The Grandness of Uncentering Ourselves

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 5:00 am

The Grandness of Uncentering Ourselves

Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962) was an American poet who was deeply involved in the environmental movement of his time. He was one in the great procession of saints who’ve devoted their lives to trying to end the mindless damage we human beings do to the precious planet we call home.

In his poetry, Jeffers challenges us to “uncenter” ourselves. We must stop imagining that the earth revolves around us, our needs and our greed. We must learn to live lightly on this “sparkling blue and white jewel” floating in space (to quote astronaut Edgar Mitchell).

When people told Jeffers he was a dreamy idealist, he said (in effect), “Well, here’s some realism for you! One day the human race will disappear, but the earth will carry on long after we are gone.”

To put it more poetically, as Jeffers does in “Carmel Point,” nature “knows that people are a tide / that swells and in time will ebb, and all / their works dissolve.”

For all my love of the human tribe, I find strange solace in the fact that, in the end, the rocks and weeds and insects will outlast us all. Mother Nature will triumph!

But how grand it would be if — with that awareness — we could “uncenter” ourselves as Jeffers challenges us to do. How grand it would be if we could put the largeness of life itself, not our egos, at the center of our attention, care, and active concern.

“Carmel Point”
by Robinson Jeffers

The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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  • Louis Schmier

    I would agree with one caveat. It’s been my experience over the last two and half decades of struggling to live the discoveries that came out from my epiphany that to rise to both Jeffers and your challenge, I had to center on my self in order to release revealed inner constraints so that I would be able to center on uncentering myself and placing an unfettered and respectful and serving attentiveness, awareness, and alertness of my surroundings at my center.

  • Gabby

    I think it can be far easier for a mother to uncenter herself than to uncenter her children relative to other people’s children. Everyone wants the best for her own children, with few willing to sacrifice anything there for the potential benefit to the community’s more needy children.

  • Gregory

    “Mother Nature will triumph”

    I don’t see it as a triumph. That scenario is a complete disaster….

  • Lauren Small

    How sobering to read this poem just after looking at the news announcing that large portions of the Great Barrier Reef are now dead. Yes, the world will outlast us, but what kind of world will we leave behind? Uncentering ourselves seems like a good place to start in placing the world–and care for it–at the heart of our endeavors.

  • Susan

    Jeffers! My spiritual advisor.

  • Patricia Mallon

    Lovely, so reassuring. We may scar this beautiful home, but it will survive.

  • Raym Ensing

    I long for the time when more of humanity will acknowledge that, “this precious planet we call home”, is a conscious, sentient being that is the source of our very life and all life on this “planet”. As all the indigenous traditions have known and taught, this “planet” is our “Mother”…..both physically and spiritually. Mother Nature is a better term I think than Mother Earth. Within the ancient gnostic tradition of Europe, there is knowledge received by individuals trained to recieve it, direct knowledge from “Mother Nature” herself regarding her true nature and the story of her beginning as the Earth. Only when we begin to experience this planet as the conscious being that she is, will we truly be able to “uncenter” ourselves.

  • Roy Reichle

    Nature does not care. About anything. It cannot. Only the conscious suffer from that particular blessed affliction. Nature, how we don’t know, destroyed more of itself than we ever will four or five times across the billions of years the Earth has spun her way around the solar center. And nature always returned, as it will again and again until the Sun enters it’s red giant phase and swallows the planet whole. If we are still present in the universe, then we will have to seek another home and begin again. Hopefully with far greater wisdom than we have used up to now. Until then, let each of us do our best and press on.

  • Ron Cisar

    We must continually strive to live on planet earth in relationship to the words written in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac essay “Land Ethic”. “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

  • Drew Foster

    This Quaker has the memory of an early movie of the the life of Ishi, the last surviving person of his native tribe in California. After living in hiding or 40 years Ishi wanders into “civilization” and is taken to live at the museum of anthropology at UCLA. In this film as he explores his new home, he finds an exhibit of artifacts, mummies, hieroglyphics, etc., of the ancient Egyptian culture which vanished in to history over 2,000 years ago. He is dumbfounded and says to himself: So it is true. It is all a dream.”

    Our culture is our dream … meaning we create it in our minds then build it, make it, perform it, live it. 2,000 years from now we will have vanished as well. Most of our languages will have morphed. To whatever exists then, we will be of little consequence. This is one part, a key part, in what motivated me to spend 10 years working to preserve wilderness & restore elk to the southern mountain wilderness areas. Just saying.