(Copyright © 2009)

 

In my view, we are conscious within situations and act within situations, so to change the world, we must create new situations inviting us to further the changes we want to achieve. Situations are domains in which consciousness and action are joined in an ongoing loop of feedforward and feedback. All action is tentative because we aren’t sure of the results until we experience them. We operate through successive approximations guided by feedback, approaching our goal through jumps and starts, then evaluating the results, modifying our aim, and trying again. In the end, we may achieve our goal—or not. But if we don’t make the effort, and pay close attention, we are sure to stay stuck where we are.

 

When nineteen Islamic terrorists brought down the Twin Towers with a death toll of almost three thousand, they created a situation in which the U.S. government felt the need to make a fast, bold, decisive response. The people responded variously, some wanting to learn more about Islam and the Middle East, others turning their hurt and anger into a rage for revenge. The military sent high altitude bombers against targets in Afghanistan, then set about invading Iraq. Eight years later, both wars are still going on, the missions of the two campaigns—after many revisions—still unachieved.

 

When Jews sought a homeland in Palestine in 1947-1949, they sought to gather themselves from around the world after being dispossessed for almost two thousand years, into a state of their own where they could recover their spirit and identity after the horrors of World War II—the most recent insult to their personhood. The situation of the Diaspora led to situations of ghettoization led to a situation of scapegoating and the Holocaust led to a feeling of “never again” led to a situation of banding together for protection led to invasion and reoccupation of the former homeland, and resulting war and Palestinian exodus. The hope for peaceful coexistence, prosperity, and security is yet unachieved, creating a situation in which the energies of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples are being drained day-by-day through mutual antagonism.

 

The Germans created a situation of global instability and insecurity by invading Poland in 1939. The Japanese compounded the situation by attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941. First the French, then the Americans failed to recognize the failure of Western colonialism in Southeast Asia, misreading the disintegrating situation in Vietnam in terms of the perceived spread of Communism, distorting the situation by creating yet another tragic, unwinnable war.

 

As I have written (Reflection 88: To-Do Lists, posted April 10, 2009), consolidating a variety of tasks into a single list creates a situation within which tasks can be prioritized and dealt with more easily than when treated separately. Credit card companies use a similar strategy in inviting you to consolidate your various debts with them so you’ll have only one payment to make, even if it goes on forever at a high rate of interest.

 

Getting married creates a wholly new situation by legally joining two separate lives—and bank accounts, the true complexity of the situation often underappreciated until the parties decide to separate and go their own ways.

 

Humor flows from situations that generate expectations fulfilled in unsuspected ways. Take Fred and Myrtle, for example. Married for some 65 years, they’d become fixtures on the Maine coast. Fred was a fisherman, first going out for cod and haddock in the groundfishery, then when that failed in 1993, going out for lobster. Fred knew everybody, and everybody felt they’d known Fred forever. Myrtle, meantime, picked crabmeat from crabs Fred brought home, baked her famous strawberry-rhubarb and raspberry-blueberry pies, donuts, whoopie-pies, and hung clothes on the line to dry in the breeze from offshore. But one day in his late eighties, Fred went to his reward. The editor of the local newspaper got wind of it and called Myrtle to ask her to provide an obituary. “No need for that,” said Myrtle, “everybody knows Fred. I couldn’t add a thing they don’t know.” The editor pressed her, saying he couldn’t let Fred’s passing go unnoticed. Myrtle said she’d give it a try. She sat in the kitchen and thought about it, but nothing came. Fred was a fixture, there was nothing more to be said. She sent the editor what she came up with. He called her and told her Fred deserved more than the two words she’d sent in: “Fred died,” was just too short for a man of his years. Couldn’t she stretch it out with more personal details? Myrtle said she’d try. She sat some more over two cups of coffee, then sent in her expanded obituary: “Fred died; boat for sale.”

 

Situations play our expectations against our experience in an enduring exchange that builds over time. We are gripped by the process, contributing our bit, waiting to find out what happens. The playoffs and World Series create situations of national sporting interest. Think Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, and all the other contests we give ourselves to so we can get through the year. We devote our lives to supporting our favored teams, doing all we can to make sure that they win. The spring madness of statewide high school basketball playoffs creates situations tapping into the same energy stream.

