In the beginning of all things,
wisdom and knowledge were with the animals;
for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly
to human beings. He sent certain animals to tell humans that he showed
himself through the beasts, and that from them,
and from the stars and the sun and the moon,
humans should learn. Tirawa spoke to humans through his works.
~ Chief Letakots-Lesa, Pawnee Tribe, c. 1904
For more than 2 million years, our physicality, psychology, and spirituality have been sculpted by the Natural World. This evolutionary experience has blessed us with senses and feelings that can track Nature’s most subtle rhythms and changes. Our senses and feelings seek to maintain a harmony between the rhythms of the ‘stars and the sun and the moon’ and the physiological and cellular rhythms of our bodies: rhythms that impact our moods…our physical health…even our belief systems.
Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner – what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Understandably, many of us feel shut out from the law of the stars…cut off from the Natural World. When we lose our conscious relationship with the Natural World, we become like the Fisher King—psycho-spiritually and physically wounded. This nature-separation angst is evident in the growing incidence of the physical, psychological and spiritual dis-eases, like depression, addiction, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, TMJ, arthritis and on and on.
When viewed through eyes wounded by this nature-separation angst, the Grail Kingdom in which we live appears wounded as well. Often, the first reaction to the perception that Nature is wounded is to rush around trying to heal it. Yet how can we remedy something we do not truly understand?
Rather than rushing to ‘heal our environment’ based upon what we think we know about Nature, perhaps we should be attentive to the Grail’s wisdom that suggests what we really need to do is ‘ask the right question’. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version of the legend, Parzival compassionately asks the Fisher King “What ails thee?” Perhaps we could compassionately ask ourselves “What ails me?” And then do the almost impossible: Stand Still.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
~ David Wagoner
Based upon indigenous wisdom, Wagoner’s poem suggests that when we lose our connection to the Natural World, there is no need to rush around trying to find it again. Instead, we should simply stand still—because wherever we are is Here. And Here is exactly where we should be. When we can finally stand still—and bring the fullness of our attention to the present moment—the Forest…the Natural World…will find us. Tirawa—the One Above—will send one of the beasts…or the sun, or the moon, or the stars…or a plant or a rock or a fungi…to find us.
And often the first place his messengers look for us is in our dreams…
The creatures who visit us in dreams carry within them an invitation to re-enchant our lives…to participate in a greater reality. If we treat them as powerful strangers—and ask permission to know them…and be known—they may begin to share with us their intimate secrets. Secret intimacies not readily available through our collective pool of knowledge—not through our myths, nor through our stories, not through any of our scientific textbooks. Through these secret intimacies, our dream creatures offer an invitation to re-establish an accord with the Natural World.
I have found that a powerful way of accepting this invitation is to go out into Nature…and engage physical manifestations of our dream creatures in the waking world. Engaging the physical animal in its natural habitat ignites a dynamic interplay of all of our senses: we see, we hear, we smell…perhaps we even touch or taste…the animal itself.
Rilke referred to this practice of focused, engaged, sensual attention as inseeing. With inseeing, we are not trying to categorize or define our creature. We are trying to feel our creature…we are trying to be our creature. So we can’t rely solely on the sharp-edged eyes of the scientific mind. We must also use the soft eyes of the artist…we must use empathetic eyes.
When we turn our empathetic eyes toward our creature, we begin a journey from a most superficial experience to an experience of its essence—that distinctive design which constitutes its individual identity. An identity enacted in a creature’s every breath and every sound…in its every glance and gesture.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim of roundy wells,
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes its self; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying…. ‘What I do is me…for that I came!”
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
Thomas Merton equated this unique ‘thingness’ of an individual creature to the sacred…to its true vocation…to its true calling. He believed that each individual creature—including each human being—is called into Life by the Great Mystery to enact its essence:
"No two created beings are exactly alike. And their individuality is no imperfection. On the contrary, the perfection of each created thing is not in its conformity to some ideal…but in its own individual identity with itself."
An experience of the essence of our dream creature opens the possibility for what James Joyce called an epiphany...where— in the simple beholding of our creature—our attention is suddenly apprehended…held in a wondrous arrest. And—within that arrest—we experience that the mystery underlying our creature is one and the same as the mystery underlying the universe itself. The intimacy that we share with our dream creature thus opens a portal that allows the Divine to shine through into the field of time. And—as we experience our dream creature as a manifestation of divinity—our senses are enraptured…
And in our rapture, the Forest...the Natural World...finds us...and welcomes us home.