Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Heart of the Earth

I felt it in Ireland, and again last month in Costa Rica. What? I'm not sure, exactly. But I can say this: there is a pleasant hum in a place where life is lived closer to the earth, to the heart of the earth. We have paid a high price for our progress, for estranging ourselves from our earth-mother.

This hit me with a new force and clarity on a simple Post Office run just a day or two after my return to Boston. I had set out on my errand by foot because I had wanted the air and the exercise. When I saw what a mess it was out there, I was extra glad I'd left the car at home. There were vehicles everywhere sliding all over the place on freshly snowy roads. "Weather be damned!" their drivers seemed to be saying.

I felt a distinct overarching careening as I crossed the busy thoroughfare--a careening long ago set in motion, and going full throttle. And I felt, just as distinctly, that it was going to have to get worse before it would get better.

Industrialization, the technologies of our age have for the most part made things faster, easier, more efficient and convenient for us. And that's a fine thing. But something has slipped in alongside of the various advancements. Entitlement, domination, power over, "Get outa my way; I'm coming through!" has slipped in alongside them. The tail has unmistakably begun to wag the dog can you feel it?
Those drivers slipping and sliding about on that road: they were hell-bent, in the middle of their day, on getting somewhere--some, perhaps, on getting home. But for the most part--how do I know? I could feel it--this was a momentum, an automatic pilot sort of "getting somewhere" in motion before my eyes. There was a dream-like quality to it. Just as if a collective anaesthesia had been administered, and that collective was driving about seemingly awake, with eyelids raised, but actually, was in no uncertain terms asleep, blindly moving across an arc that, short of the one or many waking up in the interim, had to end in a crash.

I walked with this as I walked on. It was sort of an eerie feeling, glimpsing the inevitable bad end of something set in motion that could not be stopped--as with a long fuse on a brick of dynamite: light it, and there's no question what will happen when that fuse has burned away: ba-boom.

As if on cue, on my return from the Post Office, I came upon a bad accident, on that same thoroughfare. There was a fairly new Explorer or the like turned on its side in the middle of the road, and another car nearby with its front end smashed in. Presumably, the people in these cars had already been taken off in ambulances. There was a huge iron claw clamped around the driver's door, through its open window, by which a tow truck was dragging the vehicle toward the flatbed it would ride away on. I kept waiting to see the car turned upright. But I got cold, and it was snowing--and it was disturbing to watch, actually--so I continued on. Later it struck me: they probably never set that car upright. It was my sense of order that craved to see the injured vehicle up on its wheels again.

I think it must be the contrast I experienced in Costa Rica, reawakening the sharp contrast I experienced in Ireland, that has me seeing the "state of the state" here so vividly. I've just returned from living for about a week in the lap of the earth, in intimate proximity to her rhythms and expressions, where human interconnection is basis, is fundamental. In the air, on my skin, riding on the
fragrance of tropical flowers, in the squawks of exotic birds, I felt intrinsic to Nature--the way thread is not part of the cloth but is the cloth. I imagine it was like this for the settlers of my home region, long before automation, industrialization, depersonalization eclipsed the old ways. One worked and lived in collaboration with the earth, not in sovereignty over it.

It's not that we have no connection with one another up here. Yet some of the most social people I know are also some of the loneliest. In metro-Boston, at least (and in other metropoli?), it can seem that the fundamental human connection is obsolete, and that an integral relationship with the broader life matrix (barring household plants, pets, and gardens) has been largely abandoned, usurped by "divide and conquer" of some sort or another.

This is no rant; it is pure observation of what I watched playing out before me like a film on a mid-December day in Boston. An observation which apparently rose out of the clarity that sharp contrast affords. The contrast? How to put words to the prevailing cultural wind I perceived in Costa Rica. Perhaps like this:

We know where we come from, and we know where we're going. We come from the Earth, and will return to the Earth. We are of Earth, and sustained by Earth. We cooperate with Earth, Earth cooperates with us. Together with Earth we comprise Earth.

I saw again--saw and felt this time--what I had seen about ten years ago on my first trip to this tiny, peaceable country. There is a fundamental tranquility that underlies life, underlies living there. If qualities were tones, I would say Costa Rica's tone is equanimity--an equanimity definitely lacking in the running, driving, striving inherent in our "getting somewhere, and fast" up here. This is our overriding tone of life in these parts (and in other metropoli, I venture to say). Getting hired, getting educated, getting hitched, getting one up on the neighbors, getting the newest and the latest: always...getting...somewhere. Just where exactly do we hope to get? Domination over versus collaboration with our living earth: where has that gotten us?

Perhaps the background tone of equanimity I felt across Costa Rica is the natural con-
sequence of living alongside the constant breathing and steaming, stretching and spewing of active volcanoes 65 million years old. Perhaps it's a grace born of living free of the harshness of winter. Perhaps it's an effect of living amidst the sensual and exotic flora and fauna--myraid butterflies, hummingbirds, and palms; the sweetness of pineapple, banana, and star fruit; the plenitude of stars revealed by nights still allowed their darkness.

It was on my last bus to the airport for my departing flight that I realized I hadn't seen a single Tico cry. I had heard no hollering, seen no scuffles. It was only I who had cried publicly there. It was only we who'd hollered and scuffled. But we'd brought that with us, my travel companion and me. There, I'd seen kindness everywhere I went. From packages handed to the bus route driver-turned-courier, or down from a passenger window for the family members or friends or colleagues expecting them--sometimes in exchange for colones, but oftentimes for only a smile--to strangers anticipating a need or a question and, helpfully not intrusively, answering it. I saw kindness in people's mouths and eyes, in their motions and gestures--and even in the air itself, it seemed. The taxi driver who (seemingly) reprimanded us one day gladly offered his cell phone the next day to help us out of a fix. And in typical homes, very little divides indoors and out. That seems to extend to the lives lived in and around them.

There is more to ponder here, more to unpack. But I do know this: I lived happily, simply, and well down there at the heart the earth--grateful for the privilege of being in its midst, humbled by its quiet, commanding power, arrested by its breathtaking beauty, while sweetly savoring its delectable fruit. And I want this for all of us, no matter where we are.


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