By Rob Wood
I am impressed with Naomi Klein’s assertion ( in her book “This Changes Everything”) that for our species to survive the threat of catastrophic climate change we must abandon obsolete belief systems (myths) that are driving the fossil fueled juggernaut of modern society.
Most serious, is the prevalent belief that humans are separate from and superior to the rest of the world and therefore have the right to dominate and abuse it without any cost to our selves. This dangerously deluded myth thrives on the fact that most of our thinking is not actually conscious but rather the automatic replaying of subconscious cultural conditioning (brain washing). Even in our personal lives most of us are very busy pulling blinkers over the eyes of ourselves and our children (tunnel vision). Ironically, conscious brain power, the very attribute that is supposed to make us superior and separate, is exactly what we rarely practice.
Whereas it may be true that civilizations have always been controlled by powerful elites with vested interests in perpetuating their view of the world, it is also true that many civilizations collapsed because they failed to adjust to the changes in the environment brought on by the consequences of their own beliefs. What is different this time is that the consequences of our predominant beliefs have the potential of annihilating our species along with many others.
It seems the choice we now face, both as individuals and collectively, is between continued subconscious allegiance to the myth of objectivity and a more conscious allegiance to the fundamental survival messages in our social and natural surroundings. Recent extreme weather events are finally inducing people to wake up and pay attention to what the Earth is telling us.
This way of seeing things is supported by a new paradigm of Holism which is struggling for popular acceptancebecause it challenges the vested interests of the mega wealthy powers that be. It is not, however, unfamiliar to either aboriginal cultures or to modern science. Quantum physics, for example, confirms that we live in a seamless world of interrelated and interpenetrating energy fields (vibrations) in which everything is dynamic and inherently uncertain. When we observe or measure reality, we change it (goodbye objectivity). Mind forms the fundamental component of matter (including us) enabling every part to know what the rest is doing… Universal Consciousness.
Biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, has an answer for how dogs can predict epileptic seizures, how elephants predicted the Indonesiatsunami by breaking their chains and heading up hill away from the beach and how salmon and pigeons find their way home: they know how to tune into their environment and it tells them what to do and which way to go. In the new science of Epigenetics cellular behavior is governed by the way the cell’s membrane interacts with its environment (other cells) rather than by genes and DNA.
This very different understanding of reality is also confirmed by my sixty years of experience living, working and playing close to nature. Right from when I first started rock climbing on the local crags, in the mountains and later in Canadian wilderness I felt a mysterious inspiration, a euphoric sense of freedom, belonging and happiness way over and above any other aspect of my ‘normal’ everyday life in the city. The more I experienced this ‘extra ordinary’ hidden connectivity the more convinced I became of the presence in wild places of an essential magical componentof life that mainstream modern society is missing and possibly even precluding. Considered crazy by those who have not experienced it, this magic induced in me a life- long fascination and quest for meaning.
Hidden connectivity is more noticeable in pristine wilderness where the land has not been modified or tamed by man and where silence and peace are accentuated by the absence of societal clutter. There the landscape takes on an ambient presence (vibration) that resonates with our feelings and emotions. Things go better when we when we pay attention to these feelings and tune in to our surroundings and each other; when we consciously listen and read the signs with body / minds open, free and focused. Then meaningful coincidences and intuitive hunches happen more frequently that can influence judgment and critical decisions especially those concerning route finding, timing, weather and avalanches. Conversely, things go badly when we are not paying complete attention to our surroundings or not getting along with each other. These vibrations can be very strong especially when danger is immediately apparent.
During my youthful experience of extreme rock and ice climbing I had lots of opportunity to experience danger. I noticed that the anticipation of fear (the fear of fear) immediately prior to confronting the danger was worse than the actuality. It took a certain amount of courage and confidence to get started but once the risk was embraced I became so absorbed in it there was no time to be afraid. Adrenaline and endorphins inspired a shift in perception and heightened awareness. Fear and doubt riddenmental constructs of what might or should be were displaced by a more conscious, honestand direct involvement in what was actually happening. Like surfers riding a wave or kids learning to ride a bike, once committed to going with the flow, my individual will interacted with the energy fields of the environment in a symbiotic evolving process of trial and error; feed-back and response. Then not only was physical performance and survival ability finely tuned, guided and enhanced but I also felt a euphoric sense of meaning and belonging. By confronting and working through fear and separation I discovered love and unity with something much larger than myself. This ‘natural high’ or being 'in the Zone’, is what motivates many of us adventurers to risk our lives in such spectacular ways. We readily become addicted because it makes us feel more conscious ; more alive and ironically more safe and secure.
I have spent many happy hours in pubs, around camp fires, in storm bound tents and through long dark nights on cold, sleepless bivouacs discussing this illusive subject. What I have discovered, first from experience and then from reading, conversation and reflection is that consciousness is deeply imprinted in all of life not just in us. In those rare moments of mindfulness, when we remove the blinkers of conditioned thinking, we feel the synergistic resonance between external and internal consciousness and we are empowered by it.
I believe this also applies in the less extreme and more subtle circumstances of everyday life; whenever our body /minds openly and unconditionally engage with the ambiance of our surroundings. This could explainthosemagical moments that make life more meaningful and joyful; an infant’s smile, a lover’s touch, creation and appreciation of music and art, a cat purring on our lap, a decent conversation or a good belly laugh; when we are in ‘the zone’ and experiencing unconditional love.
With governments abdicating their social contracts to protect citizens, people are finding more direct ways to confront the danger of climate chaos. Substituting creative work and recreation that is more mindful of being in this place and this moment could provide a cheaper, more effective and less environmentally damaging alternative to material aggrandizement as a source of meaningful happiness. Mindfulness (consciousness) is rapidly emerging in popular perception. It is even being taught in schools. Can it catch on in time to produce a more accurate, relevant and sustainable cosmology ; a world of interconnected, dynamic relationships rather than separate things; being and becoming rather than doing, having and getting; living, working and playing with nature rather than against her ?
Most of all, can it reawaken the survival instinct of our children?
Rob Wood is a life long Adventurer and Adventure Educator who has worked most of his career with Strathcona Park Lodge on Vancouver Island. He is our "wise elder" who for the past 40 years has provided important leadership. He lives with his wife Laurie on an off the grid homestead on Maurelle Island.