Chellis Glendinning

Most Important Book I’ve Ever Read!!

Those who know me (or have read much of this blog) know I’m a book addict & am always recommending awesome, wonderful books.

I’m about to tell you about THE most important book I’ve ever read. Bar none. Not even any contest over this one!!

& only because ever since I read it (however many years ago now. At least 15, & likely more), it has helped me to understand EVERYTHING about life here on Planet Earth – or at least, life for us humans.

It’s called In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations, by Jerry Mander. Published by Sierra Club Books in 1992.

I’m writing this away from home, without access to my personal copy of the book itself.

Also without access to the very lengthy review I once wrote about it. I hope to lay my hands on that soon, & will post it when I can. [I never did lay my hands on that old, long review, btw. Guess it bit the dust in an old computer, now long gone. But the review I just linked to is a good one!]

Meanwhile, all I can say is, if you want to begin getting a grasp on the past 10,000 years or so of human history, & a glimmering of all the craziness that has befallen us & is now leading us (perhaps inexorably; with no crystal ball, I cannot say for sure) to our own demise as a species, I strongly suggest you read it.

I’ve talked in various blog posts about our losses ever since we abandoned the gathering/hunting ways of our ancestors. These are so huge I’m not even going to go into it here. (‘Everything is all about ME, right?? touches on that stuff, I believe. As does A-B-C's: Re-learning Time!) ** links now dead...

Read the book!! It will help you understand human pathology (a rather vast territory, unfortunately) & all that is encompassed in that sad phrase.

No book has affected my thinking so massively, ever. Its insights are with me every single day, as I rassle endlessly with trying to figure out where we came from & why everything seems to be in such a gigantic mess here.

I made more than 20 pages of notes when I read this book. It was like reading for a university course. Then, I heard Jerry Mander speak at a Sierra Club conference in Kingston (Ontario, Canada) back in 2002. I got him to sign my book, & told him of all the pages of notes I’d made while reading it. He got quite a kick out of my considerable enthusiasm & appreciation.

It’s a big read. Absolutely fascinating, illuminating & quite brilliant. Utterly essential reading!!!!!

I can also tell you of 2 other books that cover some of the same ground.

One is Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, by Daniel Quinn (Bantam/Turner, 1992). I think of Ishmael as a sort of “Coles’ Notes” version of Mander’s book. An easy & quick read that packs a very considerable punch of its own.

The book My Name is Chellis, & I’m in recovery from western civilization, by Chellis Glendinning (Shambhala, 1994) is also along the same lines.

These books will not give you any magical solutions to the great conundrum we now face as a species. Namely, how the hell to pull this dog’s breakfast out of the fire.

But, as with our personal lives, it's only by grasping the truth of where we've come from – the underpinnings of our personal neuroses & problems – that we can figure out how to find solutions…a way forward. Healing – or at least, partial, ongoing healing. (All three do explain that our loss of an ethic of the centrality of Nature & of connectedness (with Nature, with our fellow humans) & our march toward a reliance on technology led us badly astray. A very very long time ago, now.)

Anyway. Back to the other zillion things there are to do.

Happy New Year to all of us. Blessings to all of us.

Let’s all get off our butts in the coming year, shall we?????


p.s. If you want to really understand & grapple with the large & utterly essential concept of abandonment (& alienation), Mander's book (or either of the other 2 mentioned) will really help.

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Truth is the only safe ground to stand on.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Why We Are Control Freaks (I think…)

<July 18/09>

Now, I’m not a psychological expert of any kind. I did get a B.A. in Psychology back in pre-history (1974), when, frankly, very little was acttually yet understood about the human brain.

There’s plenty I don’t know about human psychology – don’t really understand – but I am a keen & constant observer of human nature – & I read a lot, think a lot & have the occasional “Aha!” moment.

I believe there are two levels to our control freak-ism – the very, very personal & the more, shall we say, global.

I’m pretty convinced that the genesis of our tendency toward control freak-ism goes back to the time in human history, widely said by scholars to be about 10,000 years ago, when we chose to abandon the tribal lifestyle – the life of gatherers & hunters – & began to practice settled agriculture. Several books introduced this idea to me: In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations (Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, 1992); Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Daniel Quinn, Bantam/Turner, 1992) & My Name is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization (Chellis Glendinning, Shambhala, 1994). (I highly recommend all 3,btw.)

