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Earth Day celebrates the earth and our relation to this wonderful place. But our society relates to our home the way a sociopath relates to others: only as a tool, and only valued when useful. Modern science is invoked to justify this amorality, as if that settles the issue. Most of us have forgotten how to see and how to feel the living earth.
I hope this post will show some of you who have not seen and felt the life pervading everything how to do so.
I can think of nothing better for Earth Day than to reconnect with our home.
If we think back on our own experience, we know that when we treat someone as an object, they are not likely to open up to us. If we treat someone as if they have nothing to teach us, most likely they won’t. And if they try, we’ll likely miss it.
We have grown up in a world that continually reinforces a sociopathic relationship towards the non-human world that is only grudgingly giving way to acceptance that at least some animals and birds have a good deal more going on inside them than was long thought among ‘experts.’
Living in such a society, how can we actually experience just how messed up this kind of attitude is? In 2007 I published a piece on how to do this an earlier incarnation of this blog, and I want to return to the topic, now that I have a lot more readers. What I will relate will not work for every one, but from my experience it will work for a lot, especially younger people and others whose minds have not gotten so deeply stuck in ruts.
Shamanic and other spiritual traditions across the world have held subtle energies exist that modern science cannot pick up on their instruments, but that have important impacts on our lives. Not surprisingly, modern secularists disparage these claims because they have never experienced them. One of the best correctives is to teach people how to see these energies, or at least the most easily visible of them. Once a person learns how to see them, if they choose, a whole new world begins to open up.
As it did for me.
The following exercise will show many who try that an object is in fact more than an object. (I obviously cannot guarantee everyone will see these energies, but in my experience, when I teach others, most do. Reading an account is not as good as learning directly from another, but it can work for many. It was how I first began to learn, about 40 years ago.)
Hold your hand and fingers in front of you. Spread your fingers. Keep them in focus, but do not stare at them. Open your hand as flat as comfortably possible. While holding your hand with fingers spread, focus on the plane along which your fingers lie, but not on your fingers separate from that plane. Your hand will be in focus but you will not be attending to any particular part of it. I call it “permissive viewing.”
As passively as possible and with minimal expectations, allow your gaze to notice the largest triangle of space between your opened fingers. Move your hand slowly and smoothly back and forth along the plane it lies on while keeping that plane in focus. The reason for doing this is to help reduce as much as possible any attention you might pay to the background, what is behind your hand. It is your fingers and especially the space between your fingers that you need to keep in focus. It is also helpful to do this exercise with your hand neither in bright light nor in deep shade, although light is more disruptive to what I will teach you to see than is shade because the effect is subtle and strong light can distract us.
Now, “notice” the space extending out from your fingers about 1/8″ to ¼”, outlining them like a glove. This is the ‘densest’ part of a field that actually extends much farther.
Is the texture of this space any different from the space beyond it? It might seem like a mini heat wave. Perhaps it possesses a faint outer boundary. If so, notice whether the boundary is lighter or darker than the space closer to your fingers. Does it have a color? For most of you, especially initially, this effect will be very subtle, but in my experience most people, particularly young people, learn to see this field fairly quickly.
If you can see this field, commonly called the “etheric film” in some metaphysical writing, I recommend practicing until it is relatively easy to see. Some people have seen it all their lives, but either ignored it or chosen not to talk about it. Others can see it relatively easily. Some, however, seem unable to see it. While I hope you are not one of them, there are other ways to perceive this field, usually by touch. But here I will focus only on sight.
Once you are able to see this field there are many things you can do to explore its significance. Here I will explore its implications for our experience of nature.
Go outside and look at some trees. The best for your initial experience are large trees with prominent trunks and relatively few branches for at least five to six feet. Longer trunks are better than shorter ones. This exercise is particularly easy to do in the winter because there are fewer distractions, especially if there is snow on the ground.
Look at the tree trunk the same way you looked at your hand. This is often easier if you are walking slowly on a sidewalk (so you can take your path for granted) and the tree is far enough from you so as not to seem to be moving very much, but nevertheless is moving vis-à-vis its background. That way you can “notice” the plane the trunk lies on, particularly the space to either side of the trunk, without being distracted by the background. Just like when I asked you to move your hand slowly so as to help disconnect from the background.
Notice how the field surrounding the trunk is to some degree similar to what you saw around your hand, but also is different. In my experience it differs most noticeably in being thicker than what surrounds the hand. If other trunks are farther away, notice how the fields around them are smaller, as befits looking at something farther away. This offers strong evidence what you are seeing is not simply a trick of your vision.
Once you are able to see these fields around trees, look at other things. Those things with visually well-defined physical boundaries are the easiest. Even a lamp pole has a field, although one considerably smaller in my experience than that surrounding an equivalently thick tree. Here is still more evidence what you are seeing is not simply an aspect of our visual process.
For many people, with practice and for some simply because of the blessings of talent, you will be able to see these fields extending far beyond these initial boundaries, but with gradually increasing subtlety until they appear to fade away or enter into the general background network of fields within which we all live.
These fields suggest several very important insights. First, we are continually immersed within and interpenetrate these fields. Others interpenetrate with us. We are not radically distinct from one another. Whatever it is that makes us “us,” to some degree at least it extends beyond our physical bodies, and when it does it enters into similar fields generated by others and extending beyond their physical bodies. It is only at the most physical level in the common sense meaning of the word that we become relatively impenetrable, although of course even our physical body is always constantly taking some of its physical surroundings into it, as when we breathe.
Second, if you experiment with a partner, as I hope you will, you will discover you can often feel when denser and closer to the body parts of your respective fields come into contact with one another. Our senses extend into what is called our subtle body. They are more than simple dimensions of our physical body. Because we can feel these interpenetrations when we closely attend to them, it is no stretch to say we are always being impacted by them, even when we are not paying attention.
Third, recent research indicates that living in more complex natural environments has measurably better mental health impacts than being in simpler ones, and that both are superior to being surrounded by concrete and traffic. For example, see a report on better mental health with biodiversity, And check out the citations here.
Perhaps this is the reason why. In the natural world you are immersed in a energetically richer environment than in artificially simplified environments. Gary Snyder wrote that the spirit of place is the combination of the energy fields of everything in that place. We evolved in these fields, and our DNA carries a probably awareness of them over a billion years of development.
Of course we can choose not deaden our awareness, and with respect to these fields the modern Western world does an excellent job in doing so. But deadening awareness of other senses is certainly a loss, and so is this. In fact, I suspect we pay a high price for our lack of awareness of this sensory information.
As does the sociopath.