Saturday, December 11, 2010


Inspired by David Abram’s marvellous book Becoming Animal, I have been thinking a lot about reciprocity today. And about the lack of it. In our culture, insulated as most of us are from the realities of wild Nature, even when we are in the countryside our surroundings and the creatures that inhabit them tend to slide into a two-dimensional backdrop for our thoughts and human-based activities, like a kind of wallpaper. We forget to be fully present, to pay attention, to interact consciously with whoever and whatever is around us. Tuned only to signals from the human world—the voices of companions, the chatter in our heads and perhaps the music from our iPods—we fail to interact with the more-than-human world and fail to comprehend its depth and richness. We swim through an ocean of potential relationships in wetsuits of distraction and  withholding, in spacesuits of hollow solitude.

I have heard people who have spent all their lives in one place and know it intimately say that in a way they feel merged with the land. It  is so familiar that it has become a part of them—or they a part of it. They rest into it in comfort. And although they may not remain consciously aware of it at all times, since they know it so well they notice even the smallest change—the swelling of a bud, a slight rise in the water table, the first migrating bird. 

But those of us, like me, who have travelled a lot and lived on several different continents, face another problem over and above the problem of tuning out and that is the occasional lapse into nostalgic discontent. Walking under a dull, grey sky, I can so easily find myself yearning for remembered sunshine. Moving through the endlessly farmed and gardened landscapes of my native England I suddenly long for wildness and the challenge of mountain slopes, trackless forests and dry arroyos. And yet, when the wildness of a canyon or the strangeness of a strangler fig (or the sight of leeches crawling up my boots)  threatens to overwhelm me I start thinking about the benign nature of my familiar woods.

I have reminded myself, sternly, that every place has its own, particular beauty and that places I have known and loved are,  like old friends I rarely see, still a part of me. I belong here and I also belong there…and there, and there, and there. It is wonderful to feel that one belongs everywhere. But the dark side of belonging everywhere is to belong nowhere.

 There is one simple answer. It is that old sixties slogan that has never gone out of date—be here now. Be where you are. Be fully where you are. When you see a bird, the bird also sees you. When you touch a tree, the tree touches you in response.
Every step on the Earth is a question to which the Earth supplies the answer—yes I am touching you. Feel that pull of gravity? That’s me holding you tight, loving you. And as you walk, your feet massage my skin. Yes you are a part of me, yes you are here, we are always together, in death or in life it matters not which. We are one. All of us.

Reciprocity. An exchange of gifts. Breathing in and breathing out. To whatever is around us we give the gift of our energy, our attention, our love. And it comes back to us tenfold. Those are the times when the world suddenly seems to swell and deepen around us, everything leaps into three dimensions. Maybe even four dimensions. And there is such richness and beauty all around us that we can only gasp in wonderment. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…wow!

Tomorrow, when I go for a walk, I think I shall write a reminder on my hand. Delight in where you are. Wherever you are.


claire bangasser said...

You are so right! Be here now. I have discovered it is the only way I feel alive, when I am mindful -- and grateful.

It is not so easy in daily life, but so simple as I walk the Camino. How long will it take me to walk to Santiago before I can apply to my life everywhere what I practice then?

Thank you for reminding me :-)

Rosaria Williams said...


Grandmother Mary said...

Such a dificult prescription and so important. Wake up to the interactions of my day, all of them. Stay awake, don't hide in my distractions. I liked your phrase: " wetsuits of distraction and witholding...". I liked your whole post.I've put myself on notice- again. Thank you.

Elderwoman said...

Thank you all for these comments. Yes, we all need the reminders - constantly! But as with meditation, the goal, I think, is not to achieve a permanent state of mindfulness (which, even though it's what we aim for, is probably impossible for 99.9% of us anyway, at this stage of our evolution) but to keep exercising the 'mindfulness muscle' as much as we can. I don't know about you but if I manage it for just a few minutes a day I am well pleased, even though I am blessed with beautiful places to walk in. Claire, you probably do better than that on your pilgrimage. But it's easier in that 'special' energy of the Camino, for sure. (Just like it's easier to meditate in a group because of neuronal entrainment.) Harder to do at a meeting or when grocery shopping!

Folkways Note Book said...

Marian -- Your words are introspective. I agree with you that every place has its own particular beauty. Reciprocity -- rich thought. A very good post. -- barbara

joared said...

I wish you a Happy New Year!

"We swim through an ocean of potential relationships in wetsuits of distraction and withholding, in spacesuits of hollow solitude."

This is so true with all that surrounds us and even the people whose lives touch us in passing. Now that I lead a slower paced life, I find noticing all around me easier, but sometimes accentuating an uneasy restlessness of isolation also.

Rebecca Komer-Bright said...

Yes! "Delight in where you are wherever you are." Be it physical, spiritual, emotional, or your stage in life, be present and live it fully. After reading your blog today my eyes see a bit brighter, my energy feels a bit lighter. Thank you & Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Elderwoman, I am just now finding your blog and this post in the week I begin reading Becoming Animal. Lovely timing. I find Abrams' language often so dense I need a small scythe to cut thru the sensual images and lush verbage. And so I appreciate the simplicity with which you speak of Reciprocity. "Every step on the Earth is a question to which the Earth supplies the answer—yes I am touching you." Thank you.

Maureen said...

What a lovely post! I try to remind myself to live in the moment and to truly appreciate everything and every person I'm in contact with.

Thank you for the thoughtful reminder.

the wild magnolia said...

Good post on awareness of our surroundings. Excellent reminder for me!

hele said...

you inspire me today. thank you