I have a sad story to tell. It is the story of a woman who lived in a shoe. No, that’s a different story. This one is about a woman who lived on top of a sweet little mountain tucked into a great range of mountains in Western North Carolina, the oldest mountains in the world some say. With wildness, woods and big sky all around her, she breathed every day the immensity of her environment. The animated world of nature’s sound, light and color, of strong wind blowing through big trees, of owls, coyotes, bears and forest animals filled her days as she taught and wrote, dreamed and mused and enjoyed the company her tribe, the mountain people. When the woman conducted telephone sessions with those who called for her assistance with dreams and plumbing the depths of psyche, the massive trees outside her window spoke to her in oracular ways, communicating in astonishingly precise messages what the soul of the world had to say about the soul of these conversations. Wind, light and shadow shaped leaves and branches into faces and symbols that spoke deeply to the emotions and issues at play. She could read them as easily as some read their books.
This woman loved her mountain home, thinking to stay there to her dying day until one day she suddenly realized, like a lightning flash, that she had to move into town. The knowing struck so soundly that she could only move forward with it, could not look back. And so she did.
In town she was helped and guided with loving care by both visible and invisible allies as she faced the challenges of finding living spaces and work spaces, as she endeavored to build her new work along with networks of colleagues and friends. One day, quite magically, she found a new cottage home to buy in a forested neighborhood with nearly an acre of enchanted secret garden behind it. Birds and squirrels, wild turkeys and even bears came to call. She began to make plans for how to build little yurts or domes in precious woodsy spots around the magic garden, there to host dream groups and other activities in support of soul work and psyche. Her next planned project was to transform her cute little wood shed into a zendo where she can get away from phones, computers and electronics of any kind to just be in the woods alone with nature.
One fateful day last week, after being away at her downtown office from morning til night for several days running, the woman went out to her back garden to sit in the sun while she had her lunch. Looking up from her plate her eyes could barely register what greeted them. The forest on one whole side of her property had been clear-cut. It was gone. Disappeared. A cleared, devastated landscape now shown where the forest had been. Her secret garden was no longer secret – there is now no barrier between it and the barren land that stretches over to the brand spanking new three-story house that had been built on land that she thought was two lots over, but which now, excruciatingly, she realizes borders her land. She had been saddened at the new development as it did not seem consistent with the other houses and sensibilities in this forested place, but at least the trees and shrubs created a visual and sound barrier. No more. Now the formerly private life in her garden is but a view to cut down trees and a looming house. At night, what was previously dark forest now has three stories of light bouncing off the trees. And the woodsy spaces where she planned to place a yurt, a dome and her zendo might as well be in the middle of the street, it seems.
If someone had torn the side off the woman’s house it would be horrible, but at least she could call in a carpenter and have it put back up in short order. Not so with a forest that took decades to rise up into its lusty complexity and beauty.
A friend came over to take the woman out into nearby woods on a hike, hoping to help revive her spirit. Normally the rich enchantment of the wild world would soothe and refresh her immensely. But when she got to the forest she realized that something felt altered in her perception and it scared her. As she entered it seemed as if the enchanted world had faded like a dream from which she had been jolted awake. Now all she saw about her was wood, dirt, leaves, roots, rocks – all seeming like dead matter rather than living presences; she saw the forest as a simple commodity you can just cut down and not care. The woman thought, “Wow, this is how the world is actually experienced by some people. I never, ever saw it like this before!” As Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” She was suddenly seeing differently, or not seeing what had always been apparent to her before. She began to question her sanity; was this diminished reality the raw truth of things and previously she had lived in a fanciful delusion?
Her heart became sick. She couldn’t think or sleep or look out her window.
She hasn’t yet met the people who did the clear cutting. They will move in soon. These folks may be the sweetest people in the world, and her assumption is that of course they absolutely mean no harm to anyone at all; they are just building their own nest in the way that makes sense to them. But these new neighbors have left her with a task she never expected to be faced with – how to reclaim lost enchantment. The shock has done something to her she realizes, more than just the matter of planting new trees and boundaries. It switched off an internal energy current, and now she has to figure out what the experience wants from her, how to respond, how and even whether to locate the inner light box and turn the switch back on. She is bemused.
Ok, it is time for the author to change voice. I wrote the story in the third person because it is feels too painful to write in first person. And maybe because it would sound self-indulgent to say “me” and “I” throughout. Some have told me that I am over-reacting to this event and I accept that. But I want to write a short bit about my grief for the Earth that arises along with my own personal grief; maybe that is partly what makes it all so big for me.
Historian and philosopher Mircea Eliade elucidates the chasm between the sacred and the profane, explaining that in archaic societies the entire cosmos was experienced as sacred – rocks, trees, stones, stars – all manifestations of the sacred. He wrote that, “It should be said at once that the completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit.” Scientist Rupert Sheldrake uses the term “machine cosmology” to describe the worldview that has developed since the scientific revolution. The universe is now seen as a machine, soulless matter mechanized by mathematical urgencies. And we, as part of it, are such. Not sacred, not gods and goddesses, but matter made up of physiological urges. Rene Descartes was an original visionary of this movement.
In this cosmology, waters are not sacred, air is not sacred, you can pour poison into them and devastate whole ecosystems without it being a crime of any kind. It’s just a machine, no sin to dismantle it. I won’t go on and on. I have written a whole dissertation about this, and addressing the concern is central to my life’s work.
We do still have access to the original mind, what I call the indigenous mind, which experiences the world as ensouled, but the other mind that is aggressively instilled by modern culture and education threatens its extinction, at which point the possibility of human survival on the planet may be in question. I am seeing this recent event in my life as a kick in the derriere, possibly precisely intended to help me regain focus around these intentions and passions which have become diluted by efforts to simply survive my life. Must begin again, and anew.
I will close with this little story. Soon after moving to my new home, I re-upped efforts around an intention I have held since childhood; I want to be able to actually see fairies, gnomes, leprechauns, dwellers of that realm that I truly believe are real but which stand just outside most humans’ perceptual capability. I spent some weeks going into my secret garden at night to leave these beings some food and drink, having read that they love to be fed by us. It is said that the matter of the offering remains, but the fairies, leprechauns and such imbibe the essence of the food and are nourished. I love the idea, so began feeding them, hoping to introduce myself as the new resident here and let them know I care to be in relationship to them and hope to see them.
When the shock of the forest clearing hit last week, I worried at once about the fairies and leprechauns and how this might affect them. I understand that my confession may now convince the reader that yes, indeed, delusion is a problem here. It does occur to me as well. To that thought system however, I impart this story told to me by an Irish friend. Priests in Ireland became concerned with the common folks’ belief in fairies and felt it their duty to eradicate this nonsense from their minds. Maybe the fairy realm competed with the messages of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, not sure. A priest says to one of his parishioners, “Now Mary, you don’t believe in fairies anymore do you?” To which she replies, “Oh NO Father. I don’t believe in them anymore. No, not at all. But – they’re there!”
To this struggle between a sacred and profane cosmology that erupted in my own psyche recently, reviving my concern regarding the same struggle in the world psyche, I will say that I’m with Mary. When we happen to stand in the position of a desacralized cosmos, matter as machine, and poo-poo the idea that trees, stones, plants, stars are beings, we know we are just too smart and too sophisticated to believe in such spirits. Of course we don’t believe in them.
But they’re there.