This summer I had the privilege of attending two residential workshops; one with Stephen Jenkinson (whose 2 year program I am currently enrolled in) and the other with David Abram. The teachings of these individuals had and continues to have a profound impact on me. What especially strikes me is how much emphasis both place on the power of the spoken word which I had not realized going in. What it boils down to is that the every day use of our modern English language has an unfortunate way of narrowing our perspective and disconnecting us from our natural world and innate humanness which carries with it significant ecological and interpersonal consequences.
Let’s look for example at how we talk about protecting natural resources. Sounds like a good thing doesn’t it? Well sure it is for obvious reasons but a deeper investigation also reveals that thinking of anything as a resource has a way of diminishing it and turning the very thing itself into an objectified “it” … an “it” that is to be used by us humans at some eventual date at which time it will be removed from its existing habitat and turned into something else. And so protecting a resource often means leaving the said “resource” where it is, placing a border around it and turning it into a state or provincial park. Certainly the latter is a sound and well thought out choice but what “protecting a resource” fails to do is change how we actually relate to that which we name “resource”.
For instance, is the tree that I identify as a “resource” a western cedar or is it my older sister who stands 90 meters tall with deep green laced skirts that sway to the wind’s murmurings? Is it the one who exhales a fragrance that fills my body with the memories of days where I might have been a deer standing ever so still in the holy silence of hemlock, fir, sword fern, lichen and salmonberry as a ray of sun weaves its way through the cover to reveals the delicate threads of a freshly woven spider’s web? Suddenly I am filled with a sense of wonder and a depth of gratitude for the life that is so freely given to me and that vastness of beauty that surrounds me. My relationship with my surroundings and with myself changes by virtue of my approach and how I describe what I see.
In Nonviolent Communication, we invite people to look at how the language of blame and victimization is dehumanizing and counter productive and that such language is in fact a distortion of human needs. Jenkinson and Abram take it a step further. Their teachings revealed to me how my imagination had been systematically collapsed by a “learned” propensity to name and label things in order to identify them and then presumably know them. The very moment that a label is slapped onto something however, it has the unfortunate effect of shifting us from being in a state of awe and wonder into a static exchange which naturally impacts the quality of the relationship that can be experienced. And without even realizing it, there is no real knowing. There is rather a superficial or reductionist kind of knowing. There is no communion, no sensitivity, no spaciousness for a direct moving flow of intimacy between the two life energies. Whether we are speaking of the relationship between humans and the wild or between humans themselves, our hurried lives and schooled intelects cause us to lose sight of what is palpably right in front of us. We may have eyesight, we may have hearing and we may have knowledge but do we really and truly SEE and HEAR and KNOW?
“To love is to learn the language of that which you love” says Stephen Jenkinson. David Abram says, “All indigenous cultures the world over have had conversations with animals, trees, stones and winds.” He adds that the capacity to continue those conversations has been lost over time with the advent of reading and so he encourages us to look at how we might revive the oral tradition in spite of being literate. After having had a go at it myself, I can say that making such a leap doesn’t come easily and yet I noticed a distinct shift in how I felt the moment I fully surrendered to laying all knowing about anything aside as I walked softly with humility and childlike innocence into the woods. Allowing the boundaries to dissolve between my human self and all that surrounded me opened my eyes to a world that is vibrantly animate. I could viscerally feel myself as part of this earth and not apart from it. I am convinced after several repeated experiences that this is in fact our natural state of being and that our capacity to access this state is crucial if we are to bring ourselves into healthy relationship with the natural world and each other. We simply cannot live without the natural world nor can we live without each other. Whether I am communicating with the cedar or with my child or lover, am I not living in a world of divine mysteries of which all are part of?
Encounter with a stag:
When I saw you today,
your smooth muscular body,
your proud antlers crowning your handsome head,
your elegantly agile leap across the road showing me the way,
you were in that moment
a radiant arrow piercing my heart and I became your doe,
gently brushing my forehead against your warm strong neck.