Wednesday 17 January 2024

How should we try to relate to nature?

Since the advent of Romanticism some 250 years ago; it has been said that Man is cut-off from the world of Nature, making each of us alienated and prone to despair - and therefore wee should strive to re-connect. 

This is all true; but the problem has been - for those who genuinely tried to re-connect - that it doesn't work; or, more exactly, the method prescribed only works in (and by inducing) an altered, lowered, state of trance-like consciousness that is essentially passive and contemplative and cannot be integrated with the rest of life. 

At best, it makes for a kind of "holiday" from our mundane state of alienated despair - something we can later remember and day-dream about - or "recollect in tranquility" to paraphrase Wordsworth.

This just isn't good enough: it does not suffice. At best, we alternate between a dreamy holiday absorption in nature, and the usual isolated disconnection. 

What we want (or, at any rate, what I seem to need) is not such alternation (typically massively weighted towards the mundane) but to move towards integrating our whole life as well as re-connecting with nature.  

As an example, here is John Matthews describing the usual way that romantics have (over many generations) striven to re-connect with nature: 

There are many things you can do to bring about a re-connection. Begin by noticing the world around you. By truly looking. By seeing past the surface of things to the level of Spirit. 

At the moment when you go out into nature you see only the surface of things. Trees, grass, water, plants. Yet the reality of these things is far greater. Once you knew this. You can discover it again if you truly wish. 

Next time you are outside look around you. Try to see beyond the surface into the true nature of things you see. Though you may find it difficult to do so at first, in time you will begin to see more. If you continue far enough and deeply enough you will even begin to communicate with the spirit within the things you are observing. In truth you will cease to be observers at all and become part of the thing you are looking at. 

This is what the ancient bards of this land meant when they spoke of having `been` a thing. This was more than a poetic image, but a very real truth. To truly know a thing is to become one with it. Just as to become one with it is to truly know it. When you do this you will begin to understand the true nature of things, and of your own relationship to them. 

I would not say that this is bad advice, or that we should never do it - far from it! And John Matthews is a worthy chap, whose work I have appreciated and learned-from. 

But I would point-out that what he suggests often does not work, and - as a life strategy - it does not work very well... I have tried, and it failed; and (as I said) many people have been recommending this for more than two centuries - and here we are!

I think the root problem is firstly that this strategy strives to sink ourselves into oneness with nature - and therefore leads to all the problems of oneness spirituality. Instead, our attitude ought to be Christian - which entails that we have a relationship with the spiritual world, rather than merging with it. 

And secondly it does so by means of trying to re-shape our perceptions (seeing, hearing, smelling, touch) so that we begin to perceive the underlying spiritual realities - whereas we ought to be directly-knowing spiritual reality. 

Thirdly, it tries to re-connect through feeling, through our emotions; whereas we ought to be doing-so by our thinking: by "primary thinking". 

In combination, it can be seen that the attitude to nature that I believe is necessary - both when we are "in" it, and also when "recollecting in tranquility" our past experiences; is very different from that of traditional (and non-Christian - "perennialist") Romantics, like John Matthews, or many others. 


Laeth said...

I have found this connection through gardening, which is an active engagement, a collaboration. it does not lead me to a consciousness of absorption but of relationship to the many beings involved. at the very least, it works for me. but there are probably many particular ways, it could be foraging, animal husbandry, hunting, making baskets or clothes, but the key I think is engagement instead of passive observation.

Epimetheus said...

One thing missing from all discourse on environmentalism and scientific study of ecosystems is we can't measure one of the most primary things about nature. That is, the will to live of plants and animals. As near as I can tell, the desire to live and flourish is almost infinite amongst non-human life - we can only aspire to such tenacity. If only we could break through our problems the way small plants can ascend through asphalt, if only we loved life as much.