Chief Dan George

 220px-ChiefDan_George

Chief Dan GeorgeOC (July 24, 1899 – September 23, 1981) was a chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Coast Salish band located on Burrard Inlet in North VancouverBritish ColumbiaCanada. He was also an author, poet, and an Academy Award-nominated actor.

His best-known written work was the poem: “My Heart Soars.” 

 The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.
And my heart soars.”

Three other beautiful quotes from Chief Dan George:

“I was born a thousand years ago, born in the culture of bows and arrows … born in an age when people loved the things of nature and spoke to it as though it had a soul.”

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.”

“May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Warming-The Real Questions

by Sky McCain

 

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall.  He will end by destroying the earth.”  Albert Schweitzer

“Climate is essentially an emergent property of life’s interaction with its immediate environment.”  Peter Bunyard

Just as cancer cells appear to have no awareness that they are committing suicide by killing their host, we are doing the same in respect to Gaia.  Although we have not found a cure for cancer, I do hope that Gaia will be able to find a cure for her form of cancer.

I’ve written this because I think that we are getting our climate change information in short bursts of controversial statements and media hype.

“A greater obstacle to public communication has arisen with the politicization of reporting of global warming, a perhaps inevitable consequence of the economic and social implications of efforts required to alter the course of human-made climate change. We have the impression that the effect of politicization on communication of the science is aggravated by the fact that much of the media is owned by or strongly influenced by special economic interests.

The task of alleviating the communication obstacle posed by politicization is formidable. The difficulty is compounded by continual attacks on the credibility of scientists. Polls indicate that the attacks have been effective in causing many members of the public to doubt the reality of global warming.” (Hansen, 2010)

The books that I am familiar with on the subject, although written by highly qualified scientists, such as James Hansen, in my estimation, miss important aspects that would serve to fill the gaps left by the media. In this chapter, which is not intended to tell the whole story, I hope to tie up a few loose strands and fill in some gaps usually ignored by the typical news item.

Anthropogenic carbon emissions have altered natural climate cycles for the last several thousand years in gradual increments.  As more and more of our species left hunter gathering groups and engaged in agriculture, our footprints deepened.  Forests were cleared for agriculture, housing, war machines, weapons and shipbuilding and many other purposes.Forestdestruction has persisted to this day and previously massive rainforests are threatened with total destruction with no hope of natural regeneration as the poor soil is depleted for export crops such as palm oil and soy beans.  Parallel with this destruction we are seeing a population increase that is totally out of control.  It seems that many people believe they have an inalienable right to have as many children as they choose without regard whatsoever for the Earth’s carrying capacity. There appears to be no serious discussions world wide directed toward seriously limiting human population.  Do we really have an energy crisis or just feeling the results of runaway population growth? The rise in population and the rise in temperature and atmospheric CO2 follow the same upward trend locked into a regenerative feedback cycle.  More people, more energy required, more energy expended, more CO2 not to mention unhealthy pollutants such as coal and diesel particulates. It is only since the Industrial Revolution and the development of monitoring technology that we have charts and diagrams that take temperature and CO2 out of the speculative realm to the home of certainty.  It is a certainty that the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than we have seen in at least the last 600,000 years and that humans are the major cause.

There can be no doubt that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane coupled with carbon particulates from brown coal fired electricity plants, contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect that has inhibited the sharp drop in global temperature seen in the past 3 or 4 interglacial periods.  The graphic picture of the global temperature pattern revealed by the Vostok and EPICA (Antarctic) earth-core samples, resembles an upside down icicle of warmth for around 8,000 years followed by around 110,000 years of cold (known as ice age). This upside down icicle depicts a very quick rise, very sharp peak and a very sharp fall of 2 to 3 degrees centigrade within less than 10,000 years before gradually settling into an ice age of nearly 10 degrees colder than the peak in around 10,000 more years.

Click here for a good visual of the Vostok findings

Click here for the antartic core samples visual

Humans are obviously an important part of nature, but since our ecological footprint has only been really significant for maybe 5 out of the last 10,000 years, I think we need to ask:  How did the Earth manage to sustain itself before we arrived on the scene?

Humans have dangerously stifled the planets natural means of regulating itself.  Gaia maintains a balance of forces using its life-forms and weathering process.  A few life-forms vary the amount of reflected sunlight, atmospheric CO2 and O2 content, whilst others sequester carbon. The ocean absorbs vast amounts of C02 but less and less as its temperature increases.

“Our study carried somewhat surprising results, showing that although the major impact of deforestation on precipitation is found in and near the deforested regions, it also has a strong influence on rainfall in the mid and even high latitudes,” said Roni Avissar, lead author of the study, published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Hydrometeorology.

http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0919-nasa.html

Moisture from forests is driven north in the Northern hemisphere and south in the Southern hemisphere.  In the Northern hemisphere, for instance, the Amazon rainforest has in the past, through wind channels, brought welcome moisture northward into the arid regions of Mexico and the US Southwest.  The continuous and ruinous wood chopping has already caused and/or enhanced severe draught in these areas.  Since the destruction continues, the American Southwest is doomed to a Sahara-like future and the wondrous mountain forests of the Chiricaua’s, for instance, will be lost, probably forever.  I suppose you would have had to actually walked within this region to grieve for them as they suffer.  I only hope I can live long enough to see them once again and hope they shall not die before I do.

Glacier melt re-mineralizes the soil after each ice age.  There is an amazing array of self-regulation behaviours too lengthy to delve into here. However, our present and recent past global growth economy is destroying these mechanisms.  It is obvious that the fate of the Earth and our fate intermingle, for actually, as was proposed in previous chapters, we are the Earth and we are thus committing suicide.

Being at the top of the food chain does not mean that we can now assume Earth management responsibilities.

Several knowledgeable and well-meaning authors have written about how we should be stewards of the Earth.  A first thought might accept this idea but with more reflection, I suggest that it is an extremely dangerous anthropocentric view of our presence.  Stewardship means “responsible planning and management of resources.”  This view is dangerous simply because we have not the wisdom and understanding to control and manage “nature”, the word we use for the aggregate physicality of Gaia. We must play in tune with Gaia’s rhythm or be selected out of the orchestra.

So it has been hot before

Climate change sceptics never tire of stating that the Earth was warmer millions of years ago. Be that as it may, we can forget about how the planet was 65 million years ago for the purpose of determining how our industrial pollution affects the present.  Yes, the planet was far warmer and there was over 10 times the amount of atmospheric CO2 around.  Why Gaia evolved to a series of cyclical glacial and interglacial periods is beyond determining with the instruments we have on hand and thus beyond our understanding. We must begin to appreciate that Gaia may just know what she is doing.  Perhaps the long glacial periods are necessary to counteract the increased warming energy of the sun.  Again, we don’t know.  Of course, if we continue to look upon the planet as a piece of machinery that can be rebuilt and controlled, than there is very little hope for us.  Gaia is a living organism which we live in and function as part of.  Living organisms are complex and Gaia even more complex.  Regardless of how the planet was 65 million years ago or 2 billion years ago, we have to work with the present extent of earth’s evolution.  Of course climate varies.  However, our advances in scientific instruments and ability to read the past from soil and ice core samples reveals that our present interglacial warming half cycle varies significantly from the past in two primary ways.  Atmospheric CO2 is steadily increasing and higher than ever recorded in the last 750,000 years and although we are overdue for a cooling trend, global temperature has increased around one degree centigrade in the last 140 years.  It is appropriate to question why average temperature is increasing, but a far more important and largely ignored question is: Why have we not begun the steep cooling trend seen in the Vostok core sample graph shown above and in the graph shown here?


*Note:  Contrary to the note in red within the graphic, the high in the present interglacial period is NOT  2c higher than the previous four periods shown in the chart.  Actually, it is only a little more than 1c higher.

First some background information. I’m afraid that many people think that climate is completely unpredictable and entirely erratic.  This is not true.  Let me explain why.

Why the heating effect from the sun varies

The fundamental driver of atmospheric temperature is, of course, the sun.  The amount of heat felt on the Earth’s surface is dependent primarily on the angle of incidence of sunlight.  Obviously, with a sphere, the greatest heat is absorbed at the center of the globe if and when the globe lies in a plane perpendicular to the sun.  The heating effect tails off as the angle, of incidence, [the angle formed by the input rays and the reflected rays when the sun’s rays are not perpendicular] increases and the sun’s rays are spread out over a greater area.  At an angle of 30 degrees, for instance, the sun’s rays are spread over an area double to that of the perpendicular and thus the heat generated is only one half.  Calculating the heating effect of the sun, called insolation, is much more complicated and variable due to three aspects of the earth’s juxtaposition to and orbital path around the sun.  The following explanation is limited to just an introduction.  Full understanding requires detailed diagrams and more precise information than I am able to impart in this chapter. The details are truly fascinating and are fully and clearly explained on the web at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles.

There are three major physical factors that affect insolation and it is only their synthesis which varies insolation enough to trigger the significant rise or fall of global temperature that results in the recent glacial/interglacial cycles with a period of around 120,000 years.

Obliquity

Basically, the equator only receives maximum energy transfer (when the sun’s rays are perpendicular) twice a year because the earth is tilted.  It is this tilt – called obliquity – which causes what we call the seasons.  The northern hemisphere, for instance, receives a lesser incidence angle during what we call summer and greater during the winter.  The tilt also varies slightly (from 22.5 degrees to 25 degrees) in a cyclical manner that either favors warming or cooling in both hemispheres but always opposite to each other.

This can be tricky to visualize.  You might push a stick through a small ball of something soft so it sticks out at both ends.  Color one end of the stick blue, for instance and name it the North Pole and the other, South Pole a different color.  Hold it in one hand and tilt it around, for example, 30 degrees.  Then hold a somewhat bigger ball in the other hand that represents the sun. Tilt the stick so that the North Pole is tilted toward the sun.  You can see that at the beginning you have maximum summer at the North Pole and maximum winter at the South Pole.  Move the tilted ball 180 degrees and you’ll note the opposite effect.  At the 90 degree and 270 degree points around the sun you can see the equinoxes where the tilt has virtually no effect.

Eccentricity

The factor that amplifies both warmer and cooler conditions is the shape of the earth’s orbit around the sun.  You may know that something that is “out of round” is often called eccentric.  The Earth’s orbit is not only eccentric, but the amount of eccentricity varies over time in a cyclical manner.  During the thousands of years when the orbit is more circular, the intensity of the seasons is less because the Earth is closer to the sun at both the closest and farthest extent of the orbit. The opposite, of course, holds true when the orbit is more eccentric.

Precession

The last, most difficult to grasp factor is called precession.  My simple explanation for purposes of this discussion is that since the Earth is not perfectly round, it does not spin like a fast moving top but wobbles slightly.

The effect of this wobble on our climate is subtle.  You may need to study precession more deeply elsewhere to fully grasp the concept.  Wobble not only adds or subtracts to the amount of tilt, but means that the beginning and end of the seasons don’t hold to the same geographic location around the Earth during the precession cycle.  The reason being that wobble changes the maximum and minimum extent of tilt so that the equinox points are not synchronous with our solar based time.  How might that affect insolation?  The start of winter at X geographical position, for instance, makes a complete cycle approximately every 23,000 years. (Note that none of the Earth’s orbital cycles are of equal duration over a period of many cycles.) If winter occurs in the northern hemisphere over mostly land and the Earth’s orbital position is near the farthest point from the sun, then these winters are colder and thus enhances the build-up of ice. If this is synchronous with a cooling effect out of the other two factors mentioned above, then it is likely that the planet will remain in an ice age.

Again, the opposite or interglacial period, may occur where warm winters are in synch with a warming effect out of the other two factors.

