ALWAYS THE PRIMARY LEVEL OF INQUIRY
I’ll share with you a really remarkable exercise that the brilliant Dr. Jean Houston employed during one of her famous “mystery schools.”
It goes like this:
* You’re sitting with a group of 5–8 other friends, one of a dozen groups.
* Your group, as all the others, has been given two pieces of paper.
* On one is written a climate — as in temperate, arctic, tropical.
* The second piece of paper contains the name of a region — as in plains, tundra, mountains & valleys, jungle, coastal, desert.
* Your group’s task is to describe your livelihood, your religion, how you would feed your family, the kind of materials would you likely use to build your dwelling, and how you would educate your children.
So, with just a climate and a location we can describe every important parameter of livelihood.
Take-away: GEOGRAPHY is always the wise ground floor of analysis.
I remember studying Geography from the 5th-7th grades, and have been surprised to learn that people can earn a Ph.D. in this seemingly basic field. Whodha thunk it!
Even people — you and I have — personal geographies of place and terrain, which determine far more aspects of our lives than we might have realized. Let’s say that I’m quite obese. What a different life I would have from the one I would lead if I’d been a thalidomide baby born with no arms, or if I were a dwarf. Geography applies to gender, to race, even to mathematics, where it’s called Topology, and there are definitely Ph.D.s in that fascinating subject.
Everything has a geography, It is our fundamental marker of being on Earth. Our location — whether we live in a sea-coast shanty or high-altitude cabin or a river-valley country manor — determines basic aspects of our daily lives. As is the climate of our geography: whether we build our home of ice, of adobe or of wood. And our personal geography, that of our bodies, is equally telling.
But being determined by geography does not mean being confined by geography. We can create irrigation ditches and divert a stream to grow our crops, as did those who gave up foraging and hunting for agriculture; we can move from our island, as did the brave natives of the South Pacific who paddled 4000 miles in dugouts to found Hawaii; we can build a ship to sail away to virtually anywhere, as did explorers, from the Vikings to the Portuguese; we can dig down into the earth to get cool, as do they do in India, or build a kachel oven like the Austrians to bake their bread and also stay warm in winter; we can lose all the pounds we desire (tough though it may be, especially if it’s a geography with which we strongly identify) or we can bulk up via exercise and diet.
However — even if we are living with restrictions imposed by ourselves, as following a diet regimen or training for the Olympics, or imposed by others, as in serving a prison sentence in solitary confinement — we are not determined. Even if geography is a given that cannot be changed (for family or livelihood or penalty), how we treat that geography — via our attitude, our sense of purpose, our understanding of how life works — can improve and re-define even the most meager circumstances. Stories of those who — like Rosie Justice [Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2) by Elizabeth Wein] — transformed the experience of a Nazi concentration camp into positive focus, sharing and service.
Geography, whether natural or personal, tends to define, tends to determine — but never actually does so. It is you, it is I, who make something of any circumstance. And it’s vital to note that we are always doing so, always making something of every event and person and experience. What’s more: whatever we make of a circumstance is far more relevant and important than the objective nature of what seems apparent.
Glory to the inner life.