Some days, I get a little closer to that feeling—being connected, or embedded, like I’m part of it all again, like I’m home.
But most days, I’m not so sure. On most days, I wonder how everything got like this; how we let everything get like this. Whether individually or as a species, how did we get so lost? How did we let things get so out of control? Perhaps it’s all beyond our control now, turned into a self-perpetuating system of sorts; a cycle that is vicious in its own right. Once the ball was dropped centuries (or millennia) ago, it just kept rolling, accelerating towards a future that is neither known nor rightly considered. Maybe it will fall, maybe it will stop. Maybe, one day, this will all end, and the loop will close.
Lately, I’ve gained some perspective on the feelings of my youth, and in particular the feelings of unrest and discontent with the way things are. In my relentless inclination to view all things as connected, and to advocate for the connections among all life, I have considered something that has left me with great unease. I have entertained a thought that is as existentially distressing as it is emotionally evoking. It is the thought that the world we have created, what we so proudly call society, is a cage unto itself, comparable to a fish’s aquarium, a chicken’s coop, or a perimeter fence. It too is confining and altogether withholding. The rules necessary to create order invariably create chaos, both within the individual and within the structures and institutions of the society itself. Rip nature from the grips of our ancestors, and what results is modern human, a species plagued by diseases of the mental and social variety; such ailments as depression, violence, and celebrity; or worse, apathy. Dangle nature before us like the proverbial carrot that it is, and we are left grasping for something that the rules no longer allow, but that our minds still yearn for.
Take an orca out of the ocean and place it in an aquarium, and you run the risk of increased anxiety and aggression. Take a human out of nature and place it in this mess, and the results are similar. Our psychopathology to their dorsal fin collapse, fences and cages change us all.
I’m not sure what freedom is anymore. I’m not sure that any of us really know. That’s a difficult reality to consider, but an increasingly apparent one nonetheless. What is real is now lost, experienced mainly in our thoughts and dreams, as if there are versions and abstractions of reality that are at odds with one another. But what is real is simply outside of it all—beyond the perimeter, beyond the bars and fences—and we long for it. If we could hold it again, we would surely all agree. We would surely be different.
In my day-to-day, I push through it. You push through it, too. We weren’t given much of a choice, after all. We were born into this, and the cycle is as vicious as ever…
And then, like a cool breeze, it washes over you again. That feeling of something familiar, something comforting and real, something that isn’t part of the chaos. In a brief moment, in a mere snapshot of existence, you’re almost there. You’re closer to it than ever before. You can taste the sweetness, smell the truth in the air, and it brings you home again. For a second, maybe longer, you return to it, connected again to something greater than yourself, and greater than all of this. There are no trimmed branches in this place. No manicured lawns or concrete walls. No fences or bars to speak of. No cages or rules to bind you. No realities to be perceived or imagined. Just nature, or home, or something like that…
And then suddenly you’re back. Eyes opened; or, eyes closed again.
Where are you? Where are we?
This was originally published in 2013 on my previous blog, David Bothered. It is a reflection on our current time and place as a species, and on our separation from the natural world. That such separation is the cause of much of our suffering is not a novel idea, but is perhaps a matter of perspective. What do you long for, out in the world?