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Thoughts, Leaves and Civilisational Stress-testing


Consciousness, life, is but a momentary glimpse, like the unfurling of a leaf or the gentle opening of an eye onto the infinite realm of possibility. A furtive, cursory glance around before closing again and returning to the infinite state of eternal nothingness. These musings bubbled up as I slowly came round this morning with a fresh cup of coffee and my trusty journal for company.

These days I am lucky to have the company of a delightful and elegant little fig tree in my living room. It is a wonderful example of a fractal pattern, slender well-placed branches stretching out to explore and occupy their place in the world, tipped with tender, elegantly shaped evergreen leaves. The overall effect is like some over-sized cerebral organism floating in the corner of the room.

As I sat there musing away, I became curious and began asking; to what extent are the thoughts inside our head, representative of and very much like the leaves on a tree? With each one fulfilling some function, emerging as a response to some deeper sensation, desire need or impulse. Each one propelling us into new territories as they emerge and unfurl into consciousness, momentarily fuelling the whole organism, facilitating growth, before fading away, discarded back into the fabric of infinite time.

It strikes me that an individual in relation to the collective, acts in a similar way as a leaf in relation to a tree. Each of us, part of the fractal pattern of sentient life that make up the human race. Our individual nervous systems constantly sensing and collating data into concepts, perspectives, ideas and choices which are then transferred through motor nerves back out into the world to influence behaviours, establish structures, fuelling and forming others into ways of being and becoming. Infinitely complex fractal patterns of interrelationships between living beings informing the tree of life onwards and outwards physically and culturally in time and space.

Our families, our cultures, societies and civilisations grow and evolve in this way. But as with the average tree, so this natural growth brought about by the mind boggling miracle of photosynthesis, this incessant growth also, eventually leads to its own death, demise and destruction. Imagine a mighty poplar, Populis nigra, of the kind which can be seen decimated down by the shore of the Thames in West London. From the moment they emerge from the ground, they are not only nurtured and coaxed to grow up towards the light, but they are constantly stress tested by their environment, by mother-nature, shaping and forming the patterns of their branches, determining their shape, the strength and the girth of their muscular limbs.

When fully grown these once immense, indomitable, majestic trees, dominated the shoreline, their trunks and branches were intimidating and awe inspiring and seemingly indestructible. Yet, despite their immense size and seeming strength, they increasingly became vulnerable as the weight of their limbs increasingly challenged the laws of gravity. Inevitably over time they have succumbed to the winds of fate, to the stress tests which in their younger, leaner days they would have withstood and passed without concern.

The laws of the universe, of mother-nature it seems, don’t allow for unchecked exponential growth, stretching indefinitely into the future. At some point there is a naturally occurring inflection point. I often wonder if our civilisation, exacerbated by the current COVID-19 crisis is experiencing a similar, naturally occurring yet inevitable check in the great thrust of progress and growth which we have witnessed in the last sixty or seventy years. Is our incredible capacity for progress and development being stress tested by the unavoidable and yet necessary winds of fate?

I wonder like many people, whether our vast networks of fractal relationships, our metaphorical tree of interconnected cultural and economic treaties and supply chains can continue to withstand these gale force winds of fate as they have done in the past. That they need regular stress testing has been apparent to many people for a very long time. If civilisation, Western civilisation at least is to continue to grow, to move into a more authentic and meaningfully richer phase, then this kind of stress testing is vital, and it is something I believe we must all engage in for it to be truly effective.

It seems apparent that the physical and material, as well as the cultural and spiritual elements of our system all need to be tested by all of us, as often as possible if the kind of resilience needed for our societies to grow into maturity is to be achieved. How do we do this? How do we each take our share of responsibility to respond to this crisis, and the many others which face us? At this point I’m going to resist the urge to answer these questions directly. A temporary cop-out perhaps, but I have my reasons. Answers to these kinds of questions require conversation, drinks, and interpersonal, stress-testing within authentic relationships.

I believe that the ideas and answers we do explore together, those which we attempt to bring into the world, will shape and inform our future, and will inevitably determine whether or not our way of life is indeed fit for purpose and can stand the test of time. The extent to which we fully engage, with both love and will in this crisis will determine whether our thoughts will go on to succeed in fuelling the growth of new and mighty poplars down on the shores of Ye Olde River of life.

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© 2019 by STEFAN KING