This is the last part of the Dark Mountain piece, which as I read it again after so long, appears rather forced. It reminds me of how much further I need to go in developing my writing skills and I am afraid to say that I am guilty of letting enthusiasm get the better of me at times, with this piece being one of those occasions. It is different from what came before in that it offers a couple of suggestions on experimental practices, so, read on at your own peril. As always, the link to Dark Mountain can be found here and click here for part one and here for part two.
A Possible Response
A clear theme that runs through to this point is the great gap. At the heart of our environmental crisis is the great divide. We are not able to feel our way across boundaries into primal modes of feeling the great other, and feeling with each other, and therefore we are constantly disconnected and alienated from our shared depths. We are confused on how to mate, not through sexual encounters, but through hiving at a level that bridges humans collectively to their environment as equals. The core principles in combating apathy and disengagement are empathic merging, compassion and care. I like to sum these up as a robust intimacy. Intimacy can be anchored onto externals, but it is best found in co-emergence. To be intimate with a process based lifeworld is to move within and through the spaces we inhabit with feeling and perceptual openness and receptivity. It does not imply being lovey-dovey, cosy and cushti, cute and nice. Intimacy is a feature of combat too. Ask any regular aficionado of boxing or MMA and most will speak of how fighting breaks through masks, strips away pretence, connects you at a raw level and sparks bonds.
The alienation spoken of here is painful. Some are born seemingly more sensitive to others and suffer it more, but there is no denying that our enforced detachment from each other into unfulfilling ritualised social practices harms. The wounds are collective and born by all those who switch off to their fellow species’ suffering, or who never come to touch wounds, or the wounded, with care. It is no wonder that we are so unable to feel. To switch onto the immensity of pain and suffering across all the animal and insect species is too much to bear. We must start somewhere though, because the stifling cocoon of self-preservation is really just a dead end. I see this work in very simple terms. It is a matter of maturity. Do we wish to remain infantilised or eternal teens, and avoid responsibility, or do we wish to accept that it is up to us to find relevant social practices in a changing world? As many of the first nation peoples ask, are we capable of being responsible for what happens to the next seven generations? Our governments and leaders certainly are not. Such a question does open a vast terrain of thought regarding duty, commitment and choice.
Where to start? Some of you may be less gung-ho than me, so we can begin softly. Merging is the starting place. To merge is to connect to literally anything and expand the experiential boundaries of self to encompass the object of merging. We are already merging constantly anyway, so it is actually a case of waking up dulled senses and becoming more conscious of where the boundaries that designate ‘me’ lie and taking explorative steps to push those boundaries to expand and encompass more of the multi-faceted other that surrounds us. Many a spiritual folk would go for a bit of tree-hugging, many an animal lover would choose to connect to their pet. Each form in the world though has its own contours, sensations, and story to tell and ultimately merging serves as a modality for establishing relationship, rather than an isolationist self-referential nurturing. That is to say, merging is not about ‘I’ or ‘me’, but about ‘we’ and ‘us’, in the latter though the articulation of the plural must be open-ended and not another level of exclusion into couples or small groupings. We are after all tribal animals and strong instinct towards allegiances into exclusive packs is another facet of our resistance to vastness.
Merging initially works as a healing for our battered, alienated, emotional/feeling selves. Although the tree hugging, animal hugging and fellow manimal hugging can bring us to feel into new spaces or awaken deadened sensitivity, it can also raise new challenges regarding where our limits lie. Merging must be a process of learning to relate freely and fully and not be compartmentalised. The potential emerges to open to the natural world as an anchor for being freely open to existence on its own terms. To open and embrace, be intimate with, to let go and release, to accept the limitations of our being and its horizons is to embrace the paradox that marks a human existence in which we are entrapped and yet stand before and within a vastness, within which, we could just find the courage to dance and play freely.
Perhaps though we ought to finish by getting practical? So many books and articles speak of wonders and new possibilities and then leave readers pondering: “But how do I do this?” I did promise to offer up a couple of practices for the curious, so, here are two you might like to experiment with. The first is animistic.
1. Water merging
Go to a river where you will be undisturbed. Connect visually to the space, and the visible landscape. Become acutely aware of the sounds in this place. Allow the immediate sensations of your body to be recognised. Bring the three sensory bases together and focus on the river for a short while. Then breathe into it allowing it to imaginatively move up and through your body and then out again. Let feeling be there, let the river be the river, and use its coolness to dissipate your self-referential focus. Seek the honest face of what is immediate in this body of water you are encountering. Attempt to suspend the urge to bring it back to you as another self-referential element in your narrative. Allow your awareness and perception to merge with the movement of the water. Thank the place when you feel complete.
- Do the same with the water sources in your home, office, school. Feel into the stories and travels of these water bodies as they flow out of pipes and rest in containers.
- Do the same with the water that enters your body and that touches your body when you drink or shower and which surrounds you in the form of mist, fog, rain, snow, damp, humidity.
Take this as a beginning in the establishment of a new relational form and lower your sense of yourself as somehow detached from this global sphere of water and watery activity. Elemental alignment is found in both earth based religious practices and the Tibetan Buddhist forms mentioned. What I have described is loosely animist and there are umpteen variations. What follows comes from shamanically orientated Buddhism.
2. Opening to space meditation
Find a relatively calm and quiet place where you feel at ease. Sit in an open posture, hands on knees, palms down, chest up, open gaze, looking straight ahead, relaxing eye sockets, opening chest, breathing normally, shifting tensions off of the body. State: I release myself into the world, and breathe into the experience of that happening. Say it again, until it is convincing. Breathe and demolish your self-referential, self-reflection and open to experience as it is on its own terms. Bring the two together and merge. Dissipate clinging. Dissipate moving away. The weight of the real forces a confrontation with the real. What is imagined is not important.
You can do this for as long or as little as you like. A minute can be insightful. Those who engage in meditative practice might establish this as a regular technique to experiment with. For newbies between 3-5 minutes should prove interesting. This relatively simple exercise does two things. Firstly, it breaks down the distinction between our sensory experience of being embodied and the sensations of inhabiting a space. It makes it difficult for us to distinguish our experience of existing and the existence of the space in which we are situated. Secondly, it chips away at the solipsistic tendency of all humans.
This is a practice that comes naturally to some and to others it can be awfully difficult. Suspended in between the moments of these practices is vastness or emptiness, an idea I have hinted at throughout. It is a void that dissipates fixed being, pointing at a lack of any consistent spatial temporal solidity, thus giving further articulation to forms as processes or emerging. At the heart of all forms are voids, or pregnant space, and they are inseparable.
What these practices can do is to open up the experience of this void, or vastness, and our process nature. To understand the dual nature of the things of this world, as having a certain solidity and being without a true fixedness, can help us to leave behind the melodrama, melancholic, romantic hole that many wounded manimals carry. Doing these practices can chip away at the solipsistic, self-referential, sense of ourselves as being inside a body looking out at a world that we exist apart from. Certainly the Earth could do with having more of her human animals engaged in these or similar reconfiguring, so as to provide a bit more space for perceiving and relating openly to other.
These are profoundly rich yet simple practices that you can experiment with freely. There are many others and each brings up challenges and issues that can be explored further. I would hope that for those who are suspicious of such practices and ideas that my writing has stimulated a degree of curiosity to you who face the realities of the Dark Mountain and its sobering message.