Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Listen is to Hear

Annemiek commented on the journal entry titled, A Dialogue With the Universe, that she and her daughter, Jennifer, are reading a book together within which the main character is able to converse with plants and animals. Jennifer has not come into a place in her life where it seems impossible that humans can hear plants and animals talk and thankfully Annemiek isn't the type of mother to discourage such thinking, rather, Annemiek says, " I think instead of telling our kids that such things are nonsense, we should encourage them to listen."

I think Jennifer is very fortunate to have you for a mother, Annemiek! I was very moved by your comment and it made me desire to share some more thoughts on this subject.

It may seem that to say we humans are in constant dialogue with the universe, giving and receiving messages and having the capacity to communicate with plants, animals and the elements is an absolutely "Disneyesque", the pure fantasy of deluded child-minded individuals. Surely this is one perception held and well-guarded by many educated and non-educated people, but there are other opinions and scientific explorations that have found that the universe is indeed communicating with us.

In 1973, The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird was published by Harper & Row. On the back cover the preview for the books says this,
"Exploring the world of plants and their relation to mankind as revealed by the latest discoveries of scientists, The Secret Life of Plants includes remarkable information about plants as lie detectors and plants as ecological sentinels; it describes their ability to adapt to human wishes, their response to music, their curative powers, and their ability to communicate with man."
Here is a random sampling of some of the things I highlighted when I read the book:

"At the beginning of the twentieth century a gifted Viennese biologist with the Gallic name of Raoul Francé put forth the idea, shocking to contemporary natural philosophers, that the plants move their bodies as freely, easily, and gracefully as the most skilled animal or human, and that the only reason we don't appreciate the fact is that plants do so at a much slower pace than humans...Plants, says Francé, are capable of 'intent': they can stretch toward, or seek out, what they want in ways as mysterious as the most fantastic creations of romance."

I'm thinking just now of those intentful, beautifully-green shoots of grass already pushing up out of the ground while under three feet of snow. Are the grasses and the horses and me sharing the same intent, that of wanting the grass to grow again?

"Adults, according to Vogel, are much less successful than children, which leads him to surmise that many scientists are not going to be able to repeat his or Backster's experiments in laboratories. 'If they approach the experimentation in a mechanistic way,' says Vogel, 'and don't enter into mutual communication with their plants and treat them as friends, they will fail. It is essential to have an open mind that eliminates all preconceptions before beginning experiments.'"
Sentient rocks enchanted by the sun, last summer at Ravenseyrie

"Fechner introduced Nanna, or the Soul-Life of Plants with the concept that believing whether plants have a soul or not changes one's whole insight into nature. If man admitted to an omnipresent, all-knowing, and almighty god who bestowed animation on all things, then nothing in the world could be excluded from this munificence, neither plant nor stone nor crystal nor wave. Why would universal spirit, he asked, sit less firmly in nature than in human beings, and not be as much in command of nature's power as it is of human bodies?"

For myself, since childhood, it has always been so pleasant a thing to think that when I am out walking the land, the rocks, the grasses, the trees, the breeze brushing my face are all fellow beings equally observing me as I observe them--all of us appreciating the day as it has dawned, each with his and her own thoughts about this particular moment in time. I have never felt alone, probably because of this inexplicable belief in the "bestowed animation on all things" by the "Great Creator" or "Original Essence", or "God". This sense of being co-related to all that is around me has served to make me more mindful of my actions, my intentions and my internal dialogue, all which I believe are "viewed" and "read" by the creatures, plants and elements I share my world with.
The conscious plant people known as Boneset or Eupatorium perfoliatum, provide a favorite "ward off cold" remedy. Kevin and I are thankful to have Boneset growing on the beach at Ravenseyrie.

Luther Standing Bear has said: "From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying force that flowed in and through all things -- the flowers of the plains, blowing wind, rocks, trees, birds, animals -- and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were Kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery."

In his book, The Lost Language of Plants, Stephen Harrod Buhner outlines why it is possible for us to communicate with the world around us:

--At the center of all things is spirit. In other words, there is a central underlying unifying force in the Universe that is sacred.