Click here for an interesting graphic on precession

 

It is how the orbital cycles line up with each other

Since the period of all three of these cycles is different, they are constantly aiding and opposing insolation.  The Melankovich theory is that when they move into an aiding position, they trigger the start of an interglacial period and when the shortest period decreases enough, they set up a condition favourable for a sudden decrease in insolation and average global temperature.  The resultant cycle is around 120,000 years and

Co-relates favourably with ice core samples.  Of course, as in most scientific theories, there are detractors who wish to trash the whole idea.  One only needs to consider the numbers of people, including scientists, who don’t accept the theory of evolution.  One reason for this is that factors such as absorption of CO2 by trees, clouds formed because of transpiration by trees, variations in the amount CO2 being held in the oceans, snow cover, the numbers of phytoplankton, the amount of dimethyl sulphide and more must figure into the equation.  With so many variables, all global warming theory is open to criticism and those oppose will bring their ulterior motives into the picture.

There is more to the story

As if there were not enough variables to contend with, I must add that cyclical variations in air and ocean currents are affected by orbital forcing explained above and in turn also affect the amount of heat absorbed.

Scientists, particularly Professor Andre Berger, have been able to plot the various orbital cycles and produce a table going back a million years.  This table also contains insolation figures.  Thankfully, the tables are available for download from the internet.  An analysis of the tables reveals two rather worrying facts which due to the complexity of the material that I have tried to throw some light on above, have not been explained by the media.

One, the event that should have triggered a cooling cycle – minimum tilt that favours a cooling trigger – has passed its nadir and is now increasing.  Another nadir is not due for another 40,000 years.

Two, eccentricity is now nearly as low as it ever been in the last million years and will become even lower for the next few thousand years.  So the Earth’s orbit is almost circular.  This means that the past reinforcement and coincidence of cycle overlaps that have triggered colder winters and global cooling, for instance, will be missing for many thousands of years.

Professor Berger proposes that we will not see another ice age for many thousands of years.

“Today’s comparatively warm climate has been the exception more than the rule during the last 500,000 years or more. If recent warm periods (or interglacials) are a guide, then we may soon slip into another glacial period. But Berger and Loutre argue in their Perspective that with or without human perturbations, the current warm climate may last another 50,000 years. The reason is a minimum in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.”  (Berger, A. and Loutre, M., 2002, pgs 1287 – 1288)

Much of the climate change literature points out that the adverse (adverse to life-forms like humans) conditions such as increased desertification, flooding of coastal lowlands such as Miami Beach and Bangladesh may occur regardless of our efforts to cut down on anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  Perhaps they read Berger and Loutre above.

So how are humans connected with the variations of orbital factors?

You might well point out that these factors taken simply as stated operate regardless of the human actions.  Yes, but this is not the whole story.

Next we must briefly consider both how much of the sun’s energy is reflected back out into space (referred to as albedo) and how the variations at the earth’s surface, some materials not only vary in absorption capabilities but also hold heat longer than others,  plus the content of the various layers of the atmosphere effect global temperature.  As most of you know, our atmosphere impedes the escape of reflected sun energy by further absorbing and reflecting back heat.  We have named this the greenhouse effect.  Without this property, the earth’s temperature would be perhaps 30 degrees cooler and life as we know it would not be possible.  Our scientists, armed with sensitive instruments, have documented the heat energy absorptive properties of the atmospheric gasses, aerosols, and especially carbon particulates from diesel and coal fuels.  Climate sceptics like to point out that water vapour is the strongest greenhouse gas.  So what?  We can’t drink ocean saltwater but fish live in it.  What’s the point?

To put it simply, we are upsetting the balancing and regulating capabilities of the living Earth by emitting such a large volume of gasses, aerosols and carbon particulates that their heat absorption capabilities have increased the greenhouse warming effect dramatically.  Regardless of the arguments of climate skeptics, there are just no other factors other than anthropogenic that would account for the resulting rise in CO2 and average global temperature.  A graph of both CO2 and Global temperature over the last 600,000 years reveals that they are virtually synchronous.  Our media has had a circus day describing the possible results of excessive global warming.  Enough has already been said so I’ll not go into that subject.  I suggest that overall, the IPCC has underplayed the tune and understated the possibility of runaway global warming.

The Real Questions

The media has drawn our attention away from what I suggest is the real question.  So, we have global warming and that is a problem.  We have identified several factors above that are causing the temperature to rise.  However, I think we are blind to the most significant question:

What, given the factors we have identified and considering Gaia’s ability to self regulate over time, does Gaia have available to reverse the warming if we continue with our industrial expansion?

As we saw above, The Melankovich cycles favour cooling to their maximum extent yet our interglacial period has not come to an end.  I support Dr. James Hansen’s suggestion that we may well skip the next ice age.  If we do, will the Melankovich cooling factors overcome the warming factors that are still present 120,000 years from now? If not, then how hot will the Earth be?

So what? You may still feel that since the Earth has been a lot warmer in the past there is nothing to be concerned about.  Yes, but don’t forget that the sun is constantly growing in volume and putting out more heat.  Dr. James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory was prompted by his dismay over how much cooler the earth had stayed relative to the effect of the increase strength of the sun’s energy over the last 2 to 3 billion years. Lovelock and Harding have listed and explained the various positive and negative feedback mechanisms that come into the forefront as Gaia self-regulates.  Obviously, Gaia’s efforts have brought us to where we are now which resulted in incredible diversity and growth as polar ice diminished.  Not only have humans caused a major drop in diversity and increase in extinction, but our technology and economic system of expansion based on Earth’s resources have set up atmospheric and oceanic conditions outside the parameters we have studied in the last 600,000 years.  Although we certainly cannot answer the question above, we can attempt to discover what resources were available let’s say 120,000 or so years ago at the end of the last interglacial period.

At the beginning of each interglacial period as the ice receded from the land, vast numbers of trees spread north and performed a carbon sequestering service.  They also released water vapor which stimulated cloud cover that increased the albedo effectively taking the place, as far as albedo is concerned, of the miles and miles of ice that had melted. With that negative feedback firmly in place and the orbital forcing factors favouring cooling, the downward cycle of Gaia’s temperature was assured and triggered the end of the interglacial period.

Unfortunately for all, these natural feedback factors been destroyed by humans.  Millions of trees over thousands of years have been chopped to build armadas and commercial shipping, other war implements, and shelter for humans as if they were useless to anything other than to serve the greed of humans.

“Apart from he profligate burning of fossil fuels and releasing the earth’s long-term carbon and energy storage depot that has taken millions of years to lay down, deforestation has been the main contributor to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that has resulted in global warming.1 Energy capture and storage is absolutely essential for the survival of the planet, just as energy capture and storage is necessary for the survival of individual organisms.”  (Ho, M. W., 2008, pg. 81)

That’s why I emphasize that we are asking the wrong question perhaps too late.  How will Gaia halt the present positive feedback loop?  Could it be the halt of the Atlantic Current because of the rapid melting of northern ice?  If theAtlantic Oceancools sufficiently to absorb enough CO2 to counteract the other positive feedbacks, then possibly global cooling will be triggered.

We have James Lovelock to thank for prompting research into how the Earth self-regulates its temperature.  How severely have we weakened Gaia’s ability to self-regulate effectively?  When and if Gaia achieves temperature stability, what kind of environment will we have to adjust to?  We simply cannot answer these two questions.  We don’t know and we don’t even know if we can ever know.  No sane gambler would play a game with such dismal odds.  Perhaps our leaders are insane.

Ho, M.W. “Oceans and Global Warming” Science and Society 31 (2006b): 11-13

Ho, M.W. “Global Warming is Happening” Science and Society 31 (2006c): 23-24

Bunyard, P. Gaia, Climate and the Amazon, 2005, Independent Science Panel

 

Global Warming – The Real Questions

Global Warming-The Real Questions

30 October, 2010

Sky McCain

 

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall.  He will end by destroying the earth.”  Albert Schweitzer

“Climate is essentially an emergent property of life’s interaction with its immediate environment.”  Peter Bunyard

Just as cancer cells appear to have no awareness that they are committing suicide by killing their host, we are doing the same in respect to Gaia.  Although we have not found a cure for cancer, I do hope that Gaia will be able to find a cure for her form of cancer.

I’ve written this because I think that we are getting our climate change information in short bursts of controversial statements and media hype.

“A greater obstacle to public communication has arisen with the politicization of reporting of global warming, a perhaps inevitable consequence of the economic and social implications of efforts required to alter the course of human-made climate change. We have the impression that the effect of politicization on communication of the science is aggravated by the fact that much of the media is owned by or strongly influenced by special economic interests.

The task of alleviating the communication obstacle posed by politicization is formidable. The difficulty is compounded by continual attacks on the credibility of scientists. Polls indicate that the attacks have been effective in causing many members of the public to doubt the reality of global warming.” (Hansen, 2010)

The books that I am familiar with on the subject, although written by highly qualified scientists, such as James Hansen, in my estimation, miss important aspects that would serve to fill the gaps left by the media. In this chapter, which is not intended to tell the whole story, I hope to tie up a few loose strands and fill in some gaps usually ignored by the typical news item.

Anthropogenic carbon emissions have altered natural climate cycles for the last several thousand years in gradual increments.  As more and more of our species left hunter gathering groups and engaged in agriculture, our footprints deepened.  Forests were cleared for agriculture, housing, war machines, weapons and shipbuilding and many other purposes.Forestdestruction has persisted to this day and previously massive rainforests are threatened with total destruction with no hope of natural regeneration as the poor soil is depleted for export crops such as palm oil and soy beans.  Parallel with this destruction we are seeing a population increase that is totally out of control.  It seems that many people believe they have an inalienable right to have as many children as they choose without regard whatsoever for the Earth’s carrying capacity. There appears to be no serious discussions world wide directed toward seriously limiting human population.  Do we really have an energy crisis or just feeling the results of runaway population growth? The rise in population and the rise in temperature and atmospheric CO2 follow the same upward trend locked into a regenerative feedback cycle.  More people, more energy required, more energy expended, more CO2 not to mention unhealthy pollutants such as coal and diesel particulates. It is only since the Industrial Revolution and the development of monitoring technology that we have charts and diagrams that take temperature and CO2 out of the speculative realm to the home of certainty.  It is a certainty that the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than we have seen in at least the last 600,000 years and that humans are the major cause.

There can be no doubt that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane coupled with carbon particulates from brown coal fired electricity plants, contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect that has inhibited the sharp drop in global temperature seen in the past 3 or 4 interglacial periods.  The graphic picture of the global temperature pattern revealed by the Vostok and EPICA (Antarctic) earth-core samples, resembles an upside down icicle of warmth for around 8,000 years followed by around 110,000 years of cold (known as ice age). This upside down icicle depicts a very quick rise, very sharp peak and a very sharp fall of 2 to 3 degrees centigrade within less than 10,000 years before gradually settling into an ice age of nearly 10 degrees colder than the peak in around 10,000 more years.

Click here for a good visual of the Vostok findings

http://www.sahfos.ac.uk/climate%20encyclopaedia/images/img9.jpg

Click here for the antartic core samples visual

http://www.iceandclimate.nbi.ku.dk/images/images_research_sep_09/EPICA_with_current.PNG/

Humans are obviously an important part of nature, but since our ecological footprint has only been really significant for maybe 5 out of the last 10,000 years, I think we need to ask:  How did the Earth manage to sustain itself before we arrived on the scene?

Humans have dangerously stifled the planets natural means of regulating itself.  Gaia maintains a balance of forces using its life-forms and weathering process.  A few life-forms vary the amount of reflected sunlight, atmospheric CO2 and O2 content, whilst others sequester carbon. The ocean absorbs vast amounts of C02 but less and less as its temperature increases.

