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A WGREN Meditation for the Week of April 27, 2008
[A]ll genuine faith, like Christian faith, rests upon our faith in Nature.
- Páll Skúlason
Meditations at the Edge of Askja: On Man's Relation to Nature
This is perhaps more rumination than meditation, nevertheless it seems appropriate to pause a moment to contemplate the experience that the Icelandic philosopher Páll Skúlason sought to describe in Meditations at the Edge of Askja: On Man's Relation to Nature and in the recent lecture at Ohio Northern.
As Skúlason notes we can describe this experience as 'revelation' or 'religious experience', or (after Rudolf Otto) 'the numinous'. Whatever name we use though, the experience remains the same and it is an experience that is as ancient as it is universal. Though the experience is, in a quite literal sense, indescribable it is perhaps possible to indicate its broader characteristics. To experience the numinous is to experience that which is Other than ourselves. An Other that is majestic, mysterious and indescribable in human language. An Other whose presence inspires awe, reverence and even dread. To encounter this Other is to experience both separation and oneness, it is to realize our own insignificance and our complete (inter)dependence.
It is the oneness, the interdependence, the wholeness (to use Skúlason's term) that it crucial here. It is through this experience that we realize that we came to be, are and will continue to be in relation to earth. To some the experience Skúlason describes is an once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Even so one's entire life can change forever in that moment. To others it is an experience to be sought through a lifetime's spiritual discipline and practice.
Imagine being able to experience such a deep and intense connection to the natural environment all the time. Ralph Waldo Emerson thought that it was through such experience that human beings came to know the divine as well as themselves. What does such experience require? Various descriptions suggest an openness to the Other, an inner stillness and an attention to the moment - without the need to categorize or conceptualize. Language is an obstacle here, since it is through language that we structure and order our experience. Thus in the same moment we attempt to describe the numinous we lose the experience.
To live in the moment, to live in the divine, to live in faith, to live in the environment, to live in the Other, to live in light, to live in wholeness - is there a difference? Perhaps, to be philosophical, it is a distinction without a difference.
So let us venture into the spring sunshine, rest beneath a tree and meditate on the all too tenuous relation that seems to characterize our normal connection to the natural environment. And in doing so let us open ourselves to a deeper connection - an interconnection. There is a Navajo phrase that I believe captures this interconnection in all its nuances - 'Nizho'ni'go' nanina'. . .. . .'Walk in beauty!'
Mark H. Dixon
Department of Philosophy & Religion
Ohio Northern University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of April 20, 2008
Perhaps it is the season; winter has clung tenaciously to the woods and meadows around us. I too feel its embrace in frozen joints and bones that creak and moan stubbornly when they are urged into action. Or, it could be the weather, the long absent sun and continual attendance of snow, sleet or finally torrents of rain. Nevertheless, I've regularly found myself contemplating what remains.
I've spent a good deal of my life seeking--no that's far too mild--in hot pursuit of certain goods. Dissatisfied with normal experience and functioning, I chase specific standards of excellence. Leaning further and further out of my seat to reach a glistening brass ring. I don't need to tell you what happens next. We adults are linked by our understanding of failure, our experiences of falling.
Perhaps there are things you too have craved. Did you find yourself longing this February for blue skies, a sun strong enough to warm and brighten the deep interior of mind and heart, but too mild to blister? In the solitude of deep winter was your heart drawn to the white heat of a new and passionate romance? Or is it something quieter but more essential that escapes you: a full and easy breath, a heart whose measure and volume effortlessly support the range of your needs, or unconscious and supple strength of body and mind?
In my walks this winter I have often measured losses. The absence of foliage in the undergrowth allows me to see all the downed trees. There are too many to count and I wonder whether in some areas there is more dead wood than living. Rather than enjoying the fantastic shapes of the shrubs and plants comprising the bracken, I find myself drawing away from disturbing and vaguely threatening sculptures of fallen and tangled limbs, the gaping orifice of downed trunks. Like a tongue probing an empty socket, I'm pointlessly fixed on loss.
