When we listen to those stories, not only are we hearing tales of days gone by, we are also hearing the voices of all of those who lived before us. Those ancestors are not gone from our lives. They live in the stories, and they linger in our environments. They come to us in dreams and during ceremonies. They whisper to us in quiet moments and bring us comfort. One of my favorite stories is about a friend’s experience with the ancestors. She was doing repatriation work, which involves caring for the remains of an ancestor until they can be properly buried with their people. In this instance, the ancestor that she was caring for had been part of a gruesome display in a museum. During her time with him, she remained in prayer when he came to her and gave her a message. First, he thanked her for bringing him back home. Then, he told her, “we dreamed you into the future.” Our ancestors lived for us; they died for us; and they dreamed for us. Through their collective imaginings, we were all brought into being. What an incredible honor it is for us to carry their life forward through our own.
Redwoods flourish in fog, but they don’t like salt air. They tend to appear in valleys that are just out of sight of the sea. In their relationship with the sea, redwoods are like cats that long to be stroked but are shy to the touch. The natural range of the coast redwoods begins at a creek in Big Sur that flows down a mountain called Mount Mars. From there, the redwoods run up the California coast in a broken ribbon, continuing to just inside Oregon. Fourteen miles up the Oregon coast, in the valley of the Chetco River, the redwoods stop.
Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division, and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.
―Nelson Mandela, Global Convention on Peace and Nonviolence, New Delhi, India, January 31, 2004
Modern man lives isolated in his artificial environment, not because the artificial is evil as such, but because of his lack of comprehension of the forces which make it work- of the principles which relate his gadgets to the forces of nature, to the universal order. It is not central heating which makes his existence ‘unnatural,’ but his refusal to take an interest in the principles behind it. By being entirely dependent on science, yet closing his mind to it, he leads the life of an urban barbarian.
There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary.
When water is being filled in a pot, the sound we hear is a function of the pot, not of the water. Same water makes different sounds in different pots. Each of us, described in Sanskrit as Ghata, meaning pot, responds in a unique way to the stimuli from the surrounding environment. Do not be surprised when the response of another appears entirely different from yours. The pot has created the illusion of a wall, of mine and other. Once you become aware of that illusion, otherness melts and the universe becomes a unified verse again, with apparently diverse responses becoming part of the same symphony.
Most of us navigate the world principally by our sense of sight. What if we expanded our sense of touch?
This remarkable video, directed by Wiland Pinsdorf, is an exploration of the Brazilian city of São Paulo, a concrete jungle teeming with people. We see the tall buildings sandwiched together, the cars threading their way between them, people in the maze of public transportation and walking the busy streets. We see the marks of urbanization, graffiti that challenges the status quo and cars mired in traffic. Our eyes tell us that life is cold and hard here and that people are trapped into the rat race of what is expected of them and what they can expect. A blind man walks alone down the street with his stick, picking his way calmly and safely through this metropolis.
Soon we meet our hero, Zico Corrêa, as he takes in the city around him and responds in a way that defies the vision of São Paulo as a maze or a rat trap. He begins to avoid the everyday path and careens off of lamp posts, walls and buildings to get where he is going. Corrêa practices parkour. Parkour is a training discipline that teaches how to get from point A to point B efficiently and quickly, using the body and the surrounding landmarks and structures to move the practitioner across the landscape. Developed from military training on obstacle courses, it seeks to maintain momentum while making intelligent and safe choices. The practitioner must understand his environment and his own body, never underestimating or overtaxing either to the point that he injures himself, which can happen very easily at any time should his concentration or execution waver. He must see and understand what awaits him at every bend, every jump, every alteration in course.
Corrêa must use not only his eyes, which may daunt and deceive him–look at the misleading reflections caused by water and glass and imagine the fear most of us feel when faced with a wall or exposed on heights–but his sense of touch. Like the blind man, he must be sensitive to surfaces and subtle changes that will determine his stride, his grip, and what type of motion he will employ. When negotiating a climb or descent he must break it down into small, manageable steps. He must know how to slow himself down or take advantage of his momentum by tumbling. Failure could easily result in death. Parkour isn’t something to be done on a whim, but requires strength and flexibility that require training as well as a great deal of planning.
Most of us won’t be practicing parkour any time soon, but we can appreciate it and the metaphors it gives us for life. It reminds me not to trust my eyes completely, but to test and feel my world through touch and experience. We are all cowed by the obstacles around us from time to time and can always use the reminder that there is more than one way to do something and that the path of another may not be suited to our combination of strength and flexibility. This journey of life is unique for each one of us and we must each negotiate our own ascents and descents.
Every time I imagine a garden in an architectural setting, it turns into a magical place. I think of gardens I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see, surrounded by simple walls, columns, arcades or the facades of buildings – sheltered places of great intimacy where I want to stay for a long time.
A bewildering assortment of (mostly microscopic) life-forms has been found thriving in what were once thought to be uninhabitable regions of our planet. These hardy creatures have turned up in deep, hot underground rocks, around scalding volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean, in the desiccated, super-cold Dry Valleys of Antarctica, in places of high acid, alkaline, and salt content, and below many meters of polar ice.
…Some deep-dwelling, heat-loving microbes, genetic studies suggest, are among the oldest species known, hinting that not only can life thrive indefinitely in what appear to us totally alien environments, it may actually originate in such places.
—David Darling, Life Everywhere: the Maverick Science of Astrobiology
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, PDI via Pixabay