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.

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12 responses to “Nature as Object”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Alan Wallace has a rather extended meditation on the Christian theological roots of the mind body separation in his book, “Mind in the Balance.’ Owen Barfield traces it back further, to the Jewish ‘invention” of (their particularly version of) monotheism.Mirra Alfassa (Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator) traces it still further to Chaldea.

    The “Orange” level of spiral dynamics (within which Ayn Rand, D Trump, Paul Ryan and most alt righters and paleoconservative libertarians seem to fit) in its most pathological form seems to embody (irony intended) this split. Trump, with his misogyny, his notion that “I”m not going to walk the kids to the park,” since that’s the “woman’s” job, and his entitled notion of women (reflecting vulnerability, and the earth) are objects for his pleasure (if you can call something so utterly debased “pleasure”) – seems to be holding up for the world a mirror of the most extreme form this split can take.

  2. InfiniteWarrior says :

    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.

    Here we find the unmistakable stamp of Nagarjuna: three-fourths of the tetralemma shaping a rhetorical form that has lasted into the twenty-first century….

    [T]o look carefully at language and thinking, completely deconstructing them so that nothing is left; to point to our original mind by exhausting the contradictions of our ordinary, thinking mind; and to reveal the inherent contradictions we face every time we try to speak. Every time we try to say something, we are making a big mistake—we are pointing away from truth….

    You can’t assert anything because assertions necessarily separate, and things are not separate. It is our actual perception—not intellectual analysis, but direct perception—of no separation that truly reveals [“essence”]….

    Subject and object no longer blind us; the interpenetration of all beings becomes completely ordinary. Everyone has moments like this. And then everyone forgets. – Zen Math Will Never Add Up

    Needless to say, this article also points out the thorny issue of how grammar itself has played and still plays a role in perpetuating misperceptions and misactions.

  3. Charles Leiden says :

    I agree -The body is nature and nature is the body. Alan Watts talks about the delusion of “skin encapsulated ego.”

    As David Abram points out in The Spell of the Sensuous, our “spontaneous experience of the world, charged with subjective, emotional and intuitive content, remains the vital ground of all objectivity … and yet this ground goes largely unnoticed or unacknowledged in scientific culture.” He laments that this rather static realm of direct experience has come to be seen as a “secondary, derivative dimension,” or simply a “consequence of events unfolding in the realer world of quantifiable facts.” The living person has thus become “an epiphenomenon of the anatomized corpse”: that dead mechanical world which we humans have cleverly set about to map…

    p.263 He writes ‘in elucidating the process where civilization has turned in upon itself, isolating itself from the breathing earth, I have concentrated upon the curious perceptual and linguistic transformation made possible by the advent of formal writing systems, and in particular by the advent of phonetic writing… Good book

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      This blog desperately needs a recommended reading list or maybe a book swap initiative. ; ) Alas, my wishlist grows ever longer while my library grows ever-smaller, lends-to-friends and all that.

      • donsalmon says :

        Bravo IW: I was just thinking earlier today that this blog needs a recommended reading list…

        perhaps AND a book swap initiative. Care to send any books over to Asheville from Charlotte? We can get it started:>))

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes, but would you have time for them? Quite a few books have been recommended by myself and commenters (so many, in fact, that LittleBigMan had assembled a list of 50 or more by the time he left). I know I haven’t been able to keep up with the recommends myself. But I suppose I could start a page on the blog just headed “Books”, and assemble everything that’s been recommended there?

  4. abdulmonem says :

    When we do not retrace our knowledge to god the source of everything, we definitely go astray in the vertigo of the human divisive voices. When we do not utilize our faculties in reworking our own story that needs to be renewed all the time in light of the non-static movement of life and the proneness of the humans to fall and get up. Renewal of knowledge is a divine grant also, that needs the humans to let themselves get exposed to its flashes through the abode of meditation that requires nothing more than sincere devotion and authentic attention with intention after cutting themselves from the spells of the vertigo of acquired human knowledge. We are living in a language based universe ,through which we contact the source ,other humans and the whole of nature, but alas this language is often time get polluted and poisonous or lose its direction using concepts and notions that have no connection to reality of the encompassing whole, the one consciousness that activates the whole including the humans who have been put on a critical path because of the freedom given to rework their own unique story without being enslaved by others even if the other is a prophet, a seer or a sage. In the realm of this excellent cross-cultural team I am sure we can navigate our way to the hill of the integral consciousness where we can see more in order to share life with others more in an atmosphere of real compassion and intimacy. Skins speak so the quran declares in this real extended life of ours when the barrier between the now and the then melts away.

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    Good idea about a book list.

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