Difficult it is, mostly impossible, to catch even the most fleeting glimpse of the world as it was for our animist ancestors. Tainted by technology, our contemporary worldview leaves little or no room for mystery or magic. We have built an invisible wall which separates us from all we mistakenly believe is not us. According to our western god, the world and all that is in it is there for our taking. Accepting that impoverishes us. We are bereft, hungry ghosts, enabled to commit crimes against our planet and the living beings we consider ‘other.’
In such a world it is laughable to think of beseeching the spirit of a tree before we fell it, to offer a prayer of thanks before we slaughter a cow. When seeking guidance we look to a god outside this world. Ridiculous to place the palms of our hands on the bark at the base of a great redwood, close our eyes, and listen, thereby finding what we seek. Not above but within.
I have lately been thinking a great deal about humility. I have come to understand I have no ritual of humility, like Christians kneeling in prayer. At its heart, prayer is a way to humble ourselves before something larger and mysterious. Perhaps humility is a good and honorable path toward placing ourselves in the world instead of outside it, to see as our ancestors did the spirits of the woods and mountains, the rivers and sea, the grazing deer. Perhaps it is as simple as looking up at the high desert sky or the stones beneath my feet and say ‘thank you.’ Yet with this I also open myself to grief, mourning the loss of the sacred land we share with all beings. A loss we ourselves have created.
I am prone to losing myself in dreamy vastness. Out of this vastness I pull my next painting or writing. Here I am in a rich and deep place of possibility, yet it is also here where I touch the edge of madness. Thankfully (I guess), a strength at my core turns me away from going down that rabbit hole.
The vastness shows me wonder and mystery and magic exist. I do not suffer those who choose to remain blind.
We do not own the land. We are its caretakers.
PS: This post and much of my recent writing is inspired by David Abram’s books, The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. Also, thanks to the friend I’ve never met, Tad Wiley, for his kind permission to use one of his photographs.