Mnidoo

21 years ago my wife Pam and i settled on M’nidoo M’nissing, better known to settlers as Manitoulin Island. The Anishinaabe word manitou is often rendered in English as “spirit.” But what does that mean? Anishinaabe scholar Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning relates what she learned about mnidoo from her mother:

This concept mnidoo derives from the word Gizhemnidoo, from my mothers’ dialect …. She translated Gizhemnidoo in several ways; primary among these was Great Spirit (the most common translation in our area). Gizhe (great) is similar to chi (big). We can separate gizhe from mnidoo, which she called spirit, potency, potential— dynamic energy. She said that the word spirit is the anglicized interpretation, but mnidoo is something that is happening, and is about to happen at the same time. Gizhemnidoo is the Great Mystery/Spirit, mind boggling, because it is beyond human comprehension. But virtually everything is mnidoo, little spirits. Everything has a little spirit that is propelled by, and exists, due to this energy.

Mnidoo-Worlding: Merleau-Ponty and Anishinaabe Philosophical Translations, p. 3
The big and little spirits correspond more or less to the Big and Little Currents in Turning Signs (Chapter 9). The mnidoo which is ‘something that is happening and is about to happen at the same time’ also corresponds to Dogen’s being-time, and with the Buddhist Heart Sutra:

the Heart Sutra mantra — Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, Bodhi! Svaha! — can be interpreted as “Arriving, arriving, arriving all the way, arriving all the way together: awakening. Joy!” This is a marvelous reminder for our meditation practice that each moment of our practice is, as Dogen suggests, not separate from awakening or enlightenment. Each moment of our practice and of our life is blessed.

Tanahashi 2014, 44-45

The languages are many, but as far as we call tell, the meaning is one. Now is the time we need to hear it, especially from the First Peoples of the Earth.

The bow of musement

Musement is a species of cognitive play. All play occurs in the fertile space that arises between that which is determinate and a vague indeterminacy. In this sense, play is always parasitic on some determinate thing; it is the play of “this or that,” never free play pure and simple. There is no game without rules, no dance without gravity, no music if the bow of the violin slides over unfastened strings.

Michael Raposa, Theosemiotic, p. 228

Control, mediation and guidance systems

The Great Acceleration has been a time of unprecedented human impact on the environment. Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (1992, 4) wrote that ‘the human has taken over such extensive control of the life systems of the Earth that the future will be dependent on human decision to an extent never dreamed of in previous times.’ But this is a strange kind of “control” …

This is part of a 4-part meditation on control and mediation in the ‘System Guidance’ part of Turning Signs. It updates some older post-points to include some things i’ve learned since they were originally posted. It might take you 10 or 15 minutes to take it all in. Comments always welcome of course!

Remembrance

Remembrance Day, as we call it in Canada, is intended mainly for honoring the veterans of what we call the “World Wars.” To observe it properly, we ought to see those wars in their context – which is also the context of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) now winding up (or down) in Glasgow. To give us a glimpse of it, George Monbiot “crudely summarized” the story of the past 500 years in his blog post yesterday. That history has brought us to the ecological, economic, energy and equity crises we face today, and living through them will be a far greater challenge than living through those wars, devastating as they were. We have less than a decade to turn that story around.

There’s another kind of remembrance that we ought to engage in every day. In Turning Signs i call it mindfulness.

We who live in the “wealthy nations” don’t have all the time in the world to mend our unjust and ruinous ways. But we have all the world in the time, if we live it mindfully.

In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.

— Dogen, “Uji

Refreshments

Another excerpt from Breaking Boundaries:

In our global intertwined system of 7.8 billion inhabitants living within a complex biosphere, the best way to change course is to alter the lens through which those people in the system view the world.”

Carl Folke: “We must reconnect with the biosphere: the living part of the planet.”

“This may seem obvious. It is like saying, ‘Hey, guys, remember, we live on a planet and we depend on it being stable.’ As if we had forgotten. But when you step back a bit – while driving down asphalt roads surrounded by concrete, steel, and glass, on your way to the shopping mall, to fill up on basic goods like food, and materials for shelter, safety, and comfort – you must admit that, yes, most of us have disconnected from the planet. A slow, silent, but all­-encompassing disconnect. We take our planet for granted, at least its stability.” [Breaking Boundaries, p. 110]

Viewing the world at every scale, without taking it for granted, refreshing our view of the time and place we inhabit, is the kind of meditative practice we need in order to “change course.” It’s also an essential practice for philosophers, who are perpetual beginners.

That link takes us to the beginning of the reverse side of Turning Signs, which is also “under refreshment.” The current (2nd) edition of Turning Signs, like the current (3rd) edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, is frequently updated online. In addition to some of the points in TS ·1, i’ve updated my introduction to phenoscopy (my name for the practice of “stepping back” to refresh our perceptions). It’s now also an introduction (or “presign”) to Turning Signs online. I’ll be giving links to other updates in future blog posts.

review: Power

Richard Heinberg has been researching the central role of energy in civilization for years, and shown how the human addiction to oil has brought us to an unprecedented crisis. His new book gives us a longer and broader perspective on the deeper addiction to power in its physical and social forms. He draws upon insights from biology and anthropology to tell the story of the evolution of power, from the beginnings of life on earth through the development of social hierarchies up to the present, in a very accessible way.

The book’s subtitle is “Limits and prospects for human survival”, and he does explain the radical changes in human habits and systems which must be made in this decade if we are to salvage our planetary life support system along with the better qualities of our collapsing civilization. But given the history of how this situation has evolved, it’s difficult to be honestly optimistic about our prospects. Heinberg’s view is more realistic, for instance in this excerpt from the final chapter:

“There can be no perfect, stable society. Imbalance and impermanence are baked into biological existence. But we are in a particularly explosive moment now. History shows that overconcentrations of physical, economic, military, and political power create instability, and, in the past few decades, humanity has found ways to build and concentrate these kinds of power as never before. The strong likelihood is that we are headed toward what economists glibly call a ‘correction,’ though not just in stock market values but also in population and consumption levels. If we hope to minimize the shock and casualties, we will need to mobilize cooperation and behavior change, aiming to limit our own collective power at a speed and scale that are unprecedented.” [p. 356-7]

This is not a feel-good book, but it is a live-well book that everyone can learn something from.

Breaking Boundaries

Time is running out. The decade we have just stepped into – the roaring 2020s – will be decisive for humanity. It is the moment to catalyze the most remarkable transition in history to become effective stewards of Earth. The scale of the challenge is immense. In the same way that the 1960s had the moonshot, the 2020s has the Earthshot. The goal of the Earthshot is nothing less than stabilizing our planet’s life-support system. But compared with landing men on the moon, the stakes are far higher.

Johan Rockström and Owen Gaffney (2021, p.13)

This quotation is from Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet (published by DK/Penguin Random House). Netflix is currently featuring two documentary productions based on the work of these authors and their colleagues. One has the same title as the book, and can be viewed at https://www.netflix.com/watch/81336476. The other is an 8-part series. Both are highly recommended and feature narration by David Attenborough. The book, of course, gives much more detailed information about the boundaries we are breaking – global heating is only one of nine – and how we could still stabilize the planet’s life-support systems, if we took the trouble to do so.