“We have lost the response of the heart to what is presented to the senses. ”
– James Hillman
German writer and poet Gottfried Benn lamented that “…reality is simply raw material, but its metaphysical background remains forever obscured.” 1 As a result, we now struggle with an almost species-wide disconnection from any sense and experience of universal unity.
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The challenge to meditation is interference from the unwanted, spontaneous, and repetitive intrusion of thoughts and sensory input. It’s easier to meditate in a meadow than in a subway station.
Sensory overload is a chronic disease of civilization, routinely over running our fleeting glimpses and tastes of the metaphysical background of the moment. If aiming to grow up (in order to become a responsible contributor to society) has produced this vacuum that smothers intuition in favor of production, and we begin to consciously acknowledge that failure, perhaps its time now to grow “out,” straight into the heart of that Great Distraction itself. What might happen if we did?
Since the term “noble savage” first appeared, some time around the 16th Century when applied to the Iroquois and neighboring tribes of the day, we’ve anchored “natural” to “ignorant” (adding “noble” on generous occasions). Indigenous sensitivity to and understanding of Mother Nature and her ways was and has continued to be regarded as primitive and obviously inferior to pure (heady) scientific research and reductive reasoning. If growing in to the invisible (studying the microcosm) has blinded us to the obvious visible, here we have a second reason to grow out, to embrace sensory input and to learn from it.
At least, to learn to feel that we truly belong in this world.
The sad alternative, which most of us inhabit, is a shadow world of our own making comprised of beliefs and behaviors and sustained by irrational, emotional convictions. Gone the meadow, gone the flowers. We may diligently green our mechanical environments with potted plants but they remain sterile. Observed-but-unfelt nature nourishes nothing.
Growing out into the sensory world, deliberately embracing same as a valid path of enlightenment, heads us into the woods, literally and figuratively, and there be dragons there - unknown creatures with no reason to spare us should we venture near. However, that sounds less like a threat than a dramatic description of what we already encounter in the daily forests of our cities and offices. The monsters we know tend to behave themselves better (for awhile anyway) than the monsters we don’t know and so we willingly trade risky adventure for the intimated security of plastic. “Stay between the lines, move along, nothing to see here.”
“As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light. Was this something I had simply failed to notice before? Was I suddenly discovering the spring forest as it actually looked? It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness, and blissful security.”2
This description is from researcher Albert Hoffman. Note how he describes his nature encounter, how closely it resembles a satisfying meditation. But he experienced this expansion of felt awareness and unifying experience, not through going within but by growing out into the world. Of course, he’s in good and broad company, including us. We’ve all gone there. And let’s admit it, we’d like to return, to live in that feeling, if only we could do it without nature! That would be so much more convenient; we could schedule that in to our modern lives so it didn’t interfere with our spiritual practice.
As far as crafting a fulfilling, sustainable life experience, complete with peace and compassion, etc., without needing to deeply connect with both God and nature, humanity should get an A for effort. Except, “effort” begins with “e”, that lost grade between D and F, accurately naming our position on the razor’s edge of the ultimate human failure, ie, getting an Eviction notice from our landlord.
Does the urgency of today suggest it might be time to finally learn something about the metaphysical background of the moments? It turns out, we don’t need super powers to penetrate this mystery. We can just feel, and we all know how to feel. It’s an automatic response and we do it all day long, unconsciously employing our senses to assess what’s going on and anticipate what might happen next. Place of residence: a vortex of expanding and contracting awareness. Opportunity: to choose the size of our worlds – large with uncharted seas or small with tethered boats. Pay-off: synchronization in life, the experience of oneness.
Einstein advised that we won’t solve our problems through the same way of thinking that created them. What unlikely solutions might arise if we resurrected our hearts response to what is presented by our senses? We might think (and feel… that’s the point) differently. We might notice our neighbors and be known by them again. We might become friends, again, all of us, all billions of species of us, and you know how we usually treat our friends…
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1 - Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal World, Stephen Harrod Buhner, page 18
2. Ibid, page 17-18.