“When you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments.”
Oh, unraveling planet, exploited, polluted, overrun with berserk human technology. How does one face it with anything other than rage and despair, which quickly harden into cynicism? And cynicism is just another word for helplessness.
So I listen to the Arhuaco people of northern Colombia, quoted above at the Survival International website, and imagine — or try to imagine — a reverence for planetary balance so profound I am aware that when I walk I disturb it, so I must walk with gratitude and a sense of indebtedness. Walk softly, walk softly . . .
Instead, I live in this world:
“Deep sea ecosystems are under threat of mass industrialization, warned a panel of scientists on Sunday,” according to Common Dreams.
“Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, the scientists warned that without international cooperation with a focus on ‘deep-ocean stewardship,’ deep sea mining will follow the destructive examples set by commercial fishing and offshore fossil fuel operations.”
“Native Americans in the mid- and upper-mid West are not waiting idly as President Obama and the State Department finalize their ultimate decision on the Keystone XL pipeline which would transport tar sands — the planet’s dirtiest fuel — from mining operations in Canada to the U.S. gulf coast for export,” also according to Common Dreams.
“In Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, tribal groups and indigenous activists are busy planning the best ways to resist the pipeline — which they have dubbed the Black Snake — if it gains approval.”
Chemical spills, radiation leakage, broken mountaintops, plastic waste that will never decompose, a depleted ozone layer, a floating garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean the size of a continent — all this, and so much more, are the result of normal life in the 21st century. And then there’s war, the biggest polluter of all, with its horrific, toxic aftermath, from depleted uranium contamination to unexploded bombs to the lingering animosity of the defeated, waiting to explode.
Maybe it’s the human condition that’s toxic, but I don’t really believe that. I don’t think it’s greed that is pushing us to the outer limits of self-destruction, but something more complex. Call it addiction, call it servitude. We’re trapped in obedience to a force that demands, in payment, everything that we value and everything that we are: our planet, our souls.
Consider, for instance, this looming matter of deep-sea mining and the inevitable disturbance of deep ecosystems. What could propel such reckless audacity? A panelist at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science simply described it, according to Common Dreams, as a “surge in demand for consumer devices, such as portable electronics and batteries for hybrid vehicles,” which, she said, “is pushing mining companies to expand their operations to the ocean floor to seek out hard-to-find rare earth elements such as nickel, cobalt, manganese and copper.”
I don’t think consumer demand — for throwaway high-tech paraphernalia — would drive the human race to the bottom of the ocean in search of rare metals, at some unknown but possibly terrible cost to the planetary ecosystem. I actually think most “consumers” would vote no on this activity, and so many others that have already occurred. I don’t think we’re so utterly separated from indigenous tribespeople that we can’t imagine and long for deep connectedness to our planet and a sense of responsibility for its continued state of delicate balance.
I think, rather, we’re driven, as a global culture, by the phenomenon of money, which is an invisible force more than it’s something tangible and graspable.
“Created as interest-bearing debt,” Charles Eisenstein writes in his excellent book, Sacred Economics, “(money’s) sustained value depends on the endless expansion of the realm of goods and services. Whatever backs money becomes sacred: accordingly, growth has occupied a sacred status for many centuries.”
The economy we’re caught in is out of control. It can’t stop growing. Thus it keeps pushing into new territory, consuming what Eisenstein refers to as “the commons,” i.e., the context in which we live: environmental, social, cultural, spiritual. Economic forces invade, claim and sell everything, from the split atom to our own imaginations. This is what we serve, and this is what we must stop serving. We have to learn what we once knew: how to live in grateful service to what we truly value.
To the Arhuacos, indigenous residents of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, “the Sierra is the heart of the Earth and their role is to protect it,” according to Survival International. “. . . . Their religion, culture and cosmology are staggeringly complex.”
We know so much. I hope we don’t know too much to learn from the marginalized peoples of the world, who still value and strive to protect the context in which we all live.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at Bob Koehler, visit his website at Common Wonders or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.
As you think about giving gifts with meaning this year, please consider my book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound, which speaks with honesty and humor about the human condition. It’s especially appropriate for anyone who has suffered recent loss and is coping with the grieving process. Be aware also that the sale of the book supports this column and my ability to give a peace journalist’s perspective on current events. The book has been reduced in price through the end of the year.
Here’s what readers have said about it:
“So much you articulate is so familiar to me but has been without words for so long. I wonder how many of us there are? Lots, I bet. May your heart touch millions through your book. It is very healing.” — J.B.
“So I am on the train with tears in my eyes picturing you running to find Alison with fuchsia hair. Maybe reading your book on the train will require large sunglasses.” — R.W.
“By the way, I’m truly loving your book. Ripped through Part 1, blubbering a lot, highlighting much, and recently began Part II. I’m enjoying getting to see your innate wacky sense of humor. It’s a wonderful book.” — L.G.
“I am using this book as a daily reader for inspiration, challenge, comfort and all the other dimensions you have offered us. Thanks for giving us hope and encouragement!” — C.S.
The price, which includes shipping and handling, is reduced through the end of the year to $23. If you would like to place your order, please specify how many books and make out check for the appropriate amount to Robert Koehler. Please include your mailing address!
Robert Koehler 6729 N. Ashland Chicago, IL 60626 The book will be sent to you as soon as possible. All books will be signed, of course. © 2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC. Chicago, IL 60626