NS: It seems that people have always read some significance into natural phenomena – and in particular, major events such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. Most commonly, it has been felt that these were signs of some divine displeasure. And in more recent times, they may have been seen as the stirrings of Gaia, or the inevitable results of human interference with the planet. So what do we read into – or learn from – the flooding that has affected so many people so devastatingly recently?
RJR: It is interesting being in practice at this time as most patients mention the floods and how they feel about them. One said recently that she felt it was a ‘reckoning’ and that nature was fighting back in order to maintain its own homeostasis. Personally, I feel very close to nature and always have, I get very upset when our environment is disrespected, and I too feel that in some way it is a kind rebalancing. Not in a religious sense but in a universal one.
NS: I think it is a sort of reckoning but nature is not ‘doing’ something to us – nature, or the universe, just is. It has no motive – apart, perhaps, from the constant balancing and rebalancing to achieve that homeostasis. We can see it as a reckoning because it appears to be the consequence of our failure to take care of our world. The floods and their aftermath – while causing misery for many people – have illustrated how nature is in constant change. A valley is not destined always to be a valley – it can temporarily become a lake. And even after a short time, that lake will start to attract visitation and habitation by birds and wildlife that were not there before. Perhaps we need this lesson in impermanence?
RJR: Humans love certainty don’t they? In fact, they often live in a delusion that they deserve it, or will exert immense control over themselves and others in order to achieve it. So yes, I like the idea of the universal lesson of impermanence. What disturbs me is how for a short period of time the news, and its followers, were completely obsessed with the floods and the poor people affected by them. Now it is old news which translates into not news anymore. The nation has moved on, its attention, elsewhere. So we remain fickle, our care ‘impermanent’, so lesson learned? If only.
NS: Yes, the impermanence of human attention (or media attention) seems to point to another lesson we should learn. It seems that we just don’t take in the bad news at any deep level. We slow down to pass a fatal crash and then we put our foot down again a few minutes later to break the speed limit. We see the floods one week… and then the sun comes out and we forget about them. We witness a death or go to a funeral… and we still don’t seem to grasp fully the impermanence of our lives. What would it take to make us pay serious attention to reality?
RJR: Great question, and an unanswerable one. Denial is a very strong trait for human beings. I think our brains have evolved that ability as part of survival. Denying responsibility has allowed us to live selfishly and achieve dominance as a result. We have won the battle but lost the war. We have lost site of the bigger picture and we are destined to fail.
NS: This would tend to mean that come hell or (literally) high water, we are never going to look unflinchingly at reality. The floods are forgotten about until the next time – or as long as they affect someone else. It seems a bleak prospect – the continued avoidance of seeing and accepting reality. It conjures up an image of humans persisting in this approach to life, right to the very end – even if the flood waters are rising around them.
RJR: Yes, that is my feeling exactly. Bleak, I agree. Do you disagree? Do you feel humans are capable of something else?
NS: I want to say yes but all the evidence says no. Perhaps even the most apocalyptic flood – Noah style – cannot change human nature. Would a new type of human being emerge from a completely flooded world? Sadly, it seems most unlikely. Perhaps one day the flood waters will wipe out life on the land and then the whole evolution process could start again – for better or worse.