Tag Archives: earth

“Beyond the Wall” by Edward Abbey

BeyondWall

I picked this book up while visiting The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I was introduced to the writings of Edward Abbey in college when I took a class on environmental literature. We covered Desert Solitaire in the class, and I also read The Monkey Wrench Gang for my independent project. Both books made a lasting impression on me.

This book is a compilation of ten essays that Abbey wrote about his experiences in the wild, the area he considers to be beyond the wall of controlled civilization. This is the area that Abbey considers to be the real world, where you can discover who you truly are.

Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences topped with barbed wire and razor wire, beyond the asphalt belting of the superhighways, beyond the cemented banksides of our temporarily stopped and mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the air, there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it. And then—

(p. xvi)

Like Abbey, I love to hike, and he points out what it is about hiking which is so amazing: it is an authentic and spiritual experience.

Why do I do this? (My feet hurt.)Why? Well, it’s the need, I guess, for some sort of authentic experience. (My hip joint hurts.) As opposed to the merely synthetic experience of books, movies, TV, regular urban living. (My neck hurts.) To meet my God, my Maker once again, face to face, beneath my feet, beyond my arms, above my head.

(p. 14)

I firmly believe that the root of our environmental problems is human overpopulation, and Abbey shares this sentiment in very strong terms.

To aid and abet in the destruction of a single species or in the extermination of a single tribe is to commit a crime against God, a mortal sin against Mother Nature. Better by far to sacrifice in some degree the interests in mechanical civilization, curtail our gluttonous appetite for things, ever more things, learn to moderate our needs, and most important, and not difficult, learn to control, limit and gradually reduce our human numbers. We humans swarm over the planet like a plague of locusts, multiplying and devouring. There is no justice, sense of decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife and—antihuman.

(p. 40)

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey criticizes the development of access roads in wilderness areas so that anyone can visit these remote “natural” settings. He reiterates these thoughts in Beyond the Wall, asserting that once an area is made accessible, it is no longer the same and loses its magical essence.

Today the old North Wash trail road is partly submerged by the reservoir, the rest obliterated. The state has ripped and blasted and laid asphalt highway through and around the area to link the new tin bridges with the outside world. The river is gone, the ferry is gone, Dandy Crossing is gone. Most of the formerly primitive road from Blanding west has been improved beyond recognition. All of this, the engineers and politicians and bankers will tell you, makes the region easily accessible for everybody, no matter how fat, feeble or flaccid. That is a lie.

It is a lie. For those who go there now, smooth, comfortable, quick and easy, sliding through as slick as grease, will never see what we saw. They will never feel what we felt. They will never know what we knew, or understand what we cannot forget.

(p. 67)

I feel that as a global society, we are getting more and more distracted by the trappings of modern technology, and we are losing our connection to the wonders, beauty, and mystery which is our world. There is so much still out there, waiting to inspire us. With that, I want to close this post with one more quote about the ability of our amazing planet to stretch the boundaries of our consciousness and our imagination.

What can I say except confess that I have seen but little of the real North, and of that little understood less. The planet is bigger than we ever imagined. The world is colder, more ancient, more strange and more mysterious than we had dreamed. And we puny human creatures with our many tools and toys and fears and hopes make only one small leaf on the great efflorescing tree of life.

Too much. No equation however organic, no prose however royally purple, can bracket our world within the boundaries of mind.

(p. 203)

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 13” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

“Welcome disgrace as a pleasant surprise.
Prize calamities as your own body.”

Why should we “welcome disgrace as a pleasant
surprise”?
Because a lowly state is a boon:
Getting it is a pleasant surprise,
And so is losing it!
That is why we should “welcome disgrace as a pleasant
surprise.”

Why should we “prize calamities as our own body”?
Because our body is the very source of our calamities.
If we have no body, what calamities can we have?

Hence, only he who is willing to give his body for the
sake of the world is fit to be entrusted with the world.
Only he who can do it with love is worthy of being the
steward of the world.

So I struggled with this passage and had to read it a couple times. I’m still not sure I fully grasp what Lao Tzu is saying, but here is my interpretation. I think that disgrace and calamity may refer to failure. The old saying goes that there is no shame in failure, there is only shame in not trying. If you try to live a spiritual life and fail, or if you try to be a good steward of the world and fail, at least you attempted and did your best. We have no control over outcomes, only our efforts.

I also could not help thinking about Nietzsche, and how that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Adversity can often motivate us, and overcoming difficulties can sometimes lead to spiritual growth. Suffering can be a path to enlightenment; although, given a choice, I would probably choose the path of less suffering.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. If you have any insights into this passage, please feel free to share them in the comment section. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers and blessings.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 12” by Lao Tzu

Chinese5

The five colours blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavours cloy the palate.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Rare goods tempt men to do wrong.

Therefore, the Sage takes care of the belly, not the eye.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

This is one of those times that I am grateful for the internet. When I read this passage, the general theme was obvious enough—do not focus all your energy on material gains, but instead, seek within for spiritual treasures. But I knew I was missing something critical and that something must be associated with the number five, which is echoed in the first three lines. From my western perspective, I could not think of any significance that the number five would have in the context of this passage. So I resorted to Google.

