In 2005, I wrote this little story. I think it’s held up quite well (I was smarter than I thought, back then), so I’m going to start this meditation with it.
MESSAGE FROM A MUSHROOM
photo by Inda at givnology.com
Good morning, Dave, and any other humans who are reading this message. It will be interesting to see how good a job this ‘software’ (we love that word!) does at translating our thoughts and feelings into a language that you can understand, that has some meaning to you. We are the collection of mushrooms under the Spruce trees in Dave’s back yard. This, to our knowledge, is the first attempt to capture our message in human-readable form.
The first thing you need to appreciate is that we are unable to use, in any meaningful sense, the first person singular ‘I’ in describing who we are or what we feel. We are collective, we are plural, in three senses.
First, we are simple and integral enough to recognize that we are a collection of cells, working in harmony to do our job, which manifests itself as one organism but is in fact more like a hive, a plural presence, a billion cells each aware of each other, and each cell in turn is a collection of its parts, its members, and so on infinitely.
Secondly, as a group of mushrooms, we are indivisible, our interest is collective. We are concerned with our survival, as a group, in this lovely damp dark place in this yard you call ‘yours’.
And thirdly, our collective interest is subordinate to the interest of this entire community, this ecos, so if the bunnies who live in that burrow over there come and eat us, that is just fine — we live on as a part of their consciousness and as part of this place. We are essentially of this place, that is what defines us, the mushrooms, the bunnies, the rock and the soil and the rain, the animate and the inanimate. We are this place.
This must be very difficult for you to understand, as we see that your species lives a very lonely, individual and detached life. You are in such conflict with other humans, all of you, and with us too, as your insensitive and destructive ways, your possessiveness, this need you have for ‘property’, to own things that can never really belong to you indicates, because, you see, although you seem to have lost the instinctive knowledge and the ‘sense’ to understand it, you are in fact a part of us. You are just lost, confused by the separateness that your minds have created for you, that frightening, alien and dissonant world inside your individual heads. Perhaps one day you will master this admirably complex machinery between your ears, and rejoin us. You cannot be happy, and cannot stop being insensitive and destructive, until you do.
All of this is easy for us to understand because we are not burdened with a complex brain with all the noise and the imaginings it seems able to conjure up. We have no choice but to live here, now, in the real world and in the moment. By all rights you should be much more ‘alive’ than the rest of ‘us’, yet somehow you seem not to be, you seem very dead to the world, and your brain looks as if it spends most of its time examining itself, lost and disconnected from the whole, and its purpose, your purpose, our purpose, which is to help Gaia — that is, to help the collective us — thrive on this amazing blue ball in the dark night of space (as the birds and insects describe it to us), thanks of course to the Sun, one of our other sacred things (or gods as you call them, or at least used to).
Look now, see there the sun peeking through the Spruce needles, and the droplets of dew dripping down from them onto us. Are these not wondrous to you, the epitome of joy, a reason to live and to fight to keep Gaia whole, prevent it from dying again in what you call an ‘extinction’? And look there, a tiny spider weaves her web, its lovely pattern caught in the rays of the morning sun — how can you not see this as sacred, how can you not see it, period?
We feel so badly for you, poor conflicted humans, so unhappy, so misguided, so dissatisfied. What can we do to show you that you are still welcome here, you are still part of us, though you have renounced your Gaia citizenship and lost the intuition and the sense to see it? All you need to do is come close, really see us, feel us, sense us, trust your instincts, listen, pay attention, stop thinking and just be, let go, and you will understand?
We are using your words, your language to try to explain to you what we feel and what we want for you, but still you do not seem to understand. Your language, far from being a vehicle for understanding, seems to us so poor in its capacity to communicate anything important, anything essential! Instead it seems to further isolate you, disconnect you from us, from your home, from where you belong. It is so abstract, so weak in vocabulary of the concepts that have real meaning to us, to all of us.
If only you still had the capacity to understand our language, this communication would be easy, effortless. But your software seems able to translate in this one direction, alas.
