Two posts in one day- This breaks one of my unwritten rules, but I need to clean house and I’m not going to store a post for a rainy day, because on that rainy day the post may no longer seem relevant.
Below: Some quotes+notes on Greer’s Seven Laws, from Mystery Teachings From the Living Earth.
I read it months ago, but I’ve been thinking about it again as I’ve been forced to read so much Complex Adaptive System -related stuff.
The koans are fun and interesting and can be read without supernatural baggage. The book itself is typically well-written and organized by Greer, involving very clear metaphors, meditations, and aphorisms. I can’t do it justice below but at least the gist of the rules can be understood.
1. The Law of Wholeness
Everything that exists is part of a whole system and depends on the health of the whole system for its existence. It thrives only if the whole system thrives, and it cannot harm the whole system without harming itself.
“The meadow is a whole system, and all the living and nonliving things that exist are parts of that system rather than wholly independent existences.”
2. The Law of Flow
Everything that exists is created and sustained by flows of matter, energy, and information that come from the whole system to which it belongs and that return to that whole system. Participating in these flows, without interfering with them, brings health and wholeness; blocking them, in an attempt to turn flows into accumulations, causes suffering and disruption to the whole system and all its parts.
“Accumulation is increase without flow, and when it appears in a natural system, it shows that the flows in that system have begun to break down.”
Accumulation is poison. Whole systems respond to accumulation with responses to restore flow. But nothing “goes away”.
3. The Law of Balance
Everything that exists can continue to exist only by being in balance with itself, with other things, and with the whole system of which it is a part. The balance is not found by going to one extreme or the other, or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self- correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.
“Balance is not stillness, but a dance of constant adjustment around a common center.”
“Good things in life are not the opposite of one unwelcome thing, but the midpoint between two.” Thirsty people don’t want to drown. More is not better, and too much is just as damaging as not enough. [In some frames I still fight this one, but this isn’t a commentary post.]
A more subtle reformation- “The principle of rebound”: Deliberately push a balanced system one way, and you will make it swing back the other way with redoubled force. Fasting and abstaining, the Archdruid argues, has their place in improving the experience of the abstainer.
4. The Law of Limits
[My favorite. The “Center, the hinge on which all others turn”, and also likely the most offensive to many peoples’ sensibilities.]
Everything that exists is subject to limits arising from its own nature, the nature of the whole system of which it is a part, and the nature of existence itself. Those limits are as necessary as they are inescapable, and they provide the foundation for all the beauty and power each existing thing is capable of manifesting.
Everything in the meadow exists within definite limits. Furthermore, everything in the meadow thrives not in spite of, but because of those limits.
“Beauty is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more perfect its acceptance of those limits, the greater the beauty will be.”
“Power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be.”
Skeletons limit us and provide structure, individual cells have membranes, an inside and outside, and we hope that our own cell behaviors stay within certain ranges. Freedom from limits is not superhuman, its powerlessness, death and chaos.
The mind is also limited. Isn’t that obvious? But attention is good. Heuristics and cognitive biases are not bugs- they’re features. Knowledge of these features does not allow you superhuman rationality, but mindfulness of these features can make for useful introspection.
Pushing towards limitations can be fruitful, though with opportunity costs and diminishing returns.
“Nothing can enter into manifestation except by becoming finite, and thus, embracing limits.”
“You cannot achieve two incompatible goals at the same time; you must choose one or the other.”
Naturally: “Those who insist that the Law of Limits does not apply to them are still subject to it.”
5. The Law of Cause and Effect
Everything that exists is the effect of causes at work in the whole system of which each thing is a part, and everything becomes, in turn, the cause of effects elsewhere in the whole system. In these workings of cause and effect, there must always be a similarity of kind between an effect and at least one of its causes, just as there must be a similarity of scale between an effect and the sum of its total causes.
“Everything is part of a web of cause and effect that embraces every event, from the smallest to the greatest.”
“Causes and effects always correspond to one another, both in scale and in kind.” [Here, ArchDruid discusses direct effects and cumulative effects.]
Here, one of my favorite extended descriptions was illustrated: returning to the meadow that he refers to, he sketches how the meadow was formed by a fire, a fire with a definite cause (say, human cigarette) but also a series of other facilitating conditions (drought, dead wood, etc.) This accumulation of events caused a forest fire that cleared the wooded area, birthing the meadow and providing rich soil for future trees to regrow to eventually kill the meadow. I promise it sounded less trite in the book.
6. The Law of the Planes
Everything in existence exists and functions on one of the several planes of being or is composed of things from more than one plane acting together as a whole system. These planes are discrete, not continuous, and the passage of influences from one plane to another can take place only under conditions defined by the relationship of the planes involved.
“Human beings are composite beings, existing on several planes at once.”
The distinction between one plane and another does not prevent things on different planes from existing in the same place and time and affecting one another.
This sounds overtly spiritual (or at least Cartesian) but the Archdruid attempts to keep things empirical. He seems to be speaking of what Dennett might call layers of abstraction. The mind and body, thought of as they are, can affect different things in different ways but are also obviously intricately connected. Financial trouble can be caused by behavior and affect behavior. Stress can cause health trouble and in turn be the cause of health trouble. Changing your mind alone doesn’t solve problems “The Secret” style, but it can help to break a cycle of attitude and behavior and effect across levels of abstraction that you may or may not be wholly cognizant of. And, should you be feeling combative today, reader- of course most diseases are not thought-induced, and most impoverishment is not merely an attitude problem.
People mistake one plane for another. People seeking a feeling may strive to collect a material and not realize that they’ve failed to achieve the feeling (eg. money->security).
7. The Law of Evolution
Everything that exists comes into being by a process of evolution. That process starts with adaptation to changing conditions and ends with the establishment of a steady state of balance with its surroundings, following a threefold rhythm of challenge, response, and reintegration. Evolution is gradual rather than sudden, and it works by increasing diversity and accumulating possibilities, rather than following a predetermined line of development.
“Every living thing is just as evolved as every other.”
“Within any human sense of time, evolution is an immensely slow process.”
“The rhythm of challenge, response, and reintegration can occur repeatedly with a single individual, ecosystem, or species.”
The broad idea the Archdruid wants to present is that we are tiny parts in a process that can only really be witnessed in deeper time.