On Being Human
by Jay Ramsay
Cover: Still by Antony Gormley. Photograph: Stephen White
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Jay Ramsay recommends a book that will give us back our eyes so we can truly see. The Secret Life of the Universe: The Quest for the Soul of Science by Amy Corzine. Watkins, 2008. ISBN 9781905857654.
This excellent book is a holistic education in itself and a primer that should be available in schools everywhere. Starting from the physics we know, it moves into the new territory of our time where, increasingly, the mystical vision of Oneness is being realised in scientific terms. At the same time, the book is a meditation on our ecological situation and the new lifestyle that we will all have to become open to.
The end result is a work of feminine science so welcome among a literature dominated by male bravado and conceptualisation. It quivers like a web alive with correspondence, association, cross-reference and (since it’s written by a poet) lyrical analogy and metaphor.
We are introduced to the secret life of our relationship to this planet. What we were once ‘part of’, we began – through increasing separation – to rise above with grandiose self-inflation (during the post-medieval Renaissance). At the same time, the so-called Enlightenment then brought us to deflated self-abandonment: we were, after all, only tiny specks in an indifferent cosmic machine (Newtonian mechanics). The further sense that God was, after all, “dead” (Nietzsche) then gave us a terrible freedom. Our unconscious rage at Divine Abandonment has resulted in de-sacralisation and outright manipulation (and genetic interference). Creation itself is no longer sacred.
Here we can see a clear parallel between our own history and the psychology of the narcissistic child and adolescent. Full adulthood is a stage we have not yet reached, collectively. Amy Corzine quotes Fritjof Capra: “[Most] academics subscribe to narrow perceptions of reality which are inadequate for dealing with the major problems of our time… They cannot be understood within the fragmented methodology characteristic of our academic disciplines and government agencies.”
To remedy this, we have to get to the bigger picture which, by definition, means the holistic picture with its analogy in unconditional love, as opposed to love dominated by the ego. Corzine quotes a wealth of Buddhist and Tibetan inspiration towards expanded thinking and relating in this context and celebrates Satish Kumar and the genesis of this magazine, as she moves towards an evocation of the sense of community and connectedness that is now an imperative and no longer an ‘alternative’.
At the same time she explores consciousness itself, quoting Colin Wilson’s pointed observations on the danger of boredom, passivity and excessive introspection. This takes her into the creative and psychic mind that is consistent with intuition and expansion, increasingly seen as ‘natural’. As Corzine herself says, “if you try to work with the gifts you’ve been given, you will be given the knowledge you need to work with them”.
And the will to meditate, with the expansion it brings, is not only vital in achieving an inner synthesis (balance of left and right hemispheres) but also allows us to understand that what we do to others, we do to ourselves. The Dalai Lama goes further by asserting that compassion itself is biological, linked as it is with our initial contact with our mother. It is, therefore, profoundly human and not something we have to ‘ascend’ to. Another way of saying this is that the body itself is intrinsically spiritual and that our separation from it is as much the issue as anything else.
This is reflected in our wider separation from the planet, an issue illuminated so brilliantly in the film The Age of Stupid at the point where the archivist, sitting in his mid-21st-century post-holocaust library tower, states simply that the real problem of our time was “we didn’t really believe we were worth it”.
From here, Corzine takes a deep dive into ‘The Universe of the Human Body’, revealing its intrinsically non-separate nature originally espoused by native traditions and by Chinese Taoism, and how an overly stressful and addictive lifestyle actually makes self-reflective awareness impossible. The recent emergence of animal healing, and animals themselves as healers, exists in specific juxtaposition with our supposed superiority to them. The irony is that in striving to be superior, it is we who have forgotten our true animal nature. This opens an exploration of healing itself as an expression of deep ecology (healing and self-healing, being innate).
The centre part of the book is then a meditation on ecology (gardening, community, food and farming) and how this relates to architecture within the concepts of biomimicry and the harmony between organisms and their environments. As the Kuan Yin quatrain in my co-translation has it, “The scent of the forest flowers comes from the right conditions.” And so it is for us. “Spiritual peace is essential for good health,” as Corzine reflects.
Increasingly, what emerges as one reads this book is the awareness that Creation itself, in all its miraculous and still unknown nature, is the closest we can get to the Divine because it is itself Divine. Perhaps a new religion of immanence that picks up where the defeated Celtic Church left off is now the only way forward in a sacred/worshipping context.
At the same time as the natural world is under threat, so is any profoundly natural way of looking at it. A Native American elder quoted by Jamake Highwater in his book Dance said, “You must learn to look at the world twice … First you must bring your eyes together in front so you can see each droplet of rain on the grass, so you can see the smoke rising from an anthill in the sunshine. Nothing should escape your notice. But you must learn to look again, with your eyes at the very edge of what is visible.” This is as much a prescription for poetry, and we can see this for what it is: an attitude deeper than words that is itself living poetry. That is what our civilisation now needs to be capable of, even as we lose what is traditional to technology.
Corzine quotes Professor David Orr: “Let children fall in love with the world first before teaching them anything. Then free them so they can do what their idealism leads them to do.” She reflects too on the possibilities of a new technology that arises from environmental and spiritual awareness where both are revealed as the same thing.
For me, her final chapter, ‘Listen, the Universe Is Singing’, is the best. Here, she confronts the reality and transparency of death in a superb piece of sustained writing, as clear as it is uplifting. She lifts the veil too, through her description of Near Death Experience research, to the reality of light that our hearts yearn for, releasing love flooding back into the fabric of our existence – and infusing our choice to be here, because we have been given back our eyes. I cannot recommend this book too highly.