Our mountain hut at night, looks out from this fortunate rock, through our atmosphere into the vast reaches of space and time. So many questions. We listen to Sebastien Tellier’s album, ‘Universe’ which, if you don’t already know, is gorgeous. Tellier writes beautifully and sometimes sticks a fag in his nose. We’ve also found a book on a dusty shelf in the hut next to an empty Bollyrobics DVD case. The book is called, ‘The Human Zoo’ by a zoologist Desmond Morris. It’s an observation on the impact of cities to the human psyche and to human behaviour. He compares the way we live now to the way animals live, and the way humans used to live in tribes. He refers to cities as, ‘super-tribes’. In a section related to status, Morris makes the observation,
“This is such a vital quality in leadership that it is more important to make a firm, unhesitating decision than it is to make the ‘right’ one.” He goes on, “The great super-tribal leader cannot enjoy the luxury of ponderous restraint and ‘further examination of the facts’ so typical of the great academic. The biological nature of his role as the dominant animal forces him to make a decision or lose face.”
We quickly established that we didn’t agree with Morris’s conclusions and I have been annotating the book in pencil to warn future potential readers. Com on, where’s that Bollyrobics DVD? However, when you bear witness to some of the reactive articles in the media, read posts on Facebook and consider some of the shortsighted actions of politicians, it seems that there are many who would agree with him. Is this really where we are? Put some Tellier on for god’s sake, man.
A horrific chemical attack in Syria on April 4th reportedly killed 86, including 27 children. The news and the images coming from Syria were terrible and shocking. A text message I received the same day from a friend (who I will call Shane), read;
“Mate, I know that you’re a lefty and that you don’t think we should be getting involved in any kind of bombing full stop, but to discover this morning what Assad has done to his own people, he has surely crossed a line here? Can I ask, what would Assad have to do for you to feel that UK intervention would be justified?”
I felt that Shane was upset and angered by what he was seeing in the news and needed to see something being done. And quickly. My response was that I was not willing to immediately accept the Western reported narrative of events, for a number of reasons, not limited to: Assad denied responsibility, Putin said an air strike had hit a rebel munitions depot (which seemed possible), no ground investigation had been carried out, the West has a questionable recent history in the Middle East which makes me question the legitimacy of retaliation. And yes, I don’t think we should be getting involved in any kind of bombing. Put some Tellier on, Shane.
It’s vital that we don’t leave our brain at the door in an attempt to temporarily relieve an afflicted state of mind, especially when the miracle of people’s lives are concerned. It’s important for us all to make our own critical analysis of the events we encounter. Not least because, as Carl Sagan says, “If we are not able to ask skeptical questions to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we are up for grabs for the next political or religious charlatan that comes ambling along.” But also because, if we are not careful, responses made in afflicted states of mind can be ill considered or motivated by revenge, hatred or some kind of short term score-settling. The more our species can make assessments and decisions starting from a place of equanimity and steadiness, the less insane our actions we will be as a whole. This, for me, is exemplified by the mass hysteria surrounding whether or not our next prime minister would or would not press the nuclear launch button first. How tragically ridiculous.
Things can anger us. Things can upset us. Things can disgust us. Events can occur so despicable as to be inconceivable. These things can pull us out of a place of equanimity and steadiness. Things may not be how we feel they should be. At these times we can feel unsettled and we can feel that something needs to change in order for us to feel better. But right at that point is an opportunity to examine how we respond.
In an earlier post, I discussed that the chain of events; input, process, impulse and action ‘runs our lives much more than we’d like to believe’. Our responses and actions towards events can be rooted in motivations from our unconscious or can be somewhat automated from previous responses. By bringing awareness to the inputs and processes, then recognizing the impulses we can change the outcome. Imagine our entire species behaving this way?
I believe that that consciousness we have evolved is in some way to afford us the ability to tackle these automaton responses and we are intelligent to learn. David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain says, “We are all work in progress.” His studies into neuro-plasticity are evidence that we can work to change the wiring of our brains and change the way we engage to stimulus starting with just simple tricks: Put your watch on a different wrist, brush your teeth with the other hand, drive home a different route. Bring awareness to the small events and new neural pathways and synapses will open. Eagleman says,
“Brains are rewriting themselves all the time. As a parent, this both terrifies me and liberates me. Every single thing I am doing next is shaping their brain and crafting who they are and who they have the capacity to become. It’s a lot of responsibility. ”
A sensational, war-mongering media that thrives on conflict can present equanimity, steadiness and non-reactivity as a sign of weakness. Surely a period of reflection and consideration does not make you weak or passive; it simply helps you to make the best decision with the resources you are able to call upon in time. It also helps to avoid pumping a whole lot of nonsense out into the world in the short-term. Making conscious choices can sometimes appear to be a lot harder work than just riding along with your automatic response or the generally accepted narrative. But by bringing awareness to the process we can adapt, and finding a place of equanimity becomes easier. Let’s ask, how do we really feel? Then make the best choices with the information we can gather.
Contrary to what the Beatles sung, we all live on a blue dot in a vast cosmic arena. Amongst the billions of other dots we are, as far as we are aware, the only dot with life on. We may be the most intelligent life that has ever and might ever exist. For the annals of space and time, it would be a considerable shame if we chose not to afford ourselves the attention to the details, the patience and the peace of mind to make the best choices.
Like listening to Tellier.
Sebastien Tellier’s album, ‘Universe’
My blog on pranayama and The Wisdom Of Yoga:
An article about Davd Eagleman and neuro-plasticity:
Carl Sagan’s ‘The Cosmos’:
A book which is unfortunately unavailable to a mass market without my pencil notes: