Owen’s forage for peace.

In May 2024, Owen lived for a week on locally foraged foods, in order to raise funds for the situation in Gaza. You can read his reports on our Facebook page. This is a longer musing about the situation through an integral lens.

I write this with my belly full of seaweed, limpets, nettles, and fir needles. I’d forgotten how very filling wild foods tend to be. I am not finding it particularly delicious (I will be missing my cumin and cayenne), but at least I’m not hungry

Many musings and broodings. From the “start” of these events I’ve been trying to wrap my mind and emotions around the situation in Israel-Palestine. Trying out different lenses: history, theology, psychology, evolutionary spirituality, human development (as individuals and as a species), etc…An effort to understand why human beings can act in such horrendous, violent and delusional ways. Let’s make no mistake, there is not a culture, tribe or nation in the world that has not participated as instigators of violence. No country can stand on a pulpit and declare themselves innocent. What differentiates them is wether they have “owned” it and taken some responsibility for their actions or not. The US is a prime example of immature posturing as an exemplary country while ignoring its many violations past and present. So I want to explore some of this…

Here I want to explore the possibility of stepping out of the black and white tendencies, natural to us at certain levels of our development (and still operating in all of us, especially under extreme stress). And how fundamental drivers in human behaviour are playing out individually and collectively in the current mayhem. I’ll be using the lens of the Three Poisons and their remedies from Buddhism along with some ideas form Integral Theory. Can we, as a collection of individuals, promote peace within ourselves, our communities and our world? What can you and I do in the face of hell-bent powers -that-be?

There is only one side.

So easily we are caught up in the incessant avalanche of impact of our and others actions. Past events creating the mountain slope onto which new events trigger the disastrous and destructive momentum that humans get swept away in. 

So easily we are blinded by our unshakeable assumptions, our personal and cultural narrative, the world-view we dwell in.

I’ve always disliked terms such as “pro” and “anti”, they narrow the situation into a linear, oppositional face-off, two groups antithetically opposed, a wall built between them that allows no connections, no true communication, no empathy or compassion. Such divisive language puts all attention on the differences while denying the very existence of the common ground that lies beneath our feet, and that supports both “sides” as the Earth of our existence.

Does being pro this make me anti-that? Or can I stand for all those who suffer with a foot in both “camps.” trying to stop the overflow of aggression in both directions? To break up the fight? Can I stand for the dead and the dying, for those who have lost, for those who have been traumatised whether on the giving or receiving end of violence? For those who live in fear and insecurity under the threat of the next bullet or bomb? Or who scramble to find food for themselves and their loved ones?

Whatever the camps, both share traits fundamental to all living beings. 

The capacity for self-organisation driven by a life force that pushes one towards individual survival against all odds as well as collective survival of the species. All living creatures share the same basic needs for shelter, food, water, air, and social interactions. .

But as humans, more comes into play. As humans we share a nascent capacity for self-awareness and self-consciousness, this capacity develops from our infancy to our adulthood (if we reach it) and hopefully continues to grow throughout our life span. It waxes and wanes with the challenges of our situation, and under dire stress may recede to a tiny flame of awareness as primitive drives for survival take over, or strong emotions threaten to extinguish this light. This fire is the gift that Prometheus stole from the Gods to give humanity, the light of self-awareness. When war or war-lust and its terror, anger, hatred, starvation, desolation possesses us this light is threatened, at times extinguished by a black and blinding darkness. And war-rage and lust for vengeance, driven by fear and hate, cloaked in delusion, rampage across all the artificial boundaries that we have invented that stand between one human-being and another.

In Buddhism they speak of the three poisons and the three remedies.

Greed hate and delusion are universal to all of us. What results in suffering is how we act under the influence of greed, hate and delusion.

Suffering is both the fuel that feeds them and the catalyst for their transformation by virtue of and into the three remedies. The three remedies  dwell within each and every heart and play out in the collective often as people against power, struggling against the oppressive forces of the status quo which imprison humanity in vicious cycles of perpetual permutations of the suffering – greed/hate/delusion vortex. The Wheel of Samsara. Can we as individuals and as a species break from of this hell-bound wheel of suffering? Only if we can break away from our old patterns and create new ones.

