Posts Tagged ‘cosmology’

Re-enchanting the World

October 19, 2013

I have a sad story to tell. It is the story of a woman who lived in a shoe. No, that’s a different story. This one is about a woman who lived on top of a sweet little mountain tucked into a great range of mountains in Western North Carolina, the oldest mountains in the world some say. With wildness, woods and big sky all around her, she breathed every day the immensity of her environment. The animated world of nature’s sound, light and color, of strong wind blowing through big trees, of owls, coyotes, bears and forest animals filled her days as she taught and wrote, dreamed and mused and enjoyed the company her tribe, the mountain people. When the woman conducted telephone sessions with those who called for her assistance with dreams and plumbing the depths of psyche, the massive trees outside her window spoke to her in oracular ways, communicating in astonishingly precise messages what the soul of the world had to say about the soul of these conversations. Wind, light and shadow shaped leaves and branches into faces and symbols that spoke deeply to the emotions and issues at play. She could read them as easily as some read their books.

This woman loved her mountain home, thinking to stay there to her dying day until one day she suddenly realized, like a lightning flash, that she had to move into town. The knowing struck so soundly that she could only move forward with it, could not look back. And so she did.

In town she was helped and guided with loving care by both visible and invisible allies as she faced the challenges of finding living spaces and work spaces, as she endeavored to build her new work along with networks of colleagues and friends. One day, quite magically, she found a new cottage home to buy in a forested neighborhood with nearly an acre of enchanted secret garden behind it. Birds and squirrels, wild turkeys and even bears came to call. She began to make plans for how to build little yurts or domes in precious woodsy spots around the magic garden, there to host dream groups and other activities in support of soul work and psyche. Her next planned project was to transform her cute little wood shed into a zendo where she can get away from phones, computers and electronics of any kind to just be in the woods alone with nature.

One fateful day last week, after being away at her downtown office from morning til night for several days running, the woman went out to her back garden to sit in the sun while she had her lunch. Looking up from her plate her eyes could barely register what greeted them. The forest on one whole side of her property had been clear-cut. It was gone. Disappeared. A cleared, devastated landscape now shown where the forest had been. Her secret garden was no longer secret – there is now no barrier between it and the barren land that stretches over to the brand spanking new three-story house that had been built on land that she thought was two lots over, but which now, excruciatingly, she realizes borders her land. She had been saddened at the new development as it did not seem consistent with the other houses and sensibilities in this forested place, but at least the trees and shrubs created a visual and sound barrier. No more. Now the formerly private life in her garden is but a view to cut down trees and a looming house. At night, what was previously dark forest now has three stories of light bouncing off the trees. And the woodsy spaces where she planned to place a yurt, a dome and her zendo might as well be in the middle of the street, it seems.

If someone had torn the side off the woman’s house it would be horrible, but at least she could call in a carpenter and have it put back up in short order. Not so with a forest that took decades to rise up into its lusty complexity and beauty.

A friend came over to take the woman out into nearby woods on a hike, hoping to help revive her spirit. Normally the rich enchantment of the wild world would soothe and refresh her immensely. But when she got to the forest she realized that something felt altered in her perception and it scared her. As she entered it seemed as if the enchanted world had faded like a dream from which she had been jolted awake. Now all she saw about her was wood, dirt, leaves, roots, rocks – all seeming like dead matter rather than living presences; she saw the forest as a simple commodity you can just cut down and not care. The woman thought, “Wow, this is how the world is actually experienced by some people. I never, ever saw it like this before!” As Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” She was suddenly seeing differently, or not seeing what had always been apparent to her before. She began to question her sanity; was this diminished reality the raw truth of things and previously she had lived in a fanciful delusion?

Her heart became sick. She couldn’t think or sleep or look out her window.

She hasn’t yet met the people who did the clear cutting. They will move in soon. These folks may be the sweetest people in the world, and her assumption is that of course they absolutely mean no harm to anyone at all; they are just building their own nest in the way that makes sense to them. But these new neighbors have left her with a task she never expected to be faced with – how to reclaim lost enchantment. The shock has done something to her she realizes, more than just the matter of planting new trees and boundaries. It switched off an internal energy current, and now she has to figure out what the experience wants from her, how to respond, how and even whether to locate the inner light box and turn the switch back on. She is bemused.

