Article by Andrew Martin
“If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation – our own situation, the situation of our beloved one, the situation of our family and of our community, and the situation of our nation and of the other nations?” Thich Nhat Hanh
I was in Melbourne Australia at the time travelling with one of Australia’s leading investment managers in 2007. We had just completed an investment presentation and took the opportunity to watch the movie, ‘A Crude Awakening’. The documentary highlighted how our society and economy is completely dependent upon cheap oil to run our consumption driven way of life. More specifically, the documentary was about peak oil and oil depletion. Having worked in the financial markets for a number of years how could I not see the link between the magnitude of oil on the economy and our way of life? It is almost a given that if you want to know what the stock market is going to do each day, all you have to do is watch what oil is doing. If oil was down, it was going to be a good day, if oil was up it was going to be a bad day. Seven years on after having turned my back on a traditional corporate life I have choosen a simpler more sustainable life. After I left behind a career path in the financial services sector I asked myself the question. If I can make radical change in such as short space of time is there hope for humanity after all? The answer I believe lies in one word AWARENESS…
Awareness may be a strange concept to the uninitiated; those who have been running on the treadmill of life may not comprehend such a concept as awareness. Awareness is the ability to perceive, feel or to be conscious of events and circumstances that impact our lives. Awareness is most probably the one thing that will determine the fate of our species, biodiversity and ecosystems over the coming years. Fortunately there are many people contributing to the conversation and raising awareness around some of the major issues such as Richard Heinberg, David Korten, Colin Campbell, James Howard Kunstler, Michael C. Ruppert, Chris Martenson, Kenneth S Deffeyes, Rob Hopkins, Ian Dunlop and Kjell Aleklett, to name a few. While many of the concepts, thoughts and initiatives that have been outlined by such people push the boundaries of the mainstream, it is crucial that such voices add to the collective conscious of humanity.
Let’s delve deeper into what awareness is and why it is so important. There are different levels of awareness we encounter in our daily lives. Firstly, there is the physical world in which we live. Things like the house we live in and all that goes with it; furniture, lighting, carpets and all the collectables we have accumulated. Then outside your residence there is another layer of the environment. This includes our neighbours, the neighbourhood and the surrounding area in which we live. Further afield there is the greater environment that we know is there but cannot see. For most of us, not all, we are trapped in our own world making sure that everything runs smoothly and our lives tick along. Our awareness only extends to our immediate life. We take for granted the key things that makes life possible such as air, water, the biosphere, wind, rain, light, temperature, humidity and a multitude of animals and plant species. It is only when something goes wrong and we lack these most basic components of life that we become aware of the importance of these natural resources. Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up beautifully “When I have a toothache, I discover that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. That is peace. I had to have a toothache in order to be enlightened, to know that not having one is wonderful.” This raises the question, does humanity have to undergo this toothache (environmental depletion) to understand what it is like not to have a toothache? Is this part of the natural process of the evolution of our awareness?
A Real World example of Awareness
Tikopia is a small island community located in the south-western Pacific Ocean, part of the British Solomon Islands. The people of Tikopia have existed in harmony on the tiny island for some three thousand years, living a life of subsistence agriculture and fishing. There is one thing the Tikopian community has maintained firmly and adhered to that the rest of the world has not, they have avoided population growth. They limited the number of people on the island to around twelve hundred. The Tikopians’ were aware of the need to maintain a sustainable environment, so a decision was made to slaughter all pigs on the island. They found the detrimental affect the pigs had on the environment, far outweighed the benefit they brought to the community as a food source. The Tikopians’ realised that
the pigs were eating significant amounts of food that could be better used for human consumption. The Tikopians’ also had a stringent population quota and if the population was being breached action was taken. Population control was enforced through various means such celibacy, warfare (including expulsion), infanticide and sea-voyaging (which claimed many youths).
As well as having strict population quota the Tikopians’ practiced an intensive system of agriculture (which has been compared to permaculture), similar in principle to forest gardening which is potentially a model for modern agriculture moving forward. Obviously the geographical constraints of the size of the island made the Tikopians’ aware of living within their physical constraints. So why did the Tikopians’ survive when other cultures such as the Easter Islanders perished? According to the Tikopian history it wasn’t all plain sailing and the island wasn’t always sustainable. For many centuries the Tikopians’ practiced slash and burn agriculture and over grazing. Erosion and resource depletion was evident and becoming a serious problem. It was through trial and error and though gradual awareness that the Tikopians’ eventually turned things around. Are we on that very same trajectory? Are we nearing the turnaround point or tipping point of awareness?
Why is awareness so hard to attain?
Waking up and becoming aware is much like recovering from a hangover. We are blissfully asleep and feel good lying in bed all day. Getting out of bed is the hard option and it may hurt. Lying in bed and sleeping all day is the easy option. Like our hangover, it can be unpleasant to wake up from after years of slumber at the wheel of our life. It is easy to go through the motions and be fed a diet of fast food thoughts and trivial entertainment. It might upset the apple cart if we start to think, feel and respond for ourselves. Awareness is about change and change can be difficult for many. For many we become stuck, distracted with triviality and strive for something that is unattainable. We strive for material possessions and seek satisfaction in doing rather than being. The natural world gets overlooked and becomes something that is separate from our existence, hence our predicament.
For much of our lives we live a conditioned existence, what we do and think is a product of our experiences and beliefs. Many of the things we do are derived from habit; our jobs, relationships, needs and desires, all stem from our conditioned existence. The unfortunate thing about such conditioning is that it is hard to break free, hard to change, so we suffer.
As Human We Become Attached to Things
In the Western world much of everything we do is associated with ownership, my property, my career, my life, my goals etc…We find ourselves clinging to and surrounding ourselves with things that pertain to ownership. It is difficult to become aware of the challenges that face humanity when so much of our time is devoted to maintaining control of possessions. As humans we also become attached to things, thoughts, opinions, beliefs and attitudes. With any strong association to certain thoughts it is difficult to let go and see things from a different perspective. So what happens? We become stuck with our tried and tested views of the world and closed to new and exciting ideas and thoughts. This blocks the way to truly experience awareness. Hence why it is often difficult to move forward when there is such overwhelming evidence to support scientific data (climate change).
It was Aristotle that once said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Our inability to remain detached from ideas, beliefs and conditioning has much to do with our failure to foresee significant environmental changes. Our general lack of awareness which is a symptom of our self-centeredness and conditioned mind keeps us trapped in false ideas and realities, sometimes indefinitely. Our disconnection from nature and inability to experience present moment awareness are substituted with triviality and distraction and we seek fulfilment through short term materialism and entertainment.
If humanity wants to move forward and solve some of the pressing issues of the day it must reflect and observe itself. Only be observing ourselves can we understand why we do the things we do. Why did I do that? What motivated me to do that? What impact do my actions have on others and the planet? Once we are aware of our states and actions we are better placed to see things for what they truly are, we become conscious. Through awareness we start to see the beauty, complexity and simplicity in nature. Let’s hope soon that humanity awakens to the reality that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing…
Excerpts from: One ~ A Survival Guide for the Future…