Do you know what the device you are holding is made of? I didn’t, until the thought occurred to me when I was writing this blog post. A few clicks later, I arrived at my laptop manufacturer’s website to look for more details. It turns out that the parts made of aluminium and tin are from recyclable sources; only 35% of the plastic, though, is recyclable. My Google search may have been a miniscule, severely belated effort at raising my awareness, but it was infinitesimally better than carrying on as I was before. Glass windows, noise-proof and weather-proof, shield us from the environment. Air-conditioned malls give us the glossy finished product in the form of consumer goods, fashion trends, marketing and sales, with little trace of the product’s origins or production process. Some cities are even called ‘urban deserts,’ as they are cut off from sources of locally available fresh food and water. It is easy to forget what sustains us in these circumstances. The reference to Nature as ‘Mother’ is tired, but it is apt, because only She sustains us, and some of us, like forgetful, wayward children, have wandered as far as we can from her – though the further we go, the more we feel Her absence.
I have been among those wandering children, and a grace of sorts has led me to gently ask myself where exactly I think I am headed. A tutor of mine sent me Richard Powers’ ‘The Overstory’ as an end-of-year gift: the story took me by the hand and brought me to realise the extraordinary power of trees in ways that my words cannot do justice. Then, I was reading the news, and found a headline about David Attenborough’s latest documentary – Extinction: The Facts. Do you have a daughter, or can you imagine having one? What about a granddaughter? What if they lived in a world where they were the last two humans on the Earth, with only the hope of another species to keep them alive? This is the story of the last two northern white rhinos, seen in the Attenborough documentary that I have just mentioned. We could say, oh, but we’re humans – it couldn’t happen to us, it doesn’t matter to us, it won’t happen to us – but nature will have her way of making us realise the consequences of destroying the life that sustains us, and she already has in some respects (See the final third of the documentary, which shows evidence, for instance, that destructive human invasion into wild animal habitats for trade purposes may have contributed to the introduction of the Covid-19 virus into the human population.)
This is distressing news and difficult to swallow, even with the best of intentions. But I write this article also with a sense of hope, celebrating my, and maybe even our, first taste of union. ‘Union’? Well, those of you that have been following my blog will know that I am travelling through a rather disorientating passage. I have been at pains to make a tidy stitch up of the maelstroms of my mind, to write off my mental health quite literally, by describing, analysing and imagining my way out of problems with pretty words. It never worked. Yet, strangely, a walk outside in the midst of trees, or by the Thames, without a word, lifts me up. My aching mind is no longer important in a beautiful sort of way, because I feel like I’m in a deep embrace with the air around me, the ground below my feet, the bark underneath my fingertips, when I run my fingers against a tree trunk. The inward and outward flow into each other. Mind aligns with body. This is a type of flow which I have only experienced in nature. A taste of ‘union’ – the literal translation of the word ‘yoga.’
I would like more of us to experience this magic. Let us not try to amputate this piece of life from the rest of existence. Let us remember. Let us reconnect. Let us fall hopelessly in love with the life that sustains us.