Humans, Wildness, and the Web of Life

Violets in bloom

Violets in bloom

“If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on what is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.”  ~ Egyptian king Thamus in Plato’s Phaedrus

This morning in meditation, like many mornings that I am in meditation, I realized the endless bantering going on in my mind.  As Jeanette Armstrong, Okanagan elder from the BC area, once explained in an essay on EcoPsychology, this is called “talky-talk” of the mind.  This is actually how Jeanette’s grandmother described the settlers in Canada, that they were crazy because they “talky-talked” in their minds.  This was unusual to the Okanagan culture, which still participated in a living language and not a reflexive language like our own.

In the Buddhist tradition, this “talky talk” is called the “monkey mind,” an unskillful mind that endlessly chatters to itself, inside itself.  However, the reference to a monkey and not our own human words, sounds, and blabbering is a bit unfair.  I assure you monkeys don’t have their own calls recycling in their minds like humans do.  When they are not calling, they are listening.

And, that…the listening…that is what we have forgotten how to do…  If we are not talking…our mind is talking in our heads…or we are being stimulated by something man-made.  Meditation and mindfulness is an attempt to break that cycle…to find sacred pause…to find space between words…


To me, whether we realize it or not, we “sit” so that we can re-enter the web of life.  So we can tap into the living language of our sensual bodies and the sensual realm of the living world.  Modern peoples have all but forgotten these languages as well as the information that can come from listening.  As anthropologist Wade Davis says, indigenous cultures’ minds and resulting languages are like “old growth forests of the mind.”  As much as the forests are being destroyed, the languages and knowing of the beings that live there are also being lost.

During my morning meditation I noticed this mind chatter and breathed deeply and said to myself, “talky talk.”  As soon as I named my mind chatter, it fell away.  My senses then opened up and all I could hear was the complex conversation of the birds outside.  For awhile, there was only pause…there was only listening.  It was a sweet place to be, even if only for a short while.

Of course, soon my pontificating mind kicked in again.  I began to think about my hiking trips in a nearby forest versus my walks in town.  What I noticed is that there was much more wildlife and activity in town than out in the forest.  There’s more plant diversity, bird diversity, mammalian diversity…etc, etc…

I pondered this a bit and it struck me that the animals, plants, and other beings wanted to be close to us.  It felt true to my heart to think this.  They are willing to put themselves in a place of more danger and sacrifice to be closer to us.  Many animals get hit by cars, some electrocuted by telephone wires, some killed by our chemical poisons, and others killed by domesticated cats or dogs.  But, it doesn’t matter…they want to be near us.

It just felt true to me…this realization…  And in that realization, I could see how humans create so many interesting habitats for animals and birds.  Our curiosity about various plant species means that we will draw these plants into our lives and around our homes.  It’s as if we can’t help ourselves!

In that *attraction* of humans and our fellow species, there is a great responsibility then.  If we know we draw them to us with how we shift the landscape around us…why not plan things accordingly so that we all can benefit?  Of course, this is the whole foundation of permaculture and its design principles (earth care, human care, and fair share).  However, this really has not struck me so tenderly until today.

I really see that we have this beautiful opportunity to tap into our hearts through our hands to shape our surroundings to steward and support life.  This is how we can step back into the web of life.

First, we learn to listen…  We realize how much is actually trying to speak to us and with us.  The plants are communicating with us…the birds are communicating with us…it is all language and communication and expression.  And, this form of communication is just as valid as our own.

What I’ve realized on my own journey into being is that there is more to nourish my soul in admiring a brilliant orange-bellied robin than in a glossy magazine.  If, but for a minute, I can contemplate the beauty, the wonder, and wild journey that that bird experienced to come into being…well, I can get my mind blown…even in the smallest of ways.

The practice is all about sensitizing myself enough so that life stands out in technicolor.  Not so much the human realm…as much as the living realm…that we happen to be a part of.  And, maybe…just maybe…that’s why the birds call to each other and to us…and if we pause and listen and let it drown out our “talky talk,” it will bring our senses back home…even if just for a minute.

“For the Greek alphabet had effectively severed all ties between the written letters and the sensible world from which they were derived; it was the first writing system able to render almost any human utterance in a fixed and lasting form.” ~ David Abram, “The Spell of the Sensuos”

For further reading ~

Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

Becoming Animal by David Abram

Original Wisdom by Robert Wolf

What the Robin Knows by Jon Young

My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization by Chellis Glendenning

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