By Celia Coates
Katherine Rundell has written a short article about real treasure. I can only include a few quotes here, but her essay is so lyrical and to-the-point that it would be good to read all of it – if you can – in the magazine NEW SCIENTIST. (“Another Sort of Gold”, 22 October 2022)
She writes about English economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) who predicted in 1930 that 100 years into the future technological advances would have freed the world of the need to labor. Keynes thought that advances would leave us with a “… standard of living so high as to free us to discover, for the first time, ways to live well” and that, “… the love of money as a possession … will be recognized for what it is … a semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensity.” Keynes wrote that, “… when the accumulation of wealth is no longer the central impulse of humanity … we would uncover in ourselves what has lain dormant.” And then,“We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues.”
We have eight years to complete that prediction for what 2030 would look like and clearly Keynes’ forecast was premature. We still have not achieved those gains from huge advances in technology, and instead we face a particularly grim season as we observe the destruction that our materialism and greed continue to create in the world. That is not the lyrical part of Rundell’s article although it is an accurate view of the harm that has come from our pursuit of wealth. She writes that the, “… decoupling of desire and conspicuous consumption” is “… an inescapable imperative; faced with our own swift destruction of the living world, we will have to find a new kind of treasure.” Then she turns to make this lovely statement, “The world is full of living gold.”
Katherine Rundell has drawn from her new book, THE GOLDEN MOLE AND OTHER LIVING TREASURE, and she goes on to give captivating descriptions of living, golden treasures. She lists the jewel scarab beetle which “… looks like the work of a gifted artisan. It is thought to use its gold for camouflage, as sunlight casting off its iridescent back may be dazzling to predators. Its beauty is literally blinding.”
Then there is the golden snub-nosed monkey with orange fur that can create,
“… golden streaks moving in tandem across treetops” when large troops travel together in the forest. She also describes the “… golden-rumped elephant shrew which shines boldly in the rear quarters.”
Rundell says that these creatures are gold for a reason – it’s useful in one way or another. “But the golden mole is blind.” It cannot see. She adds,
“It is also the only truly iridescent mammal. Its fur, in changing light, can shift from yellow to gold to red. Its eyes are covered with a layer of skin and fur, and it has never seen its own radiance. It lives almost entirely underground, emerging only to hunt for insects. Scientists believe that the fur evolved to be densely flattened, hard-wearing and low-friction to make burrowing easier. The iridescence is an accidental by-product. So the moles burrow and breed and hunt, live and die under the African sun, unknowingly glowing.”
My imagination was set alight with these visions of glowing creatures and I did wonder what it might be like to be an iridescent mammal. There are people who have the gift of being able to see the auras around our bodies and perceive the colors with which humans glow, but that is a topic for another WINN post.
In her article, Rundell then asks and answers a grand question:
“What is the goldest gold? It is every living thing.”
And she adds a crucial comment,
“The greatest treasure in the known history of the universe – the world we stand on – is at stake.”
Marc Ian Barasch * tells another kind of story about the value of gold. He writes about Marpa the Translator (1012-1097) who was born in southern Tibet to a wealthy family. He travelled to India to study with Buddhist masters and returned to Tibet after some years. He changed his inherited wealth into gold so that he could continue his travels and give offerings to his teachers. He was called “the Translator” because of his work translating Buddhist scriptures so they could become a transmission of wisdom for Tibet. In the way of story some details have been changed – he did not have to spend years collecting specks of gold, he had only to make the choice to use his inherited wealth for a greater good. Here’s the teaching myth,
“There is a Tibetan story in which the sage Marpa the Translator went to seek instruction from a yogi on a sacred island. Marpa had spent years gathering gold dust to offer in exchange for his teachings. But when he gave the precious sack to the yogi, the man turned it upside down, and leaving Marpa dumbstruck with horror, let the shimmering motes of gold scatter to the wind. ‘What need have I of your gold?’ the yogi demanded, laughing fiercely. ‘All the world is gold to me!’ He stamped his foot and Marpa saw that the dirt, the plants, the air itself, were alive with scintillas of beauty.”
There is also a kind of gold that has been treasured around the world for many centuries – the gold of wisdom found in The Golden Rule. It’s a guide for how to live good, creative, and peaceful lives that’s been written about often in WINN.
So what do I treasure? What do you treasure? What will America choose to treasure next week? Do we have some hard lessons still to learn on our way to having a truly rich way to live? Our planet – the earth, the climate, the atmosphere that surrounds us, all living things – along with the way we govern ourselves, all these need to be known as treasures we must protect and keep.
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Katherine Rundell’s book is THE GOLDEN MOLE AND OTHER LIVING TREASURE, Faber and Faber, October 2022.
* This story comes from Marc Ian Barasch’s book, HEALING DREAMS: Exploring the Dreams That Can Transform Your Life, Riverhead Books Penguin/Putnam, 2000.
The image that leads this post is by photographer David Lewis.