What if everything possessed life? Not just trees and flowers and plants and animals; mammals and humans and fish. I’m talking about everything.
Dirt. Stones. Mountains. Snow. The shoes on your feet. Your guitar (mine is pretty alive sometimes). A bouncing ball. A paperclip. Fire.
Indigenous people in the not too distant past listened to the natural world and viewed everything in it as alive. And they listened. They listened to rocks and mountains; to sticks and clouds; to inanimate things like books and beads and glass.
The difference between the Western view and indigenous people is we Westerners view this listening as metaphor as opposed to something real.
The American Indian writer, Vine Deloria said this: “I think Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people, especially science, reduce things to objects, whether they’re living or not. If you see the world around you as made up of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, not only is it inevitable that you will destroy the world by attempting to control it, but perceiving the world as lifeless robs you of the richness, beauty, and wisdom of participating in the larger pattern of life.” I bolded that last part because I would like you to re-read it, again, slowly. Like a Canadian lumberman once said: “When I look at trees I see dollar bills.” If you look at trees in this way, you will not see the tree for what it is, its inherent aliveness, its contribution to the beauty in your yard; how planting and caring for that old tree fed your soul. You’ll remember the tart apple pie your mom made from apples you picked at the local orchard. You’ll remember tree sounds: the flapping and rustling of leaves in the wind, the creaking of worn out willow branches, and the sound of jumping in a mammoth pile of crisp autumn leaves.
Have you ever seen an islander climb a coconut tree? Have you ever sat triumphantly at the top of a sprawling oak, feeling comfortable and happy in the soft curve of its branches?
I’m not saying never cut down a tree. I’m saying maybe the tree deserves your reverence. Maybe asking permission to cut the tree, and thanking it for its beauty and shade will set your mind in a different groove; a compassionate, gentler groove than if you were to charge in absentmindedly with your chainsaw, acting like a conqueror. Talk to the tree as if it can hear you.
Maybe it can.
Like that old beater van you drove for 13 years. Ready for the pile heap. It’s not even good anymore for parts. What a piece of junk. I deserve a new car. I’ve put up with that tin can for long enough.
And that junker put up with you long enough! Your negative words and drag-me-down language. Your heavy dissatisfaction and lingering, repetitive disappointment (see how you’re making yourself feel?). Maybe the car that gave you so many years of service can hear you. So…
Thank you, dear junker. Look how far we’ve come together. Traveled back roads and super highways. You took me to the beach. We rode together to work every day. Remember when I tied my canoe to the top & we had a lovely day at the lake? Remember the road trip across the Continental Divide? Or that time we veered off-road to take pictures of desert cactus?
I’m convinced if we gave reverence to everything, animate and inanimate, our all-encompassing perceptions of the world would change. If we looked at everything as being alive we’d care for things differently. Our attitudes and relationships would change for the better.
How do we listen to the world? Communication occurs without words. Think of your pets. They don’t understand English, but we talk to them anyway. We just need to take a little time to read things. To listen to the unspoken language of imagination and intuition. Maybe it will take more effort and patience. Maybe there’s value in the silent things, living or not. Just because we can’t hear them speak doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.
So I’ll keep talking to stones. Kites. Beach sand and spoons. They’re saying feed me, see me, sail me; they’re practically screaming. Listen.