Non Fiction

The Space of Love (The Ringing Cedars, #3)

by Vladimir MegréLeonid Sharashkin (Editor), John Woodsworth

After reading Anastasia — the first book in the Ringing Cedars series by Vladimir Megre, I surprised myself by trying another. Like the first book, the Space of Love oscillates between being inspiring and maddening. In the first book the author meets Anastasia, a Siberian recluse, spends three days with her in the Taiga during which he falls in love with her and impregnates her. He realizes that she is no ordinary woman but endowed with super-human abilities, and a person of great wisdom. She asks him to return to the world and write a book about their meeting. She tells him that the book will be a best seller that will inspire millions. That astonishing prophecy came true. The books have sold over 10 million copies and are translated into 20 languages. In Russia they also inspired a vast outpouring of poetry, painting and music. Now we have the Anastasia Foundation, and various eco-communities. It’s a remarkable feat for a businessman who had never written a book in his life, self-published the first one and did very little marketing.

The Space of Love describes his second visit to the forest glade where Anastasia lives. He meets his baby son, who is being cared for not only by Anastasia but by forest animals. They clean him, wash him, feed him. An eagle takes the baby for an aerial flight. Seriously?  You can get angry and throw the book away, or read on.

Megre struggles to understand his role as a father. He had brought toys, games for his son’s intellectual stimulation, even nappies only to discover that in the Taiga, they’re all redundant. He wants to bring the child back to civilization but Anastasia insists that he is where he belongs – in her space, the Space of Love.

He asks, “What can I give my son?”

She replies, “The links of the continuum have been violated in many people’s lives. But the strand is not broken. The strand that ties humanity as a whole and every creature in particular to the Creator needs to be comprehended and felt by each, and then to each may be extended light and might. Vladimir, expand the Space of Love. Right there in the world where you live, create a Space of Love. For the sake of our son, for all the children of the Earth, make the whole Earth into a Space of Love.”

“I don’t understand. What do you want from me? To change the whole Earth?”

“That is exactly what I want.”

She’s serious!

Change begins with correct education of children — hardly a novel concept. But what she proposes is revolutionary, along the lines Tekos school, in the Caucasian forest. A school built by the children, it’s where they learn together with very little adult input, using only thought, observation, feeling and intuition. The school may have commonalities with schools founded by the philosopher J. Krishnamurti, where freedom of thought and exploration are encouraged over conformity and conditioning. Where inner exploration of oneself is as important as the outer.

Despite impossible odds, such as would strain the credulity of every reader, Anastasia is not deterred. She denounces Nostradamus and other prophets of doom as liars, and asserts that she the pristine Man is stronger than they. She will defeat them. The End of the World is cancelled, not postponed. The dark prophecies will not come to pass but The Good will prevail.

It’s an astonishing message of hope, one that in this time of despondency and alienation needs to be heard. After finishing the book, you’ll want to believe her. As to how she sees it all happening — stay tuned.

Animate Earth
By Stephan Harding
Green Books, 2009 286 pp

The Gaia Theory, first proposed as a hypothesis  by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the early 1970s, states that the Earth’s biosphere and upper crust acts in such a way as to create and maintain an environment for the propagation of life. Whereas for over 3 billion years the sun has grown brighter, life on Earth has not only not died out from the excessive heat, but has grown in biodiversity, given us a breathable atmosphere, and a temperature perfect for the propagation of life. The hypothesis  has recently grown in acceptance among many mainstream scientists as a theory whose many predictions have found observational support.  I’ve summarized its main points in The Earth as a Living Organism.

In Animate Earth, Stephan Harding eloquently provides an in depth journey through many aspect of the theory, the origin of life on Earth, the oceans, and the complex ways in which different life kingdoms interact. Though the book is written for the non-specialist, it provides enough depth to also satisfy the serious scientist. We get an appreciation for the role of clouds in regulating the Earth’s temperature, and some of the uncertainties.