 

I remember when clove gum was introduced in the 1940s. I was walking across the street in Hamilton, New York, and met a young blonde in a flouncy, clove-colored skirt who handed me a stick of gum as she smiled and passed by. Free gum! Such a thing had never happened to me. Manufacturers know the personal touch is a good way to get word of a new product spread around, so they hold focus groups to test the waters. I have often thought of what that woman’s day was like, spreading the word about clove gum through small towns in upstate New York, creating a firestorm in the hearts of young boys.

 

If consciousness embedded in old situations has gotten us into the mess we are in today, then what kind of situations might set us on a new course? What sort of situation would alter my personal consciousness so that I would act in my own small sphere to heal the many things we’ve been doing wrong all this time?

 

Survey the situation as it is, list pros and cons, prioritize, visualize an improved situation, then act accordingly. Groups are going through this process all over the world. Women in Nigeria protest oil exploitation by banging pots and pans in the streets. Women in Liberia go on strike and sit by the roadside for the sake of peace. Groups are urging the development of and switch to alternative sources of energy. I went to a four-hour Pachamama Alliance symposium—Awakening The Dreamer, Changing The Dream—this past Sunday, and signed the pledge: “I am committed to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet as the guiding principle of our times.” Videos presented concrete images of the status quo, activists told of their strategies and accomplishments, we locals discussed how we could direct our energies toward shaping our culture by finding better ways of eating, consuming, traveling, and generally being on the Earth.

 

Traveling alone, the burden seems huge. Traveling together, we can all share the load. Combining our separate experience, consciousness, and effort, we begin to picture a new world. There is no substitute for becoming the change we seek. Others will follow our example. If nobody goes first, everybody is stuck in last place—where we don’t want to be.

 

The main thing is to join others in working together toward similar goals. Think of the new situation as a nest with new life streaming out in every direction from that energy source in our local territory. Taking in radiant energy from the sun, we can put it to more effective use in everyday life than our forebears have been able to do. The new situation is called “the future.” That’s where we’re headed. With pot bangers linked to street sitters linked to seminar goers linked to activists of every stripe in every locale linked to me linked to you, all creating a new situation that is really a new world.

 

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(Copyright © 2009)

 

I live in one of the most beautiful stretches of the East Coast, the kind of place people move to when they retire. Here be mountains, lakes, woods, trails, streams, pounding surf, and wildlife. Here I live among eagles, purple finches, beavers, white-tailed deer, coyotes, snowshoe hares, deer mice, porcupines, harbor seals, and a host of other native inhabitants. My drinking water comes from the watershed of Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park, a watershed about as undeveloped as any this side of the Mississippi River. Intuition tells me this is a good place to live.

 

A great many others think so as well. They come from all over—New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts—all seeking the promised land of their dreams. They sell their houses in the Land of Away and move to Maine. But then a funny thing happens. They become very sensitive to any sprawl or overdevelopment that might threaten their values and privacy. The feeling is unanimous: Pull up the drawbridge; Let no others trespass on this sacred ground.

 

There you have it—territoriality. I’ve got mine, but you can’t have yours! Not here, not now. No Trespassing signs spring out of the ground; motion detectors rise in every yard. This attachment to home turf is one of the most prominent features of consciousness. It even floods over into the games we play, many of which are territorial contests between those eternal rivals, the Home Team and aliens from Away. Think football, basketball, soccer, Monopoly, backgammon, chess, checkers, and many others. To win is to rule the field, the course, the board—all stand-ins for what really counts—the territory.

 

Robins define their boundaries, singing from the treetops, along with scarlet tanagers, mockingbirds, and every other bird, declaring, “I’ve got mine!” Which translates either as “Come and share it with me” (directed at females of the species), or “I’m warning you, keep away!” (directed at rival males). Coyotes mark their territories, as do wolves, foxes, dogs, cats, otters, and a great many other territorial animals. Including humans. We clean our houses, mow lawns, plant hedges, put up fences, and so on, all marking this one place on Earth as distinctively ours.