 

“Our study carried somewhat surprising results, showing that although the major impact of deforestation on precipitation is found in and near the deforested regions, it also has a strong influence on rainfall in the mid and even high latitudes,” said Roni Avissar, lead author of the study, published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Hydrometeorology.

http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0919-nasa.html

Moisture from forests is driven north in the Northern hemisphere and south in the Southern hemisphere.  In the Northern hemisphere, for instance, the Amazon rainforest has in the past, through wind channels, brought welcome moisture northward into the arid regions of Mexico and the US Southwest.  The continuous and ruinous wood chopping has already caused and/or enhanced severe draught in these areas.  Since the destruction continues, the American Southwest is doomed to a Sahara-like future and the wondrous mountain forests of the Chiricaua’s, for instance, will be lost, probably forever.  I suppose you would have had to actually walked within this region to grieve for them as they suffer.  I only hope I can live long enough to see them once again and hope they shall not die before I do.

Glacier melt re-mineralizes the soil after each ice age.  There is an amazing array of self-regulation behaviours too lengthy to delve into here. However, our present and recent past global growth economy is destroying these mechanisms.  It is obvious that the fate of the Earth and our fate intermingle, for actually, as was proposed in previous chapters, we are the Earth and we are thus committing suicide.

Being at the top of the food chain does not mean that we can now assume Earth management responsibilities.

Several knowledgeable and well-meaning authors have written about how we should be stewards of the Earth.  A first thought might accept this idea but with more reflection, I suggest that it is an extremely dangerous anthropocentric view of our presence.  Stewardship means “responsible planning and management of resources.”  This view is dangerous simply because we have not the wisdom and understanding to control and manage “nature”, the word we use for the aggregate physicality of Gaia. We must play in tune with Gaia’s rhythm or be selected out of the orchestra.

So it has been hot before

Climate change sceptics never tire of stating that the Earth was warmer millions of years ago. Be that as it may, we can forget about how the planet was 65 million years ago for the purpose of determining how our industrial pollution affects the present.  Yes, the planet was far warmer and there was over 10 times the amount of atmospheric CO2 around.  Why Gaia evolved to a series of cyclical glacial and interglacial periods is beyond determining with the instruments we have on hand and thus beyond our understanding. We must begin to appreciate that Gaia may just know what she is doing.  Perhaps the long glacial periods are necessary to counteract the increased warming energy of the sun.  Again, we don’t know.  Of course, if we continue to look upon the planet as a piece of machinery that can be rebuilt and controlled, than there is very little hope for us.  Gaia is a living organism which we live in and function as part of.  Living organisms are complex and Gaia even more complex.  Regardless of how the planet was 65 million years ago or 2 billion years ago, we have to work with the present extent of earth’s evolution.  Of course climate varies.  However, our advances in scientific instruments and ability to read the past from soil and ice core samples reveals that our present interglacial warming half cycle varies significantly from the past in two primary ways.  Atmospheric CO2 is steadily increasing and higher than ever recorded in the last 750,000 years and although we are overdue for a cooling trend, global temperature has increased around one degree centigrade in the last 140 years.  It is appropriate to question why average temperature is increasing, but a far more important and largely ignored question is: Why have we not begun the steep cooling trend seen in the Vostok core sample graph shown above and in the graph shown here?


*Note:  Contrary to the note in red within the graphic, the high in the present interglacial period is NOT  2c higher than the previous four periods shown in the chart.  Actually, it is only a little more than 1c higher.

First some background information. I’m afraid that many people think that climate is completely unpredictable and entirely erratic.  This is not true.  Let me explain why.

Why the heating effect from the sun varies

The fundamental driver of atmospheric temperature is, of course, the sun.  The amount of heat felt on the Earth’s surface is dependent primarily on the angle of incidence of sunlight.  Obviously, with a sphere, the greatest heat is absorbed at the center of the globe if and when the globe lies in a plane perpendicular to the sun.  The heating effect tails off as the angle, of incidence, [the angle formed by the input rays and the reflected rays when the sun’s rays are not perpendicular] increases and the sun’s rays are spread out over a greater area.  At an angle of 30 degrees, for instance, the sun’s rays are spread over an area double to that of the perpendicular and thus the heat generated is only one half.  Calculating the heating effect of the sun, called insolation, is much more complicated and variable due to three aspects of the earth’s juxtaposition to and orbital path around the sun.  The following explanation is limited to just an introduction.  Full understanding requires detailed diagrams and more precise information than I am able to impart in this chapter. The details are truly fascinating and are fully and clearly explained on the web at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles.

There are three major physical factors that affect insolation and it is only their synthesis which varies insolation enough to trigger the significant rise or fall of global temperature that results in the recent glacial/interglacial cycles with a period of around 120,000 years.

Obliquity

Basically, the equator only receives maximum energy transfer (when the sun’s rays are perpendicular) twice a year because the earth is tilted.  It is this tilt – called obliquity – which causes what we call the seasons.  The northern hemisphere, for instance, receives a lesser incidence angle during what we call summer and greater during the winter.  The tilt also varies slightly (from 22.5 degrees to 25 degrees) in a cyclical manner that either favors warming or cooling in both hemispheres but always opposite to each other.

This can be tricky to visualize.  You might push a stick through a small ball of something soft so it sticks out at both ends.  Color one end of the stick blue, for instance and name it the North Pole and the other, South Pole a different color.  Hold it in one hand and tilt it around, for example, 30 degrees.  Then hold a somewhat bigger ball in the other hand that represents the sun. Tilt the stick so that the North Pole is tilted toward the sun.  You can see that at the beginning you have maximum summer at the North Pole and maximum winter at the South Pole.  Move the tilted ball 180 degrees and you’ll note the opposite effect.  At the 90 degree and 270 degree points around the sun you can see the equinoxes where the tilt has virtually no effect.

Click here for an interesting graphic on obliquity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles.

Eccentricity

The factor that amplifies both warmer and cooler conditions is the shape of the earth’s orbit around the sun.  You may know that something that is “out of round” is often called eccentric.  The Earth’s orbit is not only eccentric, but the amount of eccentricity varies over time in a cyclical manner.  During the thousands of years when the orbit is more circular, the intensity of the seasons is less because the Earth is closer to the sun at both the closest

Click here for an interesting graphic on eccentricity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles.

and farthest extent of the orbit. The opposite, of course, holds true when the orbit is more eccentric.

Precession

The last, most difficult to grasp factor is called precession.  My simple explanation for purposes of this discussion is that since the Earth is not perfectly round, it does not spin like a fast moving top but wobbles slightly.

The effect of this wobble on our climate is subtle.  You may need to study precession more deeply elsewhere to fully grasp the concept.  Wobble not only adds or subtracts to the amount of tilt, but means that the beginning and end of the seasons don’t hold to the same geographic location around the Earth during the precession cycle.  The reason being that wobble changes the maximum and minimum extent of tilt so that the equinox points are not synchronous with our solar based time.  How might that affect insolation?  The start of winter at X geographical position, for instance, makes a complete cycle approximately every 23,000 years. (Note that none of the Earth’s orbital cycles are of equal duration over a period of many cycles.) If winter occurs in the northern hemisphere over mostly land and the Earth’s orbital position is near the farthest point from the sun, then these winters are colder and thus enhances the build-up of ice. If this is synchronous with a cooling effect out of the other two factors mentioned above, then it is likely that the planet will remain in an ice age.

Again, the opposite or interglacial period, may occur where warm winters are in synch with a warming effect out of the other two factors.

Click here for an interesting graphic on precession

http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr161/lect/time/precession.html

 

It is how the orbital cycles line up with each other

Since the period of all three of these cycles is different, they are constantly aiding and opposing insolation.  The Melankovich theory is that when they move into an aiding position, they trigger the start of an interglacial period and when the shortest period decreases enough, they set up a condition favourable for a sudden decrease in insolation and average global temperature.  The resultant cycle is around 120,000 years and

Co-relates favourably with ice core samples.  Of course, as in most scientific theories, there are detractors who wish to trash the whole idea.  One only needs to consider the numbers of people, including scientists, who don’t accept the theory of evolution.  One reason for this is that factors such as absorption of CO2 by trees, clouds formed because of transpiration by trees, variations in the amount CO2 being held in the oceans, snow cover, the numbers of phytoplankton, the amount of dimethyl sulphide and more must figure into the equation.  With so many variables, all global warming theory is open to criticism and those oppose will bring their ulterior motives into the picture.

There is more to the story

As if there were not enough variables to contend with, I must add that cyclical variations in air and ocean currents are affected by orbital forcing explained above and in turn also affect the amount of heat absorbed.

Scientists, particularly Professor Andre Berger, have been able to plot the various orbital cycles and produce a table going back a million years.  This table also contains insolation figures.  Thankfully, the tables are available for download from the internet.  An analysis of the tables reveals two rather worrying facts which due to the complexity of the material that I have tried to throw some light on above, have not been explained by the media.

One, the event that should have triggered a cooling cycle – minimum tilt that favours a cooling trigger – has passed its nadir and is now increasing.  Another nadir is not due for another 40,000 years.

Two, eccentricity is now nearly as low as it ever been in the last million years and will become even lower for the next few thousand years.  So the Earth’s orbit is almost circular.  This means that the past reinforcement and coincidence of cycle overlaps that have triggered colder winters and global cooling, for instance, will be missing for many thousands of years.

Professor Berger proposes that we will not see another ice age for many thousands of years.

“Today’s comparatively warm climate has been the exception more than the rule during the last 500,000 years or more. If recent warm periods (or interglacials) are a guide, then we may soon slip into another glacial period. But Berger and Loutre argue in their Perspective that with or without human perturbations, the current warm climate may last another 50,000 years. The reason is a minimum in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit around the Sun.”  (Berger, A. and Loutre, M., 2002, pgs 1287 – 1288)

Much of the climate change literature points out that the adverse (adverse to life-forms like humans) conditions such as increased desertification, flooding of coastal lowlands such as Miami Beach and Bangladesh may occur regardless of our efforts to cut down on anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  Perhaps they read Berger and Loutre above.

So how are humans connected with the variations of orbital factors?

You might well point out that these factors taken simply as stated operate regardless of the human actions.  Yes, but this is not the whole story.

Next we must briefly consider both how much of the sun’s energy is reflected back out into space (referred to as albedo) and how the variations at the earth’s surface, some materials not only vary in absorption capabilities but also hold heat longer than others,  plus the content of the various layers of the atmosphere effect global temperature.  As most of you know, our atmosphere impedes the escape of reflected sun energy by further absorbing and reflecting back heat.  We have named this the greenhouse effect.  Without this property, the earth’s temperature would be perhaps 30 degrees cooler and life as we know it would not be possible.  Our scientists, armed with sensitive instruments, have documented the heat energy absorptive properties of the atmospheric gasses, aerosols, and especially carbon particulates from diesel and coal fuels.  Climate sceptics like to point out that water vapour is the strongest greenhouse gas.  So what?  We can’t drink ocean saltwater but fish live in it.  What’s the point?

To put it simply, we are upsetting the balancing and regulating capabilities of the living Earth by emitting such a large volume of gasses, aerosols and carbon particulates that their heat absorption capabilities have increased the greenhouse warming effect dramatically.  Regardless of the arguments of climate skeptics, there are just no other factors other than anthropogenic that would account for the resulting rise in CO2 and average global temperature.  A graph of both CO2 and Global temperature over the last 600,000 years reveals that they are virtually synchronous.  Our media has had a circus day describing the possible results of excessive global warming.  Enough has already been said so I’ll not go into that subject.  I suggest that overall, the IPCC has underplayed the tune and understated the possibility of runaway global warming.

The Real Questions

The media has drawn our attention away from what I suggest is the real question.  So, we have global warming and that is a problem.  We have identified several factors above that are causing the temperature to rise.  However, I think we are blind to the most significant question:

What, given the factors we have identified and considering Gaia’s ability to self regulate over time, does Gaia have available to reverse the warming if we continue with our industrial expansion?

