Don’t start a war on terrain that your enemy knows better than you do. They’ll be fighting for their homeland; you’ll be fighting for an idea. Think of the homegrown Minutemen driving the Brits back to Boston from outlying Concord and Lexington. Think of U.S. wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Homeland trumps technology every time.

Surfing the Web splits mind and body apart. As does watching TV. Talking on a cellphone. Our minds leave our bodies and go off on their own. Leaving us mindless in dealing with what’s right in front of us. Dreamland is a place of great fantasies perhaps, but not of great works. The trick is in bringing mind home where it belongs so together mind and body can engage as a team. Apart, they invariably get into trouble.

When I moved to Burying Island in Maine from suburban Boston in June, 1986, I forced my body and mind to come together so I could survive on thirty acres of natural terrain. No roads, no electricity, no refrigeration, no phones, no neighbors (except in July and August)—just a few trails through thirty acres of woods. Wild terrain, with herons, eagles, foxes, sandpipers, the Acadian Forest, and me.

I had three great advantages in establishing a toehold. With a lot of help, I’d built an insulated cabin with a sleeping loft in 1976, had a boat to get back and forth to the mainland, and a spring on the island providing an unfailing supply of fresh water. Everything else was up to whatever I could do with mind and body working as the team they were meant to be.

So began an era in my life starting with two-and-a-half years on the island, followed by four years of environmental work in coastal Hancock County, five years working as a ranger in Acadia Nation Park in Bar Harbor, and then the golden ten years of my retirement as a writer about, and photographer of, the local terrain, capped by nine years writing about all the introspective thoughts I’d had since arriving in Maine for keeps.

How did I engage nature during those almost thirty years of my life? The answer to that is the story of my coming of age as a person fulfilled in mind and body: Steve from planet Earth, an Earthling through-and-through.

Let me count the ways. Here is a numbered list of some of my various engagements with nature in that era, all leading back to my lifelong focus on my mind where those engagements begin, end, and continue to develop.

  1. Cutting firewood, hauling water, bailing boats.
  2. Being out of my depth in the wild; doing what had to be done.
  3. Taking thousands of photographs with my 35mm and 11×14” view cameras; writing at least six unpublished books dealing with environmental issues.
  4. Opposing a thirty-four-lot subdivision encroaching on two eagle nests—and actually winning my case with a lot of help from environmental groups, the land at issue being deeded to the state by the Nature Conservancy as 100 acres of eagle habitat.
  5. Helping to found three local environmental groups: Frenchman Bay Conservancy (FBC), Friends of Taunton Bay (FTB), The River Union (TRU)—the first two still going after 25 years.
  6. Working on a proposed watershed management plan for salmon and trout streams.
  7. Compiling a watershed map of Mount Desert Island. Developing my Watershed File.
  8. Working on a management plan for Saint Croix Island settled by the French in 1604.
  9. Self-publishing ACADIA: The Soul of a National Park based on descriptions of 60 hikes through the seasons in Acadia National Park.
  10. Producing three small photo books: Acadia’s Trails and Terrain; Acadia’s Native Flowers, Fruits, and Wildlife; The Shore Path, Bar Harbor, Maine.
  11. Conducting a bay management project for Taunton Bay with a grant from the state.
  12. Monitoring two populations of horseshoe crabs at the northern limit of their global range in order to understand their seasonal migrations, finding that they stayed in their respective sub-bays in Taunton Bay throughout the year.
  13. Determining why eelgrass in Taunton Bay suffered a 90-percent dieback in 2001 due to the worst drought in recorded local history.
  14. Monitoring coastal erosion and sea-level rise in Taunton and Frenchman Bays.
  15. Attending a month-long symposium at the Quaker Institute for the Future in 2006, where I worked on trying to discover why fishermen and fisheries-management biologists didn’t speak the same language. That work sparked my introspective study of my own mind, the only mind I have access to on intimate terms.
  16. Beginning this blog in 2008 as an attempt to get my random notes on consciousness and engagement into presentable form. I used the blog as a scratchpad for later writings.
  17. Working on and self-publishing CONSCIOUSNESS: The Book, in 2011.
  18. Working on and self-publishing ON MY MIND: A New Vision of Consciousness, in 2013.
  19. Putting up a new Website on consciousness, mindfarer.institute, to help me organize my thoughts.
  20. And now using this blog, onmymynd.wordpress.com, to polish my writing about consciousness and engagement through the years into a coherent whole before I die.

