Monday, May 7, 2018

No song in May

"The cuckoo comes in April.
She sings her song in May.
In the middle of June she changes her tune,
In July she flies away."

Are those lines familiar to you?
They may well be, but I'm sure that many of today's children have never heard of them.  The reason?  Sad to say, we seem to have said farewell to the cuckoo.

When did you last hear the cuckoo's song?
A year ago . . . three years . . . five years . . . ?
And, tell me, when did you last see a hedgehog . . . or a thrush . . . or a sparrow?

If you live in London, as I do, hedgehogs, thrushes and sparrows will be no more than a distant memory.  You don't notice when such creatures are slipping out of your life, it's only after they've been absent for quite a while that you realise with sorrow what you've lost.
In fact, such has been the sharp decline in hedgehogs nationwide that, as you probably know, this has been named 'Hedgehog Awareness Week'.

But let's look at the broader picture.

Why does it matter that we're in the middle of the sixth mass extinction?  It matters because, one day, that extinction could well extend to us.  True, there's no obvious reason why human beings should need cuckoos for their survival.  But just think about it for a moment.  The entire natural world is a story of balance, of integration, of interdependence.

Ultimately, for our survival, we need air, water and food.  And, however clever and independent we think we are, however skilled in science, technology, and the production of artificial intelligence, humanity is totally reliant on the natural world to provide the essentials for life.
Moreover, the trees, plants and insects involved in providing our essential requirements, will only provide them whilst remaining part of a balanced, multi-layered environment.

We are not above or outside the natural world, we are an integral part of its beauty and complexity.

Nor is it just a question of the wildlife becoming extinct.  Have you noticed how the planet is responding in other ways to our thoughtless and destructive imprint?

This week alone, tornadoes have swept across central America;  a series of earthquakes have given rise to a large volcanic eruption in Hawaii prompting further earthquakes;  hundreds have been displaced in Kenya's floods;  an extensive sink-hole has appeared in New Zealand;  and unprecedented dust storms have caused havoc in northern India.  On a happier note, here, in the UK. we've enjoyed the hottest May Bank Holiday on record.
And all that has happened in just one week.

But, who knows, even at this late stage there could still be time for us to weave a supportive pattern in the environmental tapestry . . . perhaps even encouraging the cuckoo to return.
How sad were it to be remembered as no more than the mechanical inhabitant of a clock.

Click here to remind yourself of the cuckoo's evocative song, and ponder as you do so on these sobering facts . . . our Earth is finite, and there's no such thing as Planet B.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A murmuration of mankind?

I heard an interesting talk the other day.  May I share its basic premise with you?

It was the speaker's contention that mankind has evolved as far as it can in one direction . . . the direction in question being that of individualisation and competition.

As she pointed out, in the days of our early ancestors co-operation and a sense of community were essential for the survival of the species.  They hunted as a pack, food was for sharing, heat was produced from communal fires and shared body warmth.
Anyone stepping outside this concept, physically or mentally, risked isolation and death . . .  each one recognising himself as a component part of a larger whole.

As we evolved, so our sense of individuality became established.  With this came the acknowledgement of personal accomplishment and, in due course, competition.  Over the years this sense of competition has been actively encouraged, with modern children being urged to compete from an early age.

We have undoubtedly gained in individual creativity and accomplishment . . . but what have we lost?
Could it be, the speaker asked, that we've lost a vital memory . . . the memory of our basic unity?

Just think about it for a moment.  If we relate this to our own body, let's compare it to the relationship between our hand and our fingers.
Each of our fingers is an individual unit, but where would they be if they failed to recognise the overall unity of the hand?

If we're to progress, it seems that we need to recognise not just our individual strengths, but the fact that together we constitute a conscious whole.

We need to see how understanding, love and wisdom are far greater in the whole than they can ever be in the individual.

Occasionally we experience such unity . . . if you've participated in a choir or played for a football team, you'll know what I mean.
For a moment, just a moment, something is greater than we are.

But, to return to the analogy of the hand, wouldn't you agree that, at this troubled moment in time, humanity's self-obsessed fingers are choosing to wilfully ignore the hand that unites them?

Were we, even momentarily, to transfer our identification from the fingers to the hand, how much wider and more inclusive our perspective would be.

There are moments when the natural world clearly demonstrates this unity.
One beautiful example is known as a murmuration of starlings.

Click here if you need proof that the power, beauty and intelligence of the whole is infinitely greater than that of the individual.

I wonder, will there one day be a murmuration of mankind?
Will we see a world in which Jews and Arabs, Sunni and Shia, Brexiteers and Remainers all move together in perfect harmony?
At least we can unite in hope.