Breaking the Chain

by Simon Goland, November 3, 2009

Today’s Reflection is about our Western view of the world. And about some of the implications of this worldview.

The idea of “The Great Chain of Being” is originally attributed to the Greeks, and particularly Aristotle. This idea proposes that all beings are arranged in a single continuum, a natural scala, according to their “degree of perfection.” This perfection is based on the amount of “soul” or “potential realization” which differs for each kind of being. The amount of “soul” determines how close they are to God, who of course, sits at the very top.

This concept birthed our Western worldview of the world around us, according to which God reigns over men, who rule over women, children, animals, plants, and inorganic matter, in that order. And while things are slowly changing, this is still the predominant thinking, and a very linear view of the world. Interesting to see what are the impacts of such a worldview.

“Today, with little notice, vast archives of knowledge and expertise are spilling into oblivion, leaving humanity in danger of losing its past and perhaps jeopardizing its future as well. Stored in the memories of elders, healers, midwives, farmers, fishermen and hunters in the estimated 15,000 cultures remaining on earth is an enormous trove of wisdom. This largely undocumented knowledge base is humanity’s lifeline to a time when people accepted nature’s authority and learned through trial, error and observation. But the world’s tribes are dying out or being absorbed into modern civilization. As they vanish, so does their irreplaceable knowledge.” – Eugene Linden, Time Magazine Cover Story September 23, 1991

This linear view of the world is subtly embedded everywhere in our culture. For instance, the notion of progress – either through land ownership or through economic wealth. More is better. To return is to fail. Onward is the way. Mine is better than yours; if not better, at least bigger (which will make it better anyway).

There is no room for wholeness of the reality around us in such a worldview, because we are looking through a narrow set of lens. Much like the parable of the five blind men who go to explore an elephant and report back to the king who sent them. “An elephant is like a big strong pillar,” says the one who touched the elephant’s leg. “The elephant is smooth, long, curved, and dangerous,” reports the one who ended up with a tusk. “No, no” says the third, who managed to grab an ear; “The elephant is round and thin, like a big fan, and creates strong wind.” And on it goes.

The longer one lives with their worldview, the more one tends to ignore the fact that it is even there. Much like the fact that I am wearing contact lens, yet for the most part, don’t have any awareness of them. Yet, they are instrumental to the fact that I see, and also to what I see.
Being aware of the limits of the ways we learned to perceive is tremendously important, because this learning came to us through and from someone and their perceptions of reality. Many of these lie completely invisible right before our eyes. Until they come to focus, usually as a result to a shock to our system. Or because we stumble upon their effect, in some form.

“Well, science creates the stories that we live by, and science has told us a very bleak story for the past hundred, four hundred years. It’s told us that we are some sort of genetic mistake. That we have genes that just use us, basically, to move on to the next generation, and that we randomly mutate. It’s said that we are outside of our universe; that we are alone, that we are separate. And that we are sort of this lonely mistake, on a lonely planet, in a lonely universe. And that informs our view of the world. It forms our view of ourselves, and we are now realizing that this view, this view of separateness, is one of the most destructive things. It’s the thing that creates everything: all the problems in the world, the wars, the view of I need more than you, the aggressiveness in everything from business to the classroom. And we’re now realizing that paradigm is wrong. That we aren’t separate, that we aren’t all alone. We are all together. That at the very nethermost element of our being, we are one; we are connected. And so we are trying to understand and absorb what are the implications of that.” – Lynne McTaggart, “What the bleep do we know?”

Where am I going with this thought direction? I am actually not sure. Or perhaps I am, yet cannot fully express it in words. Not time yet. Right now, it is time to be with the realization and the impact of such a way of being in, and with, the world around me. The process of looking for words to express it better is actually a beginning of my PhD work, which I am embarking on these days. And understanding and absorbing it all is an important process these days for me…

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.