In other writings, we have taken a look at the land in nature, to get a sense for how it inspires and informs the symbol for the Land in Primary Scenes.
We came to appreciate the ground as being more than merely a floor to walk on, but that it is actually the greatest stage on earth, and has a whole life of its own.
We looked at mountains in nature and found that they are much more than static mounds of rock. They are forged by the unimaginable collisions of plate tectonics, in the pressure and heat far below ground. They then are propelled from this literal hell on earth, up to the heavenly clouds above, where they reign supreme as titans of the landscape, the real gods among us.
Now we take a look at the meaning of the Land symbol in Primary Scenes, starting with the Ground.
The Meaning of the Ground Symbol
Some symbols require an in-depth understanding of the cultural context that created them. Some require the proficiency to see the literal and suggestive at the same time. Some are so dirt simple that children get them automatically, before they can even read. Still others require years of study and analysis to even begin to comprehend.
The symbols of Primary Scenes intersect all of these categories, and yet they defy specific classification. It’s not because they were designed that way, but it is a reflection of how they evolved. Long before there was any inkling that these symbols had any value, they were just doodles on index cards, from a struggling author trying to organize a book, that could not be tamed, with mere words alone.
In the case of the Ground symbol, we have both a very straightforward meaning, and some that are much more complex. First we start with the basics, and then we can move on to add a richer context.
Rest, Recover, Reset
At its most basic level, the Ground symbol in Primary Scenes is about the ability to rest, to recover, and to reset. Let’s take a look at each of these aspects to get a sense for why they are so important.
Rest means to cease some activity, and reduce to very low or no activity. Typically, in the world of biology, this means that an organism reduces its movement and settles down to a much lower state of activity.
For most organisms, this slowing down and resting, is primarily about the physical body and physical systems. It means for the arms and the legs to stop flinging about, and to take up some more stationary position for a while.
Going beyond the obvious movement of the body, rest also means that the metabolic systems of the body are under less demand. For mammals like humans, we are constantly needing to burn ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) as a fuel source to power the functions of our body. ATP is manufactured in the mitochondria, little blast furnaces within our cells, that are able to grab vital molecules from the air we breathe, to power the engine of life.
One of the reasons rest is so important from a metabolic standpoint, is that in some sense, paradoxically, it is actually the process of metabolism that kills us. Scientists, such as Geoffrey West, have noted that it appears that animals, across vastly different scales, seem to have about the same number of heart beats over the span of their lives. It seems that in some sense it is the metabolic network itself that can only sustain so much entropy and the more heartbeats, i.e., the more metabolic stress put on the system, the shorter the life spans seem to be. This may be one reason why larger animals tend to live longer in relation to much smaller animals1.
For humans, there is, of course, another element that is all too often in need of rest. The human mind, and its physical representation the human brain, are racing from the time we wake up, and even for much of the time we are asleep.
While it is generally pretty easy to rest the body, it is far more difficult to rest the mind. This is one of the reasons why good sleep, and frequent meditation, can be so important to gaining and maintaining long-term health.
Resting is just one component, but it is not enough. Something we forget is that while rest is passive relative to our conscious behavior, recovery typically involves activities performed in the mind and body, that are not under conscious control.
Recovery is what allows the various systems of the mind and body to return from a depleted state, to a replenished state.
Recovery In The Body
Recovery in the body can take many forms, across the various systems and scales of the body.
At the scale of cells, there is cell division (mitosis) which forms new cells for the body. Death of cells (apoptosis) is also a part of the recovery process, as it allows the higher level structures of the body, to clear out the cells that are no longer serving as well as they could be.
At the scale of organs, the specialized tissues that comprise our organs, are remade according to the transcription and translation of DNA. This leads to the ribosome reading codon triplets and assembling amino acids one by one, until the sequence ends, and the chain can fold into a protein. This process confuses to grow in scale from the individual proteins to cells, to tissues and membranes. Ultimately, this results in the macroscopic forms that create the large-scale body.
Each step along the journey needs to occur within some parameter space, that allows it to function properly. Rest and recovery allow these systems to return to that safe region where the body can rebuild itself with minimal errors.
Recovery In The Mind
Nobody really knows why it is that we need to sleep. It seems obvious to us, that we do, but we are not certain why. As long as the physical body is at rest, it appears that there would not be much extra benefit to shutting down the conscious control of the body. Furthermore, when you think about it, it actually seems quite dangerous to render an animal unconscious for any period of time, let alone for many consecutive hours.
