Exploring animism, embodiment, deep ecology, vulnerability, and imagination . . .
Re-membering Animism: reflections on Dark Ecology short course at Schumacher College with David Abram and Stephan Harding
On the train leaving Schumacher after the workshop, all of the fragmented narratives I have absorbed begin to weave themselves together in my imagination.
All of my moments of being on the peripheries.. Of being drawn to the edges of worlds... the inside parts, the secrets... the pasts of places, the memories... I'm starting now to get a sense that maybe this longing has a name and a shape.
Our group goes into the forest to explore texture, how when we touch the bark of a tree, the tree is also touching us. We witness each gesture of the tree as a language directed to us. We embrace the feeling that when you are looking at something, that something is looking back at you. Standing in the middle of this forest, surrounded on all sides by trees, I feel the same kind of witnessing as standing in front of an audience. A witnessing making you feel very small and very big at the same time, holding you completely in a state of presence.
But later, as the class sits on the ground of the forest to share our experiences, the strangest thing happens—the minute we start talking, a room-sized bubble descends over our heads and we retreat into a hall of linguistic mirrors. As we talked about our experience, the trees surrounding us no longer exist as beings. We described an encounter we just had with this living being standing a foot away from us, talking "about" the tree without acknowledging that it was listening.
How would the conversation have shifted if we spoke not only to ourselves, but to the trees?
“It is not those who speak well who are going to change the world, but those who speak differently.”
The train moves me. It moves me both from place to place and also in situ, playing with my gravity as it rocks me. Deprived of the comforting arms of infancy, how many of us turn to trains, boats, and automobiles to recreate the sense of being held in the arms of something bigger than ourselves? Could the draw of travel be not the destination, but the embrace?
I need to learn more about the matter in things. Stephan's animist story of his car: the rubber from the sap of trees in the amazon rainforest, the metal from primordial rocks... What are the biographies of the materials that hold our world together and make it possible? These beings have long memories.
With modern architecture, there is a discontentment in current form manifested in the unease one feels when looking at uniform houses or stern, upright buildings. They have been built to resist change, to not weather. They have no beauty in them. In contrast, the older buildings of this land, with their worn surfaces and moss covered roofs continue to grow and change... even the rust speaks of a world more alive than our incommunicative concrete and mass produced bricks.
“The craft of an artist is to keep the being-ness of a thing alive even when we shift its form or refine its material composition.”
I give the little boy a paper crane. He looks at it in fascination. Holds it against the surface of the fold down table top. Pushes it through the hole on the table and drops it on the floor. What does the gift of the crane, the intensity of that child's eyes--not asking for anything, just witnessing--have to do with my embodied immersion in a confluence of undergrowth, trees soaring up on the wings of leaves? When I next look up, the family across the aisle is gone. I hope the crane has gone with them. The heart of the train beats up into my legs, trees rear their heads to listen as we pass.
Why does a tree trunk cut by a saw look like an amputation while a tree that has fallen on its own continue to live, whole even as it decomposes into the soil? We've taken away the personalities of things. What some might call the souls. The things in our world are no longer allowed to feel.
“What if we reversed all verbs so that things we encounter are acting on us instead of being acted upon?”
Stephan talks about the mitochondria that come only from one's mother—when we lie in bed at night and grow warm under the covers, that is our mother's warmth... a warming embrace of molecules.
Coming to London isn’t a separation, it is just a displacement. Suddenly, people are uncomfortable with the reciprocal. “You're not supposed to look at me and I'm not supposed to look at you.” Partly etiquette, partly fear, but I get the feeling it's less selfishness and more indoctrination. If I look at you, it won't be ok with you--it might disconcert you, you might think that I'm not "normal,” you might be afraid that I'll hurt you. Our eyes can meet for a second, but then I have to look away. We're not allowed to watch each other, to witness. And yet there is such a longing to connect--surreptitiously, we gather a picture of the other in momentary glimpses, prepared to flick our eyes back to the ground.
David says that if you are called "overly sensitive" by our culture, what it really means is that other people percolate through you. Others slide right into your own organism. And so, like a shaman, you gradually gravitate to the edge of the community where you can breathe. You tend the boundary between the human world and the more than human world, keeping the boundary porous.
“Our alienation from the more-than-human world has cut us off from our ability to connect.”
I hold onto the metal pole to steady myself. Above and below my hand, other fingers blossom over the cool yellow metal. A beautiful young man with music in his ears, taps his thumb against the tube, pattering a rhythm into the metal. Two hands down from his tapping thumb, my palm perceives his rhythm through this conduit. The metal conducts his rhythm in vibrations like bone conducts the song of his headphones into his ears. Perhaps this insistent tapping is a message for me to decode. An intimate, mute language of vibration passed between strangers. Below my feet, the train joins in the exchange of messages, forceful vibrations rising up through the floor.
Why was I so bothered by reading in the Alexander technique book about all the children who undergo a drastic shifts in physicality—slouching and accumulating tension—between the ages of five and seven? We take away their presence through forced time sitting at desks and their bodies respond by shrinking in on themselves—their world closing in around them, cutting them off from the wilderness.
“Imagination is not an escape, it is an ability to connect again.”
David speaks of the etymology of the word truth... it comes from the same root as "druid," which is an old word for tree. So each of us grows up in the truth of our own tree, but we all share the same soil. Our roots intertwine underground.
I stand silent, looking across the boundary between tree cultures. The pine trees--closer to human habituation--stand in ranks more tightly packed. They have witnessed the death of their deciduous neighbor. It's a moment still in time, as if everyone has just stopped what they're doing, looking over in stunned silence at the moment when the elder across the border falls to the ground. Across the border, the other deciduous trees mourn, standing still in a semicircle around their fallen comrade. Is there an amplified sense of grief as you watch a body you knew decay and go back into the soil? Or is there joy as this beloved decomposes further to nourish your own roots?
At night here, the daisies furl around themselves, hiding their faces among enfolding petals. "We use words to hide," David says. Vivid stars in dark sky, half turned sliver of moon.
My curiousities entwine around the concept of “mythopoiesis" — literally "myth-making" — the creation of mythologies that nourish our interbeing with the earth.
My writing explores the betweenesses of different fields—deep ecology, indigenous wisdom, trauma resilience, living process, cultural transformation, sacred activism, grief rituals, play . . .
I am learning how to become a connoisseur of the felt sense, a savorer of the moments that create meaning and nourishment in the world.
I am apprenticing to traditions that practice compassionate witnessing, creating containers in which it is safe to release into the depths of emotion, to traverse the grief and holdings that must necessarily be released before healing can begin to take place.