Monday, April 30, 2007

Zero Impact Living and other Flights of Fancy

I've recently taken to walking or riding my bike at least once a day, Monday through Thursday. I take Friday off to be able to do whatever pops into my mind, then for the weekend I work outside in the yard. I've gotten quite a bit done - it's almost unnerving how much of the landscaper I joke to myself that I've become.

When I was out for my walk today, i started thinking about a lot of different things. That's pretty much my favorite thing to do, you know - muse about the most random and sometimes most ridiculous things when I'm all by myself without a thing to distract me. And so, in this absence of books, movies, video games, and human company, I found myself thinking about this and that, until i came upon a more steady train of thought.

I really don't know why it stuck in my mind as a topic i should pursue, but i started wondering to myself about the plants of the desert. OH YES! I remember now! It was because as i was walking along, i noticed a particular kind of tree lining the sidewalk that i realized had also started sprouting up in my front yard, between the neighbor's fence and ours. We had been wondering about what it was, because it's quite "viney" in its early stages - not at all like a tree. The only reason I even realized what it was was that it had quite a few branches which were still more vine than tree, and the foliage was exactly the same.

Anyways! Seeing that tree almost immediately followed by a tall pine started a quiet inquiry in my mind about the nature of the different climates on the earth. I started thinking about the different geographical features that must exist to create a temperate forest where there might otherwise be a desert. It didn't take long to come to the same conclusion as i'm sure i must have slept through in fifth grade biology. (or whatever it may have been that i was so avidly daydreaming through)

Water. Not just any water, fresh water. Simple, right? I know. So I took that simplistic answer and tried to simplify it more: what is it about water that plants need? I thought immediately to humans and how our bodies are almost exclusively run on the water that we so desperately need to survive. I reasoned that, of course, that same need must drive plants. But then what happens to the existing water? Does it evaporate? Get excreted? It's a little easier to see in humans - i've personally never seen a hibiscus walk up to a brick wall and piss its initials.

I could go on for quite a while describing the minutia of my ADD brain farts, but i think i'll zoom out to give you a little more panoramic view.

Essentially, i ended up thinking about the plausibility of creating a grassy, temperate climate in the desert of Arizona. A place where fruits of any kind could be grown as if in their own home climate. I didn't think much on growing seasons, but it would have doubtless crossed my mind and taken another branch of meandering thoughts all on its own.

The caveat - but perhaps most important feature - of this Zero Impact Living zone, would be that it could not (with the obvious exception of the displacement of whatever sand and vegetation originally inhabited the spot) tamper with or alter in any way the surrounding climate and area. If rainfall were collected, an equal amount must be released beneath to account for it. If humidity were extracted from the air, it had to be replaced almost immediately and in the same place.

It could all be done, i conjectured, if the science of the functionality of nature - indeed the very building blocks of growth and life - were understood. Why water? Oxygen and minerals in, waste out. It has to boil down to something simple, after all.

Pan left and we follow the natural progression of these thoughts: What about people? If we could get whatever oxygen and other gases that our body needed through other means, would we still breathe? The scene in the Abyss where the mouse first breathes liquid air immediately popped into my mind, and was dismissed almost as quickly. I wasn't talking about breathing something else, like water or another gas. I was talking about not breathing at all. Would we feel like we were suffocating? Or just holding our breath?

I started thinking about what else we could substitute ... would it be possible to only subsist on a diet of pills to fill our chemical needs? If you could eat a pill that would give you all the calories and nutrients that you need without eating a single bite of "food", would you do it? What if it meant that no living thing would ever again be killed for or because of your nutritional needs? No plants, animals, or people? Sounds ridiculously impossible, i know, but bear with me. The question isn't whether or not this pill exists, it's whether or not you would be able to live on it.

I imagined never eating a salad again, or a steak, or cheese, or crackers, or chips, and i came to a fairly sound decision that it would be impossible for me. And if not for me, then certainly for quite a large percentage of the world's population.

What it all boils down to is that we are not happy just to survive. To merely eek out an existence and leave it at that. But why? Or more aptly, why not? What else is there, or should there be? Shouldn't it be enough to live and leave well enough alone?

This whole time that i'd been considering what would be possible with Zero Impact Living, or breathing without air, or eating without food, i'd been focusing on, (indeed practically abusing) that very thing which i was now denying we should have any need for: imagination. So i started wondering about what it is that makes us different from how we perceive animals to be - creatures existing on base survival instinct and a kind of informal ritual of eating, sleeping, excreting, and mating.

Like, for example, let's say I want a pickle. A lot of people will tell you that that kind of desire, or "hankering" will indicate that perhaps the pickle will fulfill some basic need that exists in your body. Maybe a lack of sodium? I dunno, but you see where i'm going with this. It's like your body is holding up its hand indicating what it needs, and your mind is holding a flashlight on the hand, projecting an image on a not so distant screen. What you end up thinking about is what's on that screen - whether or not it's what your body was indicating.

So what are we to do? Ignore the screen and look at the hand? Turn off the flashlight and try to let our eyes adjust to see what it might be we actually want? What would happen if we just did away with our creativity entirely and stuck entirely to the fax? "Just the fax, ma'am, just the fax." Ultimately the question that that seems to beg is this: What would be the point? What kind of life would that be?

When you think about life, the universe, and everything, what really is the point? If there's a grand scheme, we're not aware of it. So should we try to change the world? Why? If there's any one thing that's true, it seems to be impermanence - the fact that everything that is will once have been. It's not that life is suffering because all good things end, it's that life is fleeting, and that's that.

So i think about the goals i might dedicate myself to: wealth and hedonistic abandon? Why would that appeal if nothing lasts? Getting more only brings about wanting more, and having more things only makes you enjoy what you have less.

What about the future of the planet? Survival of the species? Scientific and medical advancement? No - to what end? If everything ends anyways then there's really no point. And even if it doesn't it's not like there's some major competition going on after which our species will be judged and awarded with some amazing and indescribable prize. Beyond that, if you apply the above rule about having and wanting, then all you do by advancing the species is make the species want or expect more. It's a vicious cycle that only ends in the same apocalyptic scenario as will most likely end up vanquishing even that vague conceptualization that we invented to measure our lives ... Time.

Kids? Same thing. They'll eventually pass on, so no matter how good you make their life, they'll grow old and live life just as you're doing now.

Family? Ditto. If it's all impermanent, the only thing we know is that we'll all end up in some great beyond, which could be the absence of all existence for all we know. (read: no afterlife)

So what does it come to?? Lay down and die, screaming "AAAAGH" whilst shooting your gun in the air?!

I think that, ultimately, the answer to that question is found in some ancient words of wisdom i have heard repeated so many times: 'to each his own.'

We make a mistake, i think, of either living too much for ourselves, or too much for "the greater good ... the greater good ... the gre -" ... sorry, got carried away. Between the extremes of simple survival, having everything we want, and giving everything to society (a complex and convoluted love triangle, to be sure) there has to be a point where everything balances out. Our job, if we should choose to label it as such, should perhaps be to find that point.

I wish i could tell you how to find it - but if i knew, i probably wouldn't have gone on this rant. Life may not be about finding your balance-point, but i think it's probably much more enjoyable once you've discovered not only how to get there, but how to stay there as well.

Joseph Campbell talks about finding your Bliss. The Buddha talked about Enlightenment. Jesus talked about corporeal death and spiritual rebirth. For some, such things are a life goal to live for - i hope that for me, i can reach that point with plenty of life left to live.


1 comment:

Shelli said...

Christian, I love you and your philosophical side...but you're the most random person I know :) Miss you!