Man Is Still a Barbarian

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    The recent windstorms have burnished the air, and the canyon, hillsides, and rocks stand out in sharp relief, accented by clumps of white clouds that fill half the sky. The beauty is so overwhelming that it’s hard to string two thoughts together.

    To my right, the sheer cliffs about a half-mile away seem to press down upon one. A meter away, the gorge plunges about 75 meters to a rushing stream, the sound of which pours over the lip as the water rushes over and around large or small volcanic rocks. A panorama of hills and precipices stretches for miles before me, and the world seems very far away.

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    A strange animal passes by at the same level across the narrow gorge, about fifty meters from where I sit. It is gray, with a long, fluffy tail, a small head, and pointy ears. I’ve never seen a creature like it before. It glides more than walks along a line just below the edge of the gorge.

    It stops and stares at me. After about ten seconds, I ask, ‘What are you?’ But with the question comes the answer–it’s a fox! (Looking it up when I get back to the house, I discover that it’s a Kit Fox, which is normally a nocturnal animal.)

    Usually it takes a while (without having a goal or employing time) for passive observation to completely quiet the mind and allow meditation to ignite. But today, from the moment I sit down, the mind yields, and there are spaces between thoughts. The beauty obliterates the ‘me’, and at times I’m unable to move. The Greeks had a name for such a state. They called it ‘aesthetic stasis’–being moved to immobility by the splendor of the earth.

    The sun is low in the western sky behind me. Suddenly one of the cumulus clouds, which make up a good portion of the sky, obscures its warm rays. I watch transfixed as the cloud’s shadow falls over the stream and the sheer rock-face on the other side of the gorge, and then lifts as if a curtain was being slowly raised.

    After not seeing another soul for an hour, I look over to see a couple standing more than hundred meters away. They are staring at me for some reason, and as I turn, the fellow waves with a friendly, full wave, like you would to an old friend from a distance.

    The woman stands in front of him, and doesn’t see him wave, so when I wave back she waves in response. It strikes me as funny, and them too. They remain for a few more minutes looking down at the gorge, and walk away. Can meditative states be unintentionally conveyed between people?

    At the beginning of a short hike, as I cross the first of a trio of streamlets that pass through some heavy underbrush (including big bushes of poison oak!), a wild turkey precedes me on the path. It has three chicks in tow, which fly off into the brush as I enter the thicket.

    The mother seems unperturbed however, and when I emerge onto the rocks again, she’s close. She stays a short distance ahead of me as I climb the rise, which affords an unobstructed view back down the canyon. As I stand there, the wild turkey (a surprisingly large bird) makes a complete circle around me, at times passing only a few meters away, before ambling down over a rock.

    One of the most important distinctions we can teach children, which most adults lose sight of as they grow older, is the distinction between nature and the world. The world is a man-made reality, the manifestation of the human mind, whereas obviously humans did not make the earth. Though this is the simplest, first, and most crucial distinction, the relationship between the earth and the world is clearly an exceedingly difficult actuality to understand.

    Many scientists say that within the lifetimes of today’s young children, humans could drive half of the animals on earth into extinction. The very fact that one species has the power to do so raises the most fundamental questions. For example, is the transmutation of fragmentary consciousness part of the uncertain arc of evolution in sentient species?

    One definition of sentience is being conscious of consciousness. In that sense, Homo sapiens is probably the only sentient species on this planet.

    ‘Higher thought’ gives us sentience, along with the ability to remove ‘things,’ gain knowledge, and manipulate nature ad infinitum. But it also confers a great responsibility upon human beings to use the earth’s resources wisely, and not kill needlessly. By that measure, man is still a barbarian.

    Martin LeFevre

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