Martin LeFevre: Raison d’etre
A healthy gray squirrel, fattened for winter on acorns, scrambles up one of the three thin trees that intersect over the stream, stopping 20 feet up to look down in curiosity at me. It continues climbing to the top branches, makes a deft little leap to a dead limb on the tree extending from the opposite bank, and scampers down to the other side.
The section of the creek in front of me is smooth, without a ripple--a tiny lake that swimmers made during the summer with a rock and log dam just downstream. A sycamore leaf twirls stem first with perfect symmetry to the water, its vertical movement in the air instantly converted to horizontal movement in the water. A steady procession of leaves slowly flows by, living testimonials to graceful death.
Unfamiliar bird sounds emanate from the trees and bushes behind me. Coincidentally or not, as soon as one’s inclusive awareness comes to them, a number land in the limbs on either side. There are a few different species; they have returned, migrating from colder climes, to their winter home in the Central Valley.
Half a dozen finches descend for a drink at the water’s edge, out of the current, where leaves have accumulated in a semi-circular scallop. They are unafraid, and completely at home. It’s as if I wasn’t sitting a few feet away.
And psychologically speaking, that’s true. Meditation reveals the mechanism, and ends the illusion of the separate ‘I.’ Then what remains? There is simply awareness--without a center or a periphery. And since awareness is the essence of the universe, perhaps the birds feel it when universal awareness comes through a human being. Indeed, does such awareness consecrate the human being?
I heard a cosmologist say recently, “we [human beings] are the consciousness of the universe,” and in us “the universe invented a way to know itself.” That’s a nice idea, and there may even be truth in it. But unless it’s a malevolent universe that evolves sentient creatures that then destroy their planets, such a notion doesn’t begin to explain the contradiction that is ‘man.’
Walking the paths of the park on this brilliant, breezy afternoon that marks the last burst of autumn in California, I pass under the four-lane highway before crossing a footbridge. Despite protests in the ‘60’s, the freeway running through this sylvan college town was built right over the parkland. There were other options than cutting through the unanimously agreed jewel of this small city then, but it’s there in perpetuity now, and the noise it spews for half a mile in either direction never lets park denizens forget the scar.
Sitting on a log talking at sunset with a friend a couple hundred meters from the freeway, we comment on its history and unfortunate fact. My friend points to the golden light in the tops of the magnificent oak trees over the bustling highway, and says that she would rather focus on that beauty than the garish gash and noise.
We talk about that approach a bit, and begin to explore its implications. It sounds like a reasonable and almost inarguable way of staying positive. But in actuality, to habitually look at things this way is a form of denial and willful blindness, preventing one from seeing and responding to things as they are.
One can always see the glass as half full if you keep pouring the diminishing water into smaller and smaller glasses. But that doesn’t make the problem go away, and indeed, it contributes to draining the glass.
The very notion that people can see things as they are violates the accepted canon that perception is inherently biased. But that rule needs to be thrown out, since in this case, the exception disproves the rule. Perception can mean simultaneously seeing the blight and hearing the noise of man, as well as seeing the beauty and hearing the silence of nature.
Indeed, it is only by doing so, by looking and feeling without division and duality, programming and prejudice, that the man-made world that is destroying the earth, and the human being, can be met within and changed without. There are choices in how we live and what we do, but choosing how we see things is not one of them.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.