By Ben Neal
I woke one morning to the sound of chainsaws.
The owner of the land (what a concept…) where I live had signed a contract with a local lumber company, giving them the right to harvest some of the valuable oak, maple and cedar trees that surround my quiet country house. Soon there were stacks of freshly fallen timber piled at the end of my driveway, in pyramids 10 feet high, waiting to be loaded onto trailers and hauled to a nearby processing plant.
As I walked among the piles, ran my hands along the rough bark, and traced the exposed rings with my finger, it struck me just how mindless this process has become. I realized that each one of these logs is a corpse, cut from the living forest that I love so much. That each tree represents years, decades, a lifetime longer than my own, lived out here among these hills, roots sunk deep into this earth.
A team of men had walked these woods, and looked over these trees with a keen, analytical gaze, sharper than the saws which felled them. They were evaluated as a commodity, appraised without a second thought. Those judged to be profitable were then tagged with spray paint, a neon mark of death. Then the machines came in and removed the main trunk with just two cuts, leaving the stump to rot in the ground, and the upper limbs to lay where they fell.
I couldn’t ask for a more apt metaphor for what’s happening in the world today.
Let me say right now that I’m trying to make a point, not make moral judgments. I know full well that everyone involved in the process is just pursuing their own livelihood, doing what they are trained to do, providing for themselves and their loved ones the best way they know how.
The landowner just wants to see some income from these hundreds of acres that are sitting idle. The surveyors, the lumberjacks, the truck drivers and machine operators are all just doing their job, driven by a team of supervisors, who are in turn under pressure from a general manager and a board of directors to meet a certain quota.
The lumber company itself is under pressure from their clients—makers of cabinets and furniture, maybe, or construction companies. Those companies too are expected to meet their quotas, and on and on down the line, to the retail stores like Walmart, Ikea and Home Depot, selling the finished product to people like you and me.
It’s a mindless system of machines and machine operators, salesmen and marketers, cashiers and accountants and investors, and all of them just doing their job, and playing their part without stopping to wonder why, or at what cost.
Is there corruption in high places?
Definitely. Is it right that a few people at the top of the pyramid hoard all of the profit and leave the rest of us to fight for the crumbs? Of course not.
But is that the real cause of the problem? No.
As I’ve tried to show with my long-winded lumber metaphor, and what I hope you can intuitively sense, is that even the corrupt a**holes who seem to be running the show are actually being driven by a force that is bigger than them. Whatever the industry—coal, oil, lumber, food and agriculture, you name it—whatever sin is being committed, whatever harm is done to people and ecosystems, it is done in the name of supplying the demand.
“What demand?” you ask.
Yours and mine. Our wants and needs, our desires, our dollars. We are the underlying cause. Wherever you see corruption and oppression, wherever there are officials being lobbied and bribed, wherever waters are polluted and soil is raped, wherever populations are f*cked over and families left homeless and hungry, we are looking at the direct result of our own way of life, our own state of mind.
It’s easy to point the finger at the 1% and all of the ways they have rigged the system for their own benefit.
It’s easy to get angry about it, to get worked up into a fit of righteous indignation, and take to the streets in protest. It’s easy to vote, and fill out a ballot, and share clever memes on Facebook and feel like I’m making a difference, like I’m a part of the solution.
It’s much harder to point the finger back at myself, to really look back behind my eyes, and point out the ways in which I am unconsciously playing along, mindlessly participating in the devastation that so enrages me.
This is real spirituality.
Much of what passes for spirituality today is watered down bullshit designed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy, to comfort and anesthetize us to the suffering of the world. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth in the Law of Attraction gospel of abundance, or that there is anything wrong with praying or chanting or doing whatever makes you feel whole and connected.
But real spirituality isn’t about feeling good, it’s about waking the f*ck up; which is often painful, difficult, embarrassing.
Real spirituality isn’t about filling your head with positive affirmations and visions of gods and angels. It’s about having the courage and the discipline to shine the light of your awareness into the dark places in your mind; to identify and dismantle the unconscious habits and desires which are harmful to ourselves and those around us.
Real spirituality isn’t necessarily about God at all.
It’s about suffering, the causes of suffering, and the way of liberation from suffering—not just for me, but for all beings. It’s about the nature of the mind, and how to transcend it. It’s about the nature of desire.
What is it we are all really longing for? More disposable junk and electronic distractions? Or a life of peace, contentment and sacred inter-connectedness?
Real spirituality is revolutionary, because without the fuel of our desire and craving, “the system” would collapse. Without millions of people mindlessly working and buying and playing along, the chainsaws cannot level whole forests, the factories cannot belch their putrid smoke, and the retail stores cannot sell their cheap and useless shit.
Real spirituality, if embraced, practiced and lived by enough of us, will change the face of Mother Earth and the way we live within her, as part of her.
Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi.
Ben Neal is a father and freelance writer, a poet and a mystic, a lover of the wooded hills and wide open spaces of the American Midwest. When he’s not grinding away at the keyboard, you can find him outside, in the garden or on the trail, playing catch with his son, or sitting around a bonfire singing sad folk songs. You can read more on his blog, or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
Editor: Dana Gornall