The Invisible Heroes by Felicity Haynes
As part of research for our current permaculture workshops at Tingrith, I borrowed a copy of The Secret Life of Plants which I hadn’t read for ten years. Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird open it by saying “The true matrix of human life is the green sward covering mother earth. Without green plants we would neither breathe nor eat. On the undersurface of every leaf a million movable lips are engaged in devouring carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen. All together, twenty-five million square miles of leaf surface are daily engaged in this miracle of photosynthesis, producing oxygen and food for man and beast… All the food, drink, intoxicants, drugs and medicines that keep man alive and if properly used, radiantly healthy are ours through the sweetness of photosynthesis. Sugar produces all our starches, fats, oils, waxes, cellulose. From crib to coffin, man relies on cellulose as the basis for his shelter, clothing, fuel, fibres, basketry cordage, musical instruments and the paper on which he scribbles his philosophy.” They credit plants with an incredible ingenuity that far exceeds that of human engineers, especially in devising forms of construction, giving as example the Australian eucalyptus which can raise its head on a slim trunk above the ground 480 feet, or as high as the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
But surely the Plants grow automatically, as the part of a natural process, you say? These authors credit plants with an intelligence that can sense a world invisible to humans, and claims that they communicate through an endless process, fields of positive energy or love. While they endow the many scientists who defy the dominant wisdom to demonstrate these mysteries (The Kirlians, Galvani, Burbank, Rudolf Hauschka among others) with a sort of heroism, it is clear that they regard the real heroes as the plants themselves. They tell of AlickMcInnes who claimed that every individual member of the human or plant kingdom modifies or qualifies with his own wavelength the fundamental energy radiating through him. Plants persist in raising the vitality of a person, animal or soil through what McInnes calls the Exultation of Flowers. McInnes believed that all forms of life were created to live in harmony, but mankind has so used his domination over created things that there is now disharmony everywhere, which is expressed in physical disease in human, animal and plant life. If we deliberately cause suffering and disease in other lives, we increase our own suffering and disease. All creation is affected by disease inflicted on laboratory animals in what he believes to be a futile and foredoomed attempt to combat illness. So he would view the current domination of the megalithic food industries which mass breed chickens for the fast food industry, or Monsanto which is seen by many to be heroic in its “prevention” of the damage done by weeds and pests with the shield of genetic modification to food crops as inherently damaging to the health and well being of the universe.
On the news this week there has been much discussion of a culture of male domination, where males in the military college seem to presume they show their strength bybullying othersand publicly shaming women. A male engaged in consensual sex with a young woman had arranged to have the act videoed and transmitted to watching friends without her knowledge, and the friends distributed the video on a social network. A great deal of discussion about how far this male culture was distributed up through hierarchies of power, and it was noted that it was also apparent in football clubs. The army and football clubs? Situations which perpetuate the traditional myth of heroes in conquering the odds with great effort, conquering the “enemy”, ignoring their own pain. Has the mythos of heroes somehow been distorted?
Coincidentally at the same time I was rereading a favorite old book of mine Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he outlines the archetypal plot which underpinned all these myths of heroes.The story always began with an Everyman just living his hum-drum life. Suddenly and unexpectedly, either by chance or by choice, Everyman is either pulled out of his ordinary life or chooses to leave his ordinary life to launch into a great adventure, whose ending he cannot know at the beginning.
The adventure, according to Campbell, then goes through several specified stages. The hero will journey into a dark world where he meets various forces or entities with which he has to deal. Along the way he encounters a teacher who gives him the instruction in new skills he will need to learn to successfully achieve his goal. No later than this part of the journey the hero becomes consciously aware of what that very specific goal is.Striving for his goal, the hero is challenged to his limit, reaching a peak culminating experience, that Campbell calls a “supreme ordeal.” The result is that the hero “gains his reward” and is forever changed by the experience. He often gains some new powers and sets off with them. Eventually the hero re-emerges to his society with these new abilities bringing a boon to his society which somehow restores that society. The image is of Perseus slaying the kneeling Medusa, whose gaze would turn him to stone, while Athene looks on.
It had never occurred to me that the heroes in Campbell’s story are almost always male, and that in these military or sports establishments, there is a presumption of male hegemony, of the need to slay the Medusa, to humiliate and disempower the sensitive, the aesthetic, the female aspects. Elizabeth Badinter has a fascinating discourse (in a book called simply XY) suggesting that because males are in utero female and that the androgens on their Y chromosome doesn’t kick in until the 6th week of life, that they are in fear of reverting to being female, and therefore have to conquer the feminine in them. In the army incident, the young cadet has been taught by his mentors, even if subliminally, that it is heroic to conquer that which you fear, and the supreme ordeal may well be that of sexually “conquering” a woman whose mysteries are inaccessible to men.
Though my kikuyu seems determined to overcome and conquer my vegetable garden, plants don’t seem to hold this “fear” or this need to dominate. And as I said in the last essay the solution doesn’t lie in my trying to conquer kikuyu with Fusillade. It lies in giving the kikuyu to the chickens as food. The ancient wisdom revealed by the plants, especially those at Findhorn, allows us to enter a bountiful supersensible world where everything is in harmonious relation with everything else.
George Washington Carver, touching a little flower on his workbench,said“When I touch that flower I am touching infinity. It existed long before there were human beings on this earth and will continue to exist for millions of years to come. Through the flower, I talk to the Infinite which is only a silent force. This is not a physical contact. It is not in the earthquake, wind or fire. It is in the invisible world.” The boon the hero gives to his world needs not be a material one like wealth or goods, and we need not be imprisoned by a notion of hero which depends on power demonstrated bycontrol over the earth.
Wehave to rewrite the myth of hero to include theguardians of living energy, the Infinite, the invisible world of relationships. I think this new form of hero is not only feminine, of keeping things in harmonious relation. It is the return to balance that seems more important than control, and that can be done by men, women and plants.
I think in particular of the current battle down here against the politicians who want to use existing law and economics to enforce a coal mine in Margaret River. Our Minister for Mines sees himself as a hero in the Campbellian sense, fighting to preserve the greatest economic gain for the State against all the irritating obstacles of NIMBY activists who would not let him hide in the letter of the law. But the real hero is the quiet unassuming Brent Watson who sat at his computer for days, finding out what was happening in other coalmining sites around the world, sending out information about the harmful consequences for water, for biodiversity, for flora and fauna, for the emotional health of communities, even for the longtermeconomic health of the community, refusing to indulge in open confrontation with the miners but quietly communicating to everyone the consequences of their predations on the networks of this community of Margaret River. He sees himself as simply a conduit rather than a hero, but it is that silent transmission of information to a very broad circle of people, this awareness that McInnes and plants sharedthat positive intentions transmit healthy energy, negative ones cause exponential damage. The modern hero is a suprasensible seer who offers the secrets known to plants, about the totality of life and the need for a cooperative community over domination and control.
Other articles by Felicity -