By Basil E. Gala, Ph.D
In Search of Meaning
Our world and our lives are ruled by cycles and waves, like sea waves washing ashore back and forth, floating us to land or out to the blue spread of waters. We swim better with the tide whatever our direction, following our internal rhythms, exerting ourselves, resting when we tire. We defy natural cycles, the state of equilibrium or homeostasis as individuals or groups, at the risk of injury, illness, damage, or even death.
We should seek equilibrium within nature, a state of homeostasis, a state of stability and control with a feedback loop from the output of the system, transforming the output and connecting it to the input, like a thermostat with a thermometer, sensing the temperature in a home and supplying more heat or reducing it, to keep the temperature within a comfortable band.
I swim leisurely in the cool, calm waters of Andros island in the Aegean sea, thinking we should live comfortably with the ancient rhythms of nature, not forcing ourselves or our environment to extremes for speed, competition, and production. I admire the little sailing ships further out at sea with white sails like gull wings, gently moving with the wind on their journey, smokeless, pure, and gentle. Just outside of the harbor a gray destroyer at anchor is scanning the skies with radar, looking for airborne intruders from the east.
Yes, I understand about ambition struggle, competition, and dominance over others. I tended to indulge in such living when I was younger, brimming with testosterone. I say to you, if you’re young, go for it but don’t overdo it. The wisdom of moderation derives from the principle of homeostasis. Keep your actions within proper bounds so they will not destroy you prematurely. Get destroyed at a ripe old age when you have lived long and prospered.
The homeostasis principle also applies to communities. For thousands of years for our nutritional needs we cultivated our lands and kept animals. We employed horses, donkeys, water buffalo, even elephants for transportation. We used the droppings of our animals in compost piles as fertilizer in a sustainable way. We used the natural cycles of the Earth, day and night, summer and winter, reusing everything, not allowing much to go to waste and pollute. Our boats and ships moved with oars or sails; how beautiful were our sailing ships, made of wood, going with the wind, without forcing their way on the water with iron hulls and fuming engines. The boats were not fast or very safe, but they were good, polluting not our Earth.
Seventy years ago on Andros island sixty thousand people lived off the land and sea, as they had lived here for eons, picking up the plentiful stones and painstakingly with their hands building walls around their fields on hillsides to retain the soil and moisture for their wheat, barley, onions, potatoes and other vegetables, also for their animals, fruit trees, such as hard pears and apples, apricots, peaches, mulberries, plums, almonds, walnuts, and for olive groves; they built pigeon houses with distinctive ornamentation on the roof for the protein of free-range birds and their eggs—once built these houses required little attention; women gathered wild weeds like sweet vleeta or bitter dandelions and capers; men trolled the waters around the island for sardines and gopes, delicious and rich in nutrients; they sailed in larger boats to other shores for trade and profits; they built stone mills along streams (now abandoned) to grind grain or press olives, using the free, clean, and ever flowing energy of water.
That was a good hard life, in olden times endangered by pirates, yet they thrived, raising large healthy families in the company of relatives and fellow villagers. A way of life precious and lasting was lost to this place when people abandoned villages and went to large cities in Greece and abroad for an easier life, leaving the island with only six thousand year-round Greek residents.
We should not put away, of course, our powerful technologies, fire, wheel, steel, electrical devices, machinery, antibiotics, computers, communications, controls, and bio-engineering. Let us make these tools obey homeostasis, order and stability—the natural cycles that safeguard for us and for our fellow creatures long and happy lives now and forever. Let us make our technology compatible with the sustainability of our living environment.
My formal education was in engineering; I admire technical advances greatly. I was drawn to engineering and science during the early rocket advances into space in the fifties and sixties. The landings on the moon took away my breath. Space exploration is fine, looking to future colonies beyond the Earth for mankind’s future; but should we not give proper care first to our home planet that has sustained us and could sustain us for countless generations? Should we go on to other planets and despoil them as we have done with the Earth? Is our species to become a universal pestilence? I hope not.
I have a strong dedication to conservation of all resources, large or small. I can tolerate variations in temperature from 55 degrees to 85 degrees without much discomfort. I sweat a little in heat and perspire—evaporation of the sweat cools me down; or I may cover myself with a moist towel or shirt when hot. I shiver a little when it’s cool and that warms me up or I wear a sweater indoors. I seek the shade of trees when walking outdoors in summer. Arbors and shutters outside the windows on Andros keep my house cool. Spraying finely with a little water has a remarkable cooling effect also. A greenhouse attached to a dwelling can be fitted for cooling or warming the interiors. A house partly buried in the soil can be cooled or heated with little energy. (At depths below four feet temperature stays between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.) All such measures and many more are economical and sustainable passive solar technologies, without the use of energy from fossil fuels.
You see, I was between 7 and 12 years old during World War II and the Nazi occupation of Greece. We suffered privations although my dad worked as bank manager. Being a child always greedy for food I sometimes drove my dad to desperation by walking around the house muttering, “I’m hungry, I’m hungry.”
When I immigrated to America I had a few more years of privations, sometimes existing on a noonday meal like a Buddhist monk. Later in life, when I decided to become financially independent, I learned to save on everything in order to invest my money. My motto was, “A penny saved is more than a penny earned—because of income tax.” I continue to be careful with expenditures, maintaining my possessions in good working order for their long life, even darning my clothes and doing my own vegetarian cooking and cleaning. I still own a Nikon digital camera after twenty years and a Mercedes Benz 240D after thirty years.
Throwing away products and buying new stuff from China does not appeal to me, not because I can’t afford new things, but because filling the dumps is bad for the environment of the planet. I shop with cloth bags in the grocery to avoid the use of plastic. I refill glass bottles with fresh water from the spring near my house on Andros. The greatest cycle of all is feeding your possessions back to nature, including your body at the end.
I consider my body a piece of equipment to be maintained and used well until my end. I am not my body. Who am I? I am a small part of cosmic consciousness here today, elsewhere tomorrow upon my demise. When fully alive I’m aware of all the living things that surround me. I can sense their state and mood, from the cows mooing across Katakilos canyon to the birds and crickets around my house. The olive and fig trees in my yard speak to me as they swish in the wind. I am inextricably tied to the cycles of the Earth, stable and in control in the face of turbulence.