Custodians of a miracle
I'd forgotten I wrote this - about the earth, debt and the challenges for filmmakers - from India almost 18 months ago. But now as Copenhagan enters the last few make or break hours it seemed relevant..
On my tenth day in the jungle, the morning after the Shivaratri party, I finally met my first native monkey. Almost human size, like Hanuman, with a white body and black face, and arms long enough to give me a good clobber, he thundered in with graceful side swings over my tent to the tree above - thousands of leaves heralding his arrival like confetti. The sound at first was so great, I thought perhaps I was under attack. We looked each other in the eye and he reclined on a branch before turning to me suddenly, scowling and angry. He indicated beneath him - a pile of pink toilet paper someone had left under the tree and gave me a universal gesture with his outstretched palm: 'clean this shit up', before leaving fast with his entourage through the trees. The conversation couldn't have been clearer.
Imagine a society built not solely on the euro or dollar. Where these names related only to a piece of paper you used sometimes to exchange for goods and services. But instead where the most powerful principle is karma - doing good work. It is not so strange an idea to us even in the West, that what goes around comes around - it was Newton, after all, who stated that for every action will be an equal and opposite reaction. But it's a fundamental moral principle here in India, with society arguably built on it, while in the West it's seemingly incompatible with everyday life.
For if we say that our highest goal is to be happy, and if we know that money will buy us neither love nor happiness - that - as the WHO suggests - the highest levels of depression are in the richest nations, then money takes on a much less significant role. Good work is key. And this includes the work you do to earn money, and the energy you manifest with those around you. If you keep creating good vibrations more come back to you. It's as if to become one with the 'ultimate' (god, maths, tao, fate, the force, the profound, spirit, pi, emptiness, Higgs bosons or whatever), you help anyone who asks, because the ultimate serves everything.
And the more I look at this system, which respects nature - in fact starts with respect for nature, and the feminine as much as the masculine, the more it seems that India is years ahead of us. Not in terms of technology or infrastructure or inequality or so forth. But in wisdom.
"We are custodians of a miracle. For billions of miles in all directions there is nothing, nowhere like this."
Our financial system seems built not on karma, but on debt and consumption, which in turn is dependent on creating a sense of individual inadequacy, to facilitate increased consumption. And this constant demand for us to always be consuming is not because the big business bosses want to work overtime or are particularly evil. It's that our financial system is so heavily based on debt, that if the economy does not constantly expand, we will be unable to keep up interest payments on the debt of the money we spend and the economy would crash.
Paul Grignon's 47 minute animated film Money as Debt - is very illuminating on the subject (and more than a little scary).
Which is not to say the market is defunct. Quite the reverse. There's something really strange about letting go of possessions in Goa, living native in the forest with monkeys and snakes and spiders, and returning to the shops to buy cheese, fresh fruit and veg, goods from around the world, beautiful clothes and so on - and for next to nothing, normally. For all my socialist instincts I came back to society loving global trade.
Even credit makes sense when it's issued at source. Sometimes you have lots of money, you pay your bills. Other times you don't and it's a tight few days or week, so the shopkeeper or restaurant or whoever, waits until you have money. But there's no interest, no banks, no bureaucracy - just human contact and trust.
It seems that what each of us really wants - happiness, health and wellbeing - not to mention lots of free time and being close to our friends and family, and a job we believe in and enjoy, is actually not so difficult. The fact we don't have it in the west is not because it is illusive or hard to find., Hundreds of millions of people here - people with nothing, materially, to speak of - have much of that. As a European who has long lived in Goa - told me: the greatest luxuries for him, the things most valuable to help him live his life well, are time and space
So for us in the West to find it perhaps we simply need to stop thinking that finding happiness is in anyway about acquiring something or getting somewhere, but just a shift in our perception to see that whatever we have right now - even if it is not as good as the Jones's - is perfect. And to train our brain, and our imaginative faculties to view what happens to us in this way so that we don't get mired by the bleak unfair times, but instead hope. And then do good.
And as well as helping us towards the happiness that should be our birth-right, such an attitude shift would also start to give the planet and its people the protection and respect she needs.
And this, I think, is the challenge facing filmmakers in the coming years - filmmakers who want their work to reflect or support improvements in people and the world, and the aversion of possible environmental/resource/political catastrophe.
Without this then we really may be in trouble.
There is much to see in the hearts and minds of people I meet here to think such a change could be possible - and maybe bloodless, and maybe soon. Even the wasted tourists whose Withnail-style posturing would make Bachus reach for the Alka Seltzer, even they seem to get it eventually.
We're sick of living miserably in office cattle pens, working like dogs so we can afford to pay off the bill for the things we worked like dogs to produce.
God is hope, as a restaurant owner from Manali said to me recently. And we need hope now - for the more I look at it, the more it feels we have the most important task in the solar system - we are custodians of a miracle. For billions of miles in all directions there is nothing, nowhere like this. There is no backup plan or second life. It's this. The planet is beautiful and incredible, and while our society may be like a teenager refusing to listen to the wisdom of his parents and tidy its room and quit smoking, we are evolving.
We may only just be beginning to take our instructions from nature, rather than barking out orders like a dying general clutching onto a vanishing empire, yet there is, I think, hope.