Samskara, or habit patterns, play out on both an individual and collective basis. The classic metaphor is that they are the ruts made over time, through repeated passage, by the wagon wheels as it trundles down the road. Once they begin, we continually fall into them as we journey on our way, and its takes great effort to lift ourselves out of them. These are the habits both “good” and “bad” that rule our life whether as petty tyrants or benign dictators. Practice makes permanent.

In neuroscience they are described in terms of neural connections. The neurons tie together to form neural networks. Neuroscience has now proven the possibility of rewiring and growing new neural connections, through the triumvirate of repeated thought, emotion and action by which we can fill in our old ruts, and create new ones, that serve us. We therefore have the capacity to achieve a degree of freedom from instinctive (biologically wired for evolutionary reasons) or habitual (learned from interactions with the world) patterns of behaviour, of movement/body, of emotions and cognition (how we think, what perspectives we take).  Old samskara, adaptive patterns laid down in response to past situations, often no longer serve and yet, like automatons we continue with the same solutions. Solutions that may have worked in previous situations but do they serve us well today or do they blind us to the changes in circumstances? Prevent us from seeking new ways? Result in the creation of further suffering? Take your own little old habits and ask yourself: how did this once serve me and does it still serve in the current situation? What are its benefits and  pay-offs? What are its limitations, consequences and costs?

None of this is easy. The forces of inertia, both individual and collective, lie in the way. Laziness, distraction, lack of discipline, and on a collective level greed, hate and delusion are hard-wired into our socio-economic system in the form of extractive models ofcapitalism, the military-industrial, pharmaceutical-industrial, fossil-fuel focused socio-economic systems…all implicated in political systems that have subverted from their idealist principles (regardless of the political parties’ stated values). The force of inertia also plays out in our culture, showing up as the vetted values systems of our worldview, the restricted assumptions of our religions (as they play out with all their faults and not as they were first inspired to be).

Who benefits from this current madness? Who is made to feel safer? Whose lives are enhanced? For whom are opportunities for a joyful and fruitful life free of the spectres of the past and the fears of the future created? I would say no-one- I’d be surprised if the parties and people’s below enjoy a joyful and fruitful life at peace with themselves and those around them. They only benefit in the way that they rack up more greed, hate and delusion, feeding the wheel of samskara, trapping them in a prison, and reinforcing their own tortured self-narrative and self-sense (the stories we tell about ourselves and the identity we create for ourself). They live in a perpetual state of fear, anger, hatred, and a self-loathing so deep they can only project it outwards onto the world and anyone they can force into their nightmarish movies.

The arms-manufacturers? Record investments, record sales, record profits, record distribution to the share-holders. The fossil fuel corporations? Who have somehow managed to make record profits using the Ukraine-Russia war as a rationale, while all other fields of business and people everywhere absorbed the impact of increased prices and the climate teeters on the edge? The pharmaceutical corporations? Well-documented as one of the most corrupt industries in the world, who can turn a “pandemic” into a record-setting profit with profit margins soaring with some drugs at a generous 10,000% mark-up? Deeply entrenched systems that have made slaves of people who have either bought into their world-view or feel obliged by socio-economic necessity.

These last few years have been good for shady business.  The politicians making cynical decisions with only their own survival as primary motivator.  This finds extreme expression in current events with the wars playing out in Europe and the Middle-East with extremely self-centered individuals leading the world to the edge of WWIII (Putin and Netanyahu and his ilk) with the benevolent support of Biden in some twisted alliance with Republicans calling to “nuke Gaza). Or the continual pushing away of measures to address climate change and environmental degradation despite the hopeful rhetoric at each climate conference.

We’ll leave things at that for now. The next chapter of musing  I’ll explore the three remedies of Buddhism and a developmental perspective through the lens of the self-sense line of development. This is how individuals develop their self-identity (which “ego” is a part of) and how it can with growth and maturation expand its sense of identity and care to ever greater circles. We will look at this in terms of  Egocentric, Ethnocentric, Worldcentric and Kosmocentric. How can these ways of seeing help us see more clearly and reach towards a better world? One that helps us step out of the black-and-white conflictual perspectives constantly fed to us by the most strident voices of the media and political madmen.