Back to the city, means back to my qigong meditation. Reacquainting myself with the routines by listening to my audio course, I came across this passage. According to Ken Cohen, quoting Paul B. Gallagher, qigong mastery consists of four stages:
“ The first stage is the great expert, after you have practices qigong for a little while, you begin to feel rather self-important as though you have really mastered something. Perhaps you have learned one qigong technique, learned something that no one else knows.
The second stage is when you have gone a little deeper into the training, perhaps you have learned two or three different systems, you’ve learned a medical and spiritual form of qigong, perhaps even a martial arts qigong. Now you are quite important, so the second stage is the big potato.
But at the third stage you begin to realize that life is limited and knowledge is limitless, as is the human potential. At this stage you feel rather silly about your previous self-importance. The third stage is banana head.
Finally, we get to the fourth stage, when one has truly deeply gone into qigong training, all aspects, the physical, emotional, spiritual. Here we return to a greater sense of aliveness, to the ordinary sense of the body, the world, the environment, nature, spirit. The fourth and the final stage of qigong is called nothing special. Beauty is found once again in the ordinary. Mystery is found in the everyday. There is a zen Buddhist saying, “I went there and came back. It was nothing special. The river at high tide, the mountain veiled by misty rain“.
In these words, I can not help but to see a parallel with the evolution of the human knowledge and also to find a purpose for what I need to help my children learn to see and hopefully value.
Seems to me that we go through spirals of change, and that native systems of thoughts pointed towards a nothing special stage while occidental culture is at a stage one or two of mastery of its knowledge. North American native cultures seem to operate in a system within which humans co-exist with earth and are grounded in an ordinary sense of the body, world, environment, nature and spirit.
I remember my first exposure to North American native culture and relationship to nature while I was in teacher college. One of the teacher students was a native man who during one presentation explained the notion of the tree to his culture. It was astonishingly profound and yet so simple. As a European, the idea of a system where respect for plants and animals is central to how people lead their lives was shocking. The underlying belief system about the power of nature was something I had never encountered. I think I personally became aware of this power the first time I went to Algonquin park, the beauty and power of nature, its giant scale in plants and animals, was something unknown to me.
While to an occidental, such a belief system may seem “simple”, in reality it shows a way to have a balanced life within nature and in North America, led to a way of life where an animal being killed for clothing and/or food, was highly respected and thanked for its contribution to human survival . To Natives, wild animals and plants have spirit and innate dignity. Nothing special, i.e a plant or animal seen from an occidental perspective, is as alive as a human being.
Such a belief system requires us to be entirely rooted in sensorial experiences and a very different way of perceiving. I just came across this beautiful text, Animism, Perception, and Earthly Craft of the Magician, by David Abram who explains this way of thinking very succinctly. As he writes:
“ Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his classic work, Phenomenology of Perception, suggests that the primordial event of perception is always experienced as a reciprocal encounter between the perceiver and the perceived, an open dialectic wherein my sensing body continually responds and adjusts itself to the things it senses, and wherein the perceived phenomenon responds in turn, disclosing its nuances to me only as I allow myself to be affected by its unique style, its particular dynamism or active agency. (…) Perception, according to Merleau-Ponty, is nothing other than this reciprocity, this mutual reverberation and blending in which the surrounding terrain is experienced by me only to the extent that I feel myself caught up within and experienced by those surroundings.
