One of the greatest obstacles humanity has in freeing itself from its shackles of slavery and finally realizing its full potential is its flawed perceptions about other living beings and Life itself.
We live in a world that is divided on every level, in a world of separation. But what we fail to see is that the cause and culprit of this separation can be found in the minds of every individual that is a part of this planet.
First and foremost, humanity is under the illusory spell that it is somehow separate and even superior to nature. If one looks rationally and intuitively, we can easily see this could not be further from the truth – humanity is not separate from nature, it is a living part of it, an expression of its rich aliveness. But based on its actions and history, one could easily assume that there is no real notion of this in people’s minds, there is no true awareness of this on our planet. The current state of our environment and the destruction of innumerable ecosystems on this planet, as well as our entire biosphere, easily proves this. Even if you are perhaps skeptical of global warming being primarily caused by humans, the oceans are stilled filled with plastic, the rain-forests with their incredibly rich biodiversity are being annihilated, our crops are sprayed with dangerous pesticides (permaculture for example, provides a wonderful alternative through healthy organic and fruitful farming , as opposed to destroying our planet with mono-cultures), the genetic modification of food is affecting our environment, us and the animals we live with, the air we breathe is becoming more and more toxic (going to extremes in certain metropolises – Beijing, Mumbai…), as is the water…
It is the animals, these precious living beings that inhabit this world with us, that we abuse next. From factory farming, to endless scientific experimentation (much of which is wholly unnecessary, can be done in an entirely different manner, or on living humans for that matter – why should animals bear the burdens of our scientific “progress”?), to poaching and encroaching on their natural habitat. We so often treat animals as though they were not beings that have their own right to live, but rather slaves to our whim and perhaps mere machinations, not even truly alive at all.
But we do not stop here – we also abuse and destroy each other, while willingly participating in the conflicts pushed onto humanity by those that financially or otherwise profit from them. From endless wars filled with brutal torture and rape, which our history is chalk full of, to other ancient and modern criminal maladies, like human trafficking, the drug trade and its abhorrent manifestations, to criminal and gang violence, rape, murder and theft. Poverty as a direct result of the inability to distribute basic resources among all humans and the constant exploitation of third world countries by multinational corporations shows yet another side of seeing some people as less than others. Even the more subtle manifestations of our inter-divisions, of our lack of seeing each-other as human are spread out everywhere – from racism in its many forms, to people having no respect for either older people, younger people, men, women, children…all of which can and are dehumanized in various situations constantly (especially in more bureaucratic circumstances, which remain one of the heights of dehumanization).
If there is an “elite” group of people that is also participating and encouraging this madness, this separation and division, I do not believe them to be the cause of our maladies. They are merely the ultimate symptom of a problem that is rooted deep within us. The only harm that any such group can cause us, is the harm that we have allowed them to inflict.
From a conscious perspective, all that I have described, all the events that have transpired throughout humanity’s history seem completely insane. If any evolved aliens would be (or are for that matter) visiting this planet, I have no doubt that they would see humanity as a cancer to this world, as a species with a bare minimum ability to learn from its follies and past mistakes, as mad children with constant tantrums, refusing to grow up, burdened with psychosis, psychopathy, paranoia and delusions of grandeur.
So what is the issue, where does the problem lie? Why do we inflict so much pain to each-other and other living beings?
At first it seems that much of our problems stem from surface issues, such as an inappropriate social and political structure, a decaying (or many times nonexistent) sense of morality, a lack of education, perhaps no discipline, ill health, or a sense of inner weakness.
Here I would like to propose another cause. A lack of awareness and a total and complete entrapment in conceptual thought.
I would like to show you how a lack of awareness, of consciousness and being stuck in the prison of mental labels directly leads to our inability to see anything around us, including ourselves, as actually alive.
Have you ever been to a forest? Or for that matter, any environment that is mostly natural, untouched by humans, filled with an immeasurable cornucopia of animals and plant life? No doubt, most of us have at least been to a park now and then.
How did you feel in such an environment? Did you feel at home, or was it a completely alien experience? Similarly, how do you feel in the presence of any other forms of sentient life – dogs, cats, cows, pigs, birds…or even humans for that matter? And who do you feel most comfortable in letting into your space?
And whatever you feel – have you ever wondered why you feel that way?
What most of humanity is doing whenever it encounters anything is immediately labeling it with their mind. The wonderful tree full of aliveness becomes an oak, the happily chirping bird is a sparrow, even the creature you have at your house is known as a dog and even further, is given a specific name. The human that gave birth to you is your mother, the other one that helped spawn you is your father, the people that you meet in schools are your teachers. The world is full of these people – janitors, hair-dressers, policemen, fire-fighters, musicians, actors…yes, even politicians. People that live in Germany are Germans, or better yet, Europeans. The US is home to Americans. We have black people, white people, Asians…plenty of nationalities, colors and creeds, religions and political parties.
In short, we are living in a world of mental labels.
Now, do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with mental labels. They are, on the level of thought, absolutely needed for the functioning of our society and our world in general. We, as humans, have evolved the ability to operate with conceptual thought and it is a very precious gift.
