I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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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.
The people who preach that “politics is the art of the possible” continually forget that we don’t know what’s possible; we find out by struggling for what’s desirable. Instead of listening to those who tell you to pick goals that can be achieved in the current political landscape, I say pick goals that will create the kind of world you want.
Yet I remind people that what’s referred to as a single tree-sitting action was, for me, 738 separate days: twenty-four hours in a day; sixty minutes in an hour; sixty seconds in a minute. It was the moment-by-moment process that transformed me.
What prison could be more secure than one we’re convinced is “the world,” where the boundaries of action and thought are assumed to be, not the limits of the permissible, but the limits of the possible? Democratic society, as we know it, is the ultimate prison, because who’s going to try to escape from a situation of apparent freedom? It follows, then, that we must be happy, because we can do whatever we want.
One of the most important variables, in my experience, is when things happen. If you experience emotionally disengaged caregiving, humiliation, or a sense of being unwanted in the first year or two of life, even if you then escape that environment — maybe you’re adopted, or your parent who was depressed gets better — that early experience can still cause profound social and emotional problems for you all the way into adulthood. On the other hand, kids who have a good first year of consistent, predictable caregiving and then end up in shelters or foster homes and bounce around the system, maybe get sexually and physically abused, and so on — those children often function reasonably well as adolescents.
I prefer to ask what gifts the land offers. Gifts require a giver, a being with agency. Gifts invite reciprocity. Gifts help form relationships. Scientists aren’t comfortable with the word gifts, so we get ecosystem services instead. These terms arise from different worldviews, but both recognize the way the land sustains life.
And each year we kill for food billions of animals we raise as prisoners and whose lives are often more terrible than their deaths. Even if we do continue eating animals, we could do much better by them and raise them more humanely. The way people treat animals affects the way they treat people: if you brutalize animals, you are probably hardhearted toward humans, too.