We don’t know what else we can tell you, beyond this great important truth of belonging, of paying attention, of seeing the sacred. Keep practicing, stay close to us, pay attention and in time it will, we hope, come back to you. We are waiting here to welcome you, joyously, home.
Now, is there something you would like to say to us, something we can learn from you, with that massive human brain of yours? For a start, we love your music, and we would like to know what it means. And, please tell us, why are you crying?
I want to save the world, and to change myself. It’s taken me decades to appreciate that I can do neither. If only I were there, I might know how to get there from here. But in the absence of that knowledge, there is no way.
It’s the nature of complex things, I see now. So many moving parts, so many unknowable truths. I am an emergent property, “the creative open source project of a trillion cells”. ‘I’ separately am nothing; a fiction, an invention. Even time is an illusion of my mind, and every instant those trillion cells cease to be and in another instant they are there again, but different, not the same.
So I am starting to accept that I can’t get there (to being-something-else) from here, and that we can’t get there (to a world not plunged headlong into the sixth great extinction of life) from here. To accept it, and to appreciate it. To stop fighting it. To just be who I inevitably am, in this world that is as it inevitably is, here, now.
Our language, it appears now, was designed for instruction and information dissemination, not for feeling or philosophy or expression of identity. Or of anything important outside of and greater than the context of the culture in which our minds are imprisoned, minds within which we are in turn imprisoned.
The Internet depends utterly on language, as do books, conversation and teaching, even in the form of videos and demonstration. We can’t know how to do something until we do it, try it, practice it. Copying may help, but doing something ourselves is a unique, personal experience. We can’t explain, in language, who we are or how we feel or how it feels, how it is to do something. No wonder human art has been around three times as long as human language — it’s a far more useful, meaningful artifact.
In its application to meditation or presence, Gary Weber has tried to convey this limitation of language in his short, free book Happiness Beyond Thought on meditation, confessing that what is supposed to take years of diligent practice should be possible in a moment, if only we knew how, if only we could see what we can’t see, if only we could experience what we’re trying to experience. He says people who have tried LSD or ayahuasca, experienced the disruption of our minds’ usual program, find it easier, as do those who can watch the changes in their brain waves on so-called fMRI machine displays as they do their ‘presence’ practice and notice what wave patterns are closest to the ones others produce in the pure connected meditative state. Sleights of mind to try to show us how to get there from here, when it can’t be explained in language. When you have to be ‘there’ to understand how to get there. When there is no ‘way’.
And it’s the same at a different scale when it comes to changing, or ‘saving’, our culture and ‘the world’. We still have this conceit that we’re in control, or at least someone’s in control of what the human species does. Every article advocating change contains something along the lines “we all need to…”, or “all we need to…”, or “if only we would all (just)…”, as if humanity were the Borg, or all the same, changeable with some magic formula the same simple way. It betrays an unwillingness to accept the staggering complexity and unknowingness of our selves, our culture, our planet and our universe, the unwillingness of idealists and salvationists and others that long for everything to be simple, fixable, made the way we want it, or think we do anyway.
Our culture, which is inadvertently precipitating its own collapse as well as that of our biosphere and all the life that depends on it, is, just as ‘we individuals’ are, an emergent property, the creative open source project of a trillion trillion cells. Like our ‘selves’, our culture is separately a nothing; a fiction, an invention. A map. A way of seeing things simply that are not at all simple.
Sometimes I despair that I will ever find ‘presence’; it’s certainly a long shot, and possibly a Quixotic search. And I despair the amount of suffering we are all unintentionally inflicting on the world. It’s easy to be angry, sorrowful and fearful about these things, until we realize there is no use in being these things. Even then, it’s hard just to accept, and to appreciate our wounded, disconnected selves, and our terrible, battered world, for what they are.
So, my dear mushrooms, the meaning of our music, and the meaning of our tears, is the same: that we love, we care, and we grieve. It’s all we can do. It’s who we are.
There are no words for it.