“Double-booked and screen-blinded; the diagnosis is burnout, soul hunger, or life crisis and we are lost. Am I burned out? No, more like crispy fried. Do you know this feeling? We try to fill the empty space in our hearts with food, drink, or distraction to the point of addiction. Some of us are trapped in the web of the internet or snared by the quests and visions of a virtual reality that appears to be more vivid than the life in front of us.”
Walking down a winding mountain path, I spent my wander in silence with all but a little wild human strapped to my back letting out verbal gestures of wonder and awe. Listening to the chorus of birds above my head, and the soft crunch of stone-against-dirt beneath my feet, my body and all of my senses began to blend with the wild land enveloping us. Admiring the tall grasses of varying colors gently rocking in the faintest of breezes, I was enraptured by the aroma of the ponderosa pines stretching upward toward a partially clouded sky. I could feel the presence of butterfly and beetle and felt everything as intelligent and ensouled. By the way, it is!
When I venture away from the human world of coffee shops and street lights, computer screens, and car engines, and step back into a wilder setting, I can feel my own depths crystalize. The song and ache in my heart steps forward, and I begin to have a conversation, once more, through what Mary Oliver refers to as ‘the soft animal of my body’. A conversation that is both a deepening, as well as a coming home. I can feel what dragonfly knows all too well living its life first in water then upon land, and finally taking to the sky. Through my breath, my heartbeat, my imagination, and my dreams lives a pulsing continuum of worlds within worlds as I find myself relating and connecting with all of life.
Like a fungal network or the root systems of trees, these worlds are deeply embedded within each other. Flowing like streams into rivers and rivers into oceans, the diverse currents of each world (material and immaterial), through their relating, create dynamic ecological systems. Systems that teem with life, and give birth to moments filled with potential and magic. These moments, nestled in the heart of now, spring from what Dale Pendell calls ‘the singing mind of the Earth’, and that of our own wild existence. A romance of sorts ensues, and our very beingness, one discovers, is intimately intertwined with the beingness of Gaia and the Cosmos.
Generally, the word “ecology” speaks to the relationship physical organisms have to one another and their surroundings. I am choosing to use the word here as encompassing both the physical and non-physical realms of existence.
After all, there is more space than there is matter, and depending on one’s abilities of perception and awareness, there is much we do not see because we have either lost the ability to do so or never had it in the first place.
Beyond this, to suggest that something must be, within our human definition, solid and of form in order to be a part the ecology of place is to disregard the existence of other worlds and other beings that do not fit into our human-based lens.
As I continued my wander, I soon came toward the end of the trail. Just ahead of me in a dry creek stood a deer nourishing herself with the sun-bathed grasses springing upward between river rock and soil. To her right stood a mother and her two children. She had her phone out, snapping pictures of the deer who stood all but fifteen feet from her. Asking her children to get in the photo, she continued to draw their attention away from the grazing deer, as well. As I stood and watched, from behind me came a couple who immediately took out their camera and phone. They, too, began snapping photos of the deer grazing, and as soon as they had their photo they continued their hike.
These humans seemed unaware of their own presence within and impact upon the ecology of this wild space filled with flowers, poison ivy, grasshoppers, the wind, and sky. Equally so, they seemed unaware of the impact this wild space was having upon them.
It is not my intention to suggest that one stop taking photos, for surely it is an art form. An expression of one’s own bearing witness to the world. A way to draw oneself back to a place and time. What I am suggesting is the practice of giving oneself over to the moment. To savor every second the way one might savor every step in a dance, or every delectable release of flavor from a single piece of chocolate.
The technological age in which we live has many benefits, and many, many pitfalls and hindrances. Finding ourselves drawn into screens and pulled deeper into virtual worlds in search of connection, community, and excitement, our ability to connect, sense, emote and feel the world around us that is teeming with life and pulsing with mystery is lost. Seen only as something belonging to bear or raven, our indigenous powers of instinct, intuition, and interspecies communication are dulled and forgotten.
Even our deep imaginations run dry from the scorching light of scientific objectivity and reductionistic thought. Our very sense of self as existing within a larger, intelligent whole is replaced with the fanfare of sophisticated technology and enculturation that inevitably leaves us stranded. Or, as Daian Hennington notes in Your Wilder Nature: A Field Guide to Tracking Soul:
“Legend has it that there was once a time when the animals knew our speech, and we knew theirs. There was once a time when we knew in our marrow that the same spirit that enlivened the Great Bear ran hot in our blood too. Wherever we were, we knew the land was alive, we were not alone, and we shared a relationship with all living things.”
Isolated by amnesia, we can no longer sense our place in the place of everything. Home becomes something beyond our reach, and so we seek it out through disconnected mediums born out of this technological, industrial, and scientific age. What happened to our ability to be somewhere, fully? To feel ourselves rooted within our surroundings?
When hiking through the mountains, or resting along a shoreline, we have a distinct opportunity to let a place stir us awake, inspire creativity, and rouse our imaginations.
In this way, place lives within us just as much as we find ourselves living within a place. In this way, we find ourselves always at home.
To note the particular pink that shades the soft petals of a flower, or the way the river rolls over polished stones. Or perhaps how hummingbird buzzes overhead, periodically resting on an extended branch, as if the pine tree were calling out to it saying “Rest here.”
To take pleasure in the delicious scent of sap, or the cooling breeze that cuts the heat shed by the beaming sun. To sense the life force of a field, or the soul of a lake. To settle beneath the sky, and feel your body become one with the foliage as you watch deer delicately nibbling bits of grass and greenery.
Perhaps wondering what it must be like to be her; what it must be like to live in such a forest. Letting your imagination carry you to where her hooves make contact with the Earth, and how her ears stay alert, listening for the subtlest of sounds. What is it that she’s aware of that we may not be aware of?
What would it be like if we put down our technology? If we stepped away from this industrial growth society? If we extracted ourselves from the virtual realms that grab at our attention and strip from us our curiosity and wonder? If we let go of the compulsion to explain away phenomena?
What would it be like if we let the wildness of our being root into the wildness of worlds within worlds? What terrifying and beautiful experiences might we have if we say yes to the pregnant moment of now waiting to birth itself through each of us? If we offered up our presence and attention as a sacred ceremony capable of opening doorways to other worlds?
We might, if unrestrained, rediscover what it really means to be human. We might, if we’re willing, feel ourselves as existing within worlds within worlds. Imagine the revolution of Spirit and Soul this could ignite!
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul.
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