A Better Environment

I have been asked to translate a work from French called Testament of the Ego, a focused, poetic meditation on how the ego would divorce one from the freeflow play of life, communication with what the author calls the Holy Spirit, which resides within us (actually, he writes - the Holy Spirit is also us). It is a short work, as so many of the best works are; short enough to contain something essential, not long enough to lose it. It is a gentle appeal to how our reason, the reason of the ego, can reason us out of the more tender and profound moments of life. The "testament" is written as the author seeks to finally release this ego. I find myself drawn back to the book, though it makes me a little bit afraid, just like Western Buddhism makes me afraid - the book seems somhow Buddhist - in that I think the Western approach to these worldviews take them too literally. And yet. The author does not, as there is a humour that pervades the book, even when it is most serious. I don't know how I will find the time to translate it, but as I said, I feel drawn to return to read it whenever I have time. And tonight, as I was doing the housework, I heard a phrase on a podcast that reminded me of the book, Rebecca Solnit's idea that "people in this century ... seem to love certainty more than hope".

The idea that we love certainty more than hope reminded me of the Testament plea: that we once and for all leave the empty reasoning of the ego for a life that unfolds - in unexpected ways - only in the present (I do the book a disservice by shorthanding in this way).
Not having heard of Solnit before the podcast, so not knowing of the larger context of her writing, I did admire how she spoke in this instance of libelous clichés that emerge from the media, and how they keep some people from witnessing the manifestations of hope and possibly fruitful change that can emerge even out of disaster.
... all the clichés [of] ... how we revert to our savage, social-Darwinist nature, were aired [in New Orleans during Katrina]. And ... all the major news outlets ... were the unindicted co-conspirators ... They start publishing all this garbage about how there’s mass killings in the Superdome. And that was just believed so much that the Federal Emergency Management Agency sends a gigantic tractor-trailer refrigerated truck to get what turns out to be six bodies, not the 200 that are supposed to be there.
There’s all these stories that people are shooting at helicopters, so you can’t have helicopter rescues [but who would shoot at helicopters during a time of need - she asks in the unedited interview]. And so they mount a campaign, not to treat suffering human beings and bring them resources, but to reconquer the city. ... And it’s like, that is not a humanitarian effort. M16s are not how you help that grandmother dying on the roof. And some of those grandmothers died.  And so people were not a victim of a hurricane, they were a victim of vicious stories ... And what’s interesting is that a lot of people believe those stories. And we often treat stories like they’re very trivial, like they’re story hour for kids or — but people live and die by stories.

Stories. The stories that kill us could be stories of our own making, according to the author of Testament. So, like that author, Solnit is making an appeal to another kind of narrative for life, choosing to talk about:
... the unpredictability of our lives and that ground for hope ... — that we don’t know what forces are at work, what — who and what is going to appear, what thing we may not have even noticed or may have discounted that will become a tremendous force in our lives. 
People in this culture love certainty so much, and they seem to love certainty more than hope, which is why they often seize on these really bitter, despondent narratives that are — they know exactly what’s going to happen. And that certainty just seems so tragic to me. I want people to tell more complex stories and to acknowledge that sometimes we win, and that there are these openings.
One example of an opening, of the "seeds we might now be planting whose harvest will come at some unpredictable moment" is the climate movement, which she explains now has energy generation options. I was actually planning on writing about nature in this post, before I heard this interview, which brought associations with Testament. Yet the environment is very much related here; even Solnit describes it at the beginning of the interview as a refuge that both feeds and encourages. I definitely feel that when I go out for a run, and this is why I need to run so far, to see more of the plants and animals that feed and encourage. Today, as I slip-slid on a minor muddy forest trail, I suddenly heard a tap-tappp-tap, looked up, and saw the red breast of a woodpecker, on a bare tree. Whatever my thoughts may have been at that moment, about the uncertain day ahead of me, I was able to pause, and to witness, beautiful other forms, doing other things, finding food where I saw only barrenness.

This nature, this nature that seems ever more infringed upon. That I feel for, every time I see more cement being laid over it.
In Hong Kong recently, a general's son, now retired, asked whether the mainlanders would respect the preserved areas (there is a stretch of coast, for example, that is a UNESCO-protected geopark: in about a kilometre, you can see eight totally different kinds of volcanic rock formations). He noted that those freshly-departed from village life are always in a hurry to literally pave it over. I could not help but think of how it is the same in Europe. I remember in my Angers (France) college, the farm boys who partied their families farms away. But, Testament would say, these are the reasonings of an ego that wants to live, so continues to provide intricate reasonings, involving us. But, Solnit would say, look for the openings.
Solnit may be relatable for one more reason: her pursuit of humour and depersonalised questioning. She notes [in the unedited interview] how in one interview, a host took a reductionist approach to her work, and focused an attack against her on a personal level. Her response to this was that her host had asked her a "closed question" (according to which there is only one right answer), and that she should have responded with a "Rabbinical" question - a question to a question, which would put the focus back on the interlocutor. She notes she was successful at this once, where again her work was reduced (being called her whining about suffering from the injustices of humanity), so she turned to the audience and asked, have you ever felt the injustices of humanity?, which, she says, thanks partly to her American accent delivered to a British audience, got her a laugh.
Testament was written on a deathbed. But I hope that its sentiment, one shared by others like Solnit, will bring some of us and the space around us to life.

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