How to Love the World?

Sumer_SunsetToday dawned sunny, with a subtly milky tone, there being just a hint of haze in the otherwise high sky.

I suspect the air quality remains poor this morning, a condition that is problematic for me. Like many who were in the iron lung, my ability to manage allergies and other bronchial concerns is compromised; I am also adversely effected by bad air days. As a result, I must attend carefully to anything that might lead to infection. Fortunately these concerns are not life threatening, as they may be for many people with more compromised breathing; respiratory infections were frequently fatal for those who remained in the lung post acute infection. Still, an over abundance of pollen, and pollution from those ubiquitous Midwestern power plants (particulate matter that pools here in the valley) do have an adverse effect on me.

As humidity and heat rise, I am more likely to experience cramping, lethargy, and pain. One of the very odd side effects of the Polio virus is a loss of dopamine producing cells in the brain; another is damage to the reticular activating system in the brain stem. Together, these changes can be quite bothersome, providing considerable barriers to getting things done. Add in humidity and either heat or cold, and I can find myself quite stuck. To make matters more complex, aging after acute Polio is often characterized by increasing fatigue, a condition worsened by heat, denigrated air quality, and humidity. All of this leads to a complex, lived, bodily experience of place and time, and of the changes that occur in both.

As an artist I am also interested in the ways art can express, and create a record of, our collective experience of place. Lately, I have  returned to looking at, and thinking about, modernist landscape painting from about 1890-1950, focusing mostly on painters born in the U.S.. Childe Hassam, Marsden Hartley, and Milton Avery, and many others, created magic with their transformations of our landscape. Yet, their work presents, I think, a paradox for the contemporary viewer, for they were capturing a world that is both ours, and other. Seeing familiar places through their eyes, we are reminded that the natural world we inhabit is very often a badly degraded version of the one they witnessed and loved. (Our air and water quality is better though!) Seeing the world through their eyes, we are reminded the world suffers as our human population, and our hunger for “more,” increases.

How painful we both love the world and inevitably wear away at it simply because we are here! (Contrary to popular belief, technology does not address the problem, as improvements in energy savings tend to translate into more energy use, and further environmental degradation. ) Who, I wonder, first noted that we tend to destroy what we adore? We gather in beautiful places, like national parks, to replenish our sense of connection to nature and the sacred, then simply as a consequence of our sheer numbers trample that which we hold dear!

Increasingly, we are invited, I think, by ideas of the virtual and the ideal, to withdraw from our increasingly fragmented and suffering world, and to take refuge in the drug enhanced and virtual. Why remain in touch with fragile nature when we can move into a simplified, safe, perfected world of our own making? Why not simply escape knowledge of the suffering we invariably create, and must inevitably experience?

One of the most terrifying experiences reported by us Polio survivors who were in the iron lung was that of withdrawing from it. On one hand, being strapped onto a thin mat-covered board within a metal tube respirator was terrifying in itself. Yet, given one entered the lung because one’s diaphragm was paralyzed and one was literally suffocating, the prospect of giving up the protection offered by the lung was also terrifying. I remember well the ambivalence inherent in the process of “weaning.” At first, even thirty seconds of trying to breath on one’s own was exhausting and filled with terror; yet remaining in the lung might mean social and physical isolation, a sort of shadow existence, and most likely an early death from respiratory infection! Such choices! (A few Polio survivors lived long, fulfilling lives in iron lungs.)

As I write I find myself wondering whether our culture’s preoccupation with the “undead” reflects our struggling to navigate lives in a degraded, and degrading, world. I’m also curious how we might go about resisting the many invitations we receive to leave this suffering, beautiful, terrifying world of nature and humanity, and seek comfort in the virtual, for I imagine that staying present to the world is our only hope if we wish to save it, and ultimately, ourselves.




16 thoughts on “How to Love the World?

  1. I had no idea Polio caused so much suffering. I have heard of the iron lung. I am claustraphobic. You inspire me. I learned a lot from this post. Thank you.

  2. Such good questions! How indeed to stay present and aware in a world that contains intrinsic suffering – degradation and decline being a natural law of entropy? The capacity for our imaginations to seize on the idea that it could be otherwise only adds to our suffering. We get attached to more “perfection” than actually exists. Of course, we can change our attachments and our ideas. That which we create, we can also dismiss. And then we can fall in love with what is, become eager to accept reality in all its ambiguity and mystery as well as its pain. May we each find peace and happiness in the world as it is – not by running away, not even by changing our circumstances, but ultimately by changing our selves.

  3. You take care Michael. From afar, through your writing, I sense a strong Orenda. It is true we degrade and withdraw. It is our nature from being born weak. The trick is to overcome. Wishing you a good week ahead. Bob

      1. Hi Michael, I also enjoy your posts. They always make me think. It sometimes seems almost flippant to leave a short comment after reading. It would be much better to have a conversation. Just know I enjoy your posts. Take care, I hope you get that rain this weekend. Bob

  4. Michael…this post is so deep and full of emotion and I thank you for having the courage to share it with us. I can feel the deep energy that connects us to Mother Earth…and I can feel the changes and the suffering that exists. There is something here that makes me want to cry for the pain…but also cry out for the thread that connects us all together…and to being here…on a vastly giving…incredibly beautiful earth home. I sit quietly in nature and have conversations with trees and birds…and even the wild looking groundhog who thinks I invaded HIS turf! (and in reality maybe I did!) And I have a wish that humans can see the brilliance of our lives here. I can’t begin to imagine the health issues you have endured and I empathize with your continuing sequela and the ravages sustained by our earth that contribute to your difficulty. I send a prayer to humanity that we wake up and understand the connection to all…and the things we do to destroy everything we hold dear! Anyway, Michael…I send you lots of love…and beautiful CLEAR energy! Thank you again for inspiring my heart ❤

    1. Dear Lorrie,

      Oddly, my experience of PPS has been more kind than that of many. I am reminded that suffering is something all beings share, and I take comfort in having my suffering acknowledged and empathized with; I am deeply appreciative of your thoughts.
      There are so many kinds of suffering, so many ways we each experience pain. I like to imagine we can use pain as a bridge to a place of caring and empathy for one another, human and non. Perhaps we can yet learn to be kind to ourselves, one another, and the earth, realizing we are all in this together, at least for a while. Maybe our very impermanence can guide our actions.
      I was just reminded of the many young people I have worked with who just ached to destroy things, or themselves, to make the world fit their inner experience. I guess I was just like them when younger. I’d like to believe that living long enough allows us to care for ourselves and one another better, and with more nuance, although there are clearly limits to this. Still, we so our best, aching hearts and all, don’t we?

      1. Oh yes, Michael, and our best is truly all we can do. I like to think everyone is trying to do their best…and in a strange way…I guess they are. Here’s to the young generations learning earlier and earlier! 🙂

  5. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Michael. I can’t imagine, how it must be to be a survivor with Polio, but I know, how it is to suffer because of the weather. High humidity and humid weather is the worst for me.
    I agree, when we do our best, no one can demand more, not even ourselves.
    Take good care of yourself.

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