When I moved to Maine, I could not have predicted that any of this would happen. But by getting my act together in 1986 so mind and body could effectively work to engage in a collaborative fashion, the flow of events in my life began adding to a larger summation as a body of work, which has yet to come to its final conclusion.

I’m still at it. Not boasting of my accomplishments, but making bare the method I use to engage nature, myself being only one contributor to the far grander aim of living with the Earth in a meaningful way, not just on it as a mindless passenger. Why else do I have a mind if not to work toward that concerted end?

 

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(Copyright © 2009)

Based in Kaiserslautern, Germany between Korean and Vietnamese Wars, I served as a still photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps 1956-1957. With an ear for the local idiom SP-Kaiserslautern-1957 (having studied German for two years), I was sometimes mistaken for a native speaker and, off-duty, did my best to look like one. With 30 days of leave a year, I traveled around France, Italy, Holland, and much of the wine-growing region west of the Rhine River. On foot, I roamed the hills around Kaiserslautern whenever I could, while most of my Army buddies played cards, went to the PX, or movies on base. Putting my conscious mind where my body was, I think I got more from my military experience than those of my buddies who carried on as if they were still in the States.

I bring this up because I see so many people hiking the trails of Acadia National Park jabbering away as if they were back wherever they came from. That is, their minds are anywhere but where their bodies are at the moment. Which is why I published ACADIA: The Soul of a National Park in 1998—to show some of what might be discovered by actively exploring the trails along the way instead of manfully striding to the top of the mountain and then back to the car. The point being that we have to actively reach out to the landscape if even a portion of it is to register in consciousness. Looking is the greater part of seeing; without it we are functionally blind.

Which good old Thoreau said almost 150 years ago (Henry David Thoreau, “Autumnal Tints” in Excursions, 1863):

Objects are concealed from our view, not so much because they are out of the course of our visual ray as because we do not bring our minds and eyes to bear on them; for there is no power to see in the eye itself, any more than in any other jelly. We do not realize how far and widely, or how near and narrowly, we are to look. The greater part of the phenomena of Nature are for this reason concealed from us all our lives. (Page 350f.)

I picture that visual ray shooting out of our pupils, intercepting the scene, reflecting it back into our eyes so our brains can get at it. No ray, no sightline, no reflection, no seeing. I think digital photography is a good reminder that we have to take pains in aiming our cameras (or cell phones) at something if we want to view the image on the LCD monitor. That much is obvious. What we sometimes forget is that the same is true for seeing with our own eyes. Thoreau again:

There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate,—not a grain more. The actual objects which one man will see from a particular hill-top are just as different from those which another will see as the beholders are different. The Scarlet Oak must, in a sense, be in your eye when you go forth. We cannot see anything until we are possessed with the idea of it, take it into our heads,—and then we can hardly see anything else. (Page 351.)

That last sentence says it all: we see from the inside-out—not simply what is there waiting to be seen. We need motivation to direct attention toward that which we want to see before we see anything at all. Exceptions to that principle usually demonstrate that, as the frog is programmed to see the hawk, we come programmed to see certain things such as flesh of the opposite sex, food, threats to our children, and shiny new cars. Well, maybe not all of us appreciate the cars, or opposite sex for that matter. Aside from such salient visions, learning and effort are generally required to appreciate the sight of most things nature and culture have on display. Some of us will notice them, many will walk right by. Thoreau says, for example:

In my botanical rambles I find that, first, the idea, or image, of a plant occupies my thoughts, though it may seem very foreign to this locality,—no nearer than Hudson’s Bay,—and for some weeks or months I go thinking of it, and expecting it, unconsciously, and at length I surely see it. This is the history of my finding a score or more of rare plants, which I could name. (Page 351.)

If you don’t have a mind for rare plants, you’ll never have an eye for them, either. Thoreau’s next sentence: “A man sees only what concerns him.” (Page 351.) Expectancy is destiny. True for us all. We generally see only what we have an interest in seeing in the world around us. To see more, we have to develop an interest in seeing more. We have to be trained—or train ourselves—to see what we’re missing.

I have found that it required a different intention of the eye, in the same locality, to see different plants, even when they were closely allied. (Page 352.)