I shake myself. This isn't a crime scene or a battle ground. These aren't corpses disrespectfully left to rot. This is habitat. And I badly need a change of perspective. So I stop to examine the oyster fungus, tracing its contours. I'm surprised by its texture. This fungus is rigidly porous, like cork. Traveling further, I come to a meadow. Here, cacti make a woeful sight with their elliptical leaves flaccid, collapsed in the mud. However, in the same area, moss is flourishing, a thick coverlet of green majestically tipped by deep rust or lighter amber stalks. I kneel to savor these lush plants, playing Gulliver in a miniature forest. Bending closer yet I examine moss groves resembling tiny conifers. Their stalks cascade around a single trunk in a way that reminds me of our Norfolk Pine. However, the leaves of this moss are broad and flat. Surrendering gentle fingertips to its depths, I celebrate the diverse textures of this forest.
Along the meadow's path coal-colored mud sucks at my legs, encumbering me. Stagnant pools block the way and seep into unknown cracks in my boots, chilling my feet. The murky water is repulsive. Brackish, musky scents of decaying plants and animals rise to my nostrils. I turn my face away, refusing a closer encounter with decomposition. The meditation on the charnel grounds will have to wait for another day. I see a higher patch of mud that has dried hard to preserve the delicate features of a deer's hoof. The tracks reveal tiny spurs behind two long almonds. The sharp points of the dew claws are clearly visible. Raising my head like the buck, I pause for a time and look out over the meadow.
The seasons are turning. All that arises must pass away. The mosses that sustained me through the late winter will soon dry and wither. I already regret their decline. But it is also true that with loss, something remains. In the meadow, tiny ferns have emerged. I saw the tightly bundled leaves of the first May Apple thrust like a spear head from the forest floor. In another part of the wood, branch tips of the pussy willow begin to open, with buds the color of the mourning dove. A buddha would gaze with the same warm curiosity upon the corpse of the vole and the trillium. But, as a far lesser being, I find myself searching the spring stands of sumac for the slender trunks which bring forth tiny and densely clustered hairs. I long to run my hand lightly over this fur. Ah, here is an obliging stalk! Is this what it would be like to caress the antlers of a buck in velvet? I've got a long way to go.Kathleen M. Dixon
Department of Philosophy
Bowling Green State University
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of April 13, 2008
So, - there is this question: "If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Some folks, spiffy in their categorizing, tell us there is 'sound' because there are natural laws about the production of sound that are being lived out by the falling tree. The distinction is that there is no 'noise' - e.g. - interpretable sound, because there is no one there to do the interpreting.
So, what if no tree falls, no bird chirps, no wolf howls, no wind blows? Is there silence in the forest when there is no one around in these absences? Is silence only the absence of sound? Or is there some spiffy (or reverent) distinction about 'interpretable silence'?
An exercise: Some of us set aside intentionally quiet or silence-times for meditation or prayer. This exercise is not about the set times. But, in the midst of your average and daily living, try to be aware of the 'absences of sound'; or are they 'interpretable silences'? (For you are there to 'hear' them.)Wayne Albertson
Ada United Methodist Church
A WGREN Meditation for the Week of April 6, 2008
Two weeks ago, we had one of our last snows of the season. I stood transfixed in the woods, held by the flight of the snow over the neighboring field. This is what it would be like, I thought, if I could watch time flying. Snow interrupted by the trees moved more slowly around me. I found that I could follow individual flakes caught on the breeze. While at a further remove, over the field, the snow moved like a stream. Struggling to follow the movement of a flake, I was swept away in a fast moving stream of white. It is unusual to see the wind. But I was mesmerized watching it push the snow in fast, long lines. Like watching the world turn or an acorn grown to an oak in minutes through time lapse photography. I felt time like a strong current sweeping around me while I was rooted in the cold wood. I wondered whether spring would find me cloaked by moss with tendrils wrapping around my boots.Kathleen M. Dixon
Department of Philosophy
Bowling Green State University