Tag Archive | nature

Collective Effervescence

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.”

IMG_3417Granted, 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. Leasburg, MO

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.

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Between

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.

IMG_0394Inside 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.

 

A Simple Spirit

CupHoldingWorld

artist unknown

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.

Breakfast Bar 051617

Tending Tilted Woods

Tilted North Woods

Our woods grow on a steep hillside in The Ozarks. This north-of-the-house view of the hill is far less sharp than the south side where the angle is precipitous. I adore that the landscape is tilted rather than level, a curious mirror of my own off-kilter nature. Spirit is tangible here; the Divine is present.

Only a professional forester or extremely knowledgable lay person could determine how much of our woods are of original diversity though the likelihood is doubtful considering the thousands of years of habitation by indigenous humans (many of whom, we now know, did clear and burn forests to allow for greater ease in hunting and limited agriculture) and later by European colonizers.

For us, as new stewards to this special place, we hope to continue encouraging natural growth without imposing a manicured specter. After all, as Eliot Cowan says: “The most striking thing about this relationship [to plants and trees] is that we need them, but they don’t need us. We humans are utterly dependent on plants … In contrast, plant communities do just fine without people.” Where’s our gratitude?!

We have only to look at what humans have done to other landscapes to realize the lunacy of our arrogance. For instance, Great Britain has no natural forests left, although the extensive peat bogs are a testimony to previous vastness of woods; after human destruction, people learned how to coppice and pollard, in order to use wood but also steward the fragile stands of trees that were left. Sara Maitland writes of her journeys into the forests of Great Britain in From the Forest. Many woodland places in Europe met the same fate. Many islands — like Crete, for instance — were deforested by humans and their recovery has been difficult.

Here, in our wooded sanctuary, I often feel euphoric when breathing in the oxygen from the trees and plants, when gazing upon the lush green foliage, when listening to the wind rushing through the swaying canopies. Many people have lost this connection with and appreciation for nature and especially its wildness.

In Plant Spirit Medicine, Cowan writes:

“All things enjoy ecstatic union with nature. Life without ecstasy is not true life and not worth living. Without ecstasy, the soul becomes shriveled and perverted, the mind becomes corrupt, and the body suffers pain. … And to think that plants are mere dumb creatures that do not know ecstasy is ignorance or tragic, arrogant folly.”

I want ecstasy! Don’t you?

Voices Call Me

Wildflower Ohio Spiderwort or Cornflower

Ohio Spiderwort

Sometimes I hear voices.

Sometimes these are

Earth voices crying

in pain, fear, grief.

Misunderstood,

the wild beings —

plants, animals,

minerals more —

scream in my head.

A few weeks ago, anger overwhelmed me when I heard the voices.

We had moved to the country, into the woods, so that we could encourage and, as necessary, cultivate a wild landscape around our home. For me it was about protecting and manifesting the gorgeous wildness of nature; for my husband it was to be significantly less maintenance (ultimately, we were planning for a landscape free from the need to use a lawnmower). For both of us, we desired quiet and solitude.

Then, my neighbor began “mowing the woods” across the road from our house (a swath a couple feet wide; the property was owned by a large farm, so neither mine or my neighbor’s), a place where wildflowers like Sweet William and Ohio Spiderwort and others show up unexpectedly … and delightfully. Not only was the mowing disruptive to the day, but I swear I could hear the voices of the wildflowers and other plants screaming their objections in death and dismemberment. I decided to protest his invasion of that particular space. He immediately became furious with me and the end of the conversation wasn’t pleasant.

This experience reminded me of a similar one in Maine where I was unable to protect the wild landscape. Our house there abutted a main roadway and, one summer, the county decided to widen the road. They cut down many large, old pine trees and destroyed a corner where we had lovingly planted a pretty Rhododendron, a gift from my father during an earlier visit. As they were cut down in their prime, I could hear in my head the pine trees shrieking.

