As we settle into autumn and head into winter, I’ve generally found myself drawn into reflection about dying, whether in the form of loss of a lifestyle or people. How could I not when the seasons are revealing this process all around me? This beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer is one of my seasonal favorites; she sings how “leaves don’t drop, they just let go, and make a space for seeds to grow”:
In her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown provides early on reminders of some of the key tenets from her previous books and provides her own definition of spirituality:
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” (P. 34)
Later, while Brown was writing about collective connection among people (and how to bring it more consciously, fully into our lives), I kept thinking as I read, but wait, what about the rest of the world in which humans are only one piece? And then she came to it: “collective effervescence.” (P. 130) Brown is still referring to human connection but, realizing that my connection is more often found among the more-than-human world of mountains, forests, and caves, of animals and the elements, this term she shares resonates deeply with me. It brings to the forefront my own way of connecting. Brown writes:
“Durkheim [who introduced this term in his 1912 book on religion] explained that collective effervescence is an experience of connection, communal emotion, and a ‘sensation of sacredness’ that happens when we are a part of something bigger than us.”
Granted, Brown and Durkheim are both referring to human gatherings around human constructs, but, for me, I was immediately lifted into those times when I was in nature, when awe propelled me out of myself. For instance, when I was at the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado; people were milling around yet we all seemed enraptured by the majesty of the mountain top and the panoramic views. That was collective effervescence. Another time, I was on a tour deep in the Onondaga Cave and breathless silence permeated the cavern periodically as we observed the splendor within the “wilderness underground.” That was collective effervescence. I’ve experienced this nature-inspired awe and effervescence on my own more times than I can count, but Brown’s work reminded me that I can feel it in company with strangers and groups sometimes as well.
Perhaps this connection via nature (rather than human construct) happens more often for me because of my intense tendency toward introversion, a quality that means I seldom gather in large groups of social intention (like concerts, plays, sports, even movie theaters). But I will brave crowds in order to experience the divine magic of Nature, of Gaia’s beyond-human creation, wherein we are simply one species — a part of a greater whole.
Love simply “is.” It is bigger than all of us because Love is Divine. Our human tendency, however, seems to be to rate it or quantify it or make it fit into one of our myriad boxes that make living both easier and more difficult for us.
How often have we been told “you don’t love me enough” or “you don’t love me as much as I do you” or variations on that theme? This makes no sense to me because Love is not human — Love is Divine. Love surrounds and permeates all life and shows up in infinite variety.
That’s not to say that we don’t have varying levels of attachment to people, animals, places, things, and even belief systems, but that isn’t Love — that’s a human construct aligned with personality.
Perhaps if we were less concerned with making Love a competition, we would experience its expansiveness, its all-inclusiveness?
This — Encounters: Intimate Conversations on Belonging, with Toko-Pa — is a lovely FREE gift of audio recordings; the first two have been released and they are absolutely wonderful — soothing, evocative, and inspiring.
Toko-Pa is offering this series of conversations in the context of pre-release of her book Belonging (that I’m looking forward to reading, since I’ve been nourished by her blog for a long while).
With this spiritual and psychological inner work of “belonging” in mind, I’m also reminded of the phenomenal audio collection Longing and Belonging presented by the incomparable John O’Donohue, who was a curator of Celtic Christianity through poetry and philosophy. I’ve listened to this 33-hour collection at least four times, and turn to it often as uplifting material.
Living in between…
Between shallow river below and broad field above, this relatively narrow area of tilted woods is the space between sweep of water and wind.
Between … in the solitary space of trees and rocky soil and birds scattered with tucked wings among leaves and limbs.
Between worlds of wet and dry, opened wide, here in shelter am I; quiet surrounds with only occasional interruption of those passing by.
Inside the space between is my world. Between. Liminal. Threshold. Bridge. Allure in every landscape, whether river or field or woods.
I am the Between, the not-quite-there presence that fits into threshold. Yet “fit” isn’t accurate because liminal space is a transitional expression of stillness and movement, the dynamic dance of deep change and eternal mystical equilibrium without stasis of form.
Between is where everything touches, for here is no time and everything that has happened, will happen, or is present, is making up its mind. Between the balance, inside that space, is where I am … witnessing.
“We feel the touch of life, of a nonhuman awareness, upon us. But more … we experience something unique to most humans in the West. An intelligence, just as subtle and sophisticated as our own, but very nonhuman, reaches out and communicates with us. …
For some people, this touch of communication and intelligence from the wildness of the nonhuman world marks a phase change in their life. They abandon the human world as the fundamental point of reference and begin to cultivate the experience of aisthesis.”
What Stephen Harrod Buhner describes above (in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm) mirrors my own “phase changes” along sacred pivotal points on the Gaia Path.
For more than twenty years, I’ve enjoyed the gifts of a simple, natural spirituality. My conscious awareness of Spirit within every thing I see and experience waxes and wanes through the times of my life, sometimes emerging in complex ritual, yet remains present and innate.
Our entire Earth is here in the simple cup of chai I make in the morning, and I give thanks to the Infinite, the Great Spirit in all Her mystery, while also giving thanks to each individual Spirit that has become manifest in form. The water from our well, unique to this place and the aquifer below, provides the carrier for each spice; I give thanks to the Spirit of Water. As I grind the fennel in mortar and pestle, I give thanks to Spirit of Fennel; each additional spice is given the same gratitude. I give thanks for the long journey they’ve endured to reach me, and for the people who have grown and harvested and been part of the process that is their physical journey. I give thanks for my senses that allow me to delight in this tea.
I have a deep appreciation for each food that nourishes my body, mind and soul, ingesting their subtle energy qualities as well as their obvious physical ones.
And, as I gaze out at the woods, the grasses and plants and trees, giving thanks for them and feeling myself soften in their surrounding embrace, I sense them watching me, too.