Nature and the Body

April 4, 2016

DSC_2341 (2)It has long been understood that the natural world, connection with wild spaces and engagement with what lives and grows in the soil beneath our feet, is good for the human soul. Much has been written about how such activity can alleviate and re-balance the stressful impacts of modern living; can penetrate through the depression and anxiety that has almost become endemic in societies built on the expectations of a capitalist framework.

All of this fits with Western psychology, including the multi-layered ways that eastern spirituality have been integrated into its model; to understand and rebalance the workings of the mind, so that the body can continue to function in the ways that are expected, and accepted as normal and, therefore, productive. There is a science to this. For the framework we are living in, it is useful, essential even. And thanks be for those who pedal its machine where for millions a better life becomes possible.

However, for the artist-mystic mentality, we know this science to be necessarily limited. And a new type of thinking emerges from the questions the unconscious edges of the body, and the wild spaces towards which we are drawn, literally and metaphorically, are asking. These are the questions of the poet, where fixing or normalising the mind according to cultural requirements is no longer paramount. What is being called upon here is an entry point, where the nature of the wild can actually be given space, time, permission, to re-shape the nature of the mind and how we understand the body; ie what it is to be human.

Look at these words from the poet Rilke:

I would describe myself

like a landscape I’ve studied

at length, in detail;

like a word I’m coming to understand;

like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;

like my mother’s face;

like a ship that carried me

when the waters raged.

From Love Poems to God – translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

DSC_2338 (2)

The poem points towards a contemplation of nature that has little or nothing to do with how useful it might be for our psychology or physical wellbeing. It illuminates something more like an embodiment of what we are encountering, an invasion of nature into our very sinews, therefore changing dramatically the way we see ourselves. A solitude and radical change of perspective.

The poem begins:

I’m too alone in the world, yet not alone enough

to make each hour holy.

I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough

to be simply in your presence, like a thing –

just as it is.

DSC_2343 (2)In this territory of awakening, we no longer lean solely on scientific evidence, but on the truths hidden in metaphor, or, in the words of a ancient mystic of the desert fathers, the Cloud of Unknowing. In other words, this is a movement of descent, an unlearning of the ego, which in time meets us in the earth’s, or the divine’s own knowledge of itself. This knowledge rises up to meet us; our own descent and unlearning is received by the nature of everything that is connected to life, and sends back a force towards us, one that reveals our true self and supports us beyond our own efforts, imagination and methods of control. Here an image is mirrored back to us that we may not at first recognise, but it becomes the skin through which we journey forward to touch the world and the people around us.

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