--All matter is made from this substance. In other words, the sacred manifests itself in physical form.

--Because all matter is made from the sacred, all things possess a soul, a sacred intelligence or

--Because human beings are generated out of this same substance it is possible for human beings to communicate with the soul or intelligence in plants and all other matter and for those intelligences to communicate with human beings.

--Human beings emerged later on Earth and are the offspring of the plants. Because we are their offspring, their children, plants will help us whenever we are in need if we ask them.

--Human beings were ignorant when they arrived here and the powers of Earth and the various intelligences in all things began to teach them how to be human. This is still true. It is not possible for new generations to become human without this communication or teaching from the natural world.

--Parts of Earth can manifest more or less sacredness, just like human beings. A human being can never know when some part of Earth might begin expressing deep levels of sacredness or begin talking to him. Therefore it is important to cultivate attentiveness of mind.

--Human beings are only one of the many life-forms of Earth, neither more or less important than the others. Failure to remember this can be catastrophic for individuals, nations, and peoples. The other life in the Universe can and will become vengeful if treated with disrespect by human beings.

"This outline," writes Buhner, "in a very rough way, represents, perhaps, the oldest epistemology of humankind and was present in most historical cultures on Earth."

This old-style study of knowledge and beliefs has surely been usurped almost worldwide by the technological revolution and mechanistic perception of the "what" and "how" and "why" of things. In thinking ourselves separate from the rest of things in the universe humans no longer cultivate a concept of mindfulness and respect, rather, many humans believe that they are superior to all else and therefore all else is here to be manipulated, altered, destroyed, etc. in service to mankind. (I don't see the race of humans being overall more happy and fulfilled for all the exploitation of nature we've perpetuated.)

There are those, however who have had experiences which show that we do not have to dominate nature in order to have our needs met. (Let's remember Imke Spilker and Alexander Nevzorov's discoveries that friendship and play and equal respect make for better relations with horses.) This dialogue with the universe is not something that only certain Native American or indigenous people believe in. Buhner writes, "Many scientists have remarked with surprise that Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, and even the Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock all have said that it was the plants who told them what to do, who revealed their mysteries to them. The only requirement, they commented, was that they had to care for them, to treat them with respect, to have a feeling for the organism."

Eliot Cowan writes this in his book, Plant Spirit Medicine:
"The teachings of plants come in many forms. The spirit may give you a classroom-style lecture. If so, listen intently so as to remember every detail. More often the transmission comes in a non-verbal form. You may find yourself being swept into an exotic adventure. You may simply find that you experience intense emotions. In every case the key is to remain attentive. Once you ask your question, whatever happens is part of the answer."

Again and again, the impression made upon me by so many of these authors is that we humans are not separate from, nor superior to Nature, and that when we approach the things in nature with mindful attentiveness, humble hearts and open minds, we are greeted with helpful nurturing responses from forms of intelligence that seem absolutely appreciative of our finally cultivating a true "feeling" for them. It's this way with the horses and dogs and cats and geese at Ravenseyrie, and surely with all that surrounds us here.

I contrast this with some of the things Rudolf Steiner has written in his book, An Outline of Esoteric Science:

"Plants exist in a continuous state of sleep. If we do not judge these things accurately, it is easy to fall into the error of crediting plants with a consciousness similar to what animals and humans have in the waking state."

"The fourth element that supersensible cognition ascribes to our human makeup has nothing in common with the manifest work that surrounds us. It is what distinguishes us from our fellow creatures and makes us the crown of creation, of the created world that belongs to us at least temporarily."

