5 November, 2009
In a recent discussion I had recently with a friend on food, eating and death (not your usual light-hearted chit chat) I made the comment that we need to understand that we are all food at some point.
I expressed the view that I hope that one day my body will feed the soil and its many and varied life forms. To accept myself as food means that I accept myself as part of the food chain, and understand that life is about eating and being eaten. I also accept that I am part of a larger story, connected to those who came before me, and also in conversation with those who come after me. Death provides the material matrix for the new to emerge.
Eco-philsopher Freya Mathews says in her book Reinhabiting Reality that success in the modern world is based on vanquishing discomfort, obscurity, shame, pain and ultimately death itself (as if we could do any of these things). She says: “This defiance of life refects the fact that in the modern era civilisation is no longer organised around the organic principle of fertility but rather the manufacturing one of production.”
As much as we try, we just can’t escape the process of birth, death and regeneration, as much as modern society tries to do so. We prolong life, we spend millions of dollars extending life, without ever questioning what life is really for.
Adopting the principle of fertility would generate a far different society, and take us in different directions. Freya says that at the heart of the notion of fertility are “reclamation, resurrection and renewal”. In a profoundly beautiful statement, she says that “the worship of fertility entails a practice of “recycling” at every level of life – the forgiveness of the degraded, the readoption of the rejected, the reclamation of the discarded.”
The principle of fertility is also applicable to the inner life of the self. This would mean that we celebrate who we are, just as we are; we don’t aim for perfection, but embrace all our failures, defects and limitations. In the modern world, we try to remake ourselves in accordance with an abstract idea, presented to us by the dominant culture. We often consider ourselves some kind of project to be worked on, rather than a mystery that has emerged from the unmanifest realm.
We also lack connection to a larger story, lost as we are in our individual stories. The principle of fertility offers the seeds of a new story, a richer story, a story that would enable a deeper understanding of our lives and what it means to be fully human. In life, and in death.