Recovery of the mind is a much more subtle and difficult process to grasp, compared to that of the body. It is not always entirely clear just “what” is recovering when it comes to the mind.
We know, from neuroscience, that memory formation in the hippocampus is bolstered and reinforced during sleep. Learning has been shown to be amplified by sleep in some cases, both in the laboratory, and according to anyone who has witnessed the opposite effect of lack of sleep, during college finals.
Something that is perhaps significant to consider, yet very weakly understood at this point in modern science, is the extent to which the model of the body, simulated in the brain, must also be repaired and enhanced.
There has been much in the way of scientific studies that show pronounced benefits of long term and even short-term meditation, particularly of the mindfulness kind. For all the individual metrics that can be measured and studied, I think there is a unifying principle that very often is missed, if it is even noticed at all. This is the idea that the creation and maintenance of the simulated abstract self in the mind, is, itself, incredibly resource intensive and draining.
One of the main effects of meditation seems to be the down regulation and in some cases the complete dissolution of the abstract self simulation in the mind. I think it is possible that one of the reasons animals of a certain complexity need to sleep, is that they need to decouple the physical body, from the re-representation of the body in the mind. They may need to do this, in order for the biochemical processes of bodily recovery to run bottom up, without top town noise and interference. Further, I think the actual networks representing the abstract model of the self, in some sense also must be repaired against the entropy of perception and thoughts, that are not bound to the representation of the body.
Just as the physical forces of the world can harm the body if not controlled, so may the entropic “turbulence” of perception and thought, harm the abstract representation of the body, if allowed to interact too strongly and for too long. Perhaps sleep is the blunt tool that evolution provided to accomplish this temporary decoupling between mind and body. Meditation may just be a deliberate way of doing this, that humans discovered over thousands of years, of trial and error.
One last wrinkle to the mystery of sleep and meditation is that in a sense it seems that the re-representation of the body, in the mind, is, in some sense, actually harmful to the physical body. This may not be the same for most animals, but it is particularly amplified and prevalent in the human experience.
The Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has noted studies of “experience sampling” which consistently show that people tend to become agitated, miserable, and depressed, when their minds are wandering away from the present moment. This in turn has physiological effects that can show up as stress, high blood pressure, inflammation, various ailments, and even serious disease. It seems possible that a main aspect of this mental and physical harm from mind wandering, could again be a signal that in effect, running the simulation of the self in the mind, is actually harmful. It’s possible that it should be reduced whenever possible because it tends to correlate with this default mode of disturbing mind wandering.
Furthermore, it could be, that the price humans have paid for the ability to think symbolically, and to abstractly represent the world, may be that our abstract representations of ourselves, become something like a virus or a parasite. We can see this in the way that the narrative self, takes over the host body, and commandeers its resources, in ways that are not always beneficial to the body, and are often even harmful, to the physical body itself.
This may be what many traditions were trying to alleviate and teach about, through the languages of their times and cultures.
We may never know for sure, but sleep and meditation seem to be getting at these kinds of functions, which may be why they can be so important, yet don’t seem useful for anything at first glance.
The aim of the rest and recovery, is ultimately to reset. To clear the decks, to pave the ground, to start the game over.
Open systems, like those in biology, are constantly in a state of flux. They are inherently dynamic rather than static. As such, there is always volatility and deviation from some set point. What is essential, is that the system is able to reset itself and return to a proper range of states, following some disturbance or perturbation.
The Ground represents the state where the mind and body can reset, and this is ultimately why it is so crucial.
Here we have covered some of the meaning behind the Ground symbol in Primary Scenes.
We looked at the importance of rest, and how crucial it is to temporarily stop the activity of our busy lives, from time to time.
We saw how the resting of conscious activity is actually precursor for the activation of many recovery systems and processes in the body. Further, we explored the topic of recovery in the mind and found some intriguing insights about the connection between meditation, sleep, and the abstract representation of the self.
Finally, we came to see the importance of resetting the mind and body, to a state where they can re-activate and face the world anew.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the Ground symbol in isolation, we can move on to seeing how it interacts with other symbols of the Inner Landscape. In particular, what happens when the Storm meets the Ground.
- It could be that because of the so called “quarter power scaling” (a reflection of the fact that although a body is roughly 3 dimensional, the metabolic network inside, is fractal and thus has an effective fractional dimension above the integer of 3). This means that larger animals gain a metabolic efficiency so that doubling the size of the animal doesn’t double the metabolic requirements because they only need 75% of what you might suspect. Another way to say this is that metabolic requirements don’t scale linearly with size, they scale sub-linearly, which makes these large animals more efficient. ↩︎