Bare Bones Biology 111 – Ritual II

What we all require from our rituals is guidance about “what we should do and what we should not do.” (As Thich Nhat Hanh says in Touching Peace)

We need to understand who we are and how to fit our lives into the big Life without causing harm to ourselves or to it. At the Peach Clubhouse we will have a copy of Joanna Macy’s very fine talk at The Economics of Happiness conference. She started out saying “We are really blessed by the straight talk here.” That got my attention. Or keep watching all the good talks at where it will eventually be posted.

Understanding how to fit our lives into the big Life without causing harm is a complicated task for which well-tested knowledge and positive rituals will help us a great deal more than any other kind of power. We are not more powerful than the big Life that is all life, and our attempts to provide for ourselves by destroying that Life will fail because our modern corposystem rituals are built in the sand of denial and based on the myth of omnipotence.

Ritual is a method of communication within and between populations. If the conditions are right, the rituals of a culture evolve with the needs of the culture. In our so-called modern cultures we have so many unmet needs, and so many ritualistic heritages, that they tend to be confused and misused by intent or by ignorance. That does not mean that rituals are wrong. If your language means nothing to me, then your rituals probably will also not inform me very well because there is no way for me to understand our common roots. That does not mean that you are fundamentally different from me or that your new discoveries are new to me. Yes, you have rituals that are special to you. We all do. Some of these are more useful than others. All of them can be misused.

So let’s not permit our favored rituals to lead us away from our deep reverence for the Source of everything that we need to stay alive and well. You’ve been studying your discipline for 10, 20, 30, even 40 years. I can top that, but why bother? At the root of the Source there is no metaphor, but only pure reality that cannot be denied, no matter how powerful our technology – no matter how bright we are.

Let’s stop growing cultures of denial in which the positive rituals of others cannot bear fruit: a) because we are not listening, so we don’t understand; or b) because we believe our own way is “special.” Maybe our way is not so very different, only we have different rituals and metaphors for the same old human problems. Maybe there are some better answers than what we know today.

Let’s not continue to ritualize our fears into the aggressive or passive-aggressive expressions of the need to win, or to be “right,” or to know more than others about how we proceed to the next evolutionary step in our human lives. We do not know how the earth will evolve. Evolution has way too many variables for us to predict. But we do have something previous generations did not have. In addition to the ritual warnings, we also have fact-based warnings about what we should not do as humans who love life.

For only one example, NASA Director James Hansen and other climatologists predicted climate change more than 50 years ago, based on over-growth of human technologies and population. We weren’t listening. That was a mistake.

If we choose to study only one source or sort of information about what we should do — or not do – our work tends to cancel the efforts of the other at a time when we could be doubling our impact by listening to authoritative sources of both sorts of information .

When I was involuntarily working for women’s liberation, I had no vision or image of women learning to be more powerful than they already were. I imagined women and men growing the rituals for our sustainable future, based in the subtler, more effective “Powers of the Weak” so that we together could grow a subtler, more effective more enduring and sustainable culture for human kind.

Maybe I succeeded and it took a couple of generations. Maybe that is what’s happening now. If so, I wish we would call it for what it is and work it for its full potential so that fully informed people of various traditions, rather than always trying to “teach” the other, are willing to listen hard and well together, and together discuss viable solutions.

For that to succeed, we must include valid scientific data in all our deliberations. Good basic biological science (not technology but holistic science) tells us a lot about what we should not try to do. Actually, so do most of the technologies we are using in our fatal effort to subdue the earth.

Bare Bones Biology 111 – Ritual II
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Recommended References
Thich Nhat Hahn –
Elizabeth Janeway – Powers of the Weak
Joanna Macy –
James Hansen –
Paul Woodruff – Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue


childWe have been talking about fear, and in fact there are many things to fear in the world of today — or any day for that matter — but those are not the real things that the media will tell you about. The media and the politicians, the educational systems and yes, even the religious and charitable organizations will tell you to fear the things they want you to change — not the things that need changing. In today’s world subunits of all these groups make their living primarily off of fear, and even though we are the richest and the safest land — probably in all of history — except for our penchant for killing ourselves — we actually believe this load of tripe. And we continue to believe even though we have been given the antidote to fear a couple millennia ago. Of course the antidote is compassion; what the Bible refers to as love.

