The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “edge” as a noun or a verb, and often described as the outside limit of an object, area or surface. It`s that place next to the steep drop; The point before something unpleasant or momentous occurs, as personal as an epiphany at the beginning or ending of a self-realized moment, it can be subtle and sweet, or as large as the economy, perhaps our world teetering on the edge of a recession or a country or civilization at the edge of collapse; An edge is also the sharpened side of the blade of a cutting implement or weapon; A thin linear thread or a thought that holds the edges of time between this and that, then and now; The line along which two surfaces, real or imagined, meet. The forest edge or the rocky shore are examples of ecological edges which are rich in diverse resources as are the edges in time, those magical moments between one period to another.
These edges are transitional or “liminal” spaces that exist in everything known. They occur every day and in every moment, and they have throughout time. They are often unannounced as they gently take shape around, as well as within us, often unconscious as we often don’t recognize them at first, sometimes decades. Others make a momentous entrance defining the beginning or end of something such as a birth or death, a change in a relationship, the end of war, hunger, poverty, or in this case, the edges between the ending of the old year and the beginning of a new one.
There have been centuries of discussions regarding humankind and the many wonders of our world. Every new decade, a spokesperson surfaces with a poignant opinion and is provided a place in history to proclaim their particular point of view regarding the many attributes and complexities of the world we live in. These queens and kings, philosophers, holy women and men, even politicians throughout time have witnessed us at our best and worst. Concurrently, with all of this wisdom and enlightenment, it would seem that populations have become less concerned with each other, animals and nature, as they have grown faster than our planet’s ability to sustain them as carbon fueled capitalism and consumption levels soar at unprecedented rates changing the face of our world, perhaps heading to the edge of something that only a few want to acknowledge.
With so many great thinkers throughout time pointing to the frailties of humanity, the ills of society and the way we treat humans, animals and nature, it’s hard to believe that we could be at the edges of the sixth extinction. This was 2016 for me as it began with a deep dive into Genesis, Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and Seneca showing us how to live and die well. It ended (academically anyway) with Pope Francis, Rachael Carson and Frantz Fanon teaching us about the pitfalls of industrialization, racism and power and more questions than answers about our future.
I have been wrestling with how to make the transition from this apocalyptic scenario to a place of living in relationship with the rest of life and learning as much as I can from the Buddha within, you and many others at home, work, school and on the street. I like the way Rachel Carson frames this in Silent Spring: “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smoother superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one “less traveled by” – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth. The choice, after all, is ours to make.”
Carson’s reference in Silent Spring for a choice between two roads seems a metaphor for the edges between two points. A choice to continue doing things the way we always have, or a not so gentle tug to look at the world, each other and nature a little bit differently with hope that we might do better. There are daily reminders of our interconnectedness with our own spiritual and religious beliefs, on social media, domestic and foreign policy, and centuries of socioeconomic inequalities around the world whether it be in the Dakota Hills, Burnaby Mountain or Africa. Even Sally Armstrong’s words echo in my head as we approach the US Inauguration, “that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander” and a call for mindfulness as well as individual activism.
I found the edges distracting this year and I had to work my way back to the middle, finding those liminal moments for quiet refection and gratitude in each day. For all that I have learned from the Buddha within, friends and family, teachers and colleagues and many strangers around the world, I am ever grateful. Its easy to get lost in the past or future and miss those important moments like traveling down century old laneways that gave up stories of the people who lived in those old buildings that lined cobblestone lanes. And the many wonderful magical moments with friends and family in Vancouver, Kelowna, Venice and Cambridge watching my daughter (Paisley) get her Masters.
If loss and grief are gates to something better, perhaps we have seen enough to stop and hear the words of those poets that speak to each of us. They have left an indelible mark in history in front of us as we work our way from the shadows to save each other, animal, as well as our planet. Aeschylus with an all too familiar refrain seems a good message to take into our new year “Tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world”.
Thanks for pulling me back from the edge!
With gratitude and heartfelt thanks, Happy New Year!