The Delusion of Separation

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us…Universe. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison… Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our … compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Albert Einstein saw individualism and separation as a trap, the opposite of freedom. So did Alan Watts, John Muir, Goethe and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. I am beginning to suspect that they are on to something.

The wolf carries their message. A couple of weeks ago, a guest who had stayed in one of our cabins sent me a video from her phone. You don’t see the visitor at first. She is sitting in a shadow, watching intently. Then she stands up and sashays into the forest, passing through patches of sunlight.

We know something about this wolf. She is part of a Canis lupus gene pool that was reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. Now we have learned that the reappearance of a top predator in that region changed the game, not just for prey animals like deer and elk but also for vegetation, birds, beavers, and countless other species. Even the rivers changed course as riparian woodlands stabilized their banks. (For a scientific take on this process, Google “William Ripple Yellowstone wolves. For a lyrical Ted Talk, try “Monbiot Yellowstone wolves.)

The Yellowstone wolves thrived and dispersed. A young male (known by the un-poetic handle OR-7) arrived locally around 2011, found a mate and set up housekeeping in our neighborhood. Now one of his kin is checking us out.

Our new wolf neighbor (lets call her GS-1) has joined us just in time. We are beginning to understand how connected we are to the forests and ecosystems that surround us. Just as the presence of predators changes the course of waterways, the presence the energetic, omnivorous species Homo sapiens has changed the temperature of our planet, the chemistry of the oceans and the atmospheric dynamics that we call weather. We have damaged the ecosphere and the web of relationships that sustains us is getting frayed.

Here in Oregon we find ourselves battling to protect our Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a Noah’s Ark of biodiversity and eco-knowledge — keys to our survival. We must save these treasures from a profoundly fearful, un-woke element of our own culture. We have met the enemy and they are we.

What does it take to win such a fight? The missile is communication and the payload is enlightenment. Can we penetrate defenses of anger and willful ignorance fast enough to organize ourselves and face up to catastrophe? I don’t know. But like John Lennon, I have hope:

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”