Monday, 24 April 2017

Feeling our way along (becoming sensate)

There are 'feelings', ie emotions;

there's 'feeling' ie the sense of touch;

and then there's the other kind of feeling .. which I'll try to talk about today.

Stephen Harrod Buhner talks about "feeling the touch of the world upon us".

He's talking about the natural world, of course, but we have to keep in mind that the natural world includes people. You, for instance.

When I go out and about in the natural world it is with the understanding that I create ripples as I go; it's just the way 'things' are.

I'm aware that the natural world is aware of me, perhaps more than I am of 'it' ..

                                            because it is not an 'it', it's a them

.. and all its individual members are communicating their individual awarenesses of me to each other.

In the forest, the mycelial network of the soil communicates my footfalls to the roots of the trees which in turn set their leaves to sniffing for my scent; assessing my 'chemical markers' in this way reveals to them my state of health and even my intentions.

'Word' of my presence - for as a warm-blood, I am prey - spreads quickly among the insects. The birds, different species, each in their own territories of the canopy, watch - and comment upon - my approach. Plants and animals alike all know I'm coming and they all know

                                                     in fact they determine

what or who I will come across, before I come across it.

                                  Any creature I happen to see has chosen to allow itself to be seen.

Walking quietly and respectfully, my hands clasped behind my back, creating as little disturbance as possible, I can sense the ripples travelling back towards me. I am not hunting, not trying to sneak up on anything. Moving like this through the forest (or meadow) greetings come my way, not alarm calls.

Most urban humans, average humans, have become insensate.

The insensate human cannot walk in a forest without causing alarm. It is not that forest creatures will see the average human as a predator. The alarm stems from their sensing of the sickness carried by the insensate creature in their midst. To be insensate is to be sick, and to ensure survival, animals avoid the sick.

In nature, the sickness of one threatens all.

                                         This is why nature has built-in remedies. 

The animals know the remedies for most sicknesses exist, know where they are, what they are, and they take advantage; even a domestic cat or dog will eat the plants they need if given the chance.

How do they know? Their senses tell them.   

These same senses are inherent in our own make-up. But before we can begin to develop them so as to find remedies for our physical ailments, we must set out to cure the first sickness, the disease of insensitivity.

Consider this -  Most humans don't see the other creatures that live alongside them in the cities; don't know who peers down at them from branches and rooftops. Most humans only see what they're looking for, or what irritates them, or what sparkles enough to attract their attention.

I won't say that humans take much notice of what is out of the ordinary. Most humans are especially equipped not to see, or to avoid seeing, or to ignore what 'shouldn't be there'. They step right over homeless kids, after all. 

The lack of (emotional) sensitivity to the plight of a homeless kid is related to the lack of awareness of the other creatures (birds, squirrels, trees)  that share the city with us, but it is not quite the same thing.

This is where things get complicated, and this is exactly the point we can put our finger on as the line between human emotional feelings and the feeling sense, the simple awareness of 'feeling the touch of the world upon us'.

If we allow ourselves to notice that homeless kid, it will stir up emotions that will vary depending on our personalities or moods. Irritation, guilt, compassion, pity, etc., are emotional reactions to the kid.

Emotional reactions, feeling(s), are to be considered highly suspect when we bring them with us for walks in a forest. This is a tough one to learn. It's not wrong to have these emotional responses as we feel the touch of the world upon us, it's just important not to confuse them with the touch of the world itself.

If your drunken uncle kisses you fondly on the cheek, it makes you uncomfortable. If your niece kisses you on the cheek, it makes you feel good. A kiss is just a kiss; your feelings about it come from how you feel about who is doing the kissing.

So while we walk in a forest, we're trying to be aware of how our surroundings feel, and we're trying to be aware of what kinds of feelings are being stirred up by what we're feeling. Did that make sense?

There's an internal dialogue, just under the surface, that we gradually become aware of; words we use in our thinking about what we're seeing .. "cute" chipmunk, "pretty" bird, "lovely" flower. These are emotional judgements, they're not inherently wrong, but when you think about it, they're not qualities inherent to the chipmunk or the bird or the flower. Those things/creatures are what they are for their own reasons, pleasing us emotionally isn't one of them.

This is important to be aware of on several levels, each as important to the other. First, this awareness of our emotional judgements of pretty or ugly or weird (for there are lots of each in nature) gives us a better picture of how we see things. It teaches us about ourselves.

Secondly, as we take a step back from that, we can begin to see each thing we meet on its own terms. The burrs are no longer (just) an irritant but a way the plant ensures its seeds will travel as they hitch a ride on our socks.

Third, we begin to notice that the plants themselves sometimes use our emotions, our feelings, to get our attention. This is subtle, so bear with me. There might come a time when some otherwise non-descript plant will just make your heart sing with joy. It might have rather dull (or no) flowers, it could be any size or shape, but there is something about it, something that you just can't put your finger on, that is drawing you to it and making you very, very happy. Or, conversely, it might irritate you unreasonably, it might literally trip you and you twist your ankle. Or .. well there are lots of ways it can happen. The point is, once you know it's not 'just' your emotional judgement ..

                                                          this is first contact

... and the touch of the world is upon you.

This first contact plant, remember, is a living creature. If you clip a leaf from it to bring home, it might serve as a reminder but it won't be the creature itself. So sit with that plant. Get right down beside it and just be with it. Immerse yourself in its presence. Touch it, examine it, taste it (preferably by just touching the living plant with your tongue for, crazy as it sounds, it will taste different that way than if you had torn off a piece and tasted that). Sing to it if you're moved to do so.

Listen to your internal dialogue while you sit with the plant. Note if odd expressions come to you, and keep them in your memory so that later, as you mull it over, you can (maybe) figure out if they were your thoughts or those of the plant being translated into words by your heart/mind.

These plants that reach out and grab our attention are Medicine plants, but not medicine for the body. Whether you discover that it holds medicine for what physically ails you or not is not

                                                              at this point,

the point. This is bigger Medicine than that. This is Medicine for the original sickness, insensitivity. Something reached out and touched you; you're becoming sensate.

This is how it works. It's not an intellectual thing, not quite an emotional thing, not even quite a spiritual thing, although it involves all of those and more. As you learn to use it, that sensitivity will open further and so when you walk into a forest or a meadow or even past some city trees full of sparrows you will not only sense everything differently, but sense it


sensing, you, too.


  1. Oh my. So well put, C. Can we even imagine a world where we all see each other?

  2. So many beautiful lines here to carry with me through my day. [Take a leaf home with's not the plant...emotional judgment of nature which isn't nature itself but a comment on me...most humans have become insensate...]