Is the Earth alive — an actual organism? Gaia Theory proponents fall into two camps, the soft-Gaians who maintain that the Earth isn’t alive, but only appears to be. Hard-Gaians view the Earth as closer to a living organism.  Lovelock’s Daisyworld model explains Gaia in terms acceptable to the soft-Gaians. Stephan Harding, a professor at Schumacher College, worked with James Lovelock and others on developing the Daisyworld model. However Animate Earth is hard-Gaian in that it presents the Earth and its living processes through metaphor, in a way that brings us, viscerally, closer to the Earth, and living processes. In the chapter on the fungi kingdom, Harding speculates how the network of mycylea may resemble the animal brain — intelligent, a view I’ve also written about in my blog entry, The Secret Life of Fungi.

Each chapter includes a meditation on an aspect of Gaia. Here the reader is asked to put aside their rational mindset, that sees Gaia as an elaborate but non-living mechanism, and to view Her with other faculties, emotional, spiritual, tactile, visual. I suspect that for many scientists, who are used to seeing the parts of a system rather than the whole, this is a daunting task. Harding calls for nothing less than a revolution in the way we look at the Earth, not only to see it through the prism of our rational mind, but to use our feelings to develop a closer relationship. While he skirts close to New Age mysticism, he remains firmly in the scientific world.

I believe that Harding’s approach is a step in the right direction where it comes to addressing the spectre of climate change, on an individual level. I’ve little doubt that Gaia is a very sick lady (as Lovelock would put it). So far all our international conferences to address global warming have come up with no solutions. Though humanity caused the sickness, some say through excess consumption, humanity is composed of billions of individuals. Ever since the industrial revolution and the maturation of of our scientific, materialistic mindset, we have distanced ourselves from the Earth. It has become a dead object, there to be exploited. Yet this relationship can be rediscovered. For some it happens spontaneously, in a quiet natural place where nature speaks to us and we experience our kinship with her. Working the land with our hands is another way, which is why I would support any effort that gives city dwellers a small plot of land to cultivate. Harding offers an approach through meditation. If it doesn’t work for me, it’s only because I don’t respond to guided meditations, but I’ve no doubt that others will respond.

If the current crisis is to be averted, and Gaia is to find healing, that lost relationship with the land must first be restored. That was where a wrong turn was taken long ago. We need to retrace our steps to that point and to appreciate Gaia as a person, one that it is our present responsibility to care for. Millions of people re-establishing that contact? It will be a force for change.


Barefoot in the Taiga

Anastasia (The Ringing Cedars, #1)

by Vladimir MegréLeonid Sharashkin (Editor), John Woodsworth

On the face of it, this is a preposterous book, badly written, ostensibly non-fiction but perhaps science fiction. However even having read the cautionary reviews on Goodreads I decided to check it out. In Russia, Anastasia  is a phenomenon of no small influence, a patroness of a new back-to-the land movement. Since the publications of this book and its sequels at least a hundred eco-villages have appeared. The author, a Russian businessman, describes how he came upon a twenty something girl on the banks of the Ob river, deep in the Taiga. She invites him to her home — actually the small glade where she lives. She walks barefoot, feeds on dried mushrooms and nuts brought to her by squirrels, owns nothing, lights no fires and displays astonishing insight and wisdom even though she owns no books. Still reading this review?

In ways, the book reminds me of some of the wilder stories of Gurdjieff, whom Megre admits to have read; stories from Meetings with Remarkable Men. Each chapter is more unbelievable than the previous one. Flying saucers? Nothing odd about them. They’re partly organic with mushroom-like bodies and piloted by not very bright people. Then there’s advice on how to clean up Moscow’s pollution by placing a box on the hood of each car, to suck pollutants out of the air. A catalytic converter in reverse? The unabashed statement that the sun doesn’t emit its own energy; only reflects energy from the Earth, is an old canard that always raises my hackles.