Ok, it is time for the author to change voice. I wrote the story in the third person because it is feels too painful to write in first person. And maybe because it would sound self-indulgent to say “me” and “I” throughout. Some have told me that I am over-reacting to this event and I accept that. But I want to write a short bit about my grief for the Earth that arises along with my own personal grief; maybe that is partly what makes it all so big for me.

Historian and philosopher Mircea Eliade elucidates the chasm between the sacred and the profane, explaining that in archaic societies the entire cosmos was experienced as sacred – rocks, trees, stones, stars – all manifestations of the sacred. He wrote that, “It should be said at once that the completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit.” Scientist Rupert Sheldrake uses the term “machine cosmology” to describe the worldview that has developed since the scientific revolution. The universe is now seen as a machine, soulless matter mechanized by mathematical urgencies. And we, as part of it, are such. Not sacred, not gods and goddesses, but matter made up of physiological urges. Rene Descartes was an original visionary of this movement.

In this cosmology, waters are not sacred, air is not sacred, you can pour poison into them and devastate whole ecosystems without it being a crime of any kind. It’s just a machine, no sin to dismantle it. I won’t go on and on. I have written a whole dissertation about this, and addressing the concern is central to my life’s work.

We do still have access to the original mind, what I call the indigenous mind, which experiences the world as ensouled, but the other mind that is aggressively instilled by modern culture and education threatens its extinction, at which point the possibility of human survival on the planet may be in question. I am seeing this recent event in my life as a kick in the derriere, possibly precisely intended to help me regain focus around these intentions and passions which have become diluted by efforts to simply survive my life. Must begin again, and anew.

I will close with this little story. Soon after moving to my new home, I re-upped efforts around an intention I have held since childhood; I want to be able to actually see fairies, gnomes, leprechauns, dwellers of that realm that I truly believe are real but which stand just outside most humans’ perceptual capability. I spent some weeks going into my secret garden at night to leave these beings some food and drink, having read that they love to be fed by us. It is said that the matter of the offering remains, but the fairies, leprechauns and such imbibe the essence of the food and are nourished. I love the idea, so began feeding them, hoping to introduce myself as the new resident here and let them know I care to be in relationship to them and hope to see them.

When the shock of the forest clearing hit last week, I worried at once about the fairies and leprechauns and how this might affect them. I understand that my confession may now convince the reader that yes, indeed, delusion is a problem here. It does occur to me as well. To that thought system however, I impart this story told to me by an Irish friend. Priests in Ireland became concerned with the common folks’ belief in fairies and felt it their duty to eradicate this nonsense from their minds. Maybe the fairy realm competed with the messages of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, not sure. A priest says to one of his parishioners, “Now Mary, you don’t believe in fairies anymore do you?” To which she replies, “Oh NO Father. I don’t believe in them anymore. No, not at all. But – they’re there!”

To this struggle between a sacred and profane cosmology that erupted in my own psyche recently, reviving my concern regarding the same struggle in the world psyche, I will say that I’m with Mary. When we happen to stand in the position of a desacralized cosmos, matter as machine, and poo-poo the idea that trees, stones, plants, stars are beings, we know we are just too smart and too sophisticated to believe in such spirits. Of course we don’t believe in them.

But they’re there.


Re-enchanting the World

November 28, 2010

Tonight as I have been busying myself with menial tasks, the deliriously wonderful movie Enchantment has been playing in the background. I noticed last night that it was playing and put it on my DVR to re-watch sometime.  It turned out to be an oracular voice tonight, as often happens when stories like this seemingly randomly enter my living room.

This movie is a story of innocence and belief in love vs. a world of bald reason and suspicion. The innocent characters in it have a seemingly silly and magical relationship with the non-human world of animals and spirits, and they (apparently ridiculously) believe in the power of love, and the ultimate power of “true love’s kiss.” The humor of the story involves their foolish appearance in the context of New York and its sophistication – the “real” world. This allows the viewer to have quite a few really good laughs. As the plot begins to shift, the wisdom in innocence becomes more apparent, and the worlds of “fantasy” and “reality” begin to bridge. This of course, as in all fairy tales, brings on the wrath of the evil witch who would kill any such integration and dangerous relationship building. But what do you think happens in this movie? Love prevails. It is the final truth!

