LIFE vs. LIFE IN THE MACHINE #4
By Bobi River Wolf
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…"
Before reading this try the following activity. It will help you get more out of the article (even if you've done it before):
Go to the nearest at lest somewhat "natural" area- a park, backyard, old field, patch of woods next to the grocery store, etc. Now walk 50 to 100 yards in one direction at a normal pace. Just walk however you always walk. After that stop, turn around, and walk back exactly the same way you've just come, but at 1/10th the speed and when you are almost finished go even slower. Ok. See you in a little bit.
Well, what did you notice about the slower walk? I'll bet you noticed a lot. Because there is always much to notice all around us in the real world of living beings, and if we are even the slightest bit attentive all manner of life will begin to reveal itself to us.
I just went out and did this walk again myself. I went from the front door of our house, to the back yard, past the barn, up to the field and back again. I was trying to pay attention to my surroundings during the normal part of the walk to see if slowing down really makes a difference when you know what to expect in advance. I noticed that the forest was still looking fairly green even though we've recently passed the autumn equinox. But during the slower walk I noticed the subtle changes that have been taking place. The greens a little duller, hints of yellows and reds peaking out. Dead leaves rustling under my feet in the front yard. On the "normal" walk I noticed a few sounds. Some creature moving in the tangle of wild grapevines, my own steps and breathing. Actually when I try and remember that part of the walk it's mainly a blur. I started, blanked out, and somehow "woke up" a few minutes later by the field. And to think –this is normal. I spend a lot of my life deadening myself to physical reality, leaving the world of senses, getting lost in my own thoughts, or thinking nothing at all and feeling nothing at all for no obvious reason at all, it just seems to happen that way. On the slow walk I was more conscience of the wind right off. And not just a general wind sound, but layers of its sound and texture began to be discerned. And this led me to look up and notice big white clouds blowing past. The wind was a little chilly, but at certain spots I'd feel some hot sun rays warming me up. I was more aware of the grass hosting the remaining dew of morning, and particular blades sticking to my bare feet. I heard more birds and appreciated the subtle movements of plants and the whole play of wind, sun, and shade about them. Textures, temperatures, and smells became alive. Well, you get the picture (especially if you really did this exercise yourself).
But why did we notice more? I think, for one thing, going slow often has the effect of making us want to be quiet. And if we are quiet you are of course better able to listen. Some of us did this exercise at the Rewilding Camp this summer. Nothing was said about needing to be quiet, but when we started walking slow almost no one said a word, or they whispered. For another thing, what else have you to do but look around some when you are taking 10-15 minutes to travel a very short distance? Even if you don't care to be observant, unless you're going to close your eyes, plug your ears, and hum loudly to yourself, you're compelled to. Moving slow and quiet puts us in a more humble state than we are used to. A state of being aware of others besides ourselves. Of being receptive to outside input. When we move about too fast, and ignore the world around us we are communicating what we normally communicate –our own presence on others as opposed to being with others. It seems to have become normal for us modern civilized folks not to be present with those around us. Real communion, deep relation rarely take place. We're all just standing next to each other on our own stage giving the same mediocre yet imposing speech- "Here I am and I have no time for you. Blah, Blah, Blah. Now here I go." And even if once in awhile we do make a real connection with another person, it is even rarer to extend that sort of relation to any of the rest of the millions of other species living on this earth, living in our backyards.
And why is this so bad? Well, neither you nor I are going to be convinced of our need for relationships with the rest of the living world by an essay. Some may say, "Yes, that is all true. We do need to be connected with nature." But to turn that nice sentiment into a profound longing and an urgent desire will take the presence of the earth itself in our lives and the Spirit-that-moves-through-all-things. My goal in writing here is to inspire us to give more quality intentional time towards being attentive to the earth, in hopes that the earth will teach us the next step. I know a bunch of people interested in re-wilding right now, but re-wilding isn't just about learning skills it's about entering a whole new world view, and engaging in a whole new way of interacting with life. The interest in skills won't be lasting or helpful overall if it isn't moving us to a shift in paradime. And people are talking about resistance to the machine. But resistance is not randomly thinking up some action to do no mater what it is. Anything is not always better than nothing. Part of resisting this machine we are caught in is finding out what the living world around you (and I mean specifically the place where you are. It's not all the same) is doing and siding with it.
