Tag Archives: ecology

… the film Albatross – elegy to beauty & grief for love lost …

Truly witnessing the tragedies on our planet is not the same as passive looking,  witnessing expands and transforms consciousness. As an individual I feel helpless, unable to solve the overwhelming problems, but by witnessing and accepting the sad truth of what is happening, and by grieving the losses, I, each of us, in a small way, can contribute towards a necessary and crucial paradigm shift.

Chris Jordan’s film about the Albatross, a labour of love that took eight years of intense collaborations – is a gift to the world, free to watch or download.

When you find a quiet hour, click here to watch the film.

The unusual documentary reveals stunningly beautiful, poignant and intimate openings into the life of these ancient bird families. The spellbinding scenes, shot on the lone Pacific island of Midway halfway between America and Asia, touches way, way deeper into our psyche than any factual or statistical report about the insanity of our throwaway cultures could ever do.

It is a meditation on love. And the soundtrack is an art in itself.

The birds mate for life (up to 60 years) and their mating dance, filmed in slow motion that reaches into the reality of their time, shows a mirroring ritual of sheer poetry, of a grace that sweetly chimes in our deepest cellular being. Once the egg arrives, the parents take turns to keep it warm and, with endless patience, guard the chick’s struggle as it squeezes itself out from the hard shell. It’s a tough and drawn-out entry, but help would not be helpful, since the little one’s birth-struggle develops the resilience needed for survival.

What made the stunning images possible is that these majestic animals have not learned to fear humans, whose latest habits hasten their demise. Without natural enemies, they trust life, and the ocean, which offered them food for millennia, even though it now includes plastic tidbits that spell their demise.

 

Some scenes near the end of the film bring home powerful metaphors – like what it takes to fly. Fledglings, to lighten their weight, must empty their stomachs of everything fed to them by their parents (in this instant plastic.) Mothers, forgive yourselves. We can hardly avoid dumping stuff on your offspring, be it psychic or material. Many fledglings don’t manage, but if lucky, and if the right wind comes along, their wings will carry them across the sea towards their adult adventure.

Click here to find out about the story behind the film.

And check out Chris Jordan’s other projects, or follow him on twitter @cj_artist

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… pattern which connects …

For a recent book-sharing with a group of irreverent friends (archventures), I had the wish to share so many books that I instinctively reached more or less blindly into one of my shelves. Books in my home, I must add, are in a muddle. The only order to speak of is their relationship to each other through time. I picked Alice in Wonderland and Mind and Nature. During our afternoon of reading there was not enough time to do honour to the latter, Gregory Bateson’s work. So I said I’d write up something. Oh dear. After pages and pages, I finally recalled this was supposed to be a blog-post, not a novel .

I first came upon Gregory Bateson books, ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ and ‘Mind and Nature,’ during the early 1980’s, after his death. The clarity of his notion that biological forms arrange themselves through relationships struck a deep chord. What totally resonated with me was his thought that the structure of nature and the structure of mind are reflections of each other.  He had a broad perspective for a Biologist, and wanted to build a bridge between the facts of life and behaviour, and what we know of the nature of pattern and order. He was active in, and connected up many different fields of study – anthropology, psychiatry, biological evolution and genetics and the new epistemology which comes out of system-theory and ecology. He challenged basic assumptions and methods of scientific investigations, pointing to the processes beneath structures. He quoted Goethe …

A stem is what bears leaves

A leaf is that which has a bud in its angle

A stem is what was once a bud in that position …

And he provoked new thinking: ‘What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me. And me to you?’ 

His interest in morphology, the study of structure and form of organisms, involved context, meaning and communication. He distrusted reductive models of cause and effect, the scientific approach that lines up parts and classifies them, focussing on quantity.

Comparing systems, one to another, he perceived the mind as an ecological system. And he used the analogy that ideas, like seeds, can only take root and flourish according to the nature of the system receiving them. This thought alone deserves deep contemplation.

He had a way with stories … ‘There was a man who had a powerful computer, and he wanted to know whether computers could ever think. So he asked it – Will you ever be able to think like a human being? – The computer clicked and rattled and blinked, and finally it printed out its answer on a piece of paper, as these machines do. The man ran to pick up the printout, and there, neatly typed, read the following words: ‘That reminds me of a story.’ 

Concerned about the decimation of aboriginal populations (he did field-work with Margaret Mead), the degradation of ecological systems, economic oppression, and senseless wars and arms races, he took these ominous signs of contemporary life to be manifestations of deeper disorders, which he defined in terms of cybernetic systems of communication and meaning that comprise life, mind, and society. In his view, consciousness dominated by purposeful thought has a linear structure that establishes goals and ways for attaining them without being necessarily sensitive to the circular network of cause and effect that orders the systems.

Looking at human consciousness as an adaptive system, he thought the cure for its inadequacies, evidenced by the negative side-effects of purposive rationality, was not to reject it in favour of a passionate non- rationality, as in the extreme romantic position, but to augment and complete it by engaging with non-discursive, pattern-comprehending and emotional processes. He advocated the befriending of the unconscious aspects of the mind through utilising images and metaphors.