But – have we perhaps lost ourselves in this mental maze?
“The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again.” – Krishnamurti
How do you know someone or something is truly alive? What is life anyway?
And perhaps the crux of the matter at hand – is there a difference between having a belief or thought that something or someone is alive and feeling this aliveness with your entire being, knowing it is so without question? Is there a difference between thinking you are alive and feeling the aliveness, the life within yourself? Have you ever truly felt alive at any point in your life? How did it feel?
The history of our science is an intimate struggle between a form of vitalism (where most spiritual and mystical traditions can be placed) and materialism, which sees the world as a fundamentally mechanistic contraption, filled with robotic like beings that answer in a completely deterministic way to their purposeless random existence. For the most part our history, vitalism has had the edge, even among scientific thought – from Aristotle that claimed all beings had a soul, to a myriad of other scientists and philosophers which thought the same.
Leonardo Da Vinci said: “We can say the earth has a vegetative soul and its flesh is the earth, its bones are the stones that create the mountains, its soft parts are tuffs…”
William Gilbert, a pioneer in the science of magnetism: “We consider that the whole universe is animated, that all the globes, all the stars, and also the noble earth have been governed since the beginning by their own appointed souls and have the motives of self-conservation”
Nowadays, materialism seems to be winning, yet even as we probe more deeply into the most fundamental particles of our reality, there is no definitive proof for materialism, thus issues like the problem of subjectivity and the Hard Problem of Consciousness still remain to this day.
Can we define life as a series of chemical and physical interactions and whisk away consciousness as the product of brains? Or will the pan-psychics prevail, leading us to see the Cosmos as alive in a way that we can scarcely imagine? A tale that mystics have been talking about for millennia.
But what does our own experience and intuition tell us?
When we are in the presence of a beautiful tree, or a whole forest, perhaps when we look at a wondrous plant, when we are laughing with a friend, kissing, having sex…when we are deeply intimate with those we care about, physically or otherwise…when our pets come to greet us and our furry friends jump into our lap…
When we, for but a moment, see these beings, these forms of life, as not mere lumps of physical matter and chemical reactions, not merely as labels and thoughts in our mind, when we see beyond the roles that we play, beyond the names we give each-other – do we not see something that is truly alive? Can we not feel the presence of Life itself?
I have no doubt that at some point in your life you have experienced this magic. For many, it is a daily occurrence, while some have become lost in the maze of conceptual thinking and do not feel that spark anymore. No matter who you are, I know that deep within you there is a knowing that cannot be explained by conceptual thought – that both you and the beings surrounding you are actually alive. Not as a thought in your mind, but as a deeper knowing, as an inherent experience that cannot really be described.
If you have lost this sense, do not worry. Nothing that is real can ever truly be lost.
Whether you feel this way or not, I invite you to awaken or deepen your experience of this – by virtue of awareness:
Whenever you are with someone, be it a human, an animal, a plant, allow yourself to look at them, to notice them without thinking about them. Allow yourself to let go of any conceptual notions about them and simply be present with them, without thinking, judging or labeling. Truly look at them, listen to them, observe, while being present within you yourself. Any thoughts or labels that come can be dropped, let go of for the time being. Allow yourself to be still, allow yourself to embrace the spaciousness, the peace and stillness. Allow your mind to clear and your thoughts to fade. Then see what happens.
You may not be able to stay conscious like this for long, as the mental narrative will pull you back. But even a glimpse of this, a Satori if you will (as they call it in Zen), will slowly corrode away the hardened shell you have encased yourself in.
By dropping labels and names you will not lose the ability to use conceptual thought – you will instead rise above it (and even gain the ability to use it more effectively). You will see that beyond your thoughts there is a whole different world. People, animals, plants are actually alive. YOU are alive! They are a part of Life and so are you.
Perhaps you will slowly (or quickly, perhaps immediately) experience the aliveness that goes beyond even what we label as life, encompassing seemingly inanimate objects such as rocks, dirt, the wind, water…and all there is.
The moment we label and conceptualize a person, an animal, a plant… and become completely lost in the label, the mere thought – is the moment we kill the being that is standing in front of us.
Thus I truly believe that if people experienced the aliveness behind our current mental matrix of reality, a new society and a new way to relate to ourselves and all there is will arise. A new way of inter-being, not based on mere mental labels, but the experience of aliveness that is inherent beyond it.
It is a knowing that slowly arises and is more real than any belief you can muster. All of us already have this knowing to a degree. It is the reason you can empathize with other beings, have normal relationships, have compassion, remain joyful, feel love, truly be internally free and know you are alive.
But most of us have encased it in a hard shell of resistance, dogma and pain. Seeing beyond this shell, beyond our mental walls, is the beginning of freedom and true love. As this happens, your old reality may slowly crumble. Pain may surface, resistance will come up. All of this can be let go of, embraced, accepted, integrated.
Beyond your mind there exists a life, a Sun, a blinding Light encountered on the other side of Plato’s cave. You can bear witness to this and allow it to change your world and your understanding of Life. The journey to seeing this permanently may not be easy, but every mountain with a view so magical is worth the climb.