Such a description neatly echoes the discourse of many indigenous peoples, such as the Koyukon people of central Alaska, who claim that they live “in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes.” (Nelson, p. 14). Oral, indigenous peoples from around the world — whether hunters or rudimentary horticulturalists — commonly assert that the land itself is alive and aware, that the local animals, the plants, and the earthly elements around them have their own sensitivity and sentience. They claim that the earthly world we experience also experiences us. And hence that we must be respectful toward that world, lest we offend the very ground that supports us, the winds and waters that nourish us.“
Today this type of understanding of the world is not only unknown, but also unthinkable to a majority of occidental. And in my mind, this is a very interesting paradox. While native culture seem to have reach a balance in its relationship to nature that we lost as we modernized ourselves. Occidental culture represents through a new phase of the spiral of change and moved back to the first stage of the great expert. Descartes official separated our body from our mind and as such, stopped us from being and turned us into thinkers who discovered knowledge. We became separate from our body, stopped being in the world but watching it from our minds’ eye. We lost our ability to be self-awareness, and as such lost a sense for the base from which we started, which made it impossible to continue to “feel” our progress via our senses. We stopped perceiving the connections.
According to Abram, Animism represents:
“ When the natural world is perceived not from the spectator-like position of a detached or disembodied intellect, but rather from an embodied position situated entirely within that world, one encounters no aspect of that world that is definitively inert or inanimate. “Animism” remains a useful term for this highly embodied, and embedded, mode of perception. In this sense, “animism” may be said to name a primordial mode of perception that admits of no clear distinction between that which is animate and that which is inanimate. Rather, every phenomenon that draws our attention is perceived, or felt, to be at least potentially animate. Each perceived thing has its own rhythm and style, its own interior animation. Everything moves — although, clearly, some things move much slower than other things, like the mountains, or the ground underfoot.
To such an embodied, and embedded, perspective, the enveloping world is encountered not as a conglomeration of determinate objects, but as a community of subjects — as a relational field of animate, active agencies in which we humans, too, are participant. “
Such a description explains how I live my life and why I am, like so many Highly sensitive people, seem abrasive to many. I perceive the world as a relational field of animate and it becomes very frustrating, if not infuriating to witness disrespect for the other animates that surround us. Our norms are offensive to animist perception, to say the least.
I am hopeful that things are changing, and I can’t help to wonder whether we are moving into stage three of our learning about our world. And if in this stage, we are coming back to our senses. Scientists in all fields are proving animism to be real.
From biologist to physisist, the animated nature of plants and animals is being demonstrated. In the article Root apices as plant command centres: the unique ‘brain-like’ status of the root apex transition zone, František Baluška1, Stefano Mancuso2, Dieter Volkmann & Peter Barlow wrote:
“Although plants are generally immobile and lack the most obvious brain activities of animals and humans, they are not only able to show all the attributes of intelligent behaviour but they are also equipped with neuronal molecules, especially synaptotagmins and glutamate/glycine-gated glutamate receptors.
Recent advances in plant cell biology allowed identification of plant synapsestransporting the plant-specific neurotransmitter-like molecule, auxin. This suggests that synaptic communication is not limited to animals and humans but seems to be widespread throughout plant tissues. Root apices seated at the anterior pole of the plant body show many features which allow us to propose that they, especially their transition zones, act in some way as brainlike command centres. The opposite posterior pole harbours sexual organs and is specialized for plant reproduction. Last but not least, we propose that vascular tissues represent highways for plant nervous activity allowing rapid exchange of information between the growing points of above-ground organs and the brain-like zones in the root apices.”
In the study of animals, it has been demonstrated that most think, show high level of intelligence and observe us as much as us them.
It is now very clear to me that highly sensitive people have a clear purpose in the world. Going to sit in nature really drove the point home to me. The communion possible when a person is in a conversation with nature is not only profound but also important in a world where too many have lost the ability to sense a place.