Since Descartes, Newton and the Enlightenment we have located ourselves in a mechanized cosmology, perceiving the world as a soulless machine – unconscious matter with no spirit, intelligent life or language; a disenchanted universe. This has led us down a collective path of increasing despair, disorientation and isolation, observable absolutely everywhere. To walk through a forest and see it as dead matter that does not experience, sense and actively respond to us – and love us right back – is a tragic loss of sensibility. In our modern world those who talk to plants, trees and animals are seen as either delusional or magical, but not normal. They are, in the best-case scenario, the “innocents”, the non-sophisticated.

Now I think it falls to us, the disenchanted inheritors of these recently developed paradigms to wake up to our loss and delusion. In a re-enchanted cosmology those who don’t talk to animals, plants, trees, rivers, air, stars, sun, fire, light, darkness, wind and spirits are to be pitied because of their disability.

How do we re-enchant the world? BELIEVE in innocence. Bypass suspicion. Expect good. Open the heart. Love. Listen to the non-human world and let it love you back. All of this often sounds ungrounded and unrealistic. Reality as it has been developed in these last centuries might, however, eventually come to be seen as the wrong version of the story of who we are, an adolescent distortion, a hubris. Maturation might mean a reintegration of relationships within the whole family of creation. The delusion of human superiority, dominance and separation has led to pathological behaviors. I am thinking that it is possible for each of us, one-by-one, to soon return to our origins and indigenous minds, to recover a relationship to the daily, natural magic and miracles of an innocent, enchanted world. It takes intention. And smiling. And shaking off the old. And courage to be foolish. Joy. Wisdom. And most of all, love.

A New Cosmology

January 29, 2010

Last evening I had plans to listen to a teleseminar that a friend told me about. Brian Swimme would be giving a live lecture. He is a scientist and cosmologist whose work has inspired me for the better part of two decades, who I quoted almost as often as Carl Jung in my doctoral dissertation. All you have to do is register on a website, and they tell you how to phone in to hear their lectures and teleconferences. Cool. It was supposed to start at 8:30 EST. I got situated and ready to call, only to find out that the schedule had changed to start at 10:00. I didn’t think I would have brain power by then, so decided to wait to download the lecture from their site today; which I have done and can’t wait to listen.

So, what to do when I’m all geared up to hear Brian Swimme? I put on a recently received Netflix movie, Taking Woodstock, having no idea what to expect. To my delight and surprise I laughed out loud and cried the happy kind of tears all the way through it. Why did I not hear more about this movie when it came out? What makes Ang Lee Ang Lee? How can he be such an extraordinary filmmaker?  This movie is so great!  I highly recommend it; and will add that if you haven’t seen the original Woodstock documentary, see that first because Lee makes a lot of visual references to that film and it is a lot more fun if you know what he’s doing.

The delight continued as I realized that the universe was playing with me. I had been looking forward to hearing Brian Swimme’s recent thoughts about how to re-invent ourselves as humans, how to allow for an entirely new cosmological perspective to replace the dead, dying, crippling, destructive one we are living. He has a way of  bringing light into the darkness of our collective ignorance and inertia so we can see what went wrong and how to re-think such things as war, separateness, man against man, man against nature. I remember him saying once, “Something sinister happened to the human group.” He has an evolutionary perspective that is clear, helpful and inspiring.

However, this movie told a brilliant and amazingly similar story to what I was hoping to enjoy last night. It shows a miserable, rotting, impoverished, unhappy little community in New York unable to bring any spark of life back to its world when suddenly the Woodstock phenomenon blew through on very short notice. Three days of peace, love and music bringing with it an astoundingly new bright shiny cosmological perspective. It can happen that fast, and that thoroughly, my mind was saying. It can, it really can my mind was saying! Thinking about Brian Swimme set me up to see and appreciate this movie in a way I’m not sure I would have otherwise.

The universe is exploding with intelligence and possibilities. How can we imagine that we are stuck? We have to stop imagining such ridiculous things and re-imagine everything. We can, we can, we can. And we must. And we will. 

From Lewis Carroll: “`There is no use trying,’ said Alice; `one can’t believe impossible things.’ `I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. `When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'”