Aluna

How do indigenous peoples perceive the world? The remarkable film Aluna gives an idea. But this is no ordinary action film or documentary. Alan Ereira produced a BBC documentary with the Kogi indians in 1990 to transmit their first warning to mankind to change course and become a part of nature again. Why should we listen? To quote the above website:

The Kogi are the last surviving civilization from the world of the Inca and Aztec, and their cities are untouched by our world. The mountain they inhabit is an isolated triangular pyramid rising over 18,000 feet from the sea, the highest coastal mountain on earth. It is on a separate tectonic plate from the Andes, and its unique structure means that it is virtually a miniature version of the planet, with all the world’s climates represented. The mountain is quite literally a micro-cosmos, a mirror of the planet on which every ecological zone is represented and in which most of the plants and animals of the planet can find homes.

Following that first documentary, the Kogi retreated to their mountain village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Their message perhaps had some effect on the Rio 1991 environmental accord, but has apparently been more recently ignored. So they contacted Alan again and asked him to create another film to try to get their message across. The result is Aluna.

This is like no other film. Adjectives such as slow, unclear, rambling come to mind as it meanders through the story of the Kogi, their coming to London to collect a golden thread, their return and the unrolling of the golden thread around the coast that surrounds the mountains in which they live, to help the healing process. Yet it is also fascinating.

Their message is that the earth is dying because of the actions of so-called civilised man, who they call ‘little brother’. We need to stop and change the way we live and perceive the earth.

As the thread unravels between the seven river estuaries in that coastline their message slowly becomes clear. The industrial ports that have been placed at the river mouths, and the mines and related deforestation, are destroying the rivers themselves. What happens in one part of the river changes the whole river. It is a living being.

They fly up into the mountains by helicopter. We see their beautifully neat village. The nearby river is much reduced from what it was. Vegetation is dying because of this and the foreign species such as eucalyptus that have been planted by the government.

Higher up in the mountains the snows are gone and the lakes are drying up. The mountain ecology is dying. On the coast, macaws that used to be there are no more, lagoons are dying. The Kogi’s world is dying.

A scientist from a UK university flies in and confirms that modern ecology is now beginning to understand that the Kogi view of the river is indeed correct. The different parts are indeed interconnected. Upstream is affected by downstream; they are one system.

It is difficult to deny that the Kogi view is indeed correct and our world is slowly dying, bit by bit, generation by generation. Each new generation sees the baseline as what it was when they were children, so the change does not seem so dramatic. But yes, our natural world is dying. Hence all the species extinctions that we are warned about.

We need to change before it is too late. Covid-19 is clearly a warning shot across the bows by nature.

The new world that emerges must take care of nature from thereon and stop this crazy exploitation and destruction of our home.

So don’t watch this film for a great cinematic experience. It is not that, and you may find time drags watching it. But it leaves a mark on your soul, and gives a feel for the way the Kogi holistically see the world. It is haunting, and may lead you and the rest of us to do (or rather be) something quite remarkable.

The five freedoms

It is surely by now apparent that covid-19 is leading all countries into a world that will be different from what came before. Some sections of societies will prosper as before; others will be devastated. In the West, so far, it is apparent that the initial reflex of governments is to support and bailout the large corporations that represent the status quo. For the small business things are not at all rosy; for those at the poor end of society things could become catastrophic. And the super rich in their yachts and hideaways and the self-serving celebs are seen to to be the sad detritus of a failed system.

I am reminded of the Great Depression and its aftermath in WW2. What carried us through was the New Deal of President Roosevelt, and the Marshall Plan to support the revival of Western Europe. The theme was to revive economies, but at the same time look after those in need. Roosevelt encapsulated this in his famous ‘four freedoms’ (State of the Union Address 1941). Coincidentally, we visited an exhibition of Norman Rockwell’s work recently at Houston’s Fine Arts Museum, on the theme of those four freedoms.

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In that speech President Roosevelt put it this way:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium.

It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

Rockwell’s paintings were a part of the propaganda campaign engineered by the US government to bring about this revolutionary change. After FDR’s death his wife Eleanor Roosevelt took up the cause of the four freedoms and became a leading figure in the emerging United Nations. Unfortunately, this early impetus soon became diluted as USA concentrated on establishing its superpower status.