 

The whole concept of ownership, the basis of much of our law, is territorial. Our concepts of justice and fairness are based on territory—what’s mine and what’s yours. When we get paid for work we do, that paycheck belongs to us. We stash it in a bank account that is legally ours. Even when we go shopping we are claiming our own. Personal consciousness is at the forefront of such territorial issues. We are always alert to the need to defend what is ours against roving bands of light-fingered hooligans. Even street gangs are territorial. No, street gangs especially are territorial because their members have no real property to call their own; they have the conscious lust or urge to possess real property, but not the wherewithal.

 

Getting married, who does not have the thought, “Now I’ve got mine!” That first baby may arouse a similar feeling. The roots of slavery are much the same: I can’t do this on my own. So other lives are co-opted or taken by force, much as cattle are branded as private property. Many of our so-called human rights center on issues of property or territoriality. Right to life. Right to earn a living. Right to be free. Rights are claims that, when you make them, the state or community will back you up. So states are in the business of implementing and defending the dictates of consciousness. The drive to band together for mutual benefit is powerful magic.

 

When rival claims are made to the same territory, all hell is apt to break loose. It is on the basis of no whim that Palestinians and Israelis are locked in conflict, Palestinian consciousness and justification versus Israeli consciousness and justification. In Iraq, Kurds are fairly settled in the mountainous north, while Shiites and Sunnis have at one another over the issue of territory. These issues will never be resolved satisfactorily until each party holds sway over its own turf.

 

Sovereignty is at the heart of conflicts around the globe. Such conflicts erupt from personal consciousness when individuals act on the basis of their need to have and control the resources required to survive at a desirable level. As things now stand, there are more humans on the planet than it can provide for, all wishing to be upwardly mobile, to have more than their neighbors. Conflict is inherent in this situation. Conflict without any satisfactory resolution, without any end. As long as some people can cry, “I’ve got mine!” while others go landless, naked, or hungry, the survivors are living at the expense of the destitute.

 

The only solution is to reduce the human population in each territory to a level that it can provide for sustainably. Otherwise, the territorial struggle will go on. War will go on. Starvation will go on. Neglect and brutality will go on. Injustice will go on.

 

World violence is situational because human consciousness is situational. The battle is built into us. We can sing, “This land is my land, this land is your land,” only when the singers are a small group in a big land. When the land’s capacity to support life is neared, the singing will cease. The drawbridge will be raised, guns purchased, rockets aimed.

 

This is the brink of understanding to which the introspective study of consciousness can lead us. Must lead us if we are to work toward an effective solution. If there are too many of us consuming too many resources at too high a level of technology for too long a span, what are we going to do about the situation? For indeed that is the situation we have created for ourselves. No one did it to us. We are fully responsible. It is too late to blame anyone but ourselves.

 

In the current world situation, singing out “I’ve got mine!” isn’t good enough. Living on the backs of the helpless isn’t good enough. Winning the game of life isn’t good enough. Hogging resources isn’t good enough. Relying on conventional views of human consciousness isn’t good enough.

 

What needs to happen is that we’ve got to become conscious of one another so to release the inherent compassion we are capable of feeling for the tribe beyond our individual selves. The human tribe as one tribe among all tribes on Earth—all equally deserving of a fair run at survival.

 

Can we do it? If we can’t we are lost, indeed. We have no option but to heighten our consciousness and give it a try. We all know the chorus of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is My Land:

 

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California, to the New York Island

From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters

This land was made for you and me.

 

But here’s the final verse:

 

In the squares of the city—In the shadow of the steeple

Near the relief office—I see my people

And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’

If this land’s still made for you and me.

 

Now we know that the grumblin’ and wonderin’ was an early sign of the transformation in consciousness that is now so desperately needed. This land isn’t made for you and me, we are made to suit this land. That is what consciousness has to tell us, if only we will look into the matter. Stewardship—of our numbers, of this land, and of our claims to it—is the real issue.

 

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