As we saw above, The Melankovich cycles favour cooling to their maximum extent yet our interglacial period has not come to an end.  I support Dr. James Hansen’s suggestion that we may well skip the next ice age.  If we do, will the Melankovich cooling factors overcome the warming factors that are still present 120,000 years from now? If not, then how hot will the Earth be?

So what? You may still feel that since the Earth has been a lot warmer in the past there is nothing to be concerned about.  Yes, but don’t forget that the sun is constantly growing in volume and putting out more heat.  Dr. James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory was prompted by his dismay over how much cooler the earth had stayed relative to the effect of the increase strength of the sun’s energy over the last 2 to 3 billion years. Lovelock and Harding have listed and explained the various positive and negative feedback mechanisms that come into the forefront as Gaia self-regulates.  Obviously, Gaia’s efforts have brought us to where we are now which resulted in incredible diversity and growth as polar ice diminished.  Not only have humans caused a major drop in diversity and increase in extinction, but our technology and economic system of expansion based on Earth’s resources have set up atmospheric and oceanic conditions outside the parameters we have studied in the last 600,000 years.  Although we certainly cannot answer the question above, we can attempt to discover what resources were available let’s say 120,000 or so years ago at the end of the last interglacial period.

At the beginning of each interglacial period as the ice receded from the land, vast numbers of trees spread north and performed a carbon sequestering service.  They also released water vapor which stimulated cloud cover that increased the albedo effectively taking the place, as far as albedo is concerned, of the miles and miles of ice that had melted. With that negative feedback firmly in place and the orbital forcing factors favouring cooling, the downward cycle of Gaia’s temperature was assured and triggered the end of the interglacial period.

Unfortunately for all, these natural feedback factors been destroyed by humans.  Millions of trees over thousands of years have been chopped to build armadas and commercial shipping, other war implements, and shelter for humans as if they were useless to anything other than to serve the greed of humans.

“Apart from he profligate burning of fossil fuels and releasing the earth’s long-term carbon and energy storage depot that has taken millions of years to lay down, deforestation has been the main contributor to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that has resulted in global warming.1 Energy capture and storage is absolutely essential for the survival of the planet, just as energy capture and storage is necessary for the survival of individual organisms.”  (Ho, M. W., 2008, pg. 81)

That’s why I emphasize that we are asking the wrong question perhaps too late.  How will Gaia halt the present positive feedback loop?  Could it be the halt of the Atlantic Current because of the rapid melting of northern ice?  If theAtlantic Oceancools sufficiently to absorb enough CO2 to counteract the other positive feedbacks, then possibly global cooling will be triggered.

We have James Lovelock to thank for prompting research into how the Earth self-regulates its temperature.  How severely have we weakened Gaia’s ability to self-regulate effectively?  When and if Gaia achieves temperature stability, what kind of environment will we have to adjust to?  We simply cannot answer these two questions.  We don’t know and we don’t even know if we can ever know.  No sane gambler would play a game with such dismal odds.  Perhaps our leaders are insane.

1 Ho, M.W. “Oceans and Global Warming” Science and Society 31 (2006b): 11-13

Ho, M.W. “Global Warming is Happening” Science and Society 31 (2006c): 23-24

Bunyard, P. Gaia, Climate and the Amazon, 2005, Independent Science Panel

 

‘The Bowen Technique: Integration and Wholeness’ by Janie Godfrey

Sunday Times health journalist Susan Clark wrote of The Bowen Technique: “The patients I have seen treated with Bowen report a feeling of deep, peaceful relaxation after a session and it is extraordinary to see the body react. As a patient, you feel only the gentlest pressure because the technique is completely painless. Practitioners report excellent results with persistent and difficult to treat conditions.”

The Bowen Technique is a gentle form of light-touch therapy and can be very effective treatment for a wide variety of physical problems such as back and neck pain and dysfunction, frozen shoulder, painful knees, elbows, etc. Often, these are the result of the mechanics of overdoing it – too much gardening, sports injuries, etc. But many physical conditions have their root in non-physical problems and situations. This connection is acknowledged by many common expressions such as ‘it’s a pain in the neck,’ ‘you look as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders,’ ‘I can’t swallow that.’ No surprise, then, if neck pain, shoulder tension or throat cramp is present on the physical level.

We don’t doubt there is a mind-body-spirit connection when someone blushes, for instance, and treating the body as a way into an emotional or spiritual blockage or problem appears to be valid in the clinical experience of many Bowen therapists – and other therapists too, of course. In 1997 the book entitled Molecules of Emotion: the Science behind Mind/Body Medicine was published. Its American author, Candace Pert PhD, researched ‘new paradigm’ healing at the Georgetown University Medical School where she was a professor of Physiology and Biophysics. Her research reveals how the ‘bodymind’ functions as a single psychosomatic network of information molecules which control our health and physiology. It is a fascinating book and connects the biochemistry of the body with the mind/emotions very clearly. Reading her conclusions, it is no wonder that in treating the body, where anxieties, fears and traumas can become lodged, the effect can ripple through to the non-physical source of these problems and effect a change in the way they are perceived and dealt with.

All spiritual and religious traditions have known this, of course. In Ancient Greece, there was no separation between doctors and priests, temples and hospitals. If memory serves correctly, it was St Bonaventure who said ‘the language of the soul is dreams, spontaneous images or [physical] symptoms’: if you don’t hear the first two, the message is manifested physically. St Francis poetically referred to the body as ‘Brother Ass – because it bears all our burdens’. Many modern psychiatrists and writers have recovered this knowledge and are offering it again to Western populations who have lost living spiritual connections that tie together our lives on all levels. Our Western medical model tends to see the body as something to be manipulated by surgery or medication. How important it is, then, to have a paradigm and a treatment that acknowledge the body as inextricably connected to the mind, the emotions, the soul.

The majority of people who come for physical treatment, in my experience, are usually not recognising that their emotions may be involved and would not have sought help with those issues.

Bowen’s ability to prompt this body-mind connection was demonstrated to me soon after I began my practice as a Bowen Technique practitioner. A man in his mid-40’s had come for treatment because of tremendous back pain. Indeed, the muscles on either side of his spine (erector spinae) were so rigid they felt like bones themselves. No wonder he was experiencing a lot of pain. I had great confidence that the Bowen moves, gentle as they are, could help these muscles to relax, which would certainly bring him some relief. He came for his second treatment one week after his first and reported that he had had a brief period of relief but the pain was back and the muscles felt rigid again. But this time, part way through the treatment, he suddenly said, “You don’t think this back pain could have anything to do with a relationship problem, do you?” After the treatment, he recounted a very sad and distressing tale about a long-standing estrangement in his family and the great grief this caused him. It had been something that he had avoided facing or dealing with for many years and I was so impressed that he had been able and willing to make this connection himself, prompted by the integrating effect of the Bowen treatment. With the source of the ‘pain’ correctly identified, he could ‘own’ it and begin to deal with it at the correct level rather than his body having to continue to carry it. I don’t think he would have been open to being told he had such an underlying problem – he needed to put it together for himself and Bowen treatment was able to do this in an acceptable way for him.

All aspects of our wholeness can be approached from each other, i.e., the body and emotions can be approached through the mind, the body and mind and emotions can be touched through meaningful spiritual practice and through the body, the mind and emotions and soul can be reached. This is a concept that has been, for the most part, foreign to our mainstream medical concept of physical health.

This is changing, of course, as great numbers of people choose to complement their mainstream medical care with complementary therapies. A convert to the benefits of The Bowen Technique is Dr Barrie Harte of the Selegate Surgery in Hexham, Northumberland. Not only does Dr Harte think that Bowen is an effective therapy, he has trained as a Bowen therapist himself. He says of Bowen: “It is very useful in certain situations like anxiety and stress (and this might well reduce the prescribing costs on hypnotics and anti-depressants); for cervical spine and lumbar spine problems, both acute and chronic, and also with frozen shoulders.”

Bowen’s integrating healing effect is most poignant with children. I recently treated a 10-year-old boy who is bright, outgoing and curious and was having an average of two migraines per week. He would have to miss school and stay in bed for five or so hours until it passed. The situation in which this was happening was that his mother had been separated from his father since he was a toddler. She had been in a relationship with another man for some years and has a young daughter by him, but he had been increasingly violent with the mother over the past few years and at the time of the first Bowen treatment for her son, she had been separated from the man, involving the police and courts. For some months and the family lived in anxiety about the possible actions of this man. The boy enjoyed his first Bowen treatment very much and in fact went sound asleep. The following week he had a migraine but the pattern and type of it was different from his usual ones. During the week after the second Bowen treatment, two very small, inconsequential incidents (which would normally have hardly been noticed or reacted to) caused him to weep, “inconsolably” (as his mother described it) for about half an hour each time. He has not had any migraines since (about five months at time of this writing). He is also going to bed on time and dropping off to sleep without getting up over and over, as was his previous pattern. Bowen treatment has also had a profound effect on the very disturbed sleep patterns of his two-year-old sister.

Resolution of problems is also very profound when the patient actively explores the new areas that open to them. Mrs P, age 72, came for Bowen treatment because of pain and discomfort from a number of physical problems and drug reactions. She had had a very bad reaction to a drug prescribed for osteoporosis and even though she had stopped the drug 18 months previously, she still had severe burning pains in her back and arms and soreness in her shoulders. She couldn’t stand anything tight around her torso, such as a bra, as the skin was so sensitive. In addition, over the past several years there had been some major family changes and problems and, while they were now resolving, Mrs P was still very anxious and on edge, emotionally and physically. She returned for her second treatment and reported some very interesting responses at the non-physical level. She found that the Bowen treatment had brought her psychologically to a point of assessing her attitudes, most particularly the long habit of ‘people pleasing’ and feeling inferior. She reported an amazing week of mental/spiritual insight and realisation that her bodily health is connected to and comes from health in the spirit and being kind and attentive to herself and receiving calmness.

After her second treatment, the physical pains had subsided almost completely and have not returned over the 9 months since she first had treatment. She feels she has reached a new and beneficial level in her understanding of stress and the body. She says she is facing the fact of growing older and is eagerly exploring how to manage her life differently now.

Another case history that illustrates the body/mind/emotion connection is that of a 47-year-old woman who came for Bowen treatment for wheezing and tightness in her upper chest. She had never had a full blown asthma attack but went to the doctor who told her she had asthma and put her on an inhaler to ease the tightness and wheezing when they occurred. The inhaler was helpful for these symptoms.

During her 3rd Bowen treatment, just after the asthma moves were completed, there was a very interesting simultaneous occurrence: she felt the tightness come on in the same instant as a very vivid memory of a counselling session with her former husband which had been very emotional and full of anger and fear, recalling her feelings about the relationship being over. During that time her former husband told her repeatedly that, because she had not expressed her feelings when her mother died not too long before, that she was now transferring all the grief and of that time onto him leaving and the relationship ending. It was during this time of the relationship ending that her wheezing and tightness in the chest began.

She often catches herself holding her breath and realises this is connected with a fear that she won’t be able to breathe, which she sees as a symbol connected with trust and faith that she will be all right and able to care for her child. It is wonderful that such a strong connection was made between the chest tightness and the memory that provoked fear and grief. She is in an excellent position now to work through the effects of the loss of her relationship and its consequences and not have it sabotage her with a physical focus.
In my experience and observation, Bowen is so often able to make the connection between physical symptoms and their non-physical roots, integrating the body and spirit which creates a wholeness in which a person can constructively deal with things such as loss and fear and anger rather than leaving them locked up in the body.

For more information visit www.janiegodfrey.co.uk

‘The Body and Spirituality’ by Michael Lewin

“If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.” ~ Walt Whitman

Recently, after an evening visit to some local friends I started to walk home when I was confronted by a gang of Afro-Caribbean ‘hoodies.’ I tried to break the ice by saying: “Hi, you OK?” when one of them came up from behind and hit me over the head with a iron bar. I collapsed to the ground, but like a boxer in the ring on auto – pilot, I very quickly stood up and they disbanded. It all came as something of a shock. I have sustained hearing loss on one side but I’m hoping that this will recover. I now live with the realization that I could have been killed. I have always walked the streets of my neighbourhood with impunity but now I know the risks involved. Life is a precious gift and I just feel so grateful that I’m still alive.