You don’t need me to tell you about the politics. You can see it for yourself. The subject of this blog is personal power. How to not be controlled unnecessarily. And it’s perfectly obvious today — just watch the TV — no don’t — that the fat cats are using fear to control us. This has been discussed to death (John Cory, Truthout 03 October 09) for example. Sorry they don’t seem to have a link.

Well, maybe it’s not obvious to scientists. Maybe that’s our trouble. We think too much in square blocks, and then we use those square thought blocks to build ramparts and fortresses where we can hide from our fear. Fear of what? If we don’t know — we can always invent something, and blame that thing, and then we can hate it and our mind is no longer filled with fear but with hatred. I remember one time in my life when my mind was filled with hatred and to tell the truth I prefer the fear. Hatred is an awful feeling. But then fear is also unpleasant, so why are we determined to be afraid of things that are not real when there are real things we should be fixing? Why — besides the half-lies of the politicos, the news media, NGO’s and the corn flake companies et al.?

I asked that question a quarter of a century ago. In fact I was a fearful little thing then, but when I moved to the Bible Belt, I was astonished by the amount of fear that I encountered, the people I was expected to be afraid of, and more amazing the people who were afraid of me. I always thought this had something to do with the shattered remnants of the civil war (and it is convincing evidence for the futility of war as a vehicle for reducing fear and hatred, as the warriors continue illogically to claim. How silly can you be, curing fear with fear).

Wendell Berry (The Hidden Wound) has a somewhat different explanation that is based in his personal experience with the institution of slavery and its toxic impact on our Christian antidote to fear. He says that, because Christianity clearly is incompatable with slavery, the preachers had to modify the Biblical message of compassion/love:

“ . . . the moral obligation was clearly excerpted from the religion. The question of how best to live on the earth, among one’s fellow creatures, was permitted to atrophy, and the churches devoted themselves exclusively and obsessively with the question of salvation.”

Yes, that sounds familiar. When I first moved to South Carolina, I remember attending a church service that consisted almost entirely of a diatribe of hatred directed at another church on the other side of town. So I am inclined to accept Wendell Berry’s analysis.

And that brings us full circle back to our subject. Fear as the father of hatred. We were talking about this a couple weeks ago, and I was spinning my thoughts, trying to free them from those square blocks to understand what I know about fear. Quite a bit, actually, and I learned to deal with it, but I never did learn where it came from until last week when I and a powerful Texas storm front arrived at the dreaded Houston “mixmaster” at the same moment.

The mixmaster is about an acre of land filled with high-speed lanes of traffic where three major highways intersect. OK, so it makes sense to be afraid when there is something to be afraid of, but why do I feel afraid, for example, to speak in public? That fear is entirely artificial, and is a huge handicap for me. What is the function of artificial fear? Besides allowing us to be controlled? And right there in the middle of the mixmaster, trying to get into a wet, semi-visible lane that would end up on 290, I had a flash of insight.

Fear is very simple. It’s a way to be someplace else when I don’t like where I am. When my head is filled with artificial fear, I don’t have to do whatever it is I don’t want to do. Or at least I can pretend I’m not there. Sort of like daydreaming only not as much fun.

Oh, well, that is pretty complicated after all, but forget about me and just remember the important points — fear is the father of hatred, and we do have obligations to other people.

In our culture we receive many false messages:

“You can do whatever you want; you are free to not do anything you don’t want to do.” Hogwash. We have obligations to other people and to the community as a whole, a fact that all true religions make very clear. And the greatest of these is compassion. If we understood our obligations, we would not (as a generalization) need to hide in our fear and hatred.

Compassion is the antidote to fear; fear is the father of hatred. Therefore, compassion is the antidote to both.
Compassion is the core of every major religion (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God).

And reverence is the mother of compassion:

“ . . . the main principle of reverence, that human beings should never play at being gods.” (Paul Woodruff, Reverence).

(Photo from Outside the Circles in production.)