Humanitydoes not belong at the top

RussianDolls 1
I have afavourite spot down by the lake. WhenI’mthere, time changes. The immediateloosensits grip, and gives me the chance to say hello to myself.


Sometimes, whenI’ve been awaytoo long, I findsomeonewho’salmost a stranger in my place. Usually I don’tlikehimmuch.


But when I canhear the quiet, and seethrough the trees and beyond the moment to the far shore, and watch how the changing light changes everythingit touches, I canknitpieces of myself back togetheragain. And I cantouchharmony once more.


Earlierthisweek, the morningafteritsnowed, I walked down to the lake. Across the ice, the snowsparkled in the sunlight. And along the shoreline, justbelowmyfavourite spot, therewere the tracks of threedeer, one adult and twoyoungones. Theyhad been followed by coyotes.


There alsoweretracks of arabbittaking a short cutacross to a point. It had been followed by a fox.


Predators and prey — and whatwecommonlyrefer to as the hierarchy of life. It’s a phrase I intenselydislike, becauseitalways ends up withhumans standing at the top of the pyramid.


If it’s an attempt to describe power and killingability, I have no objection. But if it’s an attempt to describe how nature functions, itcouldn’tbe more wrong.


Even the phrase « web of life » leaves me uneasy, becauseit’ssolinear in its image, and nature certainlyisn’tlinear.


I thinkRussiandolls, the kindsthatnest one inside the other, offer a better image. Eachdollis a whole in itself, but it’salso part of a largerwhole. That describeseverything in the world. Everythingis a whole at the same time thatitis a part of somethingelse.


An atomis a whole, but itcanbe part of a molecule. A moleculeis a whole, but itcanbe part of a polymerwhichcanbe part of a cell, and so on. Earthisawhole, but it has a multitude of parts, each of whichis a whole. And the earthitselfis a part of a largerwhole, oursolar system.


Ken Wilber writes about thisapproach in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (Shambhala Publications Inc., 1995, $39.95 in paperback.) He points out thatitcanbeapplied to something as apparentlyunrelated as the humanmind.


Humans have, in effect, threebrains. Sinceweevolvedfrom reptiles, there’s the reptilianbrain, whichis the brain stem and home to instinctive drives and impulses. It’ssurrounded by the mammalianbrain, thathouses the limbic system and deals withemotionalreactionssuch as fear, hunger, sex, and aggression. And itissurrounded by the human addition, the neocortexwhere self-reflexivethinkingoccurs.


In psychoanalysis, Wilber notes, it’slikeasking a patient to lie down beside a crocodile and a horse.


Whatdistinguishesthingsis not the stuff of whichthey’re made, but their pattern of assembly. Facedwith modern science, we no longer say a treeis a treebecauseit’s made of wood. Wenow know thatits DNA has prettymuch the same components as human DNA. The tree’s DNA isjustarrangeddifferently.


The image of Russiandolls, then, conveys a sense of the ability to expand in any direction. It’s not linear, and there’s a lovelysense of wholenessmatched by dependency. And there’s no superthing, human or otherwise, on a pinnacle.


Best of all, I realized as I gazed over the frozenlake, the image makes me feel far more connected, and muchlessisolated. It wouldbeterriblylonely at the top of a pyramid.

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