Friday, August 6, 2010

I'll take three dozen of those gorgeous panthers

My neighbor gave me a copy of the April/May issue of ODE magazine.  Its lead article is entitled Your Brain is a Rain Forest, and makes a case for neuro-diversity, for understanding that each of the different ways the brain has of processing has value, and that we shouldn't be pathologizing and medicating behaviors diagnosed as ADHD, autism, Asbergers, dyslexia etc.

The author, psychologist Thomas Armstrong, believes that differences among brains are as enriching and essential as differences among animals.  And ODE's Editor-in-Chief, Jurriaan Kamp, suggests that this rain forest image  -- seen from the perspective of chaos theory, the old flap-of-a-butterfly's-wing-alters-a-tornado idea -- applies across a broad spectrum of human activity: militarily, economically, agriculturally, and even within the body.

"There is no escape," says Kamp.  "Wherever we are, whatever we do, we are related and connected... It may take another generation to embrace the world of cooperation and community fully.  Meanwhile, we already live together in a rain forest -- and it's good."

(Just as an aside, I can't help but think, in this context, of China's birth control policies, and the frightening ramifications of a society that is systematically extinguishing its feminine.)

Anyway, having read this editorial and the article itself yesterday, I was amused this morning to find David Whyte talking about the rain forest as well.  The image of the rain forest, he says in his book, The Heart Aroused, is satisfying to humans, "because when we see the forest and all the disparate forms, odors and cries that make it up, we intuit a life where all our own strange and eccentrically exotic parts can fit, too... A balanced, intricate ecology, in effect , asks us to stop choosing between parts of ourselves according to what we think belongs and what does not.  A mature ecology does not say, "I'll take three dozen of those gorgeous panthers and cancel the tacky leaf molds."  If it did, the rain forest would soon, as the metaphor goes, be out of business.  No leaf molds, no compost; no compost, no life."

The two pages immediately following this quote are wonderful, but too long to continue quoting here; his basic point is that our education system is designed to create a monoculture, eradicating all the parts of us that don't belong in the classroom, that think for themselves, or are somehow connected to mortality; the parts that question and challenge and occasionally fail.  In effect, he says, we attempt to create a single crop, and then pour onto the fertile soil of self "a continual stream of hydrocarbons and massive amounts of poison to keep the system from blighting itself."  Some of that poison takes the form of coffee, pills, alcohol and other drugs.  But then there is "the poison we administer to ourselves, the constant daily drip of self-criticism that reinvents and justifies all the reasons we are not good enough, and all the ways we do not deserve the life we desire."

"A great deal of our education," he says, "is based on removing our faith in the fading half of the cycle of existence, and the chief tool for removing our faith is shame."

Bingo!  So now I see that this work I'm doing in school to unearth -- and learn to accept and appreciate -- the parts of me I've been stifling and rejecting for so many years is part and parcel of the spiritual journey and of our journey as a culture, society, and planet: we need to understand that all of it, and all of us, is connected; that the dark parts and the ugly parts, the parts we want to toss into the compost pile, all have value and are part of the great wheel of existence. 

Which is not to say we elevate those leaf molds, make them captains of the forest and expect them to catch and kill as panthers do.  But we DO have to let them do THEIR job -- whatever that may be.  I cannot expect the part of me that wants to snarl at a crying baby on an airplane to lead a meeting or preach a sermon.  But I CAN acknowledge its existence, and can allow it to help provide fuel when I need courage to address a boss or spouse's inappropriate behavior.  I cannot expect the part of me that is churning with worries about my daughter (who is feeling sick and lonely in Mongolia) to drive a car; it's way too distracted. But I can allow its depth to fuel poetry or compassion, or to lend me courage to call the airline and book her a flight home (if that becomes necessary).

So you see?  It's all good.  We just have to learn to pay attention...


Maureen said...

Isn't it interesting how we always come back to this principle of paying attention?

Hope your daughter feels better soon and can take advantage of the opportunity of being in Mongolia.

Have a great weekend.

Louise Gallagher said...

This is a brilliant post Diane. -- hope you're paying attention to your brilliance too! :)

Debbie Ford does work on 'the shadow' -- so much of what we do is based on avoiding/denying/not looking at the parts of ourselves we don't like.

I wrote today about Beauty and the Beast in Love -- and quoted your blog from yesterday because -- when we look into the 'dark' or at least what we perceive to be the darkness within us, we have the opportunity to fall in Love with all of us -- beauty and the beast.



Kimberly Mason said...

So much to think about.