Thoreau got that right. It takes “a different intention of the eye” so see anything we are not accustomed to look for in our surroundings. Intention is the key word in using our eyes. And ears, and fingers. The nose is different. With molecules actually settling on our olfactory membranes, we smell them whether we want to or not. Where smells have their own characteristic insistence, sights and sounds are more matters of intention on our part. Which is why we generally see what we are familiar with, as long as it’s not upstaged by a more commanding presence. Parents in the audience single out their children in the chorus and have eyes only for them, even though others may be better performers. Attention is in the eye of the beholder.

Which raises the question, if we want to learn to see or hear more than we do now, how do we upgrade our intention? That, of course, is one thing schools are for. If you missed what you wanted to learn then, there are always guide books to trees, butterflies, seashells, birds, music, wines, and just about everything else you want to gaze on, taste, or listen to. Or you can get an advanced degree in intentionality in any number of disciplines such as astrophysics or restaurant management. Of course there’s always the library, bookstore, Internet, museum and any number of institutions to help you live out your desire to see more along the road of life itself. What these aids can’t do for you, however, is the work of applying their message to your particular situation. You’ve got to put in the necessary ten-thousand hours on your own (see Reflection 75: Ten-Thousand Hours).

I got my first camera when I was four years old for a box top and a quarter. I put in ten-thousand hours taking pictures of my brothers, dogs, friends. I became a photographer in the Army, and a photographer’s assistant on the New York scene when I got out. I worked as a photographer at Iowa State University, Harvard College Observatory—and am still at it. I have fulfilled my visual intentions many times over. Then I got into teaching photography at Phillips Academy in Andover, and had to put in another ten-thousand hours learning to be a teacher. Which I really pulled off by teaching learning-disabled students at Landmark School in Beverly, MA. By then I knew classes were a myth of convenience; each student was an individual learner on his or her own. I could spot left-handers and hook-writers and cheek-resters across the room. For any given assignment, I found ways each student could learn from it what she or he needed to learn. I felt pretty good about putting my teaching intentions into practice. Then, thinking I knew how to do it, I turned to writing—and had to start all over with yet another stint of ten-thousand hours devoted to learning how to write by writing the same thing over and over again.

And so it goes. When teacher says, “Listen up, class,” she means for every student to hear her words exactly as she intends them, with no exceptions. But that’s wishful thinking. We are who we are, no two alike. We listen according to our training, experience, motivation, and ability—and are sure to hear a different message than teacher intends. The same goes for looking at pictures, movies, videos, Websites, graffiti, or masterpieces of art. The apprenticeship never ends; there’s always more to see than our eyes can relay to our minds. Seeing is a matter of exploring the possibilities by expanding our visual intentions ad infinitum.

Living in cities as most of us do, what can we see in nature? Sometimes, very little. The story is told of a family from Philadelphia coming to Mount Desert Island for a two-week vacation—and leaving after two days because there was nothing to see. The great outdoors was wholly beyond them. As Thoreau said, “The greater part of the phenomena of Nature are . . . concealed from us all our lives”—and he was talking about rural Concord Massachusetts in the mid-nineteenth century. If we are out of touch with nature today, we are in B-I-G T-R-O-U-B-L-E because nature is what provides our toehold in the universe. My own studies show that sea level is rising on the coast of Maine even as I write these words. Looking blindly from the picture windows so dear to our hearts, we do not sense the dangers lurking off the end of the dock. We don’t feel the crosshairs lined up on our chests, the laser beams steady on our brows—because our intention is to ignore them. La, what is the North Atlantic to me, or am I to the North Atlantic? That double-ended query tells the whole story. Out of touch with nature, we are out of touch with life itself. As I said, expectancy is destiny.

11x14 Camera-72

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Consciousness is given us to solve personal problems. Given the world situation of today, we are all in our element because we are all equally challenged. We can’t go on as we have gone in the past. Earth would not be able to withstand the collective stress, nor could we. The work of consciousness is to come up with a plan of personal action suited to the fix we are in, and to execute that plan.

 

So what do we do?

 

My point in this blog is that in order to come to grips with the world situation, we must each first come to grips with our own contribution to that situation. Every one of us is personally implicated because, collectively, our carelessness in living on Earth has led to the collapse of our economy, backbone of today’s culture.

 

Put succinctly, too many of us have consumed world resources at too high a rate for too long a time for Earth to meet our demands. We need to scale back our expectations from now on to give Earth’s ecosystems a chance to recover from our cumulative onslaught.

 

Can we do that? Can we replace the idea of perpetual growth and increasing profits with a truly sustainable level of consumption by scaling back our desires? Or does the inertia of cultural habits condemn us to perpetual decline unto oblivion? If we look to a technical solution to bail us out, we will delude ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. If so, so much for consciousness, Earth’s gift to every one of us through our shared heritage of Earthling descent.

