C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called Til We Have Faces. This book was a retelling of the ancient story of Psyche and Eros. In essence, the story says that Psyche (the Soul) falls in love with Eros, or Love himself. Psyche has to go through all kinds of ordeals placed before her by the most beautiful of Goddesses, Aphrodite. In the Lewis version, Psyche's sister goes to Psyche to save her from the monster that she had fallen in love with. Upon seeing Psyche, and the place that she lived upon, the sister saw an impoverished hellhole. When she questioned Psyche, her sister responded in essence with "what are you talking about, my dear sister, look around you, I am living in a Palace."
In many ways this reflects how we see Nature and the potential of changing lifestyles in order to become more independent of corporations. What we see as progress is miles upon miles of highways, big box stores and parking lots. Yet, when we gaze upon the natural scenery with our commercialized and corporatized eyes, we see the land as a wasteland that needs to be developed.
As one person I know said about Maine, "there is nothing but trees and water up there!" Just gotta have shopping malls.
But which is really the wasteland?
In order to maintain our consumerist lifestyle, we are required to work in corporations for diminishing pay and benefits. We are becoming poorer and poorer as the middle class enters the same league as the dinosaurs. Meanwhile, the bankers and corporate aristocracy continue to get richer and richer off the sweat of the workers' brow. As the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, "Fortunate One" sings, "And when you ask them, 'How much should we give?' Ooh, they only answer 'More! more! More!'"
And this is what we see as lush living?
We are like Psyche's sister. We perceive Nature as being an impoverished wasteland, whereas Psyche sees herself living in abundance. Why else would many of the tribal peoples react aggressively to the Western Empire taking over their lands? Did they see in us a better way of living? We sure did see them as a lesser version of human being!
In order to heal, we must reframe our sense of abundance. We must be like Psyche, not like her sister. It is interesting to note that Deep Ecologist, Chellis Glendenning" states in her My Name is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization" that a Bushman commented to an anthropologist that there was no need to labor in factories. The nuts, meats and vegetables that they lived upon grew in abundance in the forests surrounding where they lived.
What the Bushmen saw as plentiful, we see as frightening wilderness. Indeed, according to Glendenning, the Bushmen worked on average of four hours per day. Of course we may argue about longer lives due to our medicine achievements. But we must ask, if we have it so good, why did aboriginal peoples like the Native Americans fight so hard to maintain their tribal lifestyles? Could it be they saw in their lifestyles a freedom that we Europeans had lost through the empire building of our Greco-Roman civilization? Furthermore, there are reports of tribal cultures in Siberia in which it is not uncommon to live more than 100 years. Indeed, there are reports of people living upwards of 160 years.
What if we looked at the world through the enriched lenses of Lewis' Psyche, while moving beyond the perspective of her well conditioned and civilized sister? Could we live a more enriched life in claiming our love for Love himself?
To make this happen, how do we help people to get past their fear of change? These people are deeply conditioned to think that our modern lifestyle is one of luxury, where as, in fact we are working longer hours for fewer benefits and poorer living conditions. Meanwhile, those same people living in poverty look at the abundance of a living forest, like the Northwoods of Maine, and see nothing useful except timber to be "harvested." Drive them into the country and they say, "look, there is nothing here!"
"What do you mean there is nothing here?" Psyche answers back. "Look at the rich variety of plants, trees and animals! Can't you see this?"
"Get me to a Wal-Mart! Quickly, before I die!" her sister answers back while gazing at trees.
How can we get Psyche's sister, our conditioned minds, to take in the scents of that living forest in order to engage a natural high? Furthermore, how can we get Psyche's sister to live in harmony with that land in getting her basic needs met? Even harder still to convert are those diminishing middle class persons who continue to be entrenched in their love affair with their standardized McMansions and SUV's. How do we present them with the notion that a life of plenty is possible without all the widgets, gadgets and gizmos whose manufacturing processes are causing global warming and fostering slave labor?
Furthermore, how do we get them to see the upcoming ecological crisis which will trump the mounting economic crisis they only now begin to perceive, and then write it off as a passing phase?
To face this question, my wife and I took part in a radio round-table conversation regarding helping to move people past "Scare City." Or, if you'd rather, scarcity! Get it?! This conversation also involved author Gary Brumback, C.R. Lawn of FEDCO Seeds, and Stacey Jacobson of Mid Maine Time Bank.