18 April, 2011
The story of the modern “self” is that we are in possession of our own life, that we can construct our life according to our inner desires and plans. We believe we are autonomous beings, in control of our life, that we are a project to be worked on, to be improved. We aim to get more out of life, make the most of it (= busyness). These are very strange ideas when we acknowledge that we already are the full expression of life itself.
We spend so much time and money constructing “our life”, we can forget that we are here to live! We don’t have to invent anything or do too much; we just simply have to engage with the richness that already exists in us and all around us. But we can’t seem to stay still. At the heart of the modern self is an incredible restlessness, a seemingly insatiable need for mobility, for linear progress, and with so much movement, the place we live is always being blurred.
Freya Mathews says that: “modernity has foregrounded our individual deeds … as if we exist on a stage, and life is the telling of a self-story”. There is another richer ecological construction of the self: we are a unique aspect of the unfolding world. The living world is not a backdrop to our busy lives, but our existential matrix. And if we move too far from our own supporting matrix, our life can become devoid of real meaning.
Freya argues that rather than being in “possession of our life”, we should opt for a more ecological perspective, and become “native”, ie belong to a particular place and become imbued with its character. She adds: “one’s life is not the property of one’s self … (rather), to be alive is to be in the world, to witness it, engage with it, participate in its poetics.” I really resonate with that: I just want to be native to my place (Kangaroo Valley, NSW), such that my life follows the contours and flavours of the “givenness” of my land, and not some abstract, self-constructed idea of who I am.
The world around has its own fullness; full of other species, vibrant places, and meaningful conversations (if we listen). And we can engage with and be open to the bigger story of our place, situating ourselves as one member of a very large and diverse community, and find real meaning and connection right there. This can happen whether we are in “nature” or in the city. We can gaze at the clouds moving across the sky, or sit in our garden or balconies and be in conversation with all that is happening right in front of our eyes. We can abide in the place we live, no matter where it is. Anything more than that could be considered to be superfluous.
We can get most out of life through being aware of the beauty, vastness and richness of the world around us, even in its despairing brokenness.