I learned that in Chinese thought, the number five is significant because the Chinese believe there are five elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Metal. From my western perspective, I have always considered there to be four elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire. Now the meaning of the first few lines made sense. It is the distraction of the elements to our physical senses that draws our focus away from the internal and towards the external.

This is an example of how ideas and symbols can be interpreted differently based upon the cultural context. Whenever we attempt to uncover the meaning of something, we should always consider the context in which it was created.

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“Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws” by William Shakespeare

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

This is another romantic fair youth sonnet in which Shakespeare expresses his longing to immortalize the young man’s beauty through poetry. But I noticed something interesting about this sonnet which I feel gives some insight into the fair youth and why Shakespeare found him so attractive. The key is in the first four lines:

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

Here we have four metaphors, two symbolizing masculine strength and beauty, and two representing feminine. In lines 1 and 3, the lion and the tiger symbolize the masculine, images of strength, manly grace, and power. In lines 2 and 4, we have the earth and the phoenix, feminine symbols of beauty associated with creation and rebirth. The fact that Shakespeare vacillates between the masculine and feminine implies that the young man to whom the sonnet is composed possesses a balance of masculine and feminine qualities, allowing him to transcend the concept of gender-based beauty. And because the youth’s physical traits encompass both masculine and feminine beauty, he becomes, in Shakespeare’s eyes, the paragon of what human beauty should be.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 6” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

The Spirit of the Fountain dies not.
It is called the Mysterious Feminine.
The Doorway of the Mysterious Feminine
Is called the Root of Heaven-and-Earth.

Lingering like gossamer, it has only a hint of existence;
And yet when you draw upon it, it is inexhaustible.

I love this chapter. It is so compact, yet so rich in meaning.

Here, Lao Tzu describes the Divine Feminine as the “Spirit of the Fountain.” Essentially, he is acknowledging the Divine Feminine as the source of all being. And the pathway to discovering the Divine Feminine is through unification of the physical and the spiritual aspects of the self, symbolized by the “Root of Heaven-and-Earth.”

The last two lines offer an impression of what it is like to perceive and connect with the Feminine. It is subtle, fluid, loving, and gentle. One gets the impression of being surrounded by diaphanous warmth and comfort that is at once ineffable and universal.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 5” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Heaven-and-Earth is not sentimental;
It treats all things as straw-dogs.
The Sage is not sentimental;
He treats all his people as straw-dogs.

Between Heaven and Earth,
There seems to be a Bellows:
It is empty, and yet it is inexhaustible;
The more it works, the more comes out of it.
No amount of words can fathom it:
Better look for it within you.

This is a beautiful chapter that conveys so much wisdom in so few words.

I want to begin by pointing out something at the very beginning of the verse: “Heaven-and-Earth” is hyphenated, implying that it is a single entity and not something dualistic. We can interpret this as a symbol for ourselves, a combination of the spiritual and the physical combined into one being. The concept is also incorporated into the yin and yang symbol, where the two seeming opposites are actually part of the whole.

In the second stanza, we are introduced to the “Bellows” which exists between Heaven and Earth, meaning it exists within ourselves and serves as the boundary/connector between the physical and the spiritual. The Bellows is the source of breath, which is Qi (or Chi) and it the life energy that flows through us and is associated with breathing. The practice of Tai Chi improves breathing and helps practitioners connect with their life energy. The more that you practice conscious breathing, the more connected to your life energy you become, as is expressed in the line, “The more it works, the more comes out of it.”

This life energy is ineffable: “No amount of words can fathom it.” Because it exists in a space between the physical and the spiritual beings, essentially connecting the two, it cannot be expressed in words. It is beyond our comprehension.

Finally, we are entreated to search for this source within ourselves. This is the path of the Tao and the way to become a sage: to search for this source of life energy within each of us, connect with that energy, and allow it to flow freely through us.

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“To the Muses” by William Blake

NineMuses

Whether on Ida’s shady brow,
Or in the chambers of the East,
The chambers of the sun, that now
From ancient melody have ceas’d;

Whether in Heav’n ye wander fair,
Or the green corners of the earth,
Or the blue regions of the air,
Where the melodious winds have birth;

Whether on crystal rocks ye rove,
Beneath the bosom of the sea
Wand’ring in many a coral grove,
Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry!

How have you left the ancient love
That bards of old enjoy’d in you!
The languid strings do scarcely move!
The sound is forc’d, the notes are few!

In this poem, Blake contemplates the state of the poetic arts in England during his time. He expresses the belief that the art was lacking, that the poetic genius manifest in the past was lost during his time.

In the opening line, he mentions “Ida’s shady brow.” This is an allusion to Homer. Mount Ida was near Troy and supposedly from there the gods watched the Trojan War. Blake appears to be setting up a contrast between the inspiration that fostered Homer’s work and the perceived lack of poetic inspiration that plagued England in the late 18th century.

Blake evokes the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire (fire being symbolized by the sun). He mentions the elements before he mentions the nine muses. It gives the poem the feel of a mystical rite or incantation, where Blake is drawing energy from the elements in order to summon the muses.

I cannot help but wonder if Blake is also criticizing himself here. Since this poem was composed early in his life, he may have been struggling to find his own personal muse and feeling frustrated that he was not getting the inspiration of a Homer or a Shakespeare. If this was indeed the case, then I would say his incantation worked. The muses certainly inspired him throughout his life.

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