Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Chatwin’

An earthbound philosophy

June 28, 2012

It’s a cool 63 degrees out here on the porch this morning, sun already hanging high. Hard to believe the triple-digit forecast. Hard not to believe this is more than just extreme weather we’re having. Hard to stay away from the reality-denying cool of the pool.

Floated with Songlines yesterday, pondering native Aussie wisdom with Bruce Chatwin:

The Aboriginals had an earthbound philosophy. The earth gave life to a man; gave him food, language, and intelligence; and the earth took him back when he died… To wound the earth is to wound yourself, and if others wound the earth, they are wounding you. The land should be left untouched: as it was in the Dreamtime when the Ancestors sang the world into existence.

So, they’re a hybrid of Berkeleyan idealism and indigenous pagan naturalism. Esse ist percipi, to be is to be perceived. And honor thy mother.

There are worse things to be, worse perceptions to sing. As Carl Safina pointed out, most western philosophy (David Hume a notable exception) “hasn’t had the world in mind,” hasn’t appreciated the natural sympathy, the “feeling for the other” that is fundamental to our humanity.

It’s really too late now for us to leave the land untouched, though. We need to retouch and restore it to as much aboriginal health as can be reclaimed. We need to sing our own song, and to remember that we’re somebody’s ancestors too.

Chatwin was already very sick when Songlines was published a quarter century ago, and probably knew he had just a couple years left to the rare bone marrow disease that would take his life at age 48. ”Hazards of travel – rather an alarming one.” Didn’t keep him from traveling and singing, right to the end. His books are still singing,  still shaping perceptions of a healthier planet. The aboriginal truth: we’re not dead yet, it’s not either.


“Never sit your life out”

June 26, 2012

Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), so much more than a travel writer, was a cosmopolitan walker. He said:

“Change is the only thing worth living for. Never sit your life out at a desk. Ulcers and heart condition follow.”

He’s found his Boswell (or another one) in Rory Stewart, who’s written the introduction to a new edition of Songlines.

Most of human history was conducted through contacts, made at walking pace…the pilgrimages to Compostela in Spain…to the source of the Ganges, and wandering dervishes, sadhus, and friars, who approached God on foot. The Buddha meditated by walking, and Wordsworth composed sonnets while striding beside the Lakes. Bruce Chatwin concluded from all these things that we would think and live better, and be closer to our purpose as humans, if we moved continually on foot across the surface of the earth.

What Chatwin knew intuitively has been repeatedly confirmed. One recent study concluded that self-propelled motion in the open air, not in a gym or on a treadmill, “had a 50 percent greater positive effect on mental health than going to the gym… walking, running, biking and other outdoor activities through green space lowered stress.” Another links outdoor exercise to greater decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression… just five minutes of exercise in a green space can improve mood and self-esteem.

And all of these outcomes correlate with greater philosophical insight and steadier daily productivity. Well, that’s the working hypothesis of the study I’ve embarked on this summer. Results await confirmation.