Stalking beneath the rain clouds along a level ridge traverse between Mt. Jinba and Mt. Takao, June, 2004.
I’ve been finding it difficult to charge myself up to write in the blog lately. Even viewing other blogs has been difficult. More and more I’ve been getting the feeling that the unreality of the computer screen and the ethereal voices of people I almost never see, let alone share more than fleeting words with, seems uncannily like what happens to you when you end up pacing your living room, mumbling to yourself. I keep staring out of the window and watching the wind stir the trees, each touching the other, a completion of purpose and presence. The blog world and the whole internet phenomenon comes across more as intention than as act. And lately I’ve been feeling more of a powerful need to interact.
Reading David James Duncan’s My Story As Told By Water shook awake a lot of slumbering convictions that living in the city, away from the opera of live things that make up natural biomes, has of necessity switched off. There is so much to take in and ponder in Duncan’s words that it is difficult to summarize the story that is speaking itself into my daily thoughts lately.
In my last post I spoke of rediscovering the rhapsody that wrapped my world when I was younger. I wondered how to go about doing so without losing sight of what the outcome was meant to grow into. Just stepping outside and expecting the elements of the outdoors to immediately imbibe meaning into my soul ignored all the causes of my initial retreat, like the over prevalence of human settlements and people, the destruction of live things and habitats that I love, the apathy, even despite, of people toward the very world that keeps them alive. Looking out my window I recognized that I could view everything I see out there as simply items in a scene, items to be bought and sold, cut without regard for the gifts of life they might carry, and thus lose the very essence of human imagination and the explanation for our own existence in this world.
Or I could relearn to imbue meaning in all that I see.
Duncan discusses ways in which we can find effectiveness in our desire to protect the natural world. He points out that our modern world has neutered the ages old inclination to view the world through spiritual vocabulary, instead giving complete legitimacy to the concept of commodity and ownership. By seeing the whole world in such a narrow and selfish light we effectively starve the kernel of consciousness and dialogue that watches from within each of our shells, a consciousness that speaks in constant dialogue with the surrounding world we live in, and, by use of our imaginations, allows us to create an identity that either expands or limits our understanding and sense of meaning within the physical world.
I would go on to say that much of the western world’s loss of spiritual connection to the natural world, often spoken of as the western world’s “duality”, stems in great part from the Judeo-Christian-Moslem insistence upon a separate, disembodied entity that rules the world. I wonder if it is this displacement of our imaginations and intimate identifying with our surrounding world, by shunting the whole personality of the natural world onto some abstract construct called “God”, thus disembodying the spiritual richness of the world around us, that allows us to view other living creatures, including ourselves, as mere shells without inner resources or value.
I believe what this has done is relieved us of responsibility for the world, that destroying everything can now be regarded as simply a rearrangement of blocks. With “God” up in the heavens now, out of reach and thus free from our sense of guilt, wanton destruction and irresponsibility could be engaged in without remorse or culpability. It may also explain why so much of the world’s worst wars so often take place in monotheist cultures, and why so many cultures that seemed more or less stable with their earlier polytheist outlook now face complete meltdown with the introduction of western values. So much of Japan’s destruction of its natural beauty occurred as the Japanese reverence for its anima (kami), with its belief in or respect for the deities that populate every single aspect of the Japanese world, gradually eroded in favor of a culture dominated by materialistic acquisition. The evidence is physically visible. The few places where the deities are still influential enough to command respect, such as in shrines or locations recognized as holy to bodhisattvas, old trees and biologically diverse habitats often remain intact, often right in the middle of densely populated, biologically dead locales.
So I’ve been taking my experiment a step further: learning how to bring home the gods. People talk of seeking something to believe in, and yet the answers are all there, all around us. The Earth is right at our fingertips. It is important to return again and again to our ur-cosmology, being able to fundamentally comprehend the Earth as HOLY, to remember where religion first stemmed from and why we carry a need to instill the holy in our lives. The Earth is holy. Sacred. All of it. Every single thing we see and cannot see. All the live things. All of the less living things. All of our brothers and sisters. Gods, in all of us, in all things.
To rediscover this sense of connection with the world is easier than one might imagine. You can do it anywhere, any time. Just open your eyes, look around you, and try to feel what is around you. If you open up your heart and allow what you might normally think of as “inanimate” (notice the insistence of not having spirit that our language has instilled in us… a vocabulary that does not exist in most Asian languages) to generate a kind of presence, strangely it immediately comes alive and occupies a undeniable place in your sense of the whole. If you take a step further and inject the idea of a deity into that object, suddenly it is more than just an item; it is alive, and has a name. The more “items” you inject with spirit the richer the world around you grows, and the more imbued with meaning it all grows into. The world suddenly blossoms with presences, with a great richness of meaning in which you no longer feel alone… as Duncan calls “the sphere of eyes”.
Imagine what the world must have seemed like to those first people who have always lived within a country of spirits great and small. No matter where the eye alighted all was holy and sacred. And humans could move within this sphere confident of their own value within the cosmos. What a wonderful LIVING world it must have been! And yet there is no reason we cannot see the world the same way.
And this is what the early monotheistic leaders must have feared and why they insisted on destroying the “idols”. You cannot take control if your spiritual construct has no authority over people’s imaginations.
Last Sunday I stepped out into the monsoon rain and walked the slopes of Mt. Jinba in the pouring rain. Not another human soul in sight, the trails sluicing with mud, and the rain clouds obscuring any views of the surrounding forests. But I didn’t feel alone. As long as I kept myself warm and well-fed, I walked the solitary paths with a sense of walking with other beings. It was the beginning of reawakening to the real world.