Increasingly we have become identified with our minds. Roads, automobiles, billboards, houses, buildings, power lines, churches and schools are our ideas made concrete. We are increasingly convinced by, and believe in, a material world of our own making.
Much of the time many of us--whole societies--function under the illusion that we are separate from Nature. We are never separate from God, or Nature. No thought we have is quite original enough to out-race the light of our universe.
We have inherited a worldview, originating with Descartes, but perpetuated by an obsession with empiricism and rationalism, wherein the premises require mind and matter to be considered separate. We acquired a greater idea of self, and Nature was objectified. This Cartesian conception still overshadows our contemporary ideas about Nature, our disconcerting feelings of separation--and the resulting daily destruction of the beauty of the world. When we attend to what is happening, it is evident to us that there are large shifts in the life systems of the world, down unto the specifics: fewer and fewer birds, the "soul-loss" of species, the contamination of our waters and air, loss of vitality in our soils, increasing starvation and dis-ease.
J. Krishnamurti wrote: "When the intellect has the upper hand in human life, it brings about an unprecedented crisis. The crisis is exceptional because it is in the field of ideation."
The primary relationship of Western man to Nature has been one of use. If we use people, we can probably say we don't love them. We treat them like objects. It's a quality none of us admire, not in ourselves, not in others. Thought cannot be love. Love is a feeling and our means of connection to immediacy. When I love I am connected.
Meher Baba said, "God, or Nature, cannot be appreciated by the intellect, only through the heart."
Thomas Berry, Catholic theologian and author of The Dream of the Earth, The Universe Story and The Great Work, speaks of two sacred texts. The primary sacred text is Nature itself. The other is sacred scripture.
"The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects," Thomas writes.
Our family had an original copy of a book, purchased by my great-grandfather O.F. Cook, entitled The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation, published in London in 1717. The book was written by John Ray, late Fellow of the Royal Society. As a boy I was intrigued with the book, which I didn't truly begin to discover until several years ago when I found it on my mother's bookshelf again.
John Ray wrote: "The particulars of this discourse serve not only to demonstrate the being of a Deity, but also to illustrate some of his principle attributes; as namely, his infinite power and wisdom. The vast multitude of creatures, and those not only small, but immensely great, the sun and the moon, and all the heavenly host, are effects and proofs of his almighty power."
Nature is the greatest of works, ultimately including us, both in our objectivity and our subjectivity, a primordial given, continually nurturing the abstract sense and meaning of our cultural and linguistic worlds. French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty describes Nature: "However surcharged with historical significations man's perception may be ... [n]ature is there from the first day. It presents itself always as already there before us, and yet as new before our gaze."
I don't go to the Woods to think. I don't go to the Woods to talk. I don't even go to the Woods to be myself, or to be by myself, that self which thinks to create the illusion of being separate. Going to the Woods, for me, is one more chance to discover, as we do at death, an intimate connection with everything. There is a spirituality in the Woods, more than my own, mine existing inside of it. The Earth is en-souled, spirit not making the distinction or having the bias to prefer one creature to another. A bee fly and I both come straight from the Divine. Everything in Nature does.
A journal entry:
God took shape today, down unto the wisp of a moth traveling anonymously upwards through the mist, and the little yellow mushroom anyone could fail to notice. The rains had fallen and the Earth had welcomed them. The air was full with plants' breathing, and everywhere there was presence. It was invisible but what it was abounded. I walked into the forest and was preceded, and where I'd walked was complete with or without me. Nothing was explained, how each life was there like mine.
We are perceivers, and we think and feel, but we do not stand outside the world. We are part of the world, immediately, and so as perceivers our thoughts and feelings can effect the world. The world needs us to see it and feel it and to act accordingly. As Alice Walker puts it so succinctly, "Anything you love can be saved."
For an interview with local writer Dave Cook, see this issue's LitLocal.