 

No longer can we sustain the myth that we live in the real world and are doing our best to respond to its challenges. The implication being it is the world’s fault for falling apart, not ours. My response to that, in one word, is “Nonsense!” Each of us is wholly responsible for creating the world we live in—that is, the simplified version personal consciousness paints of that world. When facts are twisted, it is we who bend them out of shape. When truth is slanted, spin is spun, evidenced overlooked, data deleted, outcomes shaped and colored to our advantage—it is we who are pressing “reality” to conform to our desires. Earth cannot heal itself without our healing ourselves first—healing the way we take Earth into ourselves and distort its truths for personal gain.

 

The way to a better world ahead requires each of us to heal his or her personal attitude toward, and outlook upon, the world we inhabit—ultimately, Earth itself. Which requires us to heal our personal consciousness of the world if we as a people are to avoid inflicting only further abuse on all people’s planet.

 

We have taken our personal points of view so much for granted that we are not accustomed to seeing life as an interaction between the knower and the unknown mystery that lies beyond the limits of human understanding. We do not know it all. In fact, we know almost nothing. Even the most highly educated among us live in a world of concepts and constructs in their heads that have slight relation to, or bearing upon, the world beyond their own minds.

 

Great comfort is to be found in living in such orderly worlds—and every specialist seeks tenure in just such a place. Every scientist, economist, theologian, merchant, engineer, construction worker, and all the rest of us. But also great harm flows from the resulting disconnect. Think of the great engineering projects that have forced our magnificent vision of the world on the world itself. In remaking the world to our specifications, we have almost killed the Earth, our sole means of support in the universe.

 

Think of the great dams we have built on our rivers; hundreds of thousands of miles of asphalt laid down; mountain ranges mined for coal; carbon dioxide spewed upward; global warming and sea-level rise; topsoils plowed, polluted, eroded; marshes converted to golf courses, suburbs, and cities; species harried or “harvested” to extinction; nuclear weapons designed, built, upgraded; the horrors of every war fought for whatever cause; deforestation in the name of progress and wealth; misrule of the governed as a matter of course; corruption of living systems managed for human use only; and the many other follies we boast of as improvements and accomplishments on our cultural resume.

 

No wonder our present situation is dire. We created it all by ourselves for the sake of temporary profits and advantages, unconscious that we were putting a long-term—even fatal—curse on ourselves and our homeland. A man’s gotta make a living, we say in our defense. But at what cost? Well, now we know.

 

In a labyrinth, the way in is the way out. After slaying the Minotaur, Theseus followed the thread he had laid down, the thread Ariadne had given him for that purpose, and off they sailed for Naxos—with disastrous consequences for them both. If we think the solution to our problems is to apply more of the same techniques that got us where we are now, we are deluded. There is no techno-fix that can save us because in applying it we would be leaping into the same void, the same state of unconsciousness that has been our undoing.

 

No, this time we must take a wholly new approach. The problem lies not in any assumed world beyond consciousness, but in the world of consciousness itself. The solution lies not in unexamined consciousness, but closely monitored consciousness as a means of being aware of the far world that lies beyond ourselves. We must graduate from mythologizing the Earth as ours to control to following Earth’s example in regulating ourselves in keeping with our ecological circumstances. We are not lords of the Earth; Earth is lord of us. We have fought that battle for too long, with little but disaster to show for our pains.

 

The point of this blog is to share the good news—we can do it. We may have to radically rethink who we are, but it can be done. We can take responsibility for our own judgments and interpretations of events, learning over time to manage ourselves instead of others, leaving management of our physical environment to Earth itself.

 

Looking inward, we come to understand our own consciousness so that we can look outward with true compassion and understanding, advancing to a new stage in our development. We have been stuck on this level of vaunted personal achievement for too long. It is time to advance to the next level, that of true understanding and cooperation. We can do this through a process of truth and reconciliation. By being accountable not just to ourselves but to all others on the planet, and to the planet itself.

 

We can do this. Largely untried, the way is still open: Know thyself. Which is a challenge, not an answer. Rising to it is the key to finding solutions to what we see as the world situation, but is really our situation, the situation we have created for ourselves by not fully appreciating our greatest gift, our conscious minds.

 

See the following two posts, Reflections 100 and 101: The Way Ahead I and II, for details of the course we must set for our coming journey.

 

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