In doing so, we detoured away from millennia of placing our faith in the Earth/Universe to provide for us (which the Earth/Universe was so generously doing), & decided to “take control” of things. In retrospect, it now seems to a lot of us, I think, that this was a very, very problematic choice.

Abandoning the tribal lifestyle has had many unfortunate & no doubt unintended consequences (I love that phrase: unintended consequences; life is just plain full of them, hmm?), to put it rather mildly. Separating ourselves from Nature – & from each other & our tribal ways – has been nothing short of disastrous.

That’s the global piece.

So now we all have 10,000 years of a control mindset wired into us – into our brains & our genes & our culture & our guts.

Bringing it down to the more personal level, many of us on the planet grew up in families in which dysfunctionality was rampant; is it not so?

There are/were alcoholic parents, parents who abandon/ed us in one form or another, mistreat/ed us, sexually abuse/d us, visit/ed violence upon us, berate/d us constantly – & we wind up/wound up very damaged in a startling variety of ways. If our childhood was very chaotic, unpredictable & out-of-control, as adults we tend to have an intense need to control our circumstances – our emotions, our surroundings, the people around us & so on. (Even the appearance of our lawns! To the point of being willing to use poisons on them to “subdue” weeds. Sheesh!)

It’s not so surprising, is it? We want to somehow right the wrongs that were done to us, & so we become control freaks – to a greater or lesser degree. We want things to be predictable. No more out of control stuff, please, we are saying, hmm?

It’s a coping strategy, pure & simple. It doesn’t tend to work terribly well, of course, given that the very nature of life is to not be controlled or controllable. So it becomes a vicious cycle. The more we try to control everything around us, the more out-of-control things seem to become. And on & on we go, around & around, making ourselves (& the people around us) miserable, sick & maybe even crazy.

Control freak-ism is kind of a losing strategy, you might say, hmm?

It often seems to take a personal disaster of some sort to make us see that our excessive need for control is causing us more problems than it solves. (Been there!)

When life throws an unexpected curve ball our way – especially one of rather large proportions (& Life seems to positively delight in doing so!) – & life as we’ve known it is shattered, often light begins to dawn. We see the illusory nature of the control freak-ism that has so limited us, & we begin to see that a generous Earth/Universe is there to support us, quite without our having to always be the Great Big Sheriff of this, that & the other thing. We let go and, as it were, the Earth rises up to greet us.

It’s all quite magical, really.

I find all of it very, very poignant. Tragic, but so poignant. So much of human endeavour & our human frailties (& worse) can drive us right around the bend, almost – but when we come to see that underneath all the nonsense we are really quite innocent creatures – innocent, but very, very damaged & hurt; well, it helps, somehow, doesn’t it? It certainly helps bring up compassion, if nothing else.

I’ve heard that some of the major writers (being terrible with details, I can’t remember who) have pinpointed alienation as the key human problem or issue. I think they’re right. A word I would twin with it is abandonment. So many of us feel we were abandoned in one or many ways by our parents (& we were, we were) and/or by spouses/partners along the way (we were, we were) – & this comes down through the generations, & Heaven help us all, we then pass it on down to our own children, one way & another; tragically, tragically, this is so.

We’ve all felt abandoned/alienated for 10,000 years, so how could things be otherwise??

We human beings evolved to be loved & looked after & cared for by a whole tribe of people, whom we in return love, look after & care for.

How then could we feel anything other than abandoned & alienated in a world that tells us to get by on our own, more or less – or in the care of a very small number of people, some of them too damaged themselves to do anything but pass along their hurts & pain & neuroses & damage?(1)

It’s all very sad – nay, tragic – & so poignant to realize that we are all in the same darn boat. We’re all damaged – to greater & lesser degrees – & we live in a world – an industrial economy that, as Wendell Berry has said, “thrives by damage.”

Healing is always possible, however. It is human nature to change / grow / evolve. It may very well be that we have let the sickness go on too long, & our condition (as a species) is terminal – but at least as individuals, we can turn ourselves around (only if we truly want to, of course. That is a choice we make, & choice is key, key, key in human endeavour).