Today we face a future possibly as perilous as in those days of post WW2. The four freedoms are surely precisely what is needed to establish just economies and a just world order in the aftermath of the present calamity.

Sadly, many on the right of politics would dismiss this humane vision as socialism and pacifism. But we now need those four freedoms and more.

The necessary fifth freedom would be for nature to have the space and freedom to go about its business undeterred by the economic activities of human beings, for species to continue their lives without the threat of mass extinctions caused directly by human activity.

Our idealism needs to move up a gear!

Oh, and it was a great exhibition, but of course impossible to visit now, it closed 22nd March.

The featured image shows busts of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt
from the Houston exhibition. I think they were originally by Carolyn Palmer.

 

 

Dalai Lama’s message

I remember seeing the Dalai Lama speak at an event in North London around 1991/2. He was an inspiration then, and remains one now. How unfortunate that political leaders refuse to interact with him due to fears of upsetting the Chinese government. The following wise words reflecting on the current world situation and our personal response are an edited version of the Dalai Lama’s 30 March message, from the newsletter of the Charter for Compassion.

My dear brothers and sisters,

…[A]ncient Indian tradition describes the creation, abiding and destruction of worlds over time. Among the causes of such destruction are armed conflict and disease, which seems to accord with what we are experiencing today. However, despite the enormous challenges we face, living beings, including humans, have shown a remarkable ability to survive.

No matter how difficult the situation may be, we should employ science and human ingenuity with determination and courage to overcome the problems that confront us. Faced with threats to our health and well-being, it is natural to feel anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, I take great solace in the following wise advice to examine the problems before us: If there is something to be done—do it, without any need to worry; if there’s nothing to be done, worrying about it further will not help….

…[I]understand that as a result of the necessary lockdowns across the world, many people are facing tremendous hardship due to a loss of livelihood. For those with no stable income life is a daily struggle for survival. I earnestly appeal to all concerned to do everything possible to care for the vulnerable members of our communities.

I offer special gratitude to the medical staff—doctors, nurses and other support personnel—who are working on the frontline to save lives at great personal risk. Their service is indeed compassion in action.

With heartfelt feelings of concern for my brothers and sisters around the world who are passing through these difficult times, I pray for an early end to this pandemic so that your peace and happiness may soon be restored.

With my prayers,

[H.H. Dalai Lama]

In Tune with the Infinite

“There is a golden thread that runs through every religion in the world. There is a golden thread that runs through the lives of the prophets, seers, sages and saviours in the world’s history, through the lives of all men and women of truly great and lasting power.”

Ralph Waldo Trine

in tune withI sometimes like to reread and reflect on books that have resided on my bookshelves for many years. Ralph Waldo Trine‘s book In Tune with the Infinite was inspirational when I read it in 1987. Here was a philosophical and spiritual exposition in readable form that I could relate to and that seemed to make sense. The pages of my copy are now yellowed at the edges, but the text still makes absolute sense. Since its publication in 1899 sales of this book number in the millions, so clearly many agree with this assessment. Notably it was said to have been very influential on one Henry Ford, who created the Ford motor company.

Academically, Trine is now classified as part of the New Thought Movement, which Wikipedia characterises as holding that

  • Infinite Intelligence, or God, is everywhere
  • divinity dwells within each person, people are spiritual beings
  • the highest spiritual principle is loving one another unconditionally
  • thoughts are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.
  • sickness originates in the mind, and “right thinking” has a healing effect.

The magic of Trine’s short (208 pages) book is to bring this down to simple language that is easily comprehended, a true popularization of psychology, philosophy and spirituality. Along the way he explains important concepts such as

  • the importance of optimism,
  • the effect of mental attitude and faith in focusing thought into fruition,
  • the effect of fear as the enemy of life forces,
  • the effect of thought on healing,
  • the importance of love,
  • the finding of one’s own inner spiritual centre,
  • ignorance and selfishness being at the root of all error,
  • the corrosive effect of negative thoughts,
  • living by example,
  • the importance of the inner guide – conscience, intuition, wisdom,
  • it is the truth that makes us free,
  • the refreshing power of sleep,
  • living according to inner soul direction – not to suit others,
  • as we sow, so shall we reap,
  • being a friend to the highest within us.

