Keep calm and… squirrel!
I am a potato.
Let me explain.
I am spending significant amounts of time these days with the teachings of a couple of taoists, one of them being Alan Watts, whose lectures and writings resonate with me on a profound level. He had a very special gift of conveying spiritual philosophy in a manner that made it accessible and understandable to the uniniciated; clearly narrated and intersped with a large dose of humour.
In his book “Still the mind” he writes about how mankind in it’s arrogance sees itself as the epitome of existence, of being the most highly evolved beings on this planet and as such in danger of loosing it’s humility towards other beings. Let me provide a quote:
“But how do you know that you are a higher order of being than a potato? What do you really know about potatoes anyway? You probably have never studied potatoes beyond knowing how to cook and eat them. That’s probably about it. But have you ever thought about how a potato feels? ‘Well,’ you say, ‘it doesn’t feel, it’s only a potato, it has nothing to feel with.’ But wait a minute. When you put a lie detector on a potato - some kind of skin response machine - it certainly registers, and its readings change when you do certain things. If you prick the potato or shout at it, it will flinch. As a matter of fact, if you learn how to turn on your alpha waves and you sit beside a plant, you will find that it will pick up those alpha waves. So maybe plants are not so stupid after all.”
So, how are we to know that the potato is not the one who has really understood excistence? The potato doesn’t need to move about to fulfill it’s life’s purpose, it has everything where it is. The potato doesn’t stress about making money and driving automobiles, it is content where it is. I tell you, this book makes for fascinating stuff, and with these kinds of musings swirling about I sat down to meditate one day and this thought popped up in my head:
“I am a potato”.
Well, I suppose I might as well be one when meditating, I am after all, sitting in one place, not worrying about making money and driving automobiles. At least that’s the goal. In that moment I have nowhere to be, nothing to do, and the only thing I wish to achieve is stillness. The potato and I, we’re tight, we’re buddies.
Now, when it comes to meditation there are about one million and a half different schools of thought as to how one is to “correctly” meditate. One is told to lie down, walk around or sit. To sit on a cushion, on the floor or in a chair, legs crossed or not. To fold one’s hands in one’s lap, put them on your knees with the palms facing up, or palms down. Eyes open, semi-open or closed, mantra, no mantra, secret mantra or a counting mantra. After a while I gave up and now I meditate whichever way I feel like. Personally, I find the most effective way is seated with my back in a straight position, elongating the spine, but when it comes to the eyes being open or closed, it depends on my mood. If I feel more in tune with myself with my eyes closed, that’s what I’ll do, but if I notice there’s a danger of me falling asleep rather that meditating while closing my eyes, I leave them open and so I sometimes notice that I have an audience.
You see, there are a couple of squirrels who have adopted my balcony (sorry, their balcony) as a place where they enjoy hanging around and clearly I am a very strange aparition. When I do yoga I have sometimes caught one of them with it’s paws on the window pane looking in at me, and it’s as if I can hear it saying to itself “What the hell is she doing?” There was a period when I would practice singing at the time that coincidentally one of the squirrels had decided was the right time for him to take his afternoon snack on the balcony. My singing was NOT a welcome accompanying noise (noise being the paramount word) to this undertaking. After all, we prefer to take our food in silence, thankyouverymuch and the squirrel made it abundantly clear that he did not appreciate the disturbance. He would come up to the window, where the nuts I leave out for them are, look at me with deep indignation, then take a nut, jump off in a huff and settle himself to eat aforementioned nut on the other side of the balcony, with his back pointedly in my direction. Of course, if he had wanted to, he could have jumped off the balcony alltogether and taken his snack in the tree which leans onto the balcony and thus is his way of entrance, but there is no need to overdo it, is there, as we will obviously return for second helpings. And thirds, and fourths. But every time he showed up, it was the same theatre and I found his indigantion to be wonderfully entertaining!
But I digress. We were actually talking about potatoes, and the squirrels got me sidetracked (hands up if you ever saw Pixar’s “Up!”). The point was, that we human beings are being rather arrogant to think we are the epitome of spiritual consciousness, and view ourselves to be above everything else on this planet. Who is to say that the potatoes or the squirrels aren’t the ones who has actually got it? If I were a squirrel I would probably not find the need to bend my body into positions reminiscent of Picasso paintings, or sit in meditation, looking inward to seek the meaning to my existence. If I were a squirrel I would know what I was here to do, namely collect nuts, dig them into the ground in order to have some for a rainy day, then forget where I had hid them and thus plant forests. That’s a pretty significant purpose to have, wouldn’t you agree? By the way, I have almond trees growing out of the flower pots on my balcony
Is the reason for our human existence to question it? Are we here to challenge it? Maybe the constant fight between man and nature is the reason for existence itself? I think we could all agree on the concept of yin and yang, the intrinsic polar oposites to everything. Are humans the yang to nature’s yin? This does not mean we are of a higher order, but maybe our “job” is to question the order of things? Maybe? Or maybe the reason we are here as individuals is to finally break through this fight between man and nature? Maybe we are just pawns in God’s great game of celestial chess with himself? “Let’s create this wonderful thing which is nature and then throw man into the mix and see how he fares.” Maybe we are all unwitting participants in a huge game of “Survivior”?
But man became arrogant and entitled and thought it was his prerogative to treat and mistreat nature in any way that fit his fancy, and so he destroyed it, or at least got damn close to destroying it. Only time will tell if he succeeded. One thing however is abundantly clear, namely that we absolutely must change our ways if there is to be any chance of a tomorrow. We have become lazy and entitled. We think it’s our right to have everything we want at any given time. You want a cup of coffee? Great! Don’t have time to sit and drink it out of a proper mug? Don’t have your reusable takeaway mug with you? Still want a coffee? Well, tough! You can’t have it! This is only one example, but I think about this a lot. Our laziness, entitledness, arrogance. It’s destroying us. It would do us good, I think, to contemplate the potatoes and the squirrels and find some humility again.
Is mankind destined to self destruct?
So I guess I’m not a potato, but it wouldn’t hurt me to contemplate on it from time to time, just as I contemplate and, frankly, rejoice in the squirrels on my balcony.
By the way, I don’t own a TV, I would never need one, my balcony has a much higher entertainment value.