In a civilization which separates mind from body, mythologies about the survival of a transcendent mind are often meant to soften the idea of death, or even deny death as part of life. For Bateson, who saw the mind as being immanent not only in pathways of information which are located inside the body but also in external pathways, death took on a different aspect. ‘The individual nexus of pathways which I call ‘me’ is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind. The ideas which seemed to be me can also become immanent in you. May they survive, if true.’  (Afterword to a collection of celebratory essays, 1972)

Yet there are scientists that can no more perceive the language of nature, and politicians who feel beleaguered by sections of society that seek balance and a fresh context towards ‘an ecology of mind.’  The extreme factions of believers, for what else are they, should look again at the bridge  Bateson prepared.

This lovely video gives a taste of what it is all about :

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7420104147325742770&hl=en

Looking at the structure of nature and the structure of mind being reflections of each other, it becomes obvious that not only does nature mirror our habit of thinking, but our thinking also mirrors the state of nature. Ecology and psychology must therefore both engage in listening, and seeing, and working ceaselessly towards the integration of knowledge and the re-adjustment of a dynamic balance.

I could go on, but want to bring in a famous painting of Icarus by Brueghel.                                                             Anthony Stevens, a brilliant expositor of Jung’s thought, used the painting as cover for the first hard-cover edition (1995) of his book Private Myths.

http://www.anthonystevens.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stevens quotes from a poem by Wystan Auden:

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

What goes up must come down. Who knows how many Big Bangs there were before the one we so ardently explore? There is an organising intelligence behind life’s cycles, while consciousness forever expands. Thinking in metaphors we can perceive similar patterns, forms in nature and mind, cosmos and psyche, mirroring each other across scale and time. In other words, life teems with realities we can tune into, as long as we assign context and meaning.

Two of Gregory Bateson’s children continue his approach:

His daughter with Margaret Mead – Mary Catherine Bateson:

http://www.interculturalstudies.org/main.html

And some of her books, Peripheral Vision

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060926309/mead2001centenni

Free chapters of Angels Fear:  http://www.oikos.org/angelsfear.htm

Bateson’s daughter with Lois Cammack – Nora Bateson, recently created a film:

http://www.anecologyofmind.com/

 

Last not least, the themes:  pattern which connects, mirroring and bridging, are subjects of my novels.

 

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… circular versus linear time …

In rural Spain the young people leave for the city to chase the future. Houses crumble in the hills where the past is guarded by the older generation, or so it seems. When families shrink the olives stay where they drop, and nothing sells without a brand.

Some brave souls, like my friends, Harold and Agnieszka, return to the land and make self-sufficiency into an art form – a beautiful ecological haven where water comes from a well, food from the land, and the sun’s light and heat is captured to provide under-floor heating, as well as casting an iridescent haze that cheers the heart and bronzes the skin.

Total calm descends during late afternoons, when the sky becomes a canvas to all colours and darkens to night, sparkling with deep layers of stars invisible to the city folk. In the blink of an eye the world appears again in a new gloss of day.

Harold pondered on the slow, enduring movement in circular time, recalling the other life we all know too well, where the measure of things completed is treasured before we rush on to the next project.

Both qualities of time, circular and linear, have their beauty.

As I walked in the olive groves, a  thought popped up – followers follow those who feed them. Could one be neither follower nor feeder (leader)? Would this bypass nature’s law? Like resting at the centre of the grindstone and not be crushed? Would it be living like a beggar receiving what is surplus and freely given? Like where presence alone illuminates the heart in which peace abides blessed by the invisible source. There are such states, tiny escapes, small eternities, in-betweens, unexpected gifts of nothingness, when the world stops to laugh at its beautiful mirage.

So here we are, after Christopher Columbus, standing now proudly pointing at the horizon beyond Barcelona’s harbour, while a plane comes in tickling his finger, he who at one stroke widened and shrunk the world with his vision. Would he want to play with this shape and time-shifting capacity? What territories would he explore today?

Returning through Gatwick I had a tantrum. I rarely have tantrums. How it happened that I landed in a queue of people who (presumably) volunteered to undergo an iris-recognition-test I can’t recall.

This is the future, where you walk through a cubicle and look into a mirror that reads your eyes to establish whether they correspond to the photo in your passport. Each unique individual becomes data enshrined for their lifetime and beyond. I sabotaged the process for several irrational sentiments. Who wants to look straight at their exhausted mien after hours of queuing and ignominies  at an airport? I hated the intrusion – eyes being the mirrors of the soul – and, I figured, thousands of jobs will be lost since scanning passport and eyes alone will herd the masses along.

I found myself in the cubicle avoiding the mirror, which meant the stupid gate remained closed and I was trapped. The official encouraged me repeatedly to look directly into the mirror … I blinked frantically … of course the gates refused to let me through. Finally I stomped my foot like an angry toddler and consequently was allowed to pass through a human gate.  In that instance I powerfully grasped the indignities and the dehumanising experiences so many people had to endure and do so continuously, being sifted by whatever power resides, experiences I was spared all my life. And this is me, who am normally fairly open to new technological inventions. Is this my limit regarding progress, or do I sense an issue here,  a host of abuses that potentially lie in the wake of artificial eyes … ? What do you think?

Here are some images from my week in Spain …

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150489460439004.392235.795239003&type=1&l=b0fd26f7ad

 

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