Nature as Object
It is becoming something of a cliche today to point out that the body is integrated with nature, and not separate. We come to know nature in and through the body, which is nature. So, it’s surprising still to find nature described in purely abstract and utilitarian terms, as an object of purely utilitarian interest and function. Some people refer to this ethos as “extractivism”, but as far as I can tell that seems to be only another term for utilitarianism. And although some people think utilitarianism is a secular ethos, it actually started life as a theological doctrine — that nature, Earth, and all the creatures of the Earth, existed for man’s possession and use, in whatever way man saw fit to use them. And the human ego nature, being what it is — that is to say grasping and acquisitive — simply extended that logic to include other people too.
To say that the body is integrated with nature, and is essentially one with nature (and therefore nature cannot be treated solely as an object) means that the body’s boundaries do not end at the skin. They actually extend well beyond the skin and beyond even what the physical senses can perceive directly. It may be common sense, these days, to realise that the desolation of nature is simultaneously, and unavoidably also, the desolation of the body. But while people may acknowledge this is so, still they act as if it weren’t true.
At the first level of fundamental common sense, we know that the body is integrated with nature through the respiratory functions (air), the circulatory functions (water), the nervous system functions (fire or electro-magnetic), and the metabolic functions — the old elements of Air, Water, Fire, and Earth — and through these processes we sustain a constant dialogue, as it were, with nature via the body. There are, in other words, chemical processes, electro-magnetic processes, and gaseous processes that extend well beyond the body’s sensible and visible boundaries and serve as forms of dialogical comunication between the body and nature or the Earth (and also other creatures). All are fundamentally, however, energy processes. Some creatures even communicate with each other and with their environment too exclusively in one or the other — chemical, electro-magnetic, gaseous or so on, and our bodies, below the level of sensate awareness, also respond to these subliminal communications. It is even possible for the human body to translate these communications into speech patterns.
This has been done, much more often in days of old than today amongst certain gifted or sensitive people in that respect, but also is being done today using sensitive technical instruments.
The body, then, is in constant contact with the “chatter” going on around it all the time. It is integrated within this field — “one with all that is”, as Jill Bolte-Taylor aptly put it in her TED talk, and any disturbances in that field of energy patterns and relations is immediately detected and responded to by the body which may manifest as sudden and inexplicable changes of mood or disposition, or strong psycho-chemical reactions, like fear, or nervousness and so on, or even moments of laughter and joy that arise for no reason. You may notice, at times, that you walk into a room, or some place, and feel immediately at ease or immediately uneasy, and can’t quite put you finger on why. You might chalk it up to your “sixth sense” or “clairvoyance” or “premonition” but in most cases it’s your body responding to the energies being communicated to it from its surroundings.
So, in those terms, the body’s boundaries extend well beyond the physical frame in very subtle ways and is literally in those terms, integrated with the web of life. And in those terms too, yes, you can detect a “disturbance in the force” well before its visible manifestation or detection by the physical senses, which may come upon you as feelings of Angst or dread or a sense of the ominous, or a queer feeling or an unnameable uneasiness. It’s your body responding to changes in the field of energy patterns around it.
And, yes, there was also a time when human beings could understand the language of plants, the language of trees, and the language of birds and animals. This is not even a matter of speculation since experiments are going on even today in translating the chemical language of plants and their moods into visible or audible forms using very sensitive instruments. But the most sensitive instrument remains, and is, the extended human body. There have even been some experiments to try and detect those electro-magnetic or chemical fields that extend beyond the human physical form and which also function as receptors for other such fields.
The Imagination often does translate these energy patterns into sensible or perceptible objects. That’s what we do, more indirectly, when we hook up plants to an electronic synthesizer and record their “talk” or chatter, which is often quite melodious. Just look up “plant communication” and you’ll find all sorts of research going on in this respect. Of course, many “green thumb” people never had any doubts that a very deep bond existed between plant and human at a more or less unconscious level, or that some plants disliked the proximity of other kinds of plants. Some may hold that research into plant communication is frivolous compared to, say, fusion energy. But it’s going to have wide-ranging consequences, especially for ecology.
But also for the body, because the human body is a marvelous instrument — a great cosmos in itself, which is why Blake held that every creature carries its universe around with it.
The body is nature and nature is the body. This will come round again, even as “the integral consciousness”. We will come to know it again, even if we will have to learn it the hard way it seems.