I live within a context. A particular time in history within an external environment that has an inevitable impact upon me. The timespan between my birth and death is not a blank canvas upon which I paint my life. It’s a story that I’ve been born into. Somehow, I need to make sense and meaning of my life within that story.

I exist at the centre of a multitude of circles. Family, friends, skin colour, ethnicity, gender, country, political leanings, intellectual prowess, physical ability, postcode, hobbies, interests… endless categories that I belong to and identify with to varying degrees. Each of them an opportunity to either belong or to become an outsider.


Identity isn’t static. I wander about in life, trying on various identities to see whether they fit, how they feel. Whether I belong or not. I am complex. Some of these identities aren’t congruous, they are conflicted. Some I may put on in some situations and lay down in others. I am driven by a need to belong. It is my most primal drive.

Where these circles bleed into others that I do not identify with at all, where my survival is threatened, and I am a clear outsider, I build walls, boundaries. I define myself by what I am not. It feels good to be that clear. When I am exposed to an aspect of life that I cannot identify with at all, I can dismiss it. It isn’t me. This is the birthing ground of hatred. I will sure up my belonging by making ‘other’.

Frame of reference

The timespan of my life gives me a frame of reference. I view the past through its lens. Mostly, I consider what is happening during my time as more progressive than the way things were in the past. I look back in horror and disgust at things that happened in prior, more ‘primitive’, times. I comfort myself with the thought that we’ve moved beyond that.

But have we? How does the past echo in our present? I am not completely isolated from the past. White occupation in the country I live in has a history of violence at its foundation. Therefore, the systems, constructs, conventions are built upon this. Their context may be lost, but nevertheless this history is built into the fabric.

The wounds of the past

If I restrict my world view to my time, blind to the past, and driving relentlessly forward toward some future utopia, will that work? Does this relentless wheel of progress prevent me from seeing my inheritance clearly? What does it mean to heal from the wounds of the past? What would it mean to look back and recognise our losses, our errors, see our atrocities.

Can we put things in perspective? In Australia, as we look back over our history, 200 years of white occupation versus tens of thousands of first nations custodianship of this land. Can we really privilege that last couple of centuries, our current time, as somehow superior to the history of this land before white arrival?

Privileging this time over the past

Privileging our current time over the past, may not serve us well. Blindly assuming that we are making progress, even though we can see the cliff looming? Striving forward, more wealth, more development, grow the economy, buy more stuff, bigger, better. What if this costs us our lives? If this relentless pursuit of growth and development is threatening our very existence?

Our times are confronting. We are facing climate catastrophe. The survival of our planet is coming into question. And still, we want to maintain our industry, our economy. How much will our economy matter if we don’t have an environment that is inhabitable?


I thought to consider the concept of civilization. I consulted Wikipedia and this is what I found: A civilization (or civilisation) is a complex society that is characterized by urban development, social stratification, a form of government, and symbolic systems of communication (such as writing). Civilization concentrates power, extending human control over the rest of nature, including over other human beings.

We tend to use the word ‘civilisation’ as a badge of honour. Yet, I think this little Wikipedia extract points quite clearly to its shadow. Is ‘social stratification’, ‘extending human control over the rest of nature, including other human beings’ something to be proud of? Is the inherent hierarchy, and are the systems of reward and punishment, sustainable?

A patriarchal response

Perhaps Covid-19 isn’t some malevolent force that we must battle and overcome. That is the patriarchal response, and one that is no longer fit for purpose as we evolve. A force of nature, yes, but this disruption to relentless progress is an opportunity for us to pause for a while and take stock. Reconsider our values.

Yes, momentum is disrupted, what a relief. We can reflect on the history that has led us to where we are as a species. It is no longer individual survival that is at stake. We’ve crossed that line. Now it is the survival of our species, our planet that is at stake. No longer, will patriarchal and capitalist values sustain us. They are old school. It’s time to move past them.

Deep time

I find that entering ‘deep time’ brings me some relief. Pondering an unfathomable past, millions, billions, trillions of years can be effective in shaking me from a limited world view. I have my own application of this buddhist practice of impermanence. As I gaze into the valleys here in the Blue Mountains where I live, knowing they took 250 million years to form, it somehow puts my worries into perspective.

Remembering, honouring, connecting to our history expands our consciousness. If I pan out, way beyond this time, looking at a greater span of human history, the ‘civilisation’ of man is but a blip. The last 5,000 years? Just part of an evolutionary process that we are emerging from?

Who am I?

A complex intersection of my timespan and my circles of belonging forms my world view. I might choose to build very solid boundaries and keep my world small, safe and manageable. Defending against every alternate view I’m exposed to. I might think my perspective is the only one there is, that it is right. It is scary to continually question. If I let every new exposure to an alternate view rock my own, my identity is very unstable.

On the other hand, I might allow my boundaries to become a little more porous. I might expand my boundaries embracing more and more possible perspectives until, I’m…… untethered. Not attached to, or needing to defend, a particular perspective or identity at all. Respectful of them all. Because, after all, I know they are all just limited perspectives within a field of unlimited possibilities.