We’re all — trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria — pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship.
Because life is network, there is no “nature” or “environment,” separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others,” so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory. We are not, in the words of the folk hymn, wayfaring strangers traveling through this world.
Nor are we the estranged creatures of Wordsworth’s lyrical ballads, fallen out of Nature into a “stagnant pool” of artifice where we misshape “the beauteous forms of things.” Our bodies and minds, our “Science and Art,” are as natural and wild as they ever were.
We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.
—David George Haskell
Without attention, the human sense of wonder and the holy will stir occasionally, but to become a steady flame it must be tended.
~ Huston Smith
Understanding is not conceptual, and therefore cannot be passed on. It is an immediate experience, and immediate experience can only be talked about (very inadequately), never shared. Nobody can actually feel another’s pain or grief, another’s love or joy or hunger. And similarly nobody can experience another’s understanding of a given event or situation… We must always remember that knowledge of understanding is not the same thing as the understanding, which is the raw material of that knowledge. It is as different from understanding as the doctor’s prescription for penicillin is different from penicillin.
Understanding is not inherited, nor can it be laboriously acquired. It is something which, when circumstances are favorable, comes to us, so to say, of its own accord. All of us are knowers, all the time; it is only occasionally and in spite of ourselves that we understand the mystery of given reality.
~ Aldous Huxley
What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth—what allows us to do the daring and to break through to newness. . . .
Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions. Growth germinates not in tent dwelling but in upheaval. Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing, instant knowing rather than deliberate waiting.
~ Sue Monk Kidd
When I walk — which I do every day, as basic sanity-maintenance, whether in the forest or the cemetery or the city street — I walk the same routes, walk along loops, loops I often retrace multiple times in a single walk. This puzzles people. Some simply don’t get the appeal of such recursiveness. Others judge it as dull. But I walk to think more clearly, which means to traverse the world with ever-broadening scope of attention to reality, ever-widening circles of curiosity, ever-deepening interest in the ceaselessly flickering constellation of details within and without.
~ Maria Popova, Brain Pickings (Loops, Language, the Paradoxical Loneliness of “I Love You,” and What Keeps Love Alive)
To wonder is to begin to understand.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
There is always light
if only we’re brave enough to see it
if only we’re brave enough to be it.
— Amanda Gorman
(In case you missed it, you can watch the full reading of this wonderful poem here.)
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well, can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
~ Pema Chodron
The early Greeks defined presence as the fundamental characteristic of being alive.
I believe it is not easy for any of us to be fully present, and that we settle for shadows and glimpses, for fleeting moments that sift through our hands and are gone. We may become clouded from impinging distractions as we are carried into countless pressures, anxieties, and demands; or else we try to escape through the many abundant and tempting means at our disposal; or we seek to overpower obstacles through adrenalin-driven pursuits, or with our intellects, determination, and skillful maneuvers, or by other strengths and capabilities, continually striving for something out of reach, or once attained, soon abandoned, while we silently lack what we most want.
As flawed human beings, it can be difficult to see beyond ourselves and understand each other intimately and compassionately. Being hampered by our limitations and the context of our past experience (or inexperience), we can be blind to each other even when we don’t want to be. Our failings can also blind us to ourselves, preventing us from reaching a deeper understanding below the surface of self-awareness.
~ John Justin David, from Parabola, October 26, 2020