There are three ideas that I make sure to spend time with every day. If pressed to reduce these ideas to a single word each, I might pick WILD, BEAUTY and ENOUGH. If you spend any time with these words, you’ll find that they are devilishly tricky to define empirically. If you don’t like this sort of thing, you might call them “bottomless pits” and a waste of time. They’re subjective. Everyone has his or her own opinion, and that’s that, right? For some, that is as far as they will go.
If you persevere and you’re willing to turn the volume down on your rational mind, you’re likely to find a great deal of emotion associated with these terms and that these emotions are very deep-seated. In the presence of something “WILD,” for instance, we don’t have to take a few seconds to figure out if it fits our intellectual parameters. We feel “WILD”-ness before we understand it. There’s an awareness that the rational mind, in trying to define these terms, is undoubtedly the servant of the emotions here, the rationalizer and arguer for things already decided. Taking time to pay attention to WILD things and BEAUTIFUL things is quite an opportunity to become aware of yourself as an emotional being. ENOUGH?….is perhaps the most emotional of all. It’s a question of understanding your own self as a wild and beautiful thing: the where you are, what you are and how far your shadow falls. This is where you’re actually alive and where your living affects the world. I sure hope you have feelings about that.
Feeling raw emotions can be scary and/or humbling, especially for someone grown up in a “rational” society (ha ha..right…let me rephrase) ….grown up in a society that values the predictability of rational facades, that rewards facts and solid, demonstrable accomplishments. What’s humbling is that it’s pretty common to feel good about myself because I think I have a good argument, i.e. I’m a “good” person because I’m on the right side of this intellectual discussion. Meanwhile, beneath this “good” feeling are other coarser feelings that are less about protecting my social self-esteem. They may be less civilized (anger, sadness, joy, lust, awe) but they’re hardly less real. It’s amazing to notice what you’re really feeling while not immediately rationalizing it away.
I do not believe that rational thought will ever be able to penetrate to the roots of these three ideas. These are things we know about ourselves at a basic level, before we think about anything, even if we choose to ignore or suppress this basic knowledge. I want to spend significant energy in my life working towards a better human relationship with planet earth NOT because of some rational, utilitarian argument (though I can make some of those) but because I feel genuine and natural anger and sadness and joy and awe. My body, my basic self, wants to celebrate the earth and defend the earth. If someone was coming at me and attempting to harm some part of my body, I wouldn’t have to think of a rational reason to defend myself. The relationship between me and my body is an emotional/intuitive one.
How is it that we don’t acknowledge a similar mutuality between ourselves and the natural world? I can think of reasons, rational divisions I can make that draw a line between myself and the “Other.” But my feelings don’t always agree with that rational division. Emotionally, I respond to the natural world by having feelings, not quite as urgently as the ones I have about my own body, perhaps, but strong feelings nonetheless. I have a natural urge to protect it, care for it. This is not a rational knowing; it’s what I know in my feelings, in my bones. It’s as natural as my breath. I don’t recall ever in my life feeling apathetic about such things. It is a knowing that has a sense of wisdom to it, though it’s not always easy to extract the truly wise act from the feeling. This takes practice.
Western civilization has moved for millennia to override this natural knowing and especially so since the Enlightenment and the rise of science. It’s hard to run a populous society if everyone is using his or her feelings to decide how to behave. Biology is so messy; good thing rational man got here to straighten out and streamline everything! By emphasizing the rational mind, humans have learned an enormous amount about the world. The scientific method has to be considered a terrific success. My caveat and warning, however, is this: If saying that rational knowledge is right requires us also to say that emotional/intuitive knowledge is wrong, then we will regularly fail to make of ourselves good people, good societies or good partners with other wild beings.
ENOUGH for this first post, then.
One addendum: For income, I run an online bookstore called Scholar and Poet Books. (Check out the widget at the side to take a look at my inventory.) As I was writing this post, it struck me how I really do grapple with the balance between these two elements of my consciousness, the thinker and the feeler, the heart and the head. The dance between the two is where good work is done. Any feedback, whether it’s something you feel or something you think, is appreciated.