The deep work in wondering, sorrowing and learning that took place in the most recent session of Orphan Wisdom School, with Stephen Jenkinson, is starting to settle into my bones. Just beginning to form into something I can begin to speak, or write about with some semblance of coherence. What happened there last week, or was it longer than a week now? What magic distilled in the hallowed mead hall has been imprinted on my mind, heart and spirit? This I am still in deep wondering of, and will be wondering until again, we meet next spring at the Iron God of Mercy Farm.
So much is existing in me, my mind feels swirled, upended, fractured. I can only begin to piece by piece digest all that was, in such radical hospitality, placed upon my plate. I had the blessing yesterday of a few hours in the company of my good brother, Gabriel, 9 years my junior. To sit and talk and share, my notes on my lap. He willingly, and even eagerly dove headfirst into the wondering with me. The type of wondering where each answer begets another question, shimmering in the distance, floating in the corner of your eye, tantalizing and untouchable. I longed to stay up all night after our conversation, reading, researching, etymologizing…
One theme came clear for me as a result of being gifted the time and attention to wonder allowed with Gabriel about the mystery that I have entered into in the teaching hall. Consequence~ my own, my ancestral, my lingual…so many layers rolling out before and behind me. It feels too much, too real to be true, too much to bear. The world is too much with us…from my notes, I did not write the name of who originally spoke or wrote these words, but they feel too perfect for this moment to not give them voice upon this page.
Consequence and animism live together in my current inquiry. Let us see if I can bring these concepts here in any from that could be understood by those not sitting beside me in the hall, I will do my best and if I lose you, the time is not yet right for me to speak these words or you to hear them. So be it.
For all of our time here in human form on this planet, until the very recent past and our current time, humans have lived not separate from the natural world, but in, inextricably linked, to the more than human realm that surrounds us. A lived form of animism, breathing within and around us was our way of being and relating to the world. The reductionist Newtonian way of seeing the earth and all creatures and forces that reside therein is a construct so new in the scale of human life, a blip, a heartbeat….the blink of an eye. Yet to us, who live as we now do, days when everything, no everyone( I do not mean only human ones) was infused with the power of life, seem far away, perhaps even trivial or uneducated. We see our way of living and thinking as the right way, the cultured way, the scientifically accurate way.
I can attempt to wrap my mind around animism, in fact it stirs in me a knowing that was strong in my childhood. I knew the trees had fondness for me as I did for them, I knew my fairy houses loved being tended by my small hands, that roses offered their sweet smell and perfect blooming bodies to me in an act of benevolence, and I awed at how the moon followed me as I gazed at her face from the backseat of our station wagon. These remembrances could easily be perceived as a child’s dreaming’s, fantasies of an overactive imagination, or a girl who loved Anne of Green Gables just a little too much. But no, this was real for me, and learning as I have, that this is how most peoples throughout all of time perceived the world, brings singing into my heart again. Our world, our home, this earth and all that rests on and in her, is alive and singing back to me. What a wonder, what a forgotten treasure, and….what a responsibility. Consequence.
In seeing this, it becomes so achingly clear that how I conduct myself in relation to all beings, not only animal, or plant, but All who live here, in all their varied forms, actually matters. It matters a lot. If life extends beyond the human, animal and plant kingdoms, into the realms where life may be harder to recognize as life by my human eyes, then the wake I am creating is far vaster than I have ever know. This realization brings great sorrow to my heart. I feel how hard I have become, how practical. How I participate in the genocide and destruction of fellow life mates, for the sake of my laziness and convenience. Again, I feel I should explain, I mean all that exists here beside us on the earth, from a hand carved wooden spoon, to a spatula from dollar tree. All these ones we see as only objects, bereft of soul or meaning, all these ones we have forgotten or cast aside. After all, nothing comes to us save through the generosity and sacrifice of our earthy mother. It is all made of her body in one form or another.
I have this sense of thawing out, I have been cold as stone. Growing a granite carving in my chest where perhaps once a beating heart lived. The cold stone covering and numbing so that I don’t have to feel the sorrow we inflict on all around us. The emptiness and poverty of living in a world we see as dead, inert, and soulless. Could I survive in my present way of living if I felt my wake for what it is…
I am finding out. As I allow myself to really see and feel the life I have succumbed too, tended and accepted as my own. The cold stone of my heart melting, allowing the harsh truth to enter my consciousness, the ice drips into my belly, and cold tears run down my cheeks.
It is all too much. My own life, your life, all our lives. Broken from the chain of being into which we were born, fractured from the very life that sustains us, false separation and despair cloaking us from our sweet communion with our living earth, our kin, our birthright. How can I now seeing this survive here? My mind keeps travelling back in time, to our first June night in the teaching hall, when Stephen said “First, I will simply say I am sorry” Many of us laughed. It seemed then a lighthearted thing to say, almost in jest. I had no idea how true it was, how he knew then what now I am just learning. That to embark on this path of learning will cause an inner crumbling of all we thought we knew, of much that we have held dear.
There are things that in seeing cannot be unseen, perhaps you can hide your eyes awhile, hide from yourself for a time, but truth once seen will demand to be seen again. To try to un-see or rationalize or ignore is only a recipe for greater suffering and disaster. It is crack head wisdom, searching for just one more day before you make the terrifying change, before you feel the pain.
The maw of western cultures open, hungry jaws looms in front of me. Demanding to be fed. Fed by my worry, my adherence to the clock, my chronic sense of not enoughness. Simultaneously the sweet earth calls to me to be seen, the breezes kiss my face, the arborvitae I pass each day on the way to my office wriggles with excitement when I stroke her green body, just as my dog does. These parallel and conflicting realities are both residing in me. Waves of cognitive dissonance washing over my shores. I am shipwrecked.
My efficient process driven mine is looking for a quick fix, a 3 step process to incorporate animism into my life and arrive at a place where once again my future is planned and steady. This part of my is pissed that I am not complying to its plan. I am not complying because God knows it will not work, there is no 3 step process, hell there isn’t even a 12 step process for this! There are no answers now, only more questions, more ponderings, more palms to the forehead, more tears. I do the only thing I know to do, as small as it may seem. I sit here, typing on these small black keys, finding words to fit this screen, finding out what I need to say as I add line after line to this page.
I made some tea just now, boiling water in my sturdy stainless steel kettle, a prized possession, or should I say, a good friend.. the water boiled quickly, steaming from her spout as I poured over the tea bag. Algonquin Tea – Lucid Dreaming. Herbs from far away now brewing in my mug. A friendly mug, shaped to rest in my hand just so, shaped by other hands, hands I do not know and have never touched. I know this mug so well, the familiar shape so comforting, the warmth of its touch. I love this mug, who brings my tea and coffee faithfully to my lips. I have never heeded how much life is here, in all these years I have never really seen this vessel that serves me so well. Smooth tea, smooth warm lip of the mug meeting my lips, a kiss of sorts. How tender my heart feels in seeing this, in seeing her. Her green curves are subtly female in form. I am awash with gratitude.
I think I’ll take it. Settle in, let my stone heart melt and feel my life. Let my mouth make love to the sweet form of my mug and the smoothness of the tea that slips in to nourish me. I think its worth the pain, of seeing how destructive I have been and will be still, how callous and brash. I can grieve my blundering ways and move forward with contrition. Open to learning how to be a human in this living world. For now I seek communion in this tea, and comfort in a book and my welcoming bed, who oh so gently holds me as I take my nightly rest.
- the above quote in italics is from William Wordsworth…This was brought to my attention by a another scholar who has become a dear friend, and who apparently takes better notes than I do! Thank you Jess.