The Dream of the Old Man

This dream came to me somewhere around 1987 or 1988. I had been to Nicaragua, and was involved in many activist groups in the U.S., trying to stop the war. And I was frustrated by the tone of these groups. It was all about fighting for the cause, so urgent, so pressing. I tried at the time to get a few minutes of personal sharing time onto the agenda, but was told, we don’t have time for that. We have too much to do. Not that all these gatherings were so cold, but it was a real frustration for me, because my experience in Nicaragua taught me that it is indeed in being fully present to each other and to the whole movement of Life, right here, right now, that the salvation of the world lies.

Given the volume of anger and conflict in our world today, I thought it might be time to hear from the Old Man.

In this dream, the Old Man is the last to speak at a gathering of activists, mostly young, but some older as well. It is the beginning of the gathering when everyone present is giving updates about their projects, about everything they have been doing since the previous gathering, apparently some sort of annual event. He has been listening to all the others give their reports, and now it is his turn to speak.

I awoke from the dream, and immediately grabbed a tape recorder and settled back into a half-dream state to recreate the speech. I believe that this transcript is a very accurate representation of the words in the original dream.

It is perhaps worth noting that this dream came to me before I had significantly discovered the beauty and the powerful presence of the non-human world. I was a people person, and had not yet consciously realized that trees and mice and whales and seals and rocks and grasses and birds are people too, all equal partners in the sacred movement of Life. If I were to have this dream now, I think there would be a slight shift of emphasis, to include being present to the whole world, people, plants, animals, wind and water and soil. To the realization that there is one whole movement of Life, which includes all of us, and the answer to all of our questions lies right here, right now, in being fully present to and in this sacred movement.

But here is the Old Man himself, in his words.

***

It is good to be here. I’ve missed this gathering the past two years. It was three years ago I was here last. And I look over those three years and I ask myself, why did I miss this? What was I doing that was so important that I couldn’t take the time to enjoy being with you all? And I am wondering what was going on. How was I living that I couldn’t take the time just to be with you?

And especially now. You know, I’m very aware of… it’s good to be among these young people. And I’m very aware that I am getting old. And maybe this will be the last time that I can come here. And what was I doing with… losing time… what was I doing? What was so important?

And I think that since I have lived most of my life, I have something I would like to say to you young people. I am hearing you use words like “fight” and “the struggle.” You are angry. You are trying to make a point. You are trying to be heard. You don’t think anyone cares. You don’t think anyone is listening. And you are banding together in your anger. And you are finding strength for your fight.

As I look back on my life, I don’t think fighting is very important. They seemed important at the time, our battles. It seems like it’s the only thing that is important. We are hurting. Our friends are hurting. And we are just discovering how deep that pain is. We are just discovering how many people, and how much the people around us are suffering, and we are angry. And it seems as if no one could possibly have understood what we understand now, because if they knew, they would have done something! We must be the first.

And so we fight. We are angry and we fight. And we feel a deep frustration with those who are not joining us in the fight. And so we stake out our territory and defend it and defend it and defend it. Because now that is who we are. It is a piece of us. And By God! You better understand, because if you don’t understand this struggle, this suffering, you don’t understand me, and I want you to understand me.

I look back on my life, and I remember. I have had many of these times.

What I want to say to you is, don’t get to my age and look back on your life of fighting, of defending personal territory. Because you’ll stop and wonder, where was I? I was so busy fighting for my cause that I never really noticed the world around me.

We have been given to each other to love each other. And there is nothing more beautiful than that we spend time together, paying attention to each other, enjoying being together, delighting in each other’s presence.

That’s all there is. That is everything. There is nothing more complicated than that. And I can see in my life, I have spent so much energy fighting for causes and looking to make change that I have missed the beauty of simply being alive.

So I say to you who have your causes, your missions to accomplish: pay attention to those around you. Enjoy being here. Enjoy simply being alive. And be with other people simply for the joy of it, not because they are sisters and brothers in the cause or because they are people who can get you where you want to go. Just enjoy being with people, so you don’t reach my age, at the end of your life, and have to say “Where was I? What was so goddamned important that I missed the joy of being with friends, of being alive, of being simply here?”

Saved By the Whales Again!

Natural History Magazine recently reported two separate instances of humpback whales protecting seals from the very sophisticated and coordinated attacks of orca whales in the Southern Ocean.

http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/exploring-science-and-nature/161929/save-the-seal

The scientists who observed the rescues speculate that this might be maternal instinct on the part of the whales. The problem with that bit of speculation is that it is extremely difficult to determine the gender of humpback whales at sea, and there is nothing to indicate that these were female whales.

The final paragraph of the article may come closer to the truth:

“When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.”

It seems likely to me that other animals are perfectly capable of acting out of compassion. I would not be surprised if the seals communicated their distress to the larger whales. Last year we saw interspecies communication at work in the case of Moko the dolphin who saved two pygmy sperm whales who had beached themselves in New Zealand.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/save-the-whales-how-moko-the-dolphin-came-to-the-rescue-of-a-mother-and-her-calf-795025.html

We seem to find it hard to believe that a non-human animal is capable of flexible behavior. We humans sometimes act compassionately toward other animals, and sometimes we eat them. Why should we think other animals behave any differently?

Whales have been living on Earth with their large, complex brains about a hundred times longer than modern humans. Maybe they are the more mature species, and we have a thing or two to learn from them about living on Earth with grace, balance, and compassion.

This is my hope for the year(s) ahead. That we humans will begin to see other beings not as objects to be studied or exploited, but as co-equal creatures, creators and creations both, of this amazing, rich, vibrant, living Earth.