Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Singing Tree

Sometimes the whole tree grove along the river is singing. Parrots, Lorikeets, Noisy Mynahs, Little Brown Birds, the trees are filled with movement and the sparkling sound of bird chatter. Shadows flit through the branches, darting from blossom to blossom, chirping, and all the while the trees seem to sway with a choir of bird song.

The spirit of this place is heightened by paying attention, engaging with all the senses, becoming attuned to the allure of sirens that draw you to them. Sound, touch, feel, taste, smell. Feeling heady amongst the honey aroma of the eucalypt grove, tasting the sweetness on the breeze. These experiences enrich the river connection and remind me of what is lost when people forget the need for these special and precious moments. Ecophilosopher David Abram (2001) (re)vitalizes the destiny role of the senses when he states: 'The fate of the earth depends on a return to our senses.'

Abram maintains that in this post-industrial era we have literally lost our senses, in particular, the direct sensory experience of the world around us. As the city loses its green shadey avenues and its heritage housing, as the birds and animals (except domestic ones) disappear from the tight urban swell, he fears we lose a part of who we are, part of our identity as both human and nature. Instead, he suggests we need to re-discover the world using 'our animal eyes' and 'animal ears' and re-invest the surroundings as sensate, feeling, animate. By engaging the senses and re-engaging with the sensory world, we rekindle the patterns and textures of our wildness, our evolutionary relationship with all sentient beings in the vibrant ecosystem. Abram puts it this way:

'The senses are what is most wild in us; capacities that we share, in some manner ... with most other entities in the living landscape, from earthworms to eagles. Flowers responding to sunlight, tree roots extending rootlets in search of water, even the movement of a simple bacterium in response to its fluid surroundings; here, too, are sensation and sensitivity, distant variants of our own sentience. Apart from breathing and eating, the senses are our most intimate link with the living land, the primary way the earth has of influencing our moods and guiding our actions.'

The earth influencing our moods and guiding our actions? As I have outlined previously in this blog, much research has been conducted on the role of green spaces, trees and gardens in enhancing human health, wellbeing and quality of life and the consequences of being removed from what Abram calls in his article 'The Ecology of Magic' (1995) those 'vital sources of nourishment' like the sight and sound of birds quivering on luscious honey flowers.

I wonder then if there is a loss of memory as if the so-called scientific modern rational mindscape has plastered over the cracks of an emergent sensual spirituality. Perhaps, and partly because of this, notions of the sacred are directed to the other worldly and gloss over the dynamism of the ecosystem as sacred process. The sense of the sacred and the full expression of the senses then become 'out of this world' rather than embedded within it. This use of the notion of other worldlyness also heightens the dualism between sacred/profane, transcendent/immanent, supernatural/natural (Piette, 1993 in Hervieu-Leger, 2000:46). Within the realm of the sensual, an emotionally-laden and experiential spirituality awakens through the process of connecting with the sacred - the river, the birds, the trees, the ecology in an embodied and feeling (eco)self.

Reconnecting with body memory, with the crazy sensualness of life, touches a multitude of experiential receptors. A sensual spirituality is enflamed and disperses like seeds on the wind into an ecospiritual sensual richness of symbolic and embodied meaning creation.

Abram D, 1995, 'The Ecology of Magic,' in T Roszak, ME Gomes and AD Kanner, Eds., Ecopsychology. Restoring the Earth. Healing the Mind, San Francisco, Sierra Club.
Hervieu-Leger D, 1993, Religion as a Chain of Memory, Trans S. Lee, Cambridge, Polity Press.
Piette A, 1993, Les Religions Seculaires, Paris, PUF, Coll. Que sais-je?