Sunday, November 4, 2012
Yoga & Nature
IN BODY-MIND practices, there is a strong sense of tai chi’s metaphor of human life as the “little universe” within the “larger universe.” With such a view, for optimal human life, the task to optimize human life then involves bringing human life into harmony with the larger universe or cosmos. But in general human activity, there is a tendency to reference human life as somehow separate from the universe, often as having come into the physical universe and leaving it upon death. Human life seems far more cultural than creatural, and sometimes more negatively artificial or positively civil than natural.
The focus of body-mind practices primarily engage the body in specific activities, and in that sense can be experienced as more natural than everyday routine. But body-mind practices can reflect and reinforce the popular sense of human life as separate and above nature. As such, body-mind practices aspire to control the body—to control nature--to ultimately optimize and free the spirit that is referenced as temporarily housed in the body.
In ancient civilizations and pre-literate societies, the sun was not a physical star as we understand it to be today, but rather was a god who crossed the sky. Similarly, stars, the seas, the mountains, as well as flora and fauna were gods, or intermediaries or the architecture/furnishings of landscapes of spirit rather than events with standing in their own right. The sacredness of place came from an essence that was beyond the events rather than from within the events. Again, the beyond—the apartness—was often culturally reinforced.
There have been periods in cultural development that have marked quantum shifts in human perception and action. These renascent periods, such as the Italian Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution, markedly shifted cultural life. In the post-industrial, cybernetic context of contemporary human life, there may be a new renascent task. In The Great Work, Thomas Berry suggests that the renascent task of human life involves integration into the larger global ecosystem. And this would not be a begrudging step back in human development to address environmental degradation that now feeds back on human health in a now-peopled Earth. And it would not be a Romantic step back into a pastoral. Rather, it would be a step forward to advance and optimize human life.
The biggest challenge to integration within the larger ecosystem is the predominant sense of separation from the natural world. We become our words. And if we imagine ourselves to be separate, it is difficult to integrate.
IN 1970, we saw Earth form space, and our image of the Earth from desk globes was changed forever. We were inside the thin, membranous biosphere. And we have not really caught up with our eyes. Our ecological literacy is still in its infancy and it only vaguely includes human life. Our languages still only vaguely express Earth even though the origins of our words may have their origins in the natural landscape/processes as Emerson posits in his essay Nature. As we advance as a species, we are finding that we are more deeply in nature, not apart from it.
In body-mind practices, we listen to the body. It has a voice, and it is our deep voice. Our hands are in a very real way our ancestors’ hands. And so, in body-mind practices, we aspire toward stilling and calming cultural bias and everyday chatter to listen to wisdom. We should remain critical of the voice, as it is likely to be strongly colored by our cultural biases. But when we repeatedly calm, there is a sense of something rich and authentic and optimizing to which we attune. We begin to find that the body is both natural and that we are more than our body. The landscape is the longer reach of ourselves, not a stage-set in which we act out our lives but an ongoing creative process that is both expressing us and designing us. Not separable islands as we might come to believe, our respiration and digestion and our thirst are currents that reach everywhere. And this landscape extends into infinities of largeness and smallness. And the more subtly and rationally that we measure, we find the influences of oceans and subtle influence of stars and of galaxies and likely of an infinity/multiplicity that we cannot begin to comprehend. Our culture is valuable, but small. To imagine ourselves as primarily cultural is to express our limitations.
In a now-peopled Earth, it may be more important than ever to integrate with the larger Earth ecosystem. How might the Earth express itself in us? What if the waters and atmosphere and mountains and even tiny blades of grass were temples, events not to be lost, stolen or strayed from human life?
Throughout human development, there has been a tendency to go out into nature as if it were external/outside. But now, with fresh eco-literacy, attending to the landscape of the body is the most intimate ground of nature. Restricting nature to unsettled wild places is another measure of our limits. Our eco-literacy is beginning to reveal an inherent wildness in both the destructive aspects of contemporary human life and in adaptive features of urban ecology. [See blog: “The Manicured Wilderness,” http://cityasecological.blogspot.com] We remain fragile and far more wild and creatural than artificial and cultural/civil.
But perhaps we can first begin by challenging our words and beliefs, or just let them go for some moments. And then attend to the body as something that we aspire to free and follow rather than as something aspire to control, as if it is really not us and something that gets in our way. And see what gate might open.