The following is the third and final installment of Chapter 3.
Chapter 3 - The Journey Home (second continuation)
From an evolutionary standpoint, our forebears lived much as described in the legend of the Garden of Eden – wandering the forest unclothed, gathering from its bounty, living without concern for the possible trials of the morrow. After the fall, however, humans were banished from that proverbial Garden and left to their own devices. The bounty of the forest was no longer enough. The emergence of self-awareness had brought with it concerns about the future and the sufficiency of what the forest would provide. The natural world in and of itself was no longer to be trusted, and so we began to help it along.
We can imagine the advent of agriculture occurring gradually. What might have begun with hunter/gatherers returning again and again to the places where they’d once found nuts or seeds or fruits gradually transitioned into helping those plants reach maturity – perhaps making sure that they had room or even watering them if the opportunity arose. Such watchfulness must have then quite naturally transitioned into the actual planting of seeds in other suitable areas and tending them more frequently. From there it would be just one more step towards cutting down areas of forest in order to have more and more room for the plants that the early humans wanted to eat. At that point it must have been hard to leave those fields behind and wander elsewhere in search of food. So much labor had been invested by then and the payoff must have seemed well worth staying in place.
The authors of the Book of Genesis somehow sensed that their reliance on agriculture was a sign of their fallen state. Their stark sense of separation is almost palpable in their imagining of what the God of that mythical first man and woman said to them in the wake of their transgression. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” Not quite the image of bucolic country living, is it? Perhaps the disparity of that early description of agriculture and the romantic imaginings we might have of it today is indicative of our acclimation to the reality of our separation – acclimation fostered by our advances in technology.
The authors of the Book of Genesis thought of their existential predicament as cursed. The Buddha similarly described our existential predicament as one of suffering, inherently unsatisfactory – rarely remaining as we wish quite long enough, and remaining contrary to our wishes for far too long. What then do we do? Do we double down our efforts at bolstering our selfhood and ensuring that everything complies with our wishes? Do we use every technological tool at our disposal in order to ensure our survival above all else and all others? It seems that that is precisely the path that we have walked throughout our history, and the one we walk today. We’ve even managed to develop the technology of genetic manipulation in order to prune the tree of life itself and bend its branches to suit our wishes. Has God grown tired of guarding the Garden of Eden from which we were banished so long ago? It appears that we’ve now battered our way past each and every barricade so as to reach the tree of life – that tree even more forbidden than was the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
Our journey back to spiritual wholeness is inextricable from our journey back to harmonious integration with the earth and all of life and everything, for the earth and all of life and everything is the very seamless whole from which we’ve grown to perceive ourselves as separate. Earth-centered religions very obviously encompass the reality of this wholeness. Taoism, with its consideration of the “Way”, does too. In Buddhism it is our realization of the true nature of the self that gets us there. Judeo-Christian heritage, likewise, has at least some conception of human behavior either being in accord with the natural order (as dictated by divine plan) or going against it. Our behavior already got us thrown out of the Garden of Eden once, who knows what might happen now that we’ve stormed back in to get our hands on the tree of life?
How then do we make things right? The key is to think in terms of going home – returning to a place that we already know, remembering that which we already know. To persist in thinking that our journey toward wholeness is but a journey forward to some place as yet unknown is to continue on as the moth perseveres in circling the porch light on a summer’s eve. The Buddha almost killed himself in his quest for wholeness before realizing that he’d already known the way even as a little child. “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” Jesus is reported to have said of the children in his midst. Why is that? What is it about children that makes them most suited for entrance into the kingdom? Of course, we can’t go back in time. How then do we reacquaint ourselves with the wisdom of our childhood even as we carry on with our adult responsibilities?
So, let’s begin this book again with a more thorough exploration of the wisdom of children and how it might inform our spiritual practice and the totality of our lives – no matter how old we might be or what our spiritual practice happens to be.
End Chapter 3
End Part I
Boy in the Woods image cropped and filtered from a photo courtesy of Kirstin via:
Original Rustic Garden Gate on Riverside at Eynsford by Richard Croft via:
Copyright 2014 by Mark Frank