While ploughing through those absurdities, I had the impression that the author is playing with the reader, manipulating him/her after the fashion of Castaneda’s Don Juan. Or Gurdjieff. Why is Megre engaged in this game? I also wondered why Anastasia, a person of considerable wisdom and insight chose an unenlightened entrepeneur for the father of her child and transmitter of her ideas. It’s mysterious until you realize how effective Megre has turned out as a communicator. Within only a few years there’s a mass movement afoot that advocates clean living, contact with the Earth, sexual abstinence, the worship of God in nature. Whatever Megre is, he’s not the buffoon he sometimes presents himself as.

Despite the book’s banalities, I have to admit that it gets under your skin. I’m very supportive of the “dacha” model, vegetable production on a small scale, one that Anastasia champions. As the Earth grows warmer, I believe that this model for food production will prove correct. When she speaks about the need to restore our relationship with the Earth, if Man is to survive, she’s hard to resist. She does offer words of hope that the good in us is stronger than our darkness, and will ultimately prevail. It’s a message that, in these troubled times, many people need to hear. Doom-and-gloom visions tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, which is why Anastasia denounces Nostradamus as a liar.

The next time I plant cucumbers I’ll try her method — soak the seeds in your mouth for ten minutes, then hold them between your palms. There’s a ritual there that in this scientific era has been forgotten. Perhaps it will produce more vital vegetables. You’ll also find detailed instructions on her preferred method of bee keeping, and what crops to grow on your homestead.

Many people have asked whether Anastasia is real, or whether she’s a cunning invention of Megre. This may be the wrong question. More pertinent  (assuming that the story is not wholly a work of fiction) is what is she? She certainly doesn’t behave like, or appear to be a physical person. She acts more like a woodland spirit or nymph. I suspect that the author entered the forest and encountered there a spiritual power that challenged him. Transformed him. A mystical experience of that order cannot be easily described to the outer world; at least in rational terms. Philip K Dick relates a similar encounter with an otherworldly presence in his novel Valis.  He described “the other” as a space station that fired information into his brain. For Megre, Anastasia became the perfect container for his experiences. In my opinion, that doesn’t make Anastasia any less real or fictional. She’s real, but may not be a physical person. Don’t go wandering about the Taiga and expect to find her.

The “Ringing Cedars” series has sent many people off to work the land and develop a sustainable, saner life. Sadly many have also fallen to hucksters out to there exploit the rush to the country. Despite the book’s many shortcomings the overarching message comes through powerfully. Technology will not solve our environmental problems. If as a race we are to survive the present crisis we’ll have to restore our relationship with the Earth.

Why We Don’t Like Scientists

The Science Delusion

By Rupert Sheldrake  Publisher: Coronet, 300pp, 2012

Upon finishing “The Science Delusion”, I’m left wondering why scientists are so unpopular. In the present US presidential campaign, the viable Republican candidates all run on an anti-science platform. (Don’t believe in evolution; don’t believe in global warming). Opinion polls also indicate a public skeptical of science. In the UK, public confidence in scientists isn’t particularly high either. A scientific endorsement of GM crops doesn’t carry very far.  According to recent polls, a majority of British don’t believe in global warming. At first I thought that this is the Cassandra Effect. Cassandra, a prophetess known for her doom-and-gloom predictions was universally despised and disbelieved because no one liked her prophecies. Granted, right-wing think tanks like Heartland have done a hatchet job on  climate science, but I feel that it doesn’t explain the public mistrust of science. After reading “The Science Delusion” I suggest a different reason for scientists’ unpopularity: the post-enlightenment scientific philosophy doesn’t jive with our personal experience.

For the past hundred years scientific thought has been dominated by a materialistic mindset. Sheldrake lists ten “assumptions” that underlie it.

  1. Nature is only mechanical
  2. The laws of nature are fixed for all time
  3. Matter is unconscious
  4. Nature is purposeless
  5. All biological inheritance is material (genetic)
  6. Our memories are stored as material traces in the brain
  7. Our minds are confined to our brain
  8. Para-psychological phenomena are illusory.
  9. The only kind of medicine that works is allopathic
  10. Science and scientists are objective.

Materialism dominates science departments at all universities worldwide. When you study a degree in physics, biology, biochemisty or ecology, the above assumptions are drummed into you as the only rational approach to understanding nature. The problem is that where it comes to our subjective experience, the materialistic view doesn’t fit.

