By training I am, among other things, a paleoecologist. I study how our environments evolved through time in response to all the forces, large and small, that conspired to create the world in which we live.
What we know is that the type of response we see in an ecosystem, is related to the scale of the mechanism at play. Our continents move ever so slowly with shifts in tectonic plates at a temporal scale of millions of years. Glaciations lasting tens of thousands of years, once covered huge portions of our planet, carving the landscapes I look at today.
Rain and wind scour away our plateaus, sending them grain by grain back to our oceans. Fitting, as they were once the beds of ancient seas, long, long ago. Piece by piece everything we see in our world today, the mountains, deserts, trees, oceans forests, birds, and even we humans, all come from what was before.
Everything that makes up my body today was once a breath of my ancestors. They were once mountains, and one day you and I will become a drop of ocean. But, this is our stuff, our bones, and skin, and sweat. What of our souls? What of who we are?
I think perhaps that like our bodies, our personalities, traits, habits, cultures and societies are all a monument to what has come before. Piece by piece we carry aspects of yesterday with us as we move into tomorrow, as individuals and societies.
Some are obvious. I have much the same schedule today as I did yesterday. I have the same interests, hobbies, passions strengths and faults. Some of these I am aware of and as such can actively choose to carry with me and pass on to tomorrow’s world, or let be. Others are far subtler.
These are the aspects of each of us buried deep within, passed down from generation to generation. Combined they create culture upon culture which in turn become the moirés of our societies, over and over again.
Cycle upon cycle of building and rebuilding the backgrounds of how we act, what we do, what we expect, what we contribute, and what we pass on.
For the most part these pieces of the world we create go unnoticed, and we design it to be so. Ours is a world created to distract, created to entertain us as we endeavor to build ever more enticing shiny trinkets, physical and mental, that sustain a jumbled mind and utterly confused societies.
However, some of our machinations become horrific. We unleash our darkest aspects as we kill each other in ever more industrious fashions. We celebrate the creation of a drone so that pilots are now out of harms way, but the bombs are still dropped. We close our eyes, look at the commercials, and pass this into our future.
We strap bombs to our chests in crowded markets to slaughter innocents, all the while praising our gods, and pass not into paradise, but into our future. We pillage our only world, enslaving billions, so that a select few can find a level of distraction that is truly awesome. We create global systems of money and war to sustain graft, greed and excess for the super select, while building fewer schools and more prisons for those whose needs are meager.
We tell ourselves it’s their fault, vote for Mr. Perfect, turn our heads to the commercials, and pass into the future. Turn after turn, cycle after cycle, this has been with little exception the path of humanity. Our foundations were laid long, long ago and our founding fathers and mothers are many. And yet we continue, piece by piece, building tomorrow. But not all we build is corrupt and not all bricks we lay are done blindly. On certain scales there is no shortage of thoughtfulness, insight, compassion, empathy and love.
Why this essay now? There are many that believe we are in a unique period in human history, a time of endings and beginnings. Much hype and speculation exists with the ending of the Mayan calendar one year from now.
For many it’s a fearful time with visions of catastrophe. A more thoughtful understanding of the Mayan calendar however is that this time is simply the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new one, a fresh start. I like this interpretation, regardless of whether or not I believe in the concept of 2012 as a whole, and this is why.
Knowing that everything we are physically, mentally, spiritually, culturally and as societies has been built on the foundations of what came before, I like the possibility of an ending to this cycle.
What if each one of us decided to truly use this time to be conscious of what we pass forward? What if we truly took note of and responsibility for our actions, words, thoughts, judgments, and habits, of how we as individuals navigate this world? It starts with the tiniest of seeds in each of us but grows exponentially as we come together as friends and families, in a spirit of compassion and hope in action.
At the level of community, be it physical or virtual, we have the potential to imagine a world far greater than any one of us could imagine alone, and from here we transform our societies, and the future. Peace by piece, pun fully intended. It’s not the goal but the path, because with each thoughtfully placed addition to our common future, we have succeeded. In essence to see our future as William Blake wrote, “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour“. Peace by piece we can end those cycles that need to end and move into this New Year, this New World as truly invested creators.
Namaste my friends, I see the beautiful creator within you, and thank you for being a part of my world.
Editor: Lindsay Friedman
David Firmage is a part time ecologist, writer, poet, student, teacher and lover of wide-open vistas, inside and out. He currently splits time between Montana and Utah with his dog Lucy. http://www.outfromexile.blogspot.com