I do believe that many HSPs have the qualities of shamans, not in the religious sense of the term, but in its sensorial sense. As David Abram explains:
“Such an understanding of the animistic style of perception common to indigenous, oral cultures is necessary for comprehending the vital role played by shamans, the indigenous magic practitioners endemic to such place-based cultures. For if awareness is not the exclusive attribute of humankind — if, indeed, every aspect of the perceivable world is felt to be at least potentially alive, awake and aware — then there is an obvious need, in any human community, for individuals who are particularly adept at communicating with these other shapes of sensitivity and sentience. The shamans are precisely those persons who are especially sensitive and susceptible to the expressive calls, gestures and signs of the wider, more-than-human field of beings, and who are able to reply in kind. The shaman is an intermediary, a mediator between the human community and the more-than-human community in which the human group is embedded. This wider community consists not only of the humans, and the other animal intelligences that inhabit or migrate through the local terrain, but also the many plant powers that are rooted in the local soils — the grasses, and herbs (with their nourishing and medicinal characteristics, their poisonous and mind-altering influences), the trees with their unique personalities, and even the multiform intelligence of whole forests; it consists as well of the active agency and expressive power of particular landforms (like rivers, mountains, caves, cliffs), and of all the other elemental forces (the winds and weather-patterns, the radiant sun and the cycling moon, stormclouds and seasonal patterns) that influence, and effectively constitute, the living landscape.
Experiencing living in a world that is itself alive is a participatory mode of sensory experience that is innate to all of us, it has been buried beneath the more detached and objectifying styles of perception made possible by our media:
“ In the course of our early education, most of us learn to transfer the participatory proclivity of our senses away from the more-than-human natural surroundings toward our own human symbols, entering into an animistic fascination with our own humanly-generated signs and, increasingly, with our own technologies. And as we grow into adulthood, our instinctive yearning for relationship with an encompassing sphere of life and intelligence is commonly channeled beyond the perceptual world entirely, into an abstract relation with a divine source assumed to reside entirely outside of earthly nature, beyond all bodily or sensory experience.
For in an era when nature is primarily spoken of in abstract terms, as an objective and largely determinate set of mechanisms — at a time when eloquent behaviour of other animals is said to be entirely “programmed in their genes,” and when the surrounding sensuous landscape is referred to merely as a stock of “resources” for human use — it is clear that our direct, sensory engagement with the earth around us has become woefully impoverished. The accelerating ecological destruction wrought by contemporary humankind seems to stem not from any inherent meanness in our species but from a kind of perceptual obliviousness, an inability to actually notice anything outside the sphere of our human designs, a profound blindness and deafness to the more-than-human earth. In such an era, perhaps the most vital task of the sleight-of-hand magician is precisely to startle the senses from their slumber, to shake our eyes and our ears free from the static, habitual ways of seeing and hearing into which those senses have fallen under the deadening influence of abstract and overly-objectified ways of speaking and thinking. “
I am glad I came across this text, it is confirming why me and my children need to learn about bush life. We need to go back to the source to develop and begin to understand our participatory sensory communication system. And our use of technology has to become about documenting it and sharing it. We have already began to learn how to communicate with animals, the next stage will be to do so with plants and the environment. The bush has to be the classroom. No, we will not become traditional native people, clearly we can’t. The point is to regain the ability to be in contact with what surrounds us. Not to block it out but to learn to understand the sensations as communication signals. The bush is essential to lose our predesigned communication signs and let our body be.
This is not to say I expect my children to live in the wild, but as a highly technologically oriented family, we must find a bridge between these sensory ways and the network. Once more, David Abram elucidates that:
“ The magic skills of the shaman are rooted in his or her ability to shift out of his common state of awareness in order to contact, and learn from, these other powers in the surrounding earth. Only by regularly shedding the accepted perceptual logic of his culture can the shaman hope to enter into relation with other species on their own terms; only by altering the common organization of her senses is she able to make contact and communicate with the other shapes of sentience and sensitivity with which human existence is entwined. “
I have noticed a techno shaman movement develop on the net. While it is highly rooted in the white 60s notion of reality, I much rather insure my children experience the earth as children and I hope will learn to know her and respect her. As a professional I am beginning to realize that we need to bring nature back into our lives and not just as an object of discourse in network culture nor to control it. In discourse we tend to think of technologies as an extension of nature, but as Abram points out, in reality we are using it to denaturalize ourselves. Have we become hybrids who live half in the network and half on earth? Will there be mediated participatory sensory experiences?