Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Being Aware, & Resisting That Which Would Tame Us

excerpt from "The Wisdom of Wilderness" by Gerald May

"What we are missing is fullness of life. