By Susan Scharfman
Will you teach your children what we teach our children, that the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. Earth does not belong to man; Man belongs to the earth.
––Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe (et al) of the Pacific Northwest
If old Chief Seattle was right, how did man get so lucky to reside on a planet of such extraordinary beauty only to squander and abuse it? Notwithstanding a few individuals, most of its 6 billion inhabitants do not see the living earth around them, or their own divine connection to it.
Everything Has Luminosity
William Charles Segal (1904-2000) a follower of mystics G.I. Gurdjieff and Daisetsu Suzuki, was one of those few individuals—visionary, artist, publisher and businessman. When I recently saw Ken Burns’ trilogy, “Seeing, Searching, Being,” a documentary on Segal’s life, it left me breathless. The film belongs in the collection of anyone who lives in the world of now.
The nonagenerian asserts that most people rarely see the beauty around them. Instead, they live their lives in half sleep. In his studio, bending over his drawing board, he really gets into it by reiterating it is not he that is doing anything. It is that “mysterious element.” To Segal, “everything has a luminosity. When one is still and listens, one begins to be in touch with a mysterious element that is within each of us, which can transform and shape us and can help to transform the world.”
Look See; Listen Hear
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who hasn’t heard a word you’ve said? This human frailty is the mind preoccupied with what it wants to convey; it cannot hear or see beyond its own agenda to what is. Not seeing or hearing what is right in front of us exemplifies the egoic mind deliberately setting up a roadblock to enhance its own importance, i.e. I’m right you’re wrong.
In the film, Segal the artist describes what he sees when painting a still life, observing a sidewalk display brimming with multicolored produce, admiring the Eiffel Tower or simply watching people. Constantly looking, seeing and quietly listening in the space and the silence, all the way into his 96 years, Segal the Zen philosopher from Georgia, Paris and Brooklyn saw the light in all things and within every individual.
My childhood had me spending far more time at the Hayden Planetarium than riding my bike. I learned early on that we on our little planet are but a twinkle in the eye of Orion the Hunter. European astronomers recently discovered a new planet orbiting a red star in the constellation of Libra to which they have given the unglamorous name Gliese581c. They say with earth-like surface temperatures between 32 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, Giliese581c could easily have water and some form of life.
Children born now and their children, undoubtedly will be working on this discovery the rest of the century. The planet is 120 trillion miles from earth and 20 light-years away. One of the astrophysicists on the team cheered loudly, “We can go there!” And modern man (homo sapiens sapiens) has demonstrated his adaptability time and again. Why should we care? We might need to.
Science, Spirituality and Ray Bradbury
You don’t need the Hayden Planetarium to take you out there. With just a small inexpensive telescope you can spend a few moments looking up at the night sky and see what astrobiologist Carl Sagan meant when he declared: “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
My other childhood obsession was Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury, much of whose fiction became reality. At age 90, with thousands of stories and books to his credit, Bradbury gets emotional when recently he tells his biographer, “I sit here and cry because I haven’t done any of this. It’s a God-given thing, and I’m so grateful.”
Describing himself as a Zen Buddhist, Ray Bradbury says he’s not the doer, he doesn’t think about what he’s doing. He just does it. I do not presume to put myself in the category of this genius, but when I am writing I too am not doing it and other writers and artists will tell you the same. It’s William Segal’s “mysterious element.” Everything happens automatically like breathing and the beating of the heart. Who is doing it? What life force is doing it?
According to maestro Bradbury, “mankind must save itself…escape the danger of war and politics…become astronauts and go out into the universe, explore the stars and discover the God in ourselves.”
Our New Earth Here and Now
While conscious awareness is humanity’s natural state, unconscious (dysfunctional) behavior such as war, hate, greed has become the standard for old earth’s human experience.
What I find curious is that so many westerners have had to go all the way to the east in order to find their way back home––and I am one of them. Could it be that western society has become so entrenched in materialism, it no longer remembers how to live in accordance with nature? That in the old earth, regarding matter as the only substance became the norm, without questioning the underlying infinite formless element from which finite matter springs?
Whereas the most “unenlightened” primitives of deep Amazonia or the remote indigenous tribes of the Arctic Circle instinctively know the earth as a living thing, the most educated, the most well fed, the most prosperous people on earth have become so enamored of objects, they miss the connection with their essence and the earth.
Contemporary visionaries such as Eckhart Tolle can share pointers to the formless: “It is a radical, revolutionary amazing thing for a human being to discover in him or herself that dimension of consciousness where you can be aware of awareness. You become self-aware. To put it in other words, awareness consciousness becomes conscious of itself.” But the experience of this is seeing God in each other here and now.
The earth came from the stars. We come from the earth and are a part of the earth, not separate from it. Neither are we separate from one another. Being present and fully aware of our behavior will determine whether humanity survives here or on some distant world––or at all.
With great love and gratitude to Panache Desai for his tireless efforts to share a simple human truth. “Our New Earth resides within the deepest core of who we are, that sacred place of Being at our very essence.”
Susan Scharfman is a former Foreign Service officer whose career with the U.S. State Department and Agency for International Development involved service at overseas embassies within Europe, East Asia, the Far East and Africa, as well as the Washington, D.C. press office. Susan is now a freelance writer.