I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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I have to say, what kept me there was not the science but the place. I wanted to be there in a way that had purpose. I didn’t want to visit or go on long kayak trips. I wanted to spend my life in Prince William Sound. For five years I lived at a field camp for three or four months at a time. The work gave me a purpose for being there: a part to play in protecting the ecosystem.
Families used to control what their members ate and pass along learned wisdom in the form of a food culture. Now that’s gone. Most people don’t eat as families. We eat individually, going one-on-one with the food supply, which is how the food industry likes it.
We think of apocalypse as a moment — a flash of light, then you’re gone — but if we study the earth’s history, we find that it’s not one moment. It’s actually a long process. In fact, it’s hard to see where it begins or ends. Like right now: evidence indicates that we’re experiencing the planet’s sixth mass extinction — a period when the rate of extinction spikes and the diversity and abundance of life decrease. Each such extinction event takes hundreds of thousands of years to play out, and it’s generally 5 to 8 million years before the previous levels of biodiversity return. So are we at the end or the beginning of a cycle? This could just be a temporary spike. The pattern could swerve in a different direction.
But to find the sacred only in the wilderness would be like finding it only in a beautiful church on Easter. Unless the sacred is imbued in your day-to-day life, in your work, in the food on your table, in the attitude you take toward the health of your own community, its value is limited.
I like dead bodies: at no other time am I so aware of my own animation. This isn’t because I am lucky and this poor fool is not, but because here before me is the mute, incontrovertible evidence. Some force drives these shells, and it drives me still. I am a witness, an attestant, to a foresworn truth.
Nonviolent Communication focuses on what’s alive in us and what would make life more wonderful. What’s alive in us are our needs, and I’m talking about the universal needs, the ones all living creatures have. Our feelings are simply a manifestation of what is happening with our needs. If our needs are being fulfilled, we feel pleasure. If our needs are not being fulfilled, we feel pain.
War and peace start in the hearts of individuals. Strangely enough, even though all beings would like to live in peace, our method for obtaining peace over the generations seems not to be very effective: we seek peace and happiness by going to war. This can occur at the level of our domestic situation, in our relationships with those close to us.
Prison deepened my sister’s addiction, crushed her self-esteem, narrowed her options for jobs and education, and diminished her hope for a good life. She was in a much worse situation each time she came out.
The United Nations estimates that around 830 million people in the world do not have adequate access to food. Numbers, though, distance us from the real pain felt by the hungry. Hunger is a form of torture that takes away your ability to think, to perform normal physical actions, to be a rational human being. There are people in my own country, India, who for months have not had a full stomach, who have never had adequate nutrition. This sort of hunger causes some to resort to eating anything to numb the pain: cats, monkeys, even poisonous roots.
In the tribal way there is a concern not only with the family and the tribe, but also about a continuum that began with the ancestors, with maintaining a way that has been passed down, a good way, a sacred way, and passing it on to the unborn generations. This is the only major world viewpoint that has such a heavy reliance upon the unborn generations. There is a tradition always to plan for seven generations ahead.