After this incident I had repeated headaches, jaw aches and difficulties with sleeping. I felt very vulnerable. My mind kept going over the event and I became increasingly outraged and resentful for what had happened. The emotional need to stay attached to this anger however seemed to block my body’s healing process. My mind was racing away thinking of retribution and punishment for the culprit and my body was sadly left behind, neglected. Soon I reached a point when I could go no further, I had to let go of my emotional preoccupations and allow healing into my life…

Lying down on my bed, as a regular practice, I started to undertake body scans (creative visualizations) paying particular attention to the painful regions. Dwelling there, saying a soft hello and waiting patiently for a response, I soon felt somehow connected again. Soft breathing – calming, relaxed – slowly ensued and my awareness gently touched and reassured the pain. Fairly soon, and quite magically, the pain seemed to transform into a sensation that whispered to me: “I’m OK.” Then I knew I was really on the road to recovery. An outburst of weeping, brought on by a deep feeling of gratitude, let me know how much I had taken my physical wellbeing for granted.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”~ Kahlil Gibran

Our bodies are sacred vessels that contain all our potential and all our futures, so we must nurture and nourish them. This is our spiritual practice that will help us to lead a full and active life. Sometimes, because we become so preoccupied with the tangled mess of everyday living, we forget to engage in relaxation time to smooth the body. Then, if we allow this neglect to go on too long, we start suffering. One of the central lessons I have learnt in life, that has cost me dearly is that of ignoring body signals that told me I was too deeply entwined in anxiety and busy-ness. I ignored these signals of course, far too busy to pay attention, then I collapsed with exhaustion. I eventually recovered but in my later reading I became really surprised by the amount of medical research evidence that linked abnormal stress levels, often fuelled by anxiety and busy-ness, with physical and mental illnesses.

Life can be difficult at times and there often seems so much that we need to do in order to survive, but by ‘tripping over’ to the hyper mode of operating we seriously challenge our bodies. A primary precept that we should honour is that related to body care. We must constantly listen to our own bodies, monitor their wellbeing simply because they are us. They are not independent entities that we visit occasionally as we do sick relatives, they are you, they are me…

Meditative Walking
When I’m anxious, having troubling thoughts and worries that feed into my body to induce aches and pain, I deliberately slow my walking down to meditative pace. Every movement of the walking then comes under mindful observation and fairly soon I feel a relaxed presence appear, as if from nowhere, slowly to heal me. This reduced pace is not always easy to sustain for long, especially in a fast track modern world, but the more I engage with it the more benefit I seem to derive. Often this mindful walking practice slows me down on other activities as well, even writing, to engage me deeply and meaningfully, creating in me a sense of peace and serenity. Other exercises that induce this feeling in me are: yoga, gardening, rambling and cycling.

When our bodies are in gentle mode, calm and relaxed, we find that our minds will soon follow. This often feels like a homecoming where we have come back to our bodies, our natural state of being that our minds have allowed us to wander away from.

Non-Dualism
In this article I have drawn a distinction between the mind and body when in reality they are one and the same. The mind is in the body and the body is in the mind – one fully functional, integrated system of wholeness where every minute cell has intelligence and communicates that intelligence (along with our emotions) to billions of other cells: a body-wide network of ‘talkers‘ and ‘listeners‘ that is quite astounding in its complexity and richness. This view of the mind/body as an interactive, homogenous operation is no longer considered idle speculation from the fringes of pseudo science but a scientifically verified reality that is altering our perception of how we function as Homo sapiens. Another startling reality of this wondrous ‘machine’ – that constitutes you and me that we walk around in – is its ability to repair itself. Similar to the Gaia principle of self regulation, the body has a remarkable homeostasis quality that engenders self healing on a level that is quite miraculous.

Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.”
~ The Buddha

Looking At Ourselves and Our Planet
In our world of hyper activity, often induced by marketplace dynamics, we can easily become over-preoccupied with busyness. Never-ending pursuits and actions, movements and motions keep us distracted from our real selves, our deeper being. Human activity, globally, has now reached neurotic proportions and is the major contributor to climate change. Perhaps we have reached a stage in our development when we should be slowing down more, taking time out to appreciate the quieter moments of our existence.
For Nature, winter is a time of hibernation, a period of rest for all living things except, it seems, the human species. Industrial plants, factories, shopping malls and financial markets know nothing of rest, they just perpetually go on without any regard for the sanctity of stillness. Our 24/7 culture of neurosis is slowly killing our sensibilities, harming our bodies and destroying the planet that sustains us but all we do we is just put our heads down and carry on regardless. If we really want longevity and a quality of life, that only leaves a soft carbon footprint – we must stop doing so many things.

Conclusion
I often have to remind myself that I should attend as much to my under-worked body as I do to my over-worked mind. The latter already receives enough exercise, too much perhaps. But unfortunately the former does get neglected at times, or even worse pushed into stressful situation that can cause so much unwarranted damage, with possible long-term effects.

When we are at peace with ourselves, serene and tranquil, united in body and mind, we find ourselves in a sacred space where we are nourished and protected. Some experience this feeling as a profound meditation or prayer, others as a healing, yet others as a mandala of awakening, but however we try to define it, one thing seems certain: our bodies have their own intelligence, their own wisdom that requires us to stop, listen and take note of what they are trying to tell us.

 “ Here in this body are sacred rivers, here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body.”
~ Saraha

JOURNEY WELL AND BE BODY WISE

‘Bach Flower Remedies: Healing for the 21st Century’ by June Raymond

We live in a world in which old solutions no longer work and this is certainly true in the field of medicine where new forms of treatment are springing up all round us. Twenty years ago few people had heard of Flower Remedies and now they are well known and widely used. While Dr Edward Bach was the first to discover their beneficial effects, there are now a large number of people who are producing their own flower remedies both in England and throughout the world. In my own practice however I work only with the original Bach remedies which I find provide a comprehensive base for an inner journey of healing and I use those produced by ‘Healing Herbs’ rather than other brands which I have not found to be as good. For those who would like to study how Dr Bach’s remedies were first developed and why they work I recommend Julian Barnard’s detailed and fascinating book, ‘Bach Flower Remedies. Form and Function’ on which much of this article is based.

When I first came across the remedies at Findhorn twenty years ago I was sceptical and wondered just how gullible ‘new agers’ could be! As a result of my own experience however I revised my opinion and have been successfully treating people for both physical and emotional problems for more than eighteen years. I am now convinced that the flower remedies are an effective form of healing which has nothing to do with whether or not the patient believes in them, and everything to do with the remedies themselves. They are non intrusive and work by clearing the blocks and traumas that hinder the body’s own natural healing and bringing clarity and wisdom to the sufferer.

Flower Remedies are easy to use and completely safe. They have no side effects although sometimes they will take us through the deep emotions that need to be healed. It is useful to have a key or a book that will help to find the appropriate remedies but no harm will come if you choose a wrong one! I also recommend Healing Herb’s website which provides detailed information about each of the remedies. They are safe to use with conventional medication with which they do not interfere. The most commonly used remedy is of course ‘Rescue’ or ‘Five Flower’, a mixture that is invaluable in any emergency. They are suitable both for personal use and as an important tool for therapists and healers.

So who was Dr Bach and how did he discover flower remedies? In 1928 he was a Harley Street doctor with little that was marginal about his career. He was a successful surgeon who had progressively researched subtler forms of medicine, bacteriology, immunology and homeopathy before he finally turned his back on the medical establishment and began looking for a new form of healing. It was to be one that would treat the underlying emotional causes of illness and be linked to the inner spiritual journey. From homeopathy Bach had learnt to treat the person before the disease but his own vision was more radical even than that of Hahnemann, the pioneer of homeopathy. The story is told of how one evening at a dinner party Dr Bach spent the entire meal observing the different behaviour patterns of the other guests. He saw how people might be grouped according to their personality rather than their illness and believed that healing should begin by treating the individual’s personality type. Bach saw a specific illness as the result of our being out of tune with our soul’s purpose. It was a symptom rather than the cause of disease which was ‘generated by our inability to listen to the voice of our soul, a voice which would lead us to understand the individual meaning of our life.’ To heal the body alone he described as ‘at best a lesson deferred.’

Throughout his life Bach learnt from his own experience. In 1917 when he was thirty he collapsed and very nearly died. He was operated on for cancer but the prognosis was so bad that when one of his contemporaries who had attended the operation met him again on returning from the war he exclaimed, ‘But you should be dead!’ We know relatively little about Bach’s personal life but it clearly was not without trouble and it led him to the belief that only by learning to be free of the opinions and pressures of other people and being true to one’s own spiritual path can one find health. Not surprisingly when he set out on his journey to find a form of healing that would help the individual to grow to be in tune with their emotional and spiritual purpose, he first looked for a remedy to treat his own personality type. Bach’s friends and fellow doctors include in their description of him that he was quick to decide, quick to act, quick to anger, sometimes impatient of the slowness of others. His first remedy was for just such a person.

Bach’s search was now no longer to be in the laboratory but in the countryside for he believed that nature herself would be our healer. He wrote:

It is only because we have forsaken Nature’s way for man’s way that we have suffered, and we have only to return to be released from our trials. In the presence of Nature disease has no power; all fear, all depression all hopelessness can be set aside. There is no disease of itself which is incurable.

So he went to the country near Abergavenny to look for a remedy and found it in the flower of the riverside plant Impatiens, more commonly, Himalayan Balsam. He then went on to discover flower remedies for eleven other different personality types.

It is surely legitimate to ask how and why Bach should have found healing in flowers. This is where the world will divide and some people will feel unable to take the leap towards a new vision. This however is the explanation that makes most sense to me. It involves the shift we have made from understanding the world purely as matter to seeing it in terms of energy or wave function. That is the electromagnetic pattern or ‘thought form’ comes first and material being follows it. So when we understand the plant in detail, how it grows, its colour, habitat, method of reproduction and so forth we can then access its inner pattern.  Julian Barnard writes, ‘Bach carried in himself the vibratory pattern of the Impatiens mental state. There was a natural resonance between Bach, the man, and Impatiens, the plant. He recognised it.’ Bach then went on to find the remedies from flowers that resonated with the other personality types he recognised.

He developed a method of storing the potency of the flowers and eventually discovered thirty-eight remedies. After the first twelve ‘Healers’ there were seven ‘Helpers’ which treated not innate conditions but chronic acquired emotional states that can prevent healing taking place. He now had nineteen remedies which he potentised by the ‘sun method’.  That is, in order to transfer the vibrational pattern of the flower to water which, as in homeopathy, would hold its memory, he left the flower heads in a bowl of pure spring water for several hours in unbroken sunlight. The water was then mixed fifty-fifty with brandy to preserve it and then again mixed with more brandy to make individual bottles from which a few drops in water will make a remedy. It is possible by this method to obtain more than half a million bottles at the treatment strength from the one small bowl of essence! It had been Dr Bach’s aim to produce a medicine which would be safe, easy to prescribe and inexpensive so anyone would be able to use it. (No wonder he parted company with the established medical profession!).

Dr Bach died at the age of fifty having completed a further nineteen remedies. These last were all discovered in the year before his death in 1936. He described them as ‘more spiritualised’ than the first group being about the difficulties, traumas and darkness we encounter on our life journey. For each of these remedies he went through the negative experience and then found the flower, now most often from a tree, which brought relief to his condition. He potentised these second nineteen by a different boiling method which so far as I know has never been used by subsequent flower remedy innovators but which has a connection with their deeper character. The flower heads are put in a saucepan of spring water, brought to the boil and simmered for half an hour before being strained and mixed with brandy. So the sun’s energy does not come directly but through the agency of a natural material, wood, coal or gas, that has stored it under ground. Here experience is transformed through darkness for spiritual growth and fruitfulness. I find these remedies are particularly important not simply for physical well being but in the more profound work of transformation. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone: but if it dies it bears much fruit’.