Now. All of this is just my opinion. None of it is scientific fact, & you can’t put any of it under a microscope or conduct a scientific experiment to prove (or disprove) it.

As Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

It seems to me like truth. Make of it what you will, hmmmm?


p.s. The essays ‘Control Freaks Anonymous’ & ‘Ditching the 2 x 4’s’ are also about the perennially important subject of control – which I see as the central issue/dilemma of human endeavour, pretty much…

p.p.s. a LOT of years later: I don’t think I even referenced patriarchy in this essay, & I think the many thousands of years of males “lording” it over females has resulted in many-many-many “unintended consequences” (to put it very mildly indeed). Then too, there are other things in life that can incline us toward control freak-ism. Sigh .. eh??

(1) Richard Rohr said, “All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” This statement certainly resonates for me…

Control Freaks Anonymous

<June 2008>

Are you – or should you be – a member of Control Freaks Anonymous? I think the membership would be rather large, if such a group existed (as far as I know, it doesn’t as yet…).

I’m hoping more & more of us are heading into recovery from being control freaks, since I think the all-too-prevalent human impulse to try & control things/people/circumstances/the weather/everyone around us/everything around us is at the very centre of human destructiveness.

I’ve long been convinced the genesis of our control freak-ism goes back about 10,000 years. I’ve written about this elsewhere & I’ve also done some fantastic reading that helped me grasp it in the first place. (1)

But what I want to talk about right now isn’t the 10,000-year deal.

All I really want to say about control, here, now is this:

There is really very little we as individuals can “control.” Well, except for our own happiness – which is a pretty darn big enchilada, wouldn’t you say?

Heck, I can’t control what’s going to happen to me 3 minutes from now – let alone the rest of the day, the week or my life.

This is a terrifying idea, I suppose, to a major control freak, but I put it to you that the option is wide, wide open to be liberated by it – broken open by it, even.

We can each only do what we are doing – one action, one step at a time – & then figure out, as we roll along, where to put our feet down next.

As Spanish poet Antonio Machado said

“Wanderer, your footsteps are

the road, and nothing more;

wanderer, there is no road,

the road is made by walking.

By walking one makes the road,

and upon glancing behind

one sees the path

that never will be trod again.

Wanderer, there is no road--

Only wakes upon the sea.” (2)

This world – this crazy, mixed-up, messed-up world we human beings have been carelessly tinkering with for at least the past 10,000 years (i.e., the era of our control freak-ism) is reeling from our various & multitudinous assorted assaults. The messes we’ve created are now so numerous, so complex, so extreme & so bewildering, it can be pretty goshdarn overwhelming even to contemplate; is it not so??

Well. Let’s simplify our lives, then. Let’s begin creating a path out of the morass, one step at a time. If we do our best to do this with care, sincerity, humility, courage, generosity, openness, selflessness, compassion, love & consideration for all our fellow creatures (including ourselves), Hey! somehow, it will all work out – one way or another…


p.s. Hot tip: “Your wealth is where your friends are.” So said Plato a very, very long time ago, & it is still and always true. This does not mean, as a young person I met recently mistakenly interpreted me to mean, that I lean on my friends for loans & money & stuff like that. It means that it is the people in our lives who give it (& us) meaning, & who help us get through. We need community…not more money, material possessions, expensive gadgets & exotic vacations.

p.p.s. Some dude named Matthew Arnold said “If ever there comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of [hu]mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never seen.” I’d say, any women who haven’t yet become heavily involved in world-changing are needed – giddy up, girls!!

p.p.p.s. Later blog posting of relevance: 'Why we are control freaks....I think.'

p.s. # 4 - in late Nov. 2011 - about 4 1/2 years after I wrote this. You know what I failed to mention?? Control freaks are not very much fun! (I'm betting it's not very much fun in-side them, when they're doing their control freak thing... Just a guess!)

(1) In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations, Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, 1992; Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Daniel Quinn, Bantam/Turner, 1992; My Name is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, Chellis Glendinning, Shambhala, 1994; all 3 are highly recommended.

(2) I first encountered mention of Machado in Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being & Why No One Saw it Coming. I Googled ‘Antonio Machado’ to find out more, & this poem came up.