we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

The Journey Part 4 – Intimacy with Ideas is ‘Awesome’

Thurs. July 26/07 Ageless and Tireless
The heat drains.
The cold braces.
Our bodies know what to do.
 
In what distant places
And what special climes,
Over what vast times
Have they learned this?

The knowing body
That rises each morning
And sleeps every night
Is ageless
And tireless.

Let’s take a closer look at this verse that comes at the end of ‘The Journey Part 3’. In the first three ‘steps’ on this journey, we asked if it was possible for ‘Love of Nature’ to save us from our extractivist nightmare of societal and ecological collapse; then I postulated that, if love can cure this disease, it must be a ‘personal’ love — as ‘Mother Earth’ was personal to all our ancestral hunter-gatherer cultures; I speculated that, unlike the love of ideas, which distances the body from its ‘objects’, personal love requires the whole body to be involved; and finally I offered to take the reader on a ‘journey outward’, beyond the more limited passions, to discover if we could apply our body-minds just as passionately, not just to organisms like ourselves, but to ecological ‘systems’ which are fundamentally conceptual. Now we take the fourth step: If we ourselves are ’embodiments’ of a genetic progression through Deep Time, should the body not have some capacity to appreciate, at the very least, the ‘depth’ of its own Natural history?

Let’s consider the feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a ‘reaching into deep memories’ that can be felt as a whole body ‘dissolution of time’. When I think of time passing in the short term, I am aware of a kind of repetitive motor-program running somewhere in my body that chops ‘time’ up into identifiable bits, and my memories of recent actions are strung out along this ‘progression’. In the long term though, there is a kind of ‘relaxation response’ that assigns memories to much slower ‘repetitions’ which I might verbalizes as “dates”, “stages”, “periods”, or even “eras”. I won’t go too deep into body phenomenology here, because there are possibly big differences in the way different people ’embody’ knowledge. It’s enough to speculate on various ways conditions like nostalgia might manifest in the body itself, how processes, with repetition and relaxation as examples, might locate and call up memories in such a way that time itself has a bodily feel or ‘flavour’.

We all recognize the feeling or flavour of nostalgia. The deepest regions of time are dissolved in ‘the now’ in such a way that time is no longer something to be measured, but rather an experience to be ‘lived’. And here perhaps is one answer to the puzzle of ‘loving’ conceptualized natural systems the puzzle of loving Nature as ‘personality’ because the ‘time’ we know to be involved in the evolution of Natural systems is deep enough to give a truly ‘awesome’ flavour to the body’s nostalgic response. We are literally struck dumb, in the place of silent awe, a place of interbody intimacy, whereto the words have pointed us. All those who study paleontology know this ‘feeling’, even though we tell each other that, relative to human history, and even early anthropology, geological time is ‘unimaginably’ deep. Perhaps this is because nonhuman pre-history is in fact imaginable in the sense that our bodies are Deep Time, and awareness of the body keeps us in touch with extinct mastodons, dinosaurs and primordial sharks.

So I am proposing here that if we are to have any chance of ‘loving’ the systems of Nature, and thereby faithfully under-standing and acting on their ‘needs’, we must bring life to our impersonal conceptualizations by practising embodiment. This practice can be applied to awareness of geography and complexity too: the body can ‘feel’ awesome distances and awesome richness and texture in many ways that I will leave readers to explore on their own. My intention here is to convince you that all this is not only manageable, but a constitutional imperative, because “the knowing body, which rises each morning and sleeps every night is ageless and tireless”. Object-ive moral paralysis, and fear of death itself, are dispersed in this knowledge.

Sun. Aug. 26/07   Devil’s Paint Brush
 
Orange Hawkweed in the grass,
In the bird song, in the breeze,
Under the fir trees,
Pierces me.
Through.
 
Not deep, like memory:
The first smell of salt air
Sweeping over strange grasses
In the twilight
(Have you heard the Devonian story?),
Upon which I or something like me
was long ago
Impaled.
 
Here I must return
With a stroke of the more humble brush.
 
There are stories attached
To the sea,
And there is the power of song
In time,
Which does not wait
On mere timelessness:
These flee eternally
The devil’s brush,
Yet cannot escape
That which restores
And honours them.

Any meaningful conceptualizing of Nature must be guided by the body’s intimate realization of time, texture, and space, whether we consciously distinguish the process or not; but ‘common sense’ is plagued by the corollary truism that our concepts can also be prematurely ‘concluded’ in the brilliance of this realization that is, when we ‘attach’ to it because embodiment is also the very ancient, the most fundamental, manifestation of conviction.

Humanity’s capacity for mental construction was born only yesterday in the long story of gene-constructed Life on Earth, and we have yet to harmonize the messages arising from our experience of these two different processes. Conceptuality all by itself (e.g. the systemic-ecology which convinces us that humans are just another species because we all depend on natural cycles), and our feelings all by themselves (we claim a “oneness with Nature” even while we accessorize our bodies to defeat population-ecology’s demand for co-evolved fitness), might not be enough to convince the reader that technology’s umbilical cord might have to be severed if we are serious about wanting both ‘parent’, and ‘child’, to thrive. These modes of awareness, all by themselves, might not even be enough to interest you in pursuing these speculations.

So, if you are one of the numberless, and indeed heroic, ‘health-care staff’ who are called upon to act in the fight to cure this global heating and species extinction disease, it is just as well you leave off now and attend to your duties; I can only hope you will carry on with a deepened capacity to be aware of how your work is necessarily embodied, and to take this into account. Re-mind yourself not to fight your body while you fight the Good War! But if, on the other hand, you are one of the ‘diagnostic team’ who still thinks the root cause of the disease has not been fully revealed quite yet, that the evidence is ‘inconclusive’, perhaps we can continue on this journey a bit further?

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