I used Han people in the title to generalise, though my experience is primarily with Taiwan. Yet, the same problem afflics pretty much everywhere I’ve been in Asia, in more or less drastic and visible forms, and also all the other countries I’ve been to in the world.
I was in Lanyu the other month, a small island governed by aboriginal people in the pacific, just two hours off the coast of Taiwan. Its beauty is pristine, wild and lush nature of tropical jungles and volcanic rocks clashing with the force of the ocean, a spectacle of pure pristine nature that has few equals.
Yet Lanyu is infested by trash. There is trash deposited from the Ocean, during the typhoon season, coming from heavy fishing practices, and there is also trash left by the locals, that litter where they set foot on.
This beautiful gem has been treated like a dumpster literally, in more than one sense, as it also serves as a deposit for radioactive waste from Taiwan. But I’m not here to talk about Lanyu.
In Taiwan, like in many Asian countries, there is an efficient garbage collection system. However, Taiwanese people - as many other cultures - are hoarders, and often hoarders of trash. It is not uncommon to see - particularly in less polished and modern areas - an accumulation of trash materials in public spaces, such as the sides of public streets, serving as a spectacle to remind everyone of a bigger problem.
Tawanese culture - as many cultures - is heavily based on consumerism, and has a heavy work and production culture. Its people tend to both study and work for many, long hours during the day, leaving very little free time for other activities. It is not unusual for a person who owns a business to work up to 14 hours a day, serving as many customers as possible. Why is there such a need to over produce and over consume?
Just like the hoarding in public spaces, stores pack so many items, that they can be an experience to be lost in. Many stores are open 24 hours.
Again, this experience does not apply only in Taiwan, nor only in Asia. It is predominant in many Asian countries I have been to. However it does apply to the rest of the world, in one extent or another, and it is the manifestation of a problem that humanity as a whole has been moving towards for many years now, the problem of our relationship with mother earth.
Consumerist societies have a tendency to frantically dig into mother earth’s resources - often with great costs to the wellbeing of the ecosystem and pollution of the environment. They tend to heavily produce through factories, consumer goods that may last up to a certain period, after which they turn into trash, and are brought back into the earth through landfills, or in some cases recycled through the usage of more resources and the creation of more pollution, or spread into the air, water and ecosystem.
We’ve had this problem for years now, on earth. The signs of over consumerism are everywhere in the world to see: from polluted water and air leading to illnesses and problems, to the uncontrolled spread of trash in the environment, to the depletion of resources and the destruction of ecosystems in the environment, including the destruction of almost half of the species on earth.
It is a phenomenon that we can’t ignore anymore. The trash and pollution goes back to our bodies, causing illnesses and problems. Microplastics are now found in the bodies of every newborn baby, along with heavy metals and many toxic compounds.
Going back to Lanyu, I asked the locals to show me how they get their food from the land, from nature. One local brought me, and a few acquaintances, through the jungle, aggressively attacking each plant on his way, and then destroying more plants in order to chop off pieces of a tree that contained food. What I saw in that man was anger, lots of anger towards mother earth. I’ve seen this anger before.
Many Asian cultures are masters at conceiving their true feelings and emotions. Taiwanese people often are no different, as they interact through a facade of cheerfulness and niceness. But often the underlying emotions come through. An attentive person can see layers of anger buried underneath the apparent pleasantness of many people. Why?
I realised that one of the collective traumas of humanity is the mother wound. The mother wound, as referred to by many psychologists and emotional and spiritual healers - is an unresolved trauma from childhood that has to do with the connection and relationship with the mother. There are as many forms and varieties of the mother wound, as there are people on earth. However generally speaking this wound manifests through a broken connection of trust, love, respect, mutuality, safety, nurturing, between child and mother.
This wound has been quite common in today’s society where many mothers - following the frantic culture of consumerism, and raising children with little help from the community, separated in their apartments - have little heart space left to give to their child. In spite of being an extremely social species, many humans no longer live in tribes where mothers can get the support of many people in caring for the complex and varied needs for the human child. We live in lonely apartments, with television and technology substituting for human connections, and material goods substituting for human comfort.
The mother in the modern world has transitioned from an all giving, loving and nurturing being, to a busy, absent, stressed individual with too much to think about to be completely attuned with the emotions and feelings of her child.
I am using the more general sense of mother here, that can apply to any person or people who are responsible for raising a child - weather it is a single parent, a couple, male, female or other.
Our growing environment has become artificial, detached, steryle, and far removed from the organic human experience of growing in the warmth of an entire tribe of people taking care of us and giving us love.
Many children nowadays grow up with various forms of attachment dysfunctions with their primary parent - in particular the mother - and with neglected emotional needs. This is the unseen trauma, the invisible darkness that plagues the human unconscious. All those repressed emotions become mental garbage that toxifies our lives.
It is no wonder that so many emotional disorders are on the rise. Narcissism, codependency, depression, anxiety, borderline, bipolar, insomnia, addictions, apathy, aggression are just some tendencies spreading around the world. The use of psychopharmaceuticals is increasing. Another aspect of this problem is their physical consequence - the physical ailments that result from these problems remaining unresolved.
But how do we solve the mother wound? And how is this connected to the problem of our relationship with the environment?
Mother Earth is our ultimate mother. She is the womb that springs us all into life, gives us all nourishment, sustenance and support throughout our life. Without her we literally cannot exist - a fact that all too often we forget. She nourishes and gives lives to a myriad of species - plants, animals, microorganisms - creating a spectacle of life that those who deeply love this planet are well familiar with.
She is our primary mother, without whom we cannot live. Yet we treat her with such disrespect, such lack of regard for consequences of our actions, such anger, such aggressiveness, such resentment. Why do we keep violating her to steal her parts, kill her animals and plants, with little regard for their wellbeing and their feelings? Why do we keep throwing trash on her body, filling her with toxins and poisons, garbage and litter? Why do we keep destroying her life, in its incredible varieties of forms, species and individuals, leaving a spectacle of death and devastation behind our extraction, production and consumption practices?
I want to ask this question specifically to Taiwanese people, not because this problem touches mainly Taiwan, but because I appeal to the kindness of its people, and their sensibility towards issues that regard the whole. I know we’ve made many mistakes, historically, as a species on this planet. But it is time to change, we don’t have much room for so many other mistakes.
How can we grow with more kindness, with our emotional needs lovely met, and with the caring presence of fellow humans around us? How can we stop falling into the overwork, overconsumption, overproduction trap, and start spending more time living, enjoying our lives, and the astounding beauty that mother nature offers us? How can we live more fulfilling, happy lives, that do not require psychopharmaceuticals, and that keep us in our best health?
Taiwanese people, we need to solve this. We need to break the trend that our cultural pasts have brought to us.
The urgency of this problem is showing up increasingly blatantly around the world. Nowadays world-wide diseases have become the norm. Polluted environments are ubiquitous. People have lost touch with their humanity, their loving nature and their hearts, to the degree that some are even contemplating nuclear wars. We need to change this trend.
It starts with mother earth. It starts with the relationship with our mother. It starts with every single one of us.