The basic philosophy and psychological/spiritual guidance in this book are, I think, just as valid today as the day they were written.

Trine’s book continues to give and give to each new generation of readers.

In the 80s I also read Prentice Mulford’s book Thought Forces, which was on similar lines, shorter but less readable.

 

Insects in the Houston garden

As coronavirus gradually reduced our horizons during our recent stay in Houston, it was surprising how many insects one came across in the garden. Surprising because continuous chemical warfare is waged against termites and cockroaches, which would both soon become very widespread without it.

The presence of lizards and birds, such as cardinal, mocking bird and blue jay, does suggest that there are insects around, and if you go in the summer there will be mosquitoes due to large amounts of standing water. Fortunately these were not significantly around during our recent visit. We did see odd cockroaches, the great survivors, but these are not my favourite photographic subjects.

Bees were around on emerging spring flowers, but my two best pictures were of a monarch butterfly and a colourful paper wasp(?).

Click twice to see full screen.

Lizards in the Houston garden

Wander around the garden in Houston and there is usually the odd small lizard, a few inches long, scuttling out of sight or sunning itself on a wall. There seem to be two sorts.

 

The green anole (left) is native to the south eastern US. They have the ability to change colour to brown, hence sometimes called American chameleon, but these are not true chameleons. Their natural habitat is trees, although house walls seem to provide an alternative.

The brown anole (top right) is a native of the Caribbean, more recently introduced via pet shops and pot plants. This lizard is said to displace green anoles from their preferred habitat, so represents a threat to their long-term survival.

My third picture (bottom right) is probably a brown green anole, as it lacks the strong patterning of the brown anole.

Click twice to see full screen.

For reference here is a list of reptiles in Texas.

Spring in George Bush Park

Houston was only relatively recently wrenched from the Texas swamps (founded 1836). The city is now mainly a man-made environment where nature clings on where it can. There are some areas that are in a relatively natural state. George Bush Park is one of these, because it lies behind Barker Dam, which protects much of residential and downtown Houston from flooding after heavy rainfall events. So the park is regularly flooded in varying degrees.

We recently managed a lovely spring walk through a seemingly remote part of the park, actually just a few minutes from Interstate I10. The featured image shows one of the patches of swamp vegetation, which were probably typical of the area before Houston came along.

Much of the land is scrub interspersed with lakes. This new grass was growing just at the edge of a lake as the water receded. The grass was only a few inches high; getting the camera down to near ground level was essential here.

bush grasses

Highlight of the walk was the number of wildflowers in evidence. The spring sunshine had really brought them out. Bees and other insects were in evidence, not so persecuted here as in other parts of Houston. Here’s a selection.

 

Animal tracks in the mud showed signs of grazers and predators of varying sizes, but they keep well away from people, with good reason.

Footnotes

The park is named after President George HW Bush, who we saw was very popular in Houston in his later years.

The park is not virgin land; it was a ranch before being taken over for use as a reservoir.

Barker Dam leapt to worldwide attention during the dramatic events of Hurricane Harvey 2½ years ago, when the dam was tested to its limits.

 

 

Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron is a very large bird, the biggest heron in North America. We seem to come across the odd solitary bird fairly frequently when in Houston, in typical expectant pose waiting for signs of fish. These examples were in Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza Park and beneath the bridge taking the I10 freeway over Buffalo Bayou. Amazing that this bird happily fishes while hundreds of cars and lorries thunder overhead.

The Audubon site gives good information on the vulnerability of this and other birds to climate change. Assuming that food sources hold up, they should still be around Houston for future generations.

Finding ourselves

With UK and many countries now isolating or socially distancing many people, maybe we should focus on the opportunities this presents.

This poem from Steve Taylor‘s recent newsletter is along similar lines to the Rumi quotes in my last post.

It’s time to drop our masks and roles
so we can rediscover our true selves.

It’s time to stop accumulating
so we can appreciate what we already have.

It’s time to let go of future plans and goals
so we can embrace the present.

It’s time to turn down the noise
so we can hear the soothing voice of silence.

It’s time to stop losing ourselves in activity
so we can find ourselves again, in stillness.