The machine has trained us to live at an unnatural pace. By unnatural I mean a pace that is unfit for communication and therefore a pace that is an obstacle to relationships. A natural existence is a communicating existence. Everything is communicating something. And naturally we have various physical senses to receive that communication. What are the Cedars trying to say?, the wind?, the chipmunk?, the dew? I don't know, but before I can try and interpret, I must listen. I must listen with my skin as I climb the tree, listen with my nose as the wind passes me, listen with my mouth as I lick the dew from the grass, listen with my eyes as I see the shadows of leaves dance, listen with my ears as I hear the chipmunk chirp. I must listen with patience and openness. And even after I have heard, I still probably won't know much of what is being said. And I don't want to force that understanding, or make it up before it's real. I'm not talking about adopting some easy New Age spirituality, but I have hope that slowly through many seasons the language of other living things will rise in me like the dawn. And the daylight will show me what is real and what is not.
There are many practical reasons for learning this language. For those of us who want to, or believe we'll soon have to meet our basic survival needs from the land rather than from technological civilization, this language will teach us safety, where to find food and how to gather and prepare it, and what will make good shelter and clothes. But we were not created for mere survival, we are social by nature. Life is more then food, clothing, and shelter. It is about friendship. And if we desire, a whole world of meaningful and joyful friendships are waiting for us. And as we become friends with other living beings, those of us who want to resist that which is killing our friends will gain a clearer perspective of what actions to make. I expect it will also give us more urgency to do that which we already know we should, but are procrastinating on. And for those of us who see resistance as bound up with worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, perhaps our brothers and sisters in the rest of creation will teach us for once what it really means to worship our Creator in Spirit and Truth, as they all have been doing since the beginning. Perhaps they will be able to teach us the one most necessary lesson of existence, that we haven't been able to learn anywhere else: to be still and know that God is God (and that we are not). Or in the words of theologian Martin Buber to enter into the primary I and Thou relation with God and with everything else. The relation our fast paced machine never wants us to truly get down lest we rise up in our silence to shatter it's noise.
When I was walking earlier I was realizing how not only does each part of creation have some message of it's own to convey, but as I experienced the wind, sun, leaves, shadows and animals dance and sing together, I saw how, even more, they are speaking something in concert, something that would be completely lost if each were isolated and communicated only to their own kind. And I was thinking that perhaps if I learn to listen well, then someday I'll be ready to speak well- to add my line to this great poem of life in a more intentional and appropriate way than I ever have before. To sing harmony with creation's song until I am lost and amazed in it, and found by it to be expressing something that makes sense with the whole instead of the insane and separating chatter the machine has raised me to speak. To finally express my part of the unique vocation God has required for our species. I believe it is possible (and for the sake of every living thing an urgent necessity) to enter reality again. To enter the reality that some humans never totally lost such as the MButi hunter-gatherers I read about this summer in Colin Turnbul's "The Forest People" from which I'll quote a passage to end:
"One night in particular will always live for me, because that night I think I learned just how far away we civilized human being have drifted from reality. The moon was full, so the dancing had gone on for longer than usual. Just before going to sleep I was standing outside my hut when I heard a curious noise from the nearby children's bopi. This surprised me, because at nighttime the Pygmies generally never set foot outside the main camp. I wandered over to see what it was.
"There, in the tiny clearing, splashed with silver, was the sophisticated Kenge, clad in bark cloth, adorned with leaves, with a flower stuck in his hair. He was all alone, dancing around and singing softly to himself as he gazed up at the tree tops.
"Now Kenge was the biggest flirt for miles, so, after watching a while, I came into the clearing and asked, jokingly, why he was dancing alone. He stopped, turned slowly around and looked at me as though I was the biggest fool he had ever seen; and he was plainly surprised by my stupidity.
"But I'm not dancing alone,' he said. 'I'm dancing with the forest, dancing with the moon.' Then, with the utmost unconcern, he ignored me and continued his dance of love and life."