Friday was rainy enough and cold enough that I stayed indoors by the fire and read from David Abram’s newest book ‘Becoming Animal’. In it he writes passionately about our sensate human animalness and how western society has divorced itself — needlessly and with consequences — from this inner DNA linked finned, furred and feathered being lurking within all of us, and, which needs to be brought forth again into our conscious daily lives if we are to have any hope of saving humanity from the perils of this false separateness from our earliest kin.
Eventually, I dozed off.
Like the overly loved domestic dog curled up on the couch dreaming of his valiant wolf days, my slippered foot twitched. The computer screen behind and above my head recorded the moment. The horizontal sculpture ‘Generational Flow’ to my right acted as a conduit to the recent and then distant past.
My dreaming had me back again at Spirit Rock Buddhist Center in California where, in July, I attended an eight day retreat studying “Non Violent Communication”, and where, during a walking meditation, I experienced for the first time ever an “animal” connection between myself and another human; a fellow participant in the retreat. It was beyond just an imaginary experience; rather, it was a deeply felt, embodied experience and, in many ways, eerily similar to the descriptive atavistic experience of William Stafford’s poem ‘Atavism’
Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.
Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.
The woman and I were in a carpeted section of the hall and slowly walking shoeless. No other people were present and all was completely quiet. It was night and this particular area of the hall only dimly lit.
We had been doing a walking meditation for around 20 minutes; eyes half closed. Suddenly, in this deep meditative trance, I entered into a realm where, not only was I walking down a forest path on all fours and actually feeling my leg and arm muscles doing so, but so was the animal person next to me. We were two jungle cats, two panthers on the prowl.
With each “knowing” step we acted as a team, surveying, sensing and feeling our way along the path. Our whiskers were definitely wider than our minds. Or, as David Abram would say, we were being present with our “muscled mind”.
Our awareness was fused and didn’t separate itself out from any “others”; rather joined in a very tactile, conscious way with all that enveloped us. We were immersed in the felt presence of rock, tree, stream, fish, insect, air and cloud and all was one vast molecular cloud of interchangeable identities. Simply put, it was an exquisite encounter with a rarely viewed reality.
I have had several animal encounters before, especially here at Windgrove, but always with another more-than-human personage. The Spirit Rock encounter was unique in that it was another “human” that joined with me in walking the animal path. Wonderful treat.
As an aside — what impressed me while at Spirit Rock was that the spiritual teachings there are beginning to reflect on the fact that “Rock” is half of Spirit Rock. The “body” of the earth, and not just transcendence (Spirit), is getting more fleshed out, so to speak. The human body — this human animal — is becoming mainstream even in Buddhist theology. This leaves me tasting hope.
In the next little while, I’ll try and move beyond animal and befriend a brother/sister lichen.