"Falling into the error of ascribing memory to animals is even easier than ascribing consciousness to plants. It is natural to think of memory when a dog recognizes its owners after perhaps not having seen them for a long time. In reality, however, this recognition is not based on memory but on something totally different. The dog feels a certain attraction for its owners, which proceeds from their very being. This gives the dog pleasure when its owners are present. Each time they are again present after an absence, the dog's pleasure recurs. Memory, however, is only present when a being not only feels its experiences in the present but also retains those of the past. Even if we acknowledge this, we might still fall into the error of thinking that the dog remembers. We could say, for instance, that since the dog grieves when its owners leave, it retains a memory of them. This, too, is an incorrect assessment of the situation. Through sharing life with its owners, the dog comes to need their presence and thus feels their absence in the same what that it feels hunger. If we do not make such distinctions, life's true circumstances will not become clear to us."

If we make such distinctions, as these Steiner (and most other scientists) would have us make, we for sure will not be able to perceive the messages the universe desires us to hear. I suppose when it comes down to it, that which we chose to discern will determine that which will be revealed.

For myself, I find the cultivation of the perception that the universe is alive, conscious and appreciates a good dialogue with the humans (which are one manifestation of creation) is a perception that is filled with great beauty, and overflows with marvelous possibilities for learning--in addition to a sense of belonging, which keeps one from never feeling alone.

Quickly now to close, both Annemiek and Eva had questions about our marble statue of St. Melangell. Annemiek asked what she was leaning upon. It is an over-turned iron garden rake, Annemiek.
And Eva wondered what she was guarding there at the top of our stairs to the basement, and did we not think she might not appreciate being displayed outside. My mother-in-law kept this statue inside a small greenhouse. The statue is two separate pieces that fit together at the waist and portions here at this juncture, as well as down near her feet have a chalky, flakey quality to the stone...which makes me worry that she is not well made or properly finished for outdoor display. So she stands guard over the saddles and bridles which have grown dull and dusty from lack of use.

Besides, a slightly worn-away cement figure of Venus has claimed the north deck:
and on the west deck, another patron saint of animals, St. Francis, has taken up residence:

I'm on the lookout for just the right slightly-worn (meaning affordable!) statue that will fit nicely as guardian over my wilderness manege...and if I find one, it will have to be stout enough to withstand the rubbing a horse or mule or Whitetail deer might give it.

May each of us become more that we might hear the universe talking.


eva said...

Lynne, thank you for this petinent collection of quotes. I was surprised about Steiner's arrogance, I've never read his work but always thought that he promoted a less arrogant view about nature. Too bad.

The wisdom of our oneness with animated natures as old as the universe itself. The animals know it, the plants know it, and kids know it until this knowledge is killed in the human training factories.

I am grateful that my mother fostered and encouraged our love for animate nature when we were kids, she was deeply connected to life and expressed her love of the natural world and sense of belonging in multiple creative ways. Like you, I always felt "at home" in the enchanted forest of my childhood.

I am happy to see that St Melangell has an important job to do, guarding the museum of obsolete horse equipment. It' so funny to see that stuff gathering dust.

Lynne Gerard said...

How have you managed to escape reading Steiner? I think his work means different things to different people and that most people who admire Steiner do so by not embracing everything he believed regarding cosmological realities and where humans fit in, in the "bigger picture".

Your mother sounds like she was a deep, wonderful woman. My mother is special herself, though for her the "enchanted forest" has always seemed too wild a place for comfort (a city girl). She wrote me, however, after the "Dialogue with the Universe" entry to say that she found it very deep and interesting and that it has her thinking differently about nature now. That warmed my heart completely.

Speaking of the "museum of obsolete horse equipment", I don't think you know that I once had a "bit fetish", and probably had close to fifty or more bits at one time! I sold many of them even before I gave up the idea of using bits and bridles. The remainder in my collection I've decided to dangle from the trees by my woodland manege like chimes and mobiles...whaddaya think?

eva said...

Re: Steiner et al. These people were after thinkers regurgitating/digesting/appending to and morphing Ideas that are very dear to me, notably of Goethe and his "Naturphilosophie." I never felt the need or desire to divulge the second wave, and am mildly uncomfortable (still) with the third, or forth wave, or nth wave although nilly willie I am it so to speak.

Dangling he bits from the trees sounds like a good use. I can see he sow buntings sit in the rings.