Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nature and Human Potential

Each of us is on a different journey through life, taking widely disparate paths and learning wildly different lessons along the way. Some people seem born to live their lives bathed in the spotlight and to be the movers and shakers of the world. Others of us take quieter, more contemplative paths. But every life seems to have its own internal coherence, a just-rightness about the path taken, even though it may have many convoluted turns and unimagined obstacles along the way.

When I look over my own life I can identify a few overarching themes--coherences that have been with me since childhood. One of those has to do with the importance of the natural world, the necessity for me to be rooted to a particular place, the need to be a participant in my local ecosystem. Looking back over my life I can see how, along the way, I have always been seeking this--always trying to mold my life so I can have a deep relationship with the more-than-human world. It has been such a visceral, vital need for me, as if my very life depended on it (and, actually, I believe it does).

The other major theme revolves around human potential, what I’ve called my quest to be “fully human”. At fifteen I knelt at my bedroom window one night, looking out through the dark and the fog at the graceful old maple tree at the end of the driveway, and I prayed that my life be given over to the quest for wisdom. It was the most earnest thing I had ever prayed or wished for, so earnest that I told that maple tree I would willingly surrender everything else in my life, if only I could follow the path of wisdom. By a “quest for wisdom” I meant that I wanted my life to be an ever-deepening exploration of my own human potential. I didn’t want to stagnate or go mindlessly through life, I wanted to stay awake for the entire trip and go deeper and deeper (or expand farther and farther) into this hologram that is our own potential.

Human potential is something that seems to be horribly squandered in our times. It doesn’t even seem to be talked about much anymore. In the consumerist and technology-addled culture we live in, where we fixate on material wants, needs, and comforts, we’ve become so pacified that we no longer seek for anything greater.

The intent of this blog when I started it was to explore this question about human potential: Who might we become when we drop the materialistic trappings of our culture? And as my explorations have continued, I’ve come to an important realization. We can’t become “fully human” unless we become fully embedded in the natural world around us. My two overarching themes in this life are actually the same theme! It’s only through intimate, full participation with our environment--with not merely the human environment, but the complex, ever-so richly nuanced, more-than-human environment--that we can reach our deepest potential. Cut ourselves off from the natural world and we cut ourselves off from the source of all intelligence and wisdom.

My trip back to the terrain of my childhood in 2011 really drove this insight home for me. Spending five months in deep immersion within the natural world turned what had previously been more or less only intuition into a lived reality of a different, deeper way of perceiving and being in this world.

Finally I’ve got a series of posts lined up to tell the story of my trip back home.

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