I had a dream once where I was in Hell and demons were tormenting me. Yet we were in a pleasant place enclosed by trees. Just down the dirt road, I saw the Gate of Hell, which the devils were ignoring. I thought I’d try walking through it to see if anyone stopped me. No one did. I just walked through that gate and straight out of Hell.
When I was 19, I saw that gate. I planned my escape.
Market forces and social breakdown were making a shambles of the 1950s American-dream sort of wealth and optimism that I had been taught were everyone’s right in God’s own country, which I could and should share with the rest of the world. America had saved Europe, after all, from Fascism in World War II. So I had learned in school.
Scientists and political forces in league with intellectual ones and the military brought in willy nilly nuclear, psychological and drug experimentation, which continues to the present day, having expanded into agriculture and energy excavation, from whose effects we are now reaping very serious consequences: mass fluoridation of the water supply, the chemicalisation of agriculture, genetic modification of food and animals, even cross-breeding plants with animal genes, the rise of the pharmaceuticals industry now controlling our medicine, the focus on nuclear power and oil for energy and technology, the emphasis on computers to replace paper, which creates more pollution, with trees cut down for farming and oil and gas exploration, not to mention the building of new computers on a massive worldwide scale annually. And every year we are told to update our technology and software systems!
There are big holes in the way we join the dots of things. We believe what heads of corporations and governments tell us – people whose only aim is to get and remain rich, which brings them more power.
The striving for power erodes even those with a compassionate nature who start off in life wanting to do good. People want to protect those they love most of all and do so by striving for greater comfort and power. Some get caught, others trapped, still others destroyed, by that blind striving.
We all go beyond ourselves too easily, our minds leading us into complicated tangential territories far beyond the still small voice within, that part of us that whispers what is true. Humanity lost so much more than it imagines with its loss of religion, as it lost respect for those without voices, for the gentle and the innocent.
In a leap into the unknown, trying to find something greater than myself and my little 19-year-old world, I left what to my mind was Hell to look for Heaven. I sought another world – a spiritual one, I now realise – in Ireland’s parallel-world mythology of the fairies.
What I found was a clean, mostly unpolluted island. People like Sean McBride, who had spent a great deal of his life protecting Ireland’s fresh waterways after dropping his youthful anti-British passions and alleged gun-running pursuits, were still alive then. Ex-President of the Republic and Irish-American Eamon de Valera was just retiring from politics, a man who, despite being thought by many Irish as someone wanting to hold Ireland back from development, protected Ireland's countryside, language and traditions from forces he believed were destructive. But I didn’t know all that.
I hitchhiked and walked straight to the setting for the movie ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ – still the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The sunshine and fresh air completely cleared my post-adolescent complexion and, as I walked the country roads, I felt better than I ever had before. Elated and free for the first time, without the iPads or mobile phones that youngsters have today, I suddenly realised that no one who knew me even knew where I was. With only the wildflowers and wind, the animals and kindly strangers, many of whom still spoke only Irish, I was happy.
I walked to the ocean shore and was amazed the water was so clean that I couldn’t see it but rather straight through it down to the rocks and sand below. Here and there tiny wriggling sea creatures appeared, but not too many. There was even space between them and the surface for my hand to wave in the water undisturbed. Everything shone in the friendly sunlight. And that is when I began to realise that it is possible to fall in love with a land, not just people.
Not until I stood on top of the Great Blasket Island did it dawn on me that I had never been in a place without machine noise somewhere nearby. Far, far away on the horizon, I heard the motor of a single ship wafting on the occasionally roaring wind. The only other sounds were the seagulls and ocean waves. Sometimes I saw a rabbit hopping in the long grass. We were all sparkling together and, for the first time in my life, I experienced the expansion of real inner peace – all from the gift that Nature, in her natural unsullied state, gives ... freely.
That is why I am so strongly against the industrialisation of the countryside and the transporting of energy from one country to another. Let each country handle its own land and energy needs. The way our world’s leaders are thinking must change or we will destroy all our natural wealth – the wealth of space and silence, of earth in its natural state. Other creatures live in that natural environment. They have no voices in our governments.
If, in our homes, our own wildlife and water supplies are harmed or destroyed, if too much noise and light disturb us, then we need to reflect and review our actions and alter our needs for ‘more’ accordingly. It’s long past overdue that we address our hunger – that hunger caused by what Buddhists call ‘dukkha’ – the sense that nothing is ever quite right – and realise that we will never be happy with more. Less, and taking care of what we have, will give us satisfaction and joy.
The only times in my life when I have felt that all was right in the world were those that a healthy Earth gave me – moments without being silently poisoned by pesticides and chemicals, where fresh air and clean water replaced them. Still, while holidaying in rural France one summer, I did not experience that sense of rightness or good health – but that was before I knew the building on the horizon was a nuclear power plant. I found out after drying white sheets on an outdoor line. The sides facing the nuke plant were faintly yellowed. Invisible nuclear radiation was emanating my way. Yet the authorities tell us that doesn’t happen.
Depressingly, the aforementioned stretch of water I visited on Ireland’s west coast was sullied years later when a Spanish oil tanker washed up there after a storm. To my knowledge, the Spanish corporation behind the horrific oil spill there was never held to account by the Irish government, which merely let the winds and weather and forces of the Atlantic Ocean disperse the oily residues. It was not the same when I saw it again. Nowadays I dread to imagine what damage has been caused. Protest is quelled; I do know that. Now that the EU has ensnared Ireland in massive debt, corporate powers have their greedy paws all over Ireland’s natural wealth. A small country can and will be destroyed utterly by the practices of industry operating on a world-scale business model. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out.
Even larger countries are being destroyed due to the hunger of other countries hell-bent on ‘economic growth’. Energy-rich states in the US are suffering from industrial oil and gas exploration that leaves behind water and air pollution that companies ignore or can't clean up. In the Alberta area of Canada, the dirtiest form of oil, tar sands, has destroyed miles of what once was pristine forest. China is rebuilding its cities with skyscrapers to replace homes that grew organically over centuries and were made from locally sourced materials. Wars, social disturbances and population displacement all lead back to one thing: our being cut off from Nature.
Our future without the peace that Nature gives us is not a pretty one. Clean air and water are our birthright. These Mother Earth has given us. Yet we squander and ignore them, as we have done our elderly generation and less-abled, as we persist in a system that overmedicates those considered a drain on our economy rather than the rich resources they could be. We must value what we have before it is too late.
‘But what can I do?’ you might say. ‘I don’t even have a garden.’
Do you have space to grow one plant? If so, do that. Take care of one plant and gradually you will learn how to take care of more. By doing unto one little plant what you would wish done to you if you were a plant, you will begin to walk out of Hell and straight into Heaven.