Does nature have a purpose? Does evolution have a purpose? TV nature shows such as  Planet Earth appear to demonstrate an “eat or be eaten” view. We learn who eats whom, and who copulates with whom. Apparently there’s no purpose other than survival. But on a personal level, I feel that my life has a purpose other than my survival. It’s something that’s part of me whether working, relating to others, writing or just sitting alone. I’m much more than a minnow in the ocean about to be munched on . And, I can choose what to think, what to create and what to do.

Materialism suggests that free will is an illusion. We’re programmed by our genes and our conditioning. The genetic program exists only to propagate itself via our progeny. (“The Selfish Gene” Richard Dawkins). Our motivation is fundamentally selfish. Altruistic gestures are nothing but selfish gestures in disguise. While Dawkins goes on to rationalise this assertion, our subjective experience runs counter to it. His message doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. When we show kindness to people unknown to us, it may be because  we feel like doing it; because we feel compassion. A reward whether here or in Heaven is irrelevant. And we don’t want a cold scientist pouring scorn on us. Nor do we want to hear that “We’re all programmed robots.” A bit insulting isn’t it?

How important are our genes in determining our traits and our progeny? Sheldrake presents the promises of genetics, following the publication of the human genome, as “the emperor with no clothes”. The human genome is surprisingly simple, with only 23,000 genes. A sea urchin is more complicated with 26,000. Rice has about 38,000. We’re still unable to find the genes that make a person tall or short. Geneticists assure us that given more research all will be revealed. Sheldrake placed a wager with a prominent geneticist that after another 20 years research, genetics still won’t explain the basic forms of organisms.

Are our minds confined to our brains as materialistic scientists assert? The seat of our consciousness curiously appears to lack locality. We can just as easily project it outside our body. When I look at a tree, without analyzing or thinking about it, when there’s only me and the tree, where is consciousness? Somewhere between the “I” and the tree, or in both places. Certainly not inside my head, regardless of what the lab rats say. I’m not alone in my perception. A Pueblo Indian Shaman once told C.G. Jung that the heart is the seat of thought. Only crazy people think in their heads. Regardless of neurological evidence,  I’m not aware that my head is thinking. Are you?

The sword of Damocles that could demolish the materialistic edifice in a stroke is the reality of  para-psychological phenomena. I suspect it’s why so much effort is devoted by various groups such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, to debunk any such claims, deny funding for research and exclude the phenomena from serious scientific debate. Yet many people have first hand experience with reading each other’s mind, knowing when someone is staring at them, premonitions, contact with someone who has passed away, near death experiences, or known successful water dowsers. We don’t like people to tell us that we’re deluded about those things, or crazy.

For many years Sheldrake proposed that there’s more to matter than dead matter. That beyond material objects there extends a field that determines the form of the object and its purpose. This morphogenic field, as he names it, may be the container for the mind, and our memories. The brain is the receiving instrument, a little like a TV set. The brain doesn’t give rise to thoughts any more than the TV set produces “The Simpsons”.  Damage to the TV affects its ability to transmit a program without distortion. It’s an intriguing hypothesis that may explain our human experience much better than materialistic science, but it’s still in its infancy.

Whether or not one accepts the morphogenic field hypothesis, Sheldrake makes a compelling argument that the materialistic position rests on a set of unverified assumptions. The non-scientist who watches a nature program, or listens to scientists pontificate, that we’re nothing but our genes and gray matter, may feel with some justification that it isn’t so. That there must be more to us than strictly material activity.

Until the current materialistic position shifts, people will continue to mistrust scientific pronouncements on a variety of issues including global warming, nuclear power safety, GM crops or  health immunization. Such mistrust is dangerous as it leads to wasted opportunities to address pressing problems.  Right now there’s a gap between what the science says and what we believe. Bridging that gap may not be easy but it’s critical if we are to address our global problems. Otherwise our children’s children will be saddled with our dubious legacy.

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