims of nature to harnessing it and dominating it. Every now and then we fool ourselves into believing we are on top. A tsunami, a couple of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, to name a few, come along to remind us that we are only suppose to have dominion over all the critters and growing things on the earth. The earth itself is the true master of the human animal. Nature has dominion over us.
E.B. White is my favourite essayist and any writer hoping to elevate the ordinary of life to the extraordinary should read him. He once wrote, “I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.”
Life expectancy in Canada is 76 years for men and 83 years for women. Regardless of which version of “how long ago or how life got here” you believe, our turn on the ride of life is rather short in the totality of human history and less significant in the planets history. Nature was here first. People second. If history is an indicator of the future then it stands to reason that nature will outlive people. She has the longevity gene stacked in her favour.
I think there is a movement for us to start living a more integrated existence with our planet. This movement is small and has great obstacles to overcome so it needs all our help. But if we want to be able to focus on the building of relationships with others we have to realise that our first relationship is with the planet. Without it there is nothing. Struggling with it is mere survival.
The other big nature I have come to understand a bit more this year is human. Though I no longer believe in organized religion I feel more and more spiritual all the time. And I have realised that my writing is how I express my spirituality. I think spirituality is the quest to find out what it is we all share. We hope that there is someone we can connect with and maybe even more important influence. I think we all want to know we matter and in some way affect the lives of those around us and maybe across a world.
I am filled with awe at the idea and certainty that there are many students from all over the world: Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Korea, Chile, Columbia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Iran, Argentina, Russia, Spain, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, China, Portugal, Serbia and Poland who feel their lives are a little better for knowing me and I was more than a teacher of English to them. The humbling beauty of it is, I learned more from them than they did from me.
I am a student of human nature. It is my hobby and passion and this past two years it has been my vocation. I have said so many times this year, “I have learned more about the world working at Berlitz than I have from any travelling I have done.”
Picture it. On vacation everything is a postcard. Snap, Sydney Opera House in the backdrop. Snapping the Petronis Towers. Boating down a river in Bangkok. Standing on a beach in Phuket. Cows in Chicago. Everything is a postcard. Memories of movement captured in something static. We look and touch but how often do we really feel and understand the places we are in.
Over the past two years the world has come to me. I have asked a lot of questions. I asked a few German students, “How do Germans today perceive their 20th Century history?” I asked an Iranian student if it was difficult to be living a very open western lifestyle compared to her lifestyle in Iran. I asked Brazilian students why there seems to be two Brazils – a black poor one and a rich white one. Especially after a student with African roots did not want the other Brazilians to know he was also from Brazil. I asked Mexicans what it was like to live through the bank crash of 1995. I asked Koreans about the last year of high school that creates the Korean brain factory. I learned why it appears both Japanese and Germans are obsessed with time but for very different reasons. I learned why Chileans are very security minded after living through years of dictatorship. And this is a mere smidgeon of the experience.
I have met and taught and learned from people as diverse as a VP of a joint venture mining company between the governments of Russia and Mongolia and a banking executive who championed a new corporate governance law in Mexico. No easy feat when people have pictures of their children mailed to them. I have seen first hand a young Japanese woman question everything her culture has taught her she should be. I have seen an Iranian woman, out of family love and honour, make one of the hardest decisions she could make.
What I have found is there is indeed a fundamental human nature that we all possess regardless of position or place. The need to know what our lives are. We are searching for meaning. So many times I heard from students, “This is the first time I have had a chance to slow my life down and think about it.” For most it has been a great process and for some a difficult one. I am honoured that they have shared a little of their journey with me.
I think both Mother Nature and Human Nature came together for me this year in two places. The first is don Miguel Ruiz and the second is my sister Judith.
I discovered a book called, THE FOUR AGREEMENTS. The book is rooted in the toltec native spirituality of Mexico. The toltecs knew that they could not separate themselves from nature. They believed they were a part of a world coming to know itself. We are the great dreaming. The simplicity of wisdom is easy to see in the agreements.
(from the cover)
“Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
Don't Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”
For me the middle two were the first I had to work on and I am getting pretty good at them. Though far from perfect. The first one and last one are the challenges I next face. The four are each so easy to write and say but so hard to live. The book has helped me see the connections between myself and the world. I am beginning to learn my role in all that as well.
My sister has been a big reminder of how fragile human nature can be. On Tuesday, December 20th she was rushed to hospital emergency with the same stoke-like symptoms she had 18 months ago. Though as with that occurrence she will make a full physical recovery it is very difficult on her physical body and even more so on her emotional body.
This becomes a great source of pain as she has reached many of the goals that were before her that I mentioned last year. 2005 has been a remarkable year for her. But her body reminds us that it is all very fragile yet requiring great strength.
I have found these last few years that whenever there is a nice piece of theory that life wishes to teach me it has a tendency to reinforce it with a nice up close and personal experience. The fragility of the planet witnessed on CNN comes home when a loved one is threatened with illness.
Now mother nature does not have to do that but alas she was never meant to be kind. That is something we humans are trying to force upon her. But the lesson she is trying to teach us is that we are all connected and share a common human experience. At the core of that human experience is the reality that we are physical beings that must acknowledge that without respect for our planet and our physical selves we cannot have any spiritual connections.
May the holidays find you living in peace with your world and those in it. Merry Christmas.
(December 24, 2005)
Posts of Christmas Past