One of Dr Bach’s writings is called ‘Free Thyself’. It is a title that embodies much of the dynamic of the flower remedies, since with their help we discover within ourselves the understanding that we and we alone are responsible for our lives, our health and our healing and the knowledge gives us a freedom that is pure joy. The pain and traumas that hid this freedom from us are real and we need real healing to clear them. As we move forward on our journey victimisation and despair about our future are replaced by faith in our potential because as Dr Bach wrote, ‘As sons (this was written in the first half of the last century!) of the Creator, Sparks of the Divine Life, we are invincible, indestructible and unconquerable’!

Some useful books:

Julian Barnard. Bach Flower Remedies. Form and Function (Flower Remedy Programme. 2002).

Julian and Martine Barnard. (The Healing Herbs of Edward Bach. An illustrated guide to the Flower Remedies(Bach Educational Programme. 1988).

Ed. Julian Barnard. Collected Writings of Edward Bach (Ashgrove Press1994).

Mechtild Scheffer. Keys to the Soul. A workbook for self diagnosis using the Bach Flowers (The C.W.Daniel Company.1998).

Mechtild Scheffer. Bach Flower Therapy. Theory and Practice (Thorsons 1990).

June Raymond is a sister of Notre Dame who spent most of her life teaching English at secondary level. In 1998 she went to live on the isle of Erraid in the Hebrides with the Findhorn Community. Here she first encountered the Bach Flower Remedies and learnt about and the deep connection between spirit and the earth and the meaning of holism. After returning to Liverpool she has worked as a therapist and healer using flower essences. She trained with Julian Barnard of Healing Herbs and now also runs courses for practitioners. June lives in Formby, a little north of Liverpool.

Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology, developed by Norwegian eco-philosopher Arne Naess, is a radical approach to environmentalism which, rather than seeing Nature as a resource bank for human beings, stresses the intrinsic value of every life form from the biggest to the smallest. 

Wikipedia describes it thus:

Deep ecology is a contemporary ecological and environmental philosophy characterized by its advocacy of the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, and advocacy for a radical restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas. Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems. Human interference with or destruction of the natural world poses a threat therefore not only to humans but to all organisms constituting the natural order.
Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that the living environment as a whole should be respected and regarded as having certain legal rights to live and flourish. It describes itself as “deep” because it regards itself as looking more deeply into the actual reality of humanity’s relationship with the natural world arriving at philosophically more profound conclusions than that of the prevailing view of ecology as a branch of biology. The movement does not subscribe to anthropocentric environmentalism (which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for human purposes) since Deep ecology is grounded in a quite different set of philosophical assumptions. Deep ecology takes a more holistic view of the world human beings live in and seeks to apply to life the understanding that the separate parts of the ecosystem (including humans) function as a whole. This philosophy provides a foundation for the environmental, ecology and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics advocating wilderness preservation, human population control and simple living

Deep Ecology is a new way to think about our relationship to the Earth – and thinking is a prelude to action.

Biography of Arne Naess  The founder of the concept of Deep Ecology

Arne Naess

The  Deep  Ecology  Platform articulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions

Introduction To Deep Ecology

Ecophilosophy, Ecosophy and the Deep Ecology Movement: An Overview
By Alan Drengson ©1999

Quotes about Deep Ecology

 

Recovering Bear Sacredness

by Leon Chartrand

Insights into Phenomenal Presence of a More-than-Human World for Future Grizzly Bear Recovery Initiatives.

KALISPELL, MONTANA. Glacier National Park is ideal for spotting wildlife from the safety and comforts of a vehicle. It is so popular that signs are posted to warn visitors of the hazards of “wildlife traffic jams.” No matter. Given the millions of visitors here each summer, sudden halts and long delays are to be expected.

Today is no exception; it’s a parking lot on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Several hundred camera-toting tourists are leaning over the guardrail, pointing fingers, and talking amongst themselves. Their “object” of fascination: a 300 lb grizzly and her two cubs-of-the-year foraging in a meadow fifty yards from the road.

The photo shoot begins.

Bears

Clicking cameras and human scent are usually enough to chase off even the most dominate grizzly in Glacier, but surprisingly these bears do not run. This is unique considering the intense protectiveness of a mother with cubs. Perhaps for now ripened huckleberries are worth risking close proximity. The smaller cub, still new to the lessons of bearhood, senses a threat, probably from her mother’s cue. She scurries and summersaults under the shade of the maternal belly taking shelter in a brief attempt to nurse. The dominate cub, oblivious to the crowd gathering nearby, bites and tugs on the yellow tag clipped to his mom’s ear. But with a quick snap to his behind, mother bear instructs him that now is not playtime; and the rambunctious one obediently returns to the business of fattening himself. The family spends nearly half-an-hour consuming the choicest berries until the onlookers become too much of a disturbance to tolerate. With the crowd growing larger by the minute and cars lining up for a mile in both directions, mother decides it is time to leave. She unhurriedly strolls towards the ridgeline with wrestling cubs in tow until they are eventually out of sight from camera’s eye. The audience, jubilant about the show, return to their vehicles with expended roles of film and a story to tell others. Nothing more happens. Bears leave, humans return to their cars and traffic resumes.

This type of bear encounter is a relatively new phenomenon. For thousands of years, grizzlies and humans have lived within the same habitat, but not without each fearing and respecting the other. Both found a distinct survival advantage in giving the other plenty of space. For some native peoples, forests inhabited by the brown bear had a presence that invited humility, reverence and wisdom. In fact, the grizzly was potentially the most sacred encounter experienced on a vision quest. Today, whether in the backcountry or along the roadside, seeing bears is becoming less a transformative experience and more a spectacular vacation highlight. Just now we appreciate what makes them sensational rather than ordinary. But through our fascination with their charisma, their endangerment and physical qualities—the cub’s fuzzy innocence, the mother’s raised shoulder muscles and long sharp claws, and the almost human-like personalities they portray—we are not open to a much more ordinary yet profound reality that lies within them. This withinness, characterized by a deep sense of presence and profound otherness of being, is an important part of their full identity that we too often ignore or, once encountered, cannot find words to articulate. Withinness continues to be shutout by our self-centeredness and exploitive tendencies to treat the world mechanistically and out of concern that it would cloud our “objective” view of a subjective world. In turn, grizzly bears like the family encountered along the roadside are treated as objects, as means to an end. Thus, in acting out of this pathology, we remain disconnected from the earth community. And the bear’s voice, along with the incomprehensible wildness that it represents, remains silenced until it one day inevitably becomes a relic of wilderness past.

Forever silencing the grizzly is indeed on its way to realization. In less than two hundred years, the grizzly bear has been extirpated from most of its former habitat. At one time, the grizzly was estimated at 100,000 with about half of that population inhabiting the contiguous states. Presently there are only six small isolated populations remaining in the northwest U.S. totalling at around 1,100 bears. And, with an expanding human population and the unsustainable economic development and resource extraction corresponding with that expansion, the effort to protect the grizzly is not getting any easier.

Accordingly, grizzly conservation has correctly extended beyond the realm of scientific research to include political, economic, legal, technological and ethical initiatives. Various specialists, lobbyists and activists are devoted to finding the most appropriate method for maintaining the current population size and facilitating their full recovery. Yet, the issue at hand is a much more profound issue than any specialized discipline or political movement is capable of addressing. For, even with all the progress we have made, the grizzly still rarely dies of natural causes and its viability is at the mercy of human influence. In fact, human-caused mortalities, loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, and lack of public support continue to be the most serious threats to their survival. Clearly, while we now have more scientific knowledge about grizzly bears than ever, and while these animals are legally protected and much of ecotourism’s success depends upon their continued protection, it is not the only type of knowledge or progress we need. Something is missing. Just now we have lost our ability to be open to the deep presence that pervades all life. We only momentarily, if at all, experience a deeper reality, the numinous presence that pervades a more-than-human world. By focusing on the grizzly bear’s circumstance in a strictly profane manner, we have inevitably lost a deep sense of the sacred.

Scientific insights and recent ethical paradigms, while important, have not led us towards an intimate presence with a meaningful universe and, therefore, a meaningful relationship with other earth community members. We continue to define the grizzly in terms of instrumental and intrinsic value. They are important to us instrumentally by way of the economic advantages they provide. They are important to us intrinsically by way of the sense of wildness that they bring to the national park that would not exist if they were absent. It, therefore, has become important to protect them because of the instrumental enjoyment and aesthetic aura that they bring to the wilderness experience. But, the difficulty with instrumental value is that the grizzly is valued as an object or instrument for our own benefit. This does not acknowledge the bear’s importance to the earth community or the earth’s life processes. It ignores the following ecological insight: the grizzly exists because, in some undefined way, it has had something of value to offer to the earth community. Furthermore, the difficulty with the bear’s inherent value is that it is understood by what value lies within them. It is quite possible that the inner depths of the grizzly are just as mysterious as its beyondness and just as unavoidable. And if we are authentically seeking to understand their wholeness of being, the challenge then becomes how we choose to address their mystery. We can certainly address mystery as we have in the past, as an incompleteness of knowledge or puzzle to be figured out. We can extrapolate based on what is observed and quantified. We can continue tranquilizing them to understand them. But new subjectivities always emerge and indicate that a profane journey into knowing the grizzly is destined for quiet desperation, especially for the bear. However, if we open ourselves to the otherness of the world, we invite an encounter with this mystery. We may then become aware of a pervading presence when confronted with incomprehensibility. In this act, we come to know the sacred as different from the secular and, consequently, become aware that the secular solution alone is insufficient. We may recognize that the bear has a presence that is not defined by its wondrous physical characteristics or the complexities of its habitat alone but by something more deeply profound as well. Through this encounter, it becomes something else, something more, yet continues to remain a bear. This means that the sacred we encounter within the grizzly does not necessarily venerate the bear itself but allows it to be revered, not as a bear, but as a unique manifestation of the numinous presence that pervades all of life. In other words, when one has such an encounter, the bear remains a bear in that it is not discernible from other bears or other living beings except that it’s physical reality becomes a celebration of a more profoundly deep reality capable of transforming our present consciousness.

Certainly, the grizzly bear family encountered along Going-to-the-Sun Road, if it is to survive, demands a response that is beyond secular thought, beyond rational knowledge, beyond sensationalism. Indeed there are important aspects of their full identity not presently being considered. We ought to explore how new insights can potentially transform the human consciousness—the way we see ourselves in relationship to other beings and, consequently, the way in which we address our own influences upon the grizzly mother and her two cubs’ uncertain future. For once we encounter the grizzly in this manner, we awaken to a world of wonder, a world of pervading presence that is so much more than aesthetic beauty, more than recognizing their inherent value, much deeper than personal growth. We experience a deep sense of withinness and profound beyondness. And we come to understand the grizzly as a unique celebratory moment in the Great Self, a unique articulation of existence, a communion of relationships between varying moments in a fifteen billion year cosmological story that extends far beyond our ability to objectively study or quantifiably explain. For, indeed, in all their finite ordinariness, we come to know that within each bear—within the cautious mother, the shy and the rambunctious cubs—there exists the universe.

The author is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto with the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology & Ecology and the Institute for Environmental Studies. His research is in grizzly bear management and recovery strategies in Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, and Jasper National Parks as well as the Bitterroot Grizzly Bear Recovery Program. His dissertation is on Articulating Otherness and Mystery in the Endangered Species Encounter as a Path for Transforming the Brown Bear Conservation Action Plan for North America. He has been involved in Parks Canada’s Year of the Great Bear Campaign and the Sierra Club-Canada’s “People & the Planet.”