And once we’ve let go of everything, we’ll realise
that we already have enough

Rumi’s way of the heart

In these frightening and changing times I was called to the words of the 13C poet/scholar/mystic Rumi. Wisdom is not a prerogative of our times; indeed we are much in need of it.

Love

“Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

“Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.”

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Soul

“What you seek is seeking you.”

“When you do things from the soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

Self

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise so I am changing myself.”

“It’s your road, and yours alone,
others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.”

Gratitude

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”

Fear

“Ignore those that make you fearful and sad.”

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”

Letting go

“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.”

“When you let go of who you are,
you become who you might be.”

Travelling home as things close down

“I imagine you are both enjoying seeing the grandchildren grow up,” said a friend by email, while we were out in Houston with the family. We were, but this was soon curtailed by the developing coronavirus panic on both sides of the pond.

We were due to fly back to Manchester 7th April, but it was becoming clear that we’d have to do so sooner. President Trump stopped people flying in from Europe from Friday 13th March. Maybe we should bring our departure forward by a couple of weeks to Tuesday 24th?Read More »

Tagore Grove

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore

tagore ray millerRay Miller Park is a smallish urban park just by the busy Eldridge Parkway in Houston. In a quiet corner of the park it is a delight to come across Tagore Grove, established in memory of the Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). A calming space on the midst of all that busyness.

The featured image shows a panel containing the words of Tagore’s poem, shown in full above – a call across the ages, so relevant to these times.

Chickens coming home

It has long been apparent that free market capitalism, as currently practised, is running into the buffers of climate breakdown, species extinction, pollution and gross inequality. A system that favours profit maximization at the expense of all else, including nature, cannot expect to go on and on without consequence.

Similarly, globalisation of finance, tourism and product supply with consequent massive movement of people, products and living beings around the world is foundering on the sands of the coronavirus panic and the apparent inability of the system to withstand shocks, and the human fears that follow.

Further, the overemphasis on sovereignty of nation states, with the related rise of populism, and with a weak United Nations, means that collective attempts to resolve these problems is easily nullified by powerful actors.

The chickens are indeed coming home to roost. Yet this process seems to be necessary before humanity can build up the collective will to make the necessary changes.

Change there will be, but only when the consequences have effectively forced it. Human nature seems to work that way.

Taking Appearance Seriously

The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought

by Henri Bortoft

taking appearance seriouslyThis challenging book explains where Western thinking went wrong, and points the way towards the revolution in thinking that is needed to get back on track.

I read it on Kindle some time ago, probably not wise for such an erudite work, but it did make it easy to recall a lot of key points by downloading my highlights.

Almost by definition, this is difficult reading, because it does not ‘come from’ the place where Western thinking habitually does these days.

Henri Bortoft has a good shot at making this understandable to such as myself, with an interest in philosophy but no great training or professional expertise. It is of course inspired by the thinking of Goethe, one of the giants of our intellectual history.

I’ve included my edited notes in the following, which may help to give an appreciation of the staggering scope of this book and of Goethe’s thinking. But there is no escape from the effort of reading the book itself if you want to understand its quite revolutionary message.Read More »

The coronavirus outbreak – the economic impact

This fascinating post by Matthew Wright explains why the world financial system is so vulnerable to shocks to the system like COVID-19. The world economy is indeed a reflection of the collective psyche. Collective confidence and fear play very real roles in the direction of the economy. And this is without further considering the increasing effects of climate breakdown.

Matthew Wright

What worries me about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak isn’t so much the virus itself. It’s the economic effects of the way people – and societies – have been reacting to it since the outbreak began. Because of the way western economics has gone in the past forty-odd years, what economists call a ‘shock’ can have real-world effects that run far beyond the scale and nature of whatever that ‘shock’ might be.

In economic terms, a ‘shock’ refers to an unexpected shift, usually to do with pricing associated with a commodity. The classic western example is the 1973 oil shock, which sent oil availability plummeting and prices skyrocketing. The resulting economic impact was significantly greater than the scale of the oil embargo that provoked it.

These days, world economies are far more fragile. It’s not just the fact that the ‘General Financial Crisis’ of 2008-10 wasn’t actually resolved. It’s the fact…

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