by Josh Gane
Imagine that you are walking down an empty road and you come across a woman with a broken-down car. Do you walk by without any acknowledgement, or do you ask her if she is okay? Now imagine that you are traveling down this road in a car going 60 miles an hour. Are you just as likely to make the same choice as when you were walking? What if you are going 90?
I am willing to bet that the answer is no, you would not be as likely to stop traveling at a greater speed. Applying a brake going 90 miles an hour is really not that inconvenient or laborsome. There is something about the different speeds at which the driver and the still standing woman are traveling that make them of different realities.
Another property, that everyone has noticed at one time or another, is that space also seems to dim human compassion. The further one is from another, the less compassion one has for that person. With speed and space, we are able to justify cruelty because our ego tells us that we are somehow different from those farther away and traveling at different speeds. And, if we can do this with people, we can certainly do it with nature.
Being humancentric means that humans see the world through the lense of what is beneficial to humans. This inherently assumes that humans are the most important. We are special. We associate nature with the earth, and we as humans stand erect, our faces the farthest away from the dirt. There is a space between us and nature. Instead of being humbled by overwhelming gratitude for this ability, we tell ourselves that we are better than animals that walk on all fours, or that we rule over the Earth.
We are also exceptionally good at recognizing patterns, and we often confuse this ability with omniscience. We will someday be like God through math and science. We have learned how to manipulate chemicals and we think that this makes us omnipotent. We will one day rule nature completely, including, through medicine, our own bodies.
Locally, we act this way towards each other. Our ego tells us that we are more important than our neighbor. We are special. We separate ourselves from the rest of human nature, and this space is where the ego has room to grow. Pride is the result of separation.
People have been aware of this human shortcoming for a long time. The Greeks called this property hubris. The book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible tells this story explicitly. Humans want to be godlike. Our egos tell us that we are capable of such things. I can't help but think that space and speed have played a direct role in the development of this ego. The further removed we are from nature, the more our ego takes over. The more that we tell ourselves that we are "different," the larger this ego grows.
Okay, well, so what? The 'so what' is the most important, because it has to do with our happiness. The bigger our ego becomes, the more unhappy we are in life. Think about it in your own life, and please tell me that I am wrong. I want to learn from you. For me, separation plays a crucial role in the psychological problems that plague me and many others: depression, anxiety, angst, fear, worry. I find myself more at peace when I am more humble, and nature humbles me.
Recently, I went sea kayaking for the first time with my father. I had been on rivers and lakes, but never on salt water. The first day that we went out, I found myself more and more humbled the further we got from shore. I was making myself extremely vulnerable, and I became in awe of the grandness of the water. It was a feeling of sublimity: a combination of awe and the scary feeling that I was one with the Earth. I was not above it. I was not in total control. The only way that I could get any closer would be to leap into the water, which of course would create even more vulnerability, more humility.
It occurred to me while I was gazing at the 360 degrees of sky that the control and security that I 'think' that I have on land are just illusions anyway. For instance, I can go through life in fear, trying to manipulate all outcomes, and randomly get hit by a bus stepping into the road. I am never in complete control, no matter how much I want to be. Nature reminded me of that, and I got out of the water a more content person that day.
The next day out on the water, we came around a bend on the way into the intercoastal waterway only to see a large dorsal fin rise and fall back into the water. As it peaked in its arc, a powerful whoosh exploded from a blowhole. At first, I did not know what I had seen, and I was quite startled. But we continued. A minute later, I discovered that I was kayaking with dolphins as two fins rose and fell together, mother and calf. We spent the next hour following the dolphins and watching them feed and guessing where they would emerge next.
This was not the first time that I have seen dolphins in the wild. I have been on a motorboat and seen them, and I have seen them swimming in the waves when I have been on shore. But in both instances, I was traveling at a different speed, and from a farther distance. Traveling at the dolphin’s speed, and being that close to them, gave me a more profound appreciation for the animal, and for nature.
I told my dad that we may have just experienced a once in a lifetime experience. My ego would tell me that any other trip into the sea without seeing dolphins would be 'less than.' Maybe we should have hung our hats on that experience and played golf the next day. But we ventured out again. On the third day, about 10 feet in front of my kayak emerged a gigantic dolphin, at least 8 feet long and maybe as large as 12 feet. He was so big, and his expelling of water through his blowhole so powerful, that I froze in shock and awe. We were kayaking with dolphins again.
This experience left me thinking about what brings me joy in my life, and I decided that it is surely not being better than others. I am happiest when I am just a drop in the sea, when we are all special together, man and earth. I wish that I could carry that feeling with me all the time. But it is inevitable: The longer that I stay away from nature, the more likely I will be to forget this discovery. Separation from nature is the problem.
My mother suggested to me, upon my return to shore, that the gigantic dolphin may have been my deceased grandfather saying hello. He often comes to me in the form of animals. But I insisted that I had already seen him in the form of a pelican earlier that day.