Reprinted with the author’s permission from Research News

Power of the Wild

 

by Roderick Frazier Nash

Reprinted from New Scientist, no. 2336, 30th March 2002, pp. 42-45.

My purpose is to persuade you that wilderness is a moral resource, Human cultures have seen an extraordinary intellectual revolution in recent centuries that has transformed their view of wilderness from a liability to an asset. That transformation has largely been promoted by anthropocentric arguments emphasising the value of wilderness to civilisation: recreational, scenic and spiritual values use man as the measure. But, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, the point of wilderness is that it is the home of ‘civilisations other than our own’. Or, as children’s author Maurice Sendak put it more recently, it is ‘where the wild things are’. Conceived as the habitat of other species, not as a human playground, wilderness is the best environment in which to learn that humans are members in, and not masters of, the community of life. And this ethical idea, working as a restraint in our relations with the environment, may be the starting point for saving this planet.

In the beginning, civilisation created wilderness. For nomadic hunters and gatherers, who have represented our species for most of its existence, everything natural is simply habitat, and people understood themselves to be part of a seamless living community. Lines began to be drawn with the advent of herding, agriculture and settlement. Distinctions between controlled and uncontrolled animals and plants became meaningful, as did the concept of controlled space: corrals, fields and towns.

The unmastered lands – the habitat of hunter-gatherers – came to seem threatening to settled folk. Ancient Greeks who had to pass through forest or mountain dreaded an encounter with Pan, the lord of the woods – who combined gross sensuality with boundless sportive energy. Indeed, the word ‘panic’ originated from the blinding fear that seized travellers on hearing strange cries in the wilderness and assuming them to signify Pan’s approach.

The origins of the English word ‘wilderness’ reflect this trepidation. In the early Teutonic and Norse languages, the root seems to have been ‘will’ with a descriptive meaning of self-willed, wilful or uncontrolled. From ‘willed’ came the adjective ‘wild’. By the eighth century, the Beowulf epic was populated by wildeor – a compound of ‘wild’ and ‘deor’, meaning beast – savage and fantastic beasts inhabiting a dismal region of forests, crags and cliffs.

The Judaeo-Christian tradition constituted another powerful formative influence on Europeans’ attitude to wilderness, perhaps especially those who colonised the New World. When the Lord of the Old Testament desired to threaten or punish a sinful people, he found the wilderness condition to be his most powerful weapon.

So the dawn of civilisation created powerful biases. We settled down, developed an ecological superiority complex and bet our evolutionary future on the control of nature. Now there were survival-related reasons to understand, order and transform the environment. The largest part of the energy of early civilisation was directed at conquering wildness in nature and disciplining it in human nature.

For the first time humans saw themselves as distinct from – and, they reasoned, better than the rest of nature. They began to think of themselves as masters, not members, of the community of life.

Civilisation severed the web of life as humans distanced themselves from the rest of nature. Behind fenced pastures, village walls and, later, gated condominiums, it was hard to imagine other living things as relatives, or nature as sacred. The remaining hunters and gatherers became ‘savages’. The community concepts, and attendant ethical respect, that had worked to curb human self-interest in dealings with nature declined in direct proportion to the ‘rise’ of civilisation. Nature lost its significance as something to which people belonged and became something they possessed: an adversary, a target, an object for exploitation.

The resulting war against the wilderness was astonishingly successful. Today we have fragments of a once-wild world, and with the wholesale disappearance of species. The ark is sinking – and on our watch.

Of course humans remain ‘natural’. But somewhere along the evolutionary way from spears to spaceships humanity dropped off the biotic team and, as author and naturalist Henry Beston recognised, became a ‘cosmic outlaw’. The point is that we are no longer thinking and acting like a part of nature. Or, if we are a part, it is a cancerous one, growing so rapidly as to endanger the larger environmental organism. Our species has become a terrible neighbour to the 30 million and more other species sharing space on this planet. Our numbers and our technology are wreaking ecological havoc. We have become the latter-day ‘death star’, with the same potential for destruction as the asteroid that ended the days of the dinosaurs.

This is not really an ‘environmental problem’. It’s a human problem. What needs to be conquered now is not the wilderness, but ourselves. We need to understand that it is civilisation that is out of control.

Mind-pollution is more serious than chemical pollution. It is time to understand that there is no ‘good life’ without a good environment and that it is a false prosperity that cannot be sustained over the long ecological haul. Growth must be dissociated from progress. Bigger is not better if the system is destroyed. As the deep ecologists recognise, we must now emphasise wholes over parts, and pursue justice at the level of entire ecosystems. A new valuation of wilderness is an excellent place to start.

The transformation that led some to view wilderness as an asset probably began with the Romantics. For example, Byron wrote in 1817 in the fourth canto of his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: ‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, / There is a rapture on the lonely shore, / There is society, where none intrudes, / By the deep sea, and music in its roar: / I love not man the less, but Nature more…’

But this insight developed into a largely anthropocentric justification of wilderness, as something to be valued and preserved for people. Recreational, spiritual and scenic values all used man as the measure. And so did the early ecological arguments for wilderness, with their utilitarian emphasis on protecting species that possibly held the cure for cancer. More recently, wild ecosystems have been praised as resources capable of providing environmental ‘services’ and sup porting human health. These are the arguments that, sometimes, sell nature protection on the political stage. But wilderness is not for people at all. It is where the wild things, the willed things, are. From this eco-centric perspective, wilderness preservation becomes a gesture of planetary modesty and a badly needed exercise in restraint on the part of a species intoxicated with its power. Seen this way, wilderness preservation expresses a belief in the rights of nature. Rightly seen, wilderness is the best demonstration that we are not the only, or even the primary, members of the biotic team. It is a living reminder of the gross limitations of our definitions of ‘society’ and ‘morality’. Our real society is coterminous with life on this planet, a fact that our ethical sensibilities have as yet failed to recognise.

In the biblical past people went to the wilderness to receive the commandments with which to restructure society. We need to do so again. Right now we desperately need a ‘time out’ to learn how to be team players in the biosphere. We need to learn – or, perhaps, to relearn – how to live responsibly in the larger community called the ecosystem. The first requirement for this is to respect our neighbours’ need for habitat.

We should try to define an ‘ecological contract’ that widens the circle of morality beyond the limits of the ‘social contract’ proposed by the 17th century philosopher John Locke. Aldo Leopold, a founder of conservationism in America, would have understood this to give priority to what he called the ‘land community’. The challenge is to advance morality from natural rights to the rights of nature. And this is where wilderness assumes critical importance. What it provides is precisely this ‘time out’ from the juggernaut of civilisation. Wild places are uncontrolled. Their presence reminds us of just how far we have distanced ourselves from the rest of nature.

We did not, after all, make wilderness. In it we stand naked of the built and modified environment, open to seeing ourselves once again as large mammals dependent not on our technological cleverness but on the health of the ecological community to which we belong. Writing in a pre-ecological age, Thoreau was more correct than he could have imagined about the importance of wildness to the preservation of the world. The actuality of wilderness reminds us that when we enter it we enter someone else’s home. Recall your parents’ admonitions: courtesy is called for; so is respect. Stealing is wrong (but think of the past few thousand years of human relationship to nature). Wild places deserve respect not for what they can do for us but for what they mean to our fellow evolutionary travellers.

The concept of wilderness is just as important. It instructs us in the need for a more embracing, environmental ethic. The fact that wilderness is nature we do not own or use can open us to perceiving its intrinsic value. By definition we do not dominate or control wild places, and so they suggest the importance of sharing – which was, after all, the basis of the ethic of fair play that we did not learn very well in kindergarten. A species whose technological cleverness has made it the schoolyard bully desperately needs the ethical discipline that wilderness provides. Ethics are concepts of right and wrong that work as restraints on freedom in the interest of preserving communities. It is easy to think of the kind of eco-centric ethic that I propose as being ‘against’ human, interests and freedoms. But most basic interests of human beings are inextricably linked to those of the greater environmental whole. From this perspective, less, in the way of human impact on the Earth, can indeed be more. Growth is a good thing that has been carried too far. We spend our ecological capital as if there were no tomorrow and run an environmental deficit. In the relatively near future, some feel, the notes will come due. Our self-interest is very definitely involved. If we sink that ark, we go down too. Respecting wildness, then, is prudent as well as ethically enlightened. Its instrumental and intrinsic values converge on the distant perspective point of evolutionary biology. Evolutionists increasingly recognise that species co-evolve – in communities. In respecting wildness, we forgo economic advantages. Lumbering, farming and mining stop. Roads and buildings stay outside. We even limit our recreational options: limiting the use of mechanised transport, for example. Indeed the power of ‘recreation’ as a justification for keeping land wild is in its twilight years; the Sun is rising on the new moral and ecological arguments. Wilderness is the best place both to learn and to express ecological limitation. Its value as a moral resource is not in the least diminished by our staying out altogether. Properly managed and interpreted, designated wilderness could give us the inspiration to live responsibly and sustainably elsewhere. In wildness is the promise of both biological and ethical repair.

Roderick Frazier Nash is professor emeritus of history and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His Wilderness and the American Mind is now in its fourth edition (Yale University Press, 2001)

 

 

The Evolution of Death and Samhain

by Michael Colebrook

(A paper  presented at the Annual Members meeting of GreenSpirit held in October 2002,  just a few days away from the festival of Samhain)

In the Irish tradition, Samhain contains the celebration of the Sacred Marriage between the Daghda, the God/King of the People of Dannan and the Morrigan, an aspect of the triple Goddess.

The sacred marriage between king and goddess is a fairly widespread element in the cultures of the ancient world. Probably the best known story involving the sacred marriage is that of Odysseus and Penelope. Odysseus claims the kingship of Ithaca by virtue of his marriage to the earthmother/goddess Penelope and their marriage was celebrated in a bed whose kingpost was carved from a living olive tree still rooted in the earth. The sacred marriage is more than simply a union between king and goddess. It also usually includes an element of relationship with the land or with a particular place.

In the Irish story, the Dagda and the Morrigan are not permitted the comfort of a bed, they have to stand astride a river with their feet on each bank.The Morrigan is clearly in the classic triple-goddess tradition. She is also a bird Goddess, common in the neolithic cultures of Old Europe and the Middle-East, linking her back to Lilith and Inanna and forward to Mother Goose and Halloween witches. In her various aspects the Morrigan is goddess of birth and death and fertility.The Daghda carries a massive club the business end of which kills while the other end heals. He also owns a cauldron of plenty.

Looking at the attributes of The Daghda and The Morrigan they are clearly linked to birth, death, and fertility and they are both fairly wild and unpredictable characters. . One of their daughters conceived at Samhain is Bridget who is associated with the re-birth festival of Imbolc.

The sacred marriage celebrated at Samhain re-enacts the union between the divine, the human and the land, between male and female, between life and death, it celebrates the turning of the year. For the Celts the eight seasonal festivals represent transitions and ‘between’ times when boundaries become transparent and borders can be crossed. Hence the sacred marriage celebrated with feet on either side of a river. At Samhain the crossable border is that between life and death. The idea has been carried over into the Christian tradition of Halloween when all sorts of spirits are abroad, followed by All Saints day when, in many Catholic countries, it is customary to visit the graves of close relatives.

So, it seems appropriate, as we are thinking about Samhain that we should include a consideration of the dialectic of life and death.

We generally think about autumn as a time of death and dying, a sad time, followed by winter and then the joyous time of spring when we celebrate rebirth. But this is actually the wrong way round, birth has come before death. Actually autumn is supremely a time of birth. Many of the seeds that will produce next year’s plants have already germinated. They pass the winter as relatively small rosettes of leaves ready to grow in the spring. On the trees most of the cells that will be next years leaves have already been produced. They are sitting curled up inside tight buds ready to burst out next spring. Many animals pass the winter as fertilised females ready to give birth as soon as spring arrives. The autumn is as much a period of birth and preparation as it is a period of death and dying. It has to be so because birth and death are inseparable, they are both parts of a continuous process, the process we call life.

