28 October, 2010
The underlying assumption of the modern world seems to be that the future will be a continuation of the past – only brighter, better, with even better technology, more virtual, faster, 3D and more of everything. For some, it’s enticing. For others, it’s despairing; we become increasingly detached from the living world as we give our attention, time and energy to the cyber realm.
There is no doubt in my mind that the world around us, the world that nurtures and supports us is under severe threat on a number of fronts.
We do what we want with the world – a human centred cosmology. We do this because we believe the world around us is there for us (humans) to mine, cut, eat, burn, poison and trash. We have a cosmology based on a utilitarian ethic, one assuming that the world itself does not have a voice, is not alive, or if it is alive, that our human lives are more important.
At some point in our recent history, our species went from respecting nature to destroying it. We need a new cosmology.
David Abram’s new book Becoming Animal is subtitled An Earthly Cosmology. It starts: “Owning up to being an animal, a creature of the earth. Turning our animal senses to the sensible terrain: blending our skin with the rain rippled surface of rivers, mingling our ears with the thunder and thrumming of frogs, and our eyes with the molten gray sky … Becoming earth. Becoming animal. Becoming, in this manner, fully human.”
Dominant cosmologies (both monotheistic religions and “new-age” spiritualities and others) often place us above and beyond nature. We think of the world around us as a derivative reality that can be understood only by reference to hidden realms (stars, disembodied spirits, microscopic domains of axons and dendrites, DNA). Direct experience, through our unaided senses, is not to be trusted. So we find ourselves in thrall to experts who mediate our experience.
Abram articulates a way of directly experiencing an alive and sensuous world, rather than seeking to represent it through abstract ways, or objectively studying it.
The earth is the very body of wonder – and demands respect and reciprocity – according to Abram. There is “ the upwelling creativity in the land itself”. In a chapter called Mood, Abram describes the interplay between our sensory bodies and the weather. He describes his play with whales and seals. There are chapters on the discourse of birds, and of his time with a shaman in Nepal. He covers shadows and depth as areas to practice our sensuous engagement with the world.
We can be altered by our engagement with our surroundings, if we attune to them through our senses. He says: “Our animal senses are neither deceptive nor untrustworthy; they are our access to the cosmos. Bodily perception provides our most intimate entry into a primary order of reality that can disparaged or dismissed only at our peril”.