I heard their voices, the lamenting and dying. But it wasn’t just this, I realize. After all, trees are cut for lumber and paper, plants are cut for food, etc.; the natural cycles of our world revolve around life, death, and rebirth. I give thanks each day for their gifts and honor their sacrifices. Here, it was the sheer lack of necessity, from my perspective, regarding what was being done that was so abhorrent. There was an added arrogant lack of respect for life and beauty within a wild landscape that I had chosen to protect and advocate for.

The mowing was simply because my neighbor didn’t like the looks of the wildness that edged our narrow, single-lane private road; it was partly this messy verdant landscape that had attracted us to this place. The widening of the road in Maine was simply to expand the shoulders; I’ve no idea why since it was a rural road used only by locals and in ten years never saw an accident.

In these two incidences, it was as if I felt the assault along with the trees, plants, and wildflowers. Maybe that’s why I heard the voices in my head. (I also acknowledge my own ego involvement, in that the mowing was an intrusion into what I considered my own personal space.)

Many botanical studies are confirming what indigenous populations have always known: that plants are sentient, they feel pain and pleasure, they consciously share resources. Plants may move and live in slow time, in deep time, but they are aware of life and death.

At times like these, I keep simple ceremonies.

May the spirits of the wildflowers and the other wild plants know that their seeds are welcome to settle in our yard. If I should ever need or desire to cull them, respect and gratitude will be extended to them.

Mother Nature

Mother’s Day weekend was spent enjoying Mother Nature.

Seeds for wildflowers were scattered, Black-eyed Susan seeds were planted.

A tiny garden laid out, with hopes pinned on cucumber and zucchini seeds.

Sacrifice waTurtle Tortoise in the Grass 051517s made in the form of a tall tree whose trunk was damaging our roof.

Birds sang and flew around inspiring bright delight.

Leaves and grasses danced in the wind, dappling ground and deck with light and shadow.

Gutters relieved of decaying debris, releasing runnels of brown water down the spouts.

And this morning, a box turtle greeted me as I made my way to my Grounding Tree.

 

A Conscious Land

I go out in the morning and stand barefoot on the rocky earth, place my palms upon a massive tree trunk, close my eyes, and breathe in the essence of the land. In exchange, I feel the breath of the land touching my skin with molecules of leaves its passed through, whispering in my ears of its travels near and far, dancing into my nasal cavities the scents of distant memories. The rough bark of the aged tree is like an old farmer’s hands, having toiled and stood firm through the cycles of life, nearing the end of its own but yearning to share its wisdom if only someone would listen.

My family has lived in the Missouri Ozarks for over 150 years, not in this exact location where I am now, but an hour or so further north on flatter land. I’ve been gone from this landscape for more than 40 years, only recently returned. Most of my ancestors arrived from every early colony up and down the eastern seaboard, and traveled across a wide swath of the eastern United States; we also have drops of indigenous blood, married into along the way. So, while I have often felt strong links to various landscapes in my country, connections that go beyond “an aesthetic appreciation” (despite American Indian scholar Vine Deloria arguing against this ability in non-Indians to have a spiritual resonance with this land), I am enjoying the ease with which I am becoming reacquainted with the Ozarks and her unique landscape, and I have no doubt that my ancestors’ spirits are assisting me in this journey.IMG_0357

Some of these ancestors came from Ireland, Scotland, and even Wales; places where their own roots had become inseparable from those of the land and I can imagine the pain they must have felt in being “exiled” (as the Irish say about those who for economic or other reasons felt forced to leave their homeland in order to survive), their roots to the land cut after hundreds, even thousands of years. The writer Patricia Monaghan says, in her book The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit, that, there in the Ireland of her roots, “human consciousness has met the land’s consciousness,” and this is my own current path of American exploration. Not just to know the landscape as, for instance, this is a Black Oak, and this is a wild Grape Vine; or that some plants here are new arrivals and non-natives, while others are ancient offspring. Rather, how all sink their roots into the same soil to be nurtured. As do I, seeking to to know the land as part of my blood and bones and soul.

These “mystic encounters with the land” are difficult to describe; Monaghan says that she has “heard elusive inaudible music singing forth from land that is wild but nevertheless deeply known by humanity” and I know what she means. What might be our inaudible conversation with the conscious land? How might our healing be mutual?