In John Muir’s account of his thousand mile walk from Indianapolis to Florida in 1867 he tells of spending a few days and nights at a place called Bonaventure which was the graveyard for the town of Savannah in the state of Georgia. I quote:

‘I gazed awe-struck as one newly arrived from another world. Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favoured abodes of life and light.’

He goes on:

‘On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. Instead of the sympathy, the friendly union, of life and death so apparent in Nature, we are taught that death is an accident, a deplorable punishment for the oldest sin, the arch-enemy of life, etc. Town children, especially, are steeped in this death orthodoxy, for the natural beauties of death are seldom seen or taught in towns. But let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory… All is divine harmony.’

In the same vein Goethe wrote: ’The spectacle of Nature is always new, for she is always renewing the spectators. Life is her most exquisite invention; and death is her expert contrivance to get plenty of life.’

Both Muir and Goethe are emphasising that death is an essential feature of the continuity of life; as does Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. ’First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.’

Eugene Odum, who is one of the leading contemporary figures in scientific ecology has summed up whole the subject in just four words: ‘Matter circulates. Energy dissipates’. The estimate for the turnover time for the available global stock of carbon is about 100 years. There is the quick turn around of a few hours of eating, burning for energy and breathing out. There is the annual turn around. This has been measured and it amounts to about 200 thousand million tonnes of carbon exchanged between the biosphere and the atmosphere every year. There is the long, slow turn around in wood and coral reef and sea-shell of hundreds or even thousands of years.The earth has been carrying a stock of animals and plants for about 500 million years. We don’t know much about the sizes of these stocks but we do know that the diversity of species, has been more or less the same, although with lots of ups and downs, until about 100 million years or so. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the average total stock has had been more or less constant. This means that over this period every atom of carbon in my body and in all of your bodies has been part of another living organism an average of about 5 million times and it could be a lot more. Not all of the events have to end in a death, but a lot of them do.Each one of us exists on the back of millions of deaths.

The average life span of a species is about 5 million years. There have been many that have survived for less than this but there have also been some that have lasted a lot longer. The best known are a Brachiopod called Lingula and Limulus, the Horseshoe Crab. The diversity of species is high at the moment. There are probably somewhere between ten and thirty million species of living organisms. And over 500 million years there has probably been about a hundred complete turnovers of the species of living things.Just think for a moment about the awesome picture this conjures up. The countless livings and dyings of individuals and species. The whole involving a continuous cycling of about 2 thousand million tonnes of carbon every year. And this has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. None of this would be possible without plenty of death and dying. Goethe’s insight was spot on – ‘The spectacle of Nature is always new, for she is always renewing the spectators. Life is her most exquisite invention; and death is her expert contrivance to get plenty of life.’ What Goethe did not know was the grand, indeed enormous and magnificent scale on which nature did these things. Life and death are inseparable. They are part of the same process. We call it the life cycle, but you could just as easily call it the death cycle. If there is too much death then obviously the life cycle will collapse but there are also situations when too much life creates a problem. An obvious example is the Desert Locust whose populations occasionally go wild with devastating effects on large areas of vegetation. There is also the bacterium called Yersinia pestis which during the plague known as the Black Death the life of this little creature along with the lives of lots of fleas and lots of rats, was responsible for the death of about a third of the human population of Europe.

Two key chemical elements in the life process are carbon and nitrogen. Both exhibit clear cycles, but there is something odd about both of them. I have already talked about the carbon cycle in which the main exchanges take place between living things and the atmosphere. But by far the largest stock of carbon is underground in the form of rock, limestone and coal. In contrast to this in the nitrogen cycle the main exchanges take place between living things and the soil. But by far the largest global stock of nitrogen is in the atmosphere. Gaia seldom does things in what seems the most obvious and sensible way. We tend think about these cycles as involved in nurturing life and so they are. But they also necessarily involve death. Wendell Berry focuses on this aspect in what is in effect a beautiful meditation on the nitrogen cycle:

I began to be followed by a voice saying:

‘Go look under the leaves,’ it said, ‘for what is living there is

long dead in your tongue.’

And it said, ‘Put your hands into the earth. Live close

to the ground. Learn the darkness.

Gather round you all the things that you love, name

their names, prepare to lose them. It will be

as if you all you know were turned around in your body.’

 

And I went and put my hands

into the ground, and they took root

and grew into a season’s harvest.

I looked behind the veil of the leaves, and heard voices

that I knew had been dead

in my tongue years before my birth. I learned the dark.

Then the voice following me said:

‘You have not yet come close enough.

Come nearer the ground. Learn

from the woodcock in the woods

whose feathering is a ritual of the fallen leaves,

and from the nesting quail

whose speckling makes her hard to see in the long grass.

Study the coat of the mole. For the farmer shall wear

the greenery and the furrows of his fields, and bear

the long standing of the woods.’

 

And I asked: ‘You mean a death then?’

‘Yes,’ the voice said. ‘Die

into what the earth requires of you.’

Then I let go of all holds, and sank

like a hopeless swimmer into the earth, and at last

came fully into the ease

and the joy of that place,

all my lost ones returning.

 

By far the commonest form of dying ‘into what the earth requires of you’ is to be eaten. As Brian Swimme came to realise in the Brazilian rain forest, ‘the whole of existence is concerned with eating and being eaten.’

Part of the endless fascination of the study of biology lies in finding out about the seemingly endless ways that organisms have discovered of eating each other, on one hand, and found ways of avoiding being eaten on the other.

One of my favourite stories is about a rain forest tree that when it is being eaten by a particular caterpillar it uses some of the saliva of the caterpillar to produce a pheromone, a chemical with a particular smell, which, with a bit of luck, attracts a particular wasp which then lays its eggs inside the caterpillar which, as it is being eaten from the inside, soon stops eating the tree.

Just think for a moment about the complexity of the co-evolutionary processes that resulted in this system, which is just one of thousands of other equally improbable stories that make up a tropical rain forest, which is just one of hundreds of different ecosystems that make up Gaia, the earth system as a whole. According to the French biologist François Jacob there are two necessary conditions for biological evolution. Firstly, there is sex which establishes a system of communication at the genetic level and, ‘the other necessary condition for the very possibility of evolution is death. Not death from without, as the result of some accident; but death imposed from within, as a necessity prescribed from the egg onward by the genetic programme itself. For evolution is the result of a struggle between what was and what is to be.’ So we have the evolution of natural death as an essential feature of the evolution of life. Natural death highlights the fact that living is a continuous process of self making. The posh word for this is autopoesis which is simply Greek for self making. It is important to realise just what is involved here. Living organisms do not only use food to build their own bodies, they also make the tools needed to convert food into their bodies. More, they hold the blue-prints needed to make the tools needed to convert food into body. And the body is the place where the tools work and the blue-prints are stored. There is more, the blue-prints contain the instructions for making the tools needed to make copies of the blue-prints. There is more. The processes are continuous – self-making involves self-unmaking and self-remaking. Bits of us are dying all the time and being remade. Our skin replaces its cells at the rate of 100,000 cells every minute. On the evolutionary time-scale the process of remaking involves the emergence of a programmed element of ageing leading to natural death.

There is a profound dilemma here. We humans pride ourselves on being at the top of the evolutionary ladder and then treat either as evil or tragic the death that is an essential feature of the evolutionary process that got us where we are. The Brazilian ecofeminist theologian Ivone Gebara, as reported by Rosemary Radford Ruether, claims that original sin was not an act of disobedience that resulted in a fall into mortality, but rather the primal sin lies in the effort to escape from mortality, finitude and vulnerability. Evil lies not in death but in attempts to deny mortality by accumulating possessions and seeking for power over the natural world and over other people. In the medieval play Everyman is called by Death to go on the last journey:

Everyman replies:

O death thou comest when I had ye least in mind,

In thy power it lyeth me to save,

Yet of my goods will I give ye if thou will be kind

Ye a thousand pound shalt thou have,

And defer this matter till another day.

At the values of 1530 a thousand pounds was a vast sum. But Death is not moved:

Everyman, it may not be, by no way.

I set not by gold, silver nor riches,

Nor by pope, emperour, kynge, duke nor princes

For and I would receive gifts great,

All the world I might get.

But my custom is clean contrary

I give thee no respite, come hence and do not tarry.

Everyman goes on to seek help from kindred and friends, from his worldly goods, then from Beauty, Strength, Discretion and Knowledge. To no avail. Everything that Everyman had banked on to keep him safe deserts him. But, this being a morality play, Everyman’s Good Deeds do offer to be his guide. I suspect that one of the things that humans see as distinguishing us from most other animals is our relative longevity, three score years and ten plus plus – it seems to be getting more all the time – Death obviously appeared to Everyman well before he was expected.

Although humans do live longer than most other animals. It is also a fact that, on the whole, plants live longer than animals. Nearly all species of trees and a lot of woody shrubs can live for well over 100 years, and there are many perennial plants, including grasses that can go on making themselves more or less indefinitely. Very few plants live for less than a year. In contrast there are lots of insects and small invertebrates that have several generations a year and very few animals live for more than a few decades. In this country alone there are more than 400 Yew trees that are over 1000 years old and the oldest, at Fortingall on Tayside, is believed to be over 5000 years old. When you look at one of these aged Yew trees you get a very clear message. Old and tired they may be but they haven’t given up on the struggle to stay alive. This is the paradox of death. Although death is inevitable and an essential feature of life, all living things do their best to stay alive. From the humblest bacterium to ourselves, all living organisms react to unfavourable conditions up to the limit of their capabilities. Everything tries to avoid death as far as possible, but a lot of organisms have to die for other organisms to stay alive. This is the paradox of life. Which brings us back to the celebration of Samhain when in particular we may ponder on these profound paradoxical aspects of life and death in the context of the endless cycling of the seasons.

I don’t think I can do better than to finish with the words of Rosemary Radford Ruether: ‘In order to create a spirituality of recycling in which the human life cycle becomes complementary to the life cycles of the plants and animals, air, water, and soil around us, I believe we have to come to terms with our mortality. We must overcome the false world view that has rationalised our flight from mortality. We will not overcome our tendencies to turn the waste, death and decay side of our life-cycle into poisons until we accept ourselves as mortal and learn to reintegrate ourselves as beings that die and decay into the natural processes of the renewal of life. Although humans are, in one way, the apex, at least up to now, of the evolutionary process, we, as much as plants and other animals, are finite centres of life, who exist for a season. We too die; all the cells in our bodies disintegrate back into the stuff of the universe, to rise again in new forms, as part of a worm or a bird, a flower or a human child. The material substances of our bodies live on in plants and animals, just as our own living bodies are composed of substances that were once part of rocks, plants, and animals, stretching back through time to prehistoric ferns and reptiles, before that to ancient organisms that once floated the first seas of the earth, and before that to the stardust of exploding stars. The spirituality of recycling, by which we become interdependent with the positive life processes of all other beings around us, demands a fundamental conversion of consciousness. We have to take into our consciousness and practice recognition of our mortality and transience, relinquishing the illusion of permanence of immortal selves that can be exempt from this process. While this may be a sad word for those who see the individual self as ultimate, it can become a joyful word once we have learned to see ourselves as an integral part of the great matrix of being which is ever renewing life in new creative forms out of the very processes we call ‘death’.

‘One generation of beings dies and is dispersed back into the matrix, so that another generation of beings can grow from its womb. This is the true and only resurrection of the dead. It is the real process of what has been called ‘reincarnation’. As we surrender our ego-clinging to ‘personal immortality’, we find our selves upheld in the immortality of the wondrous whole, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’.

This festival of Samhain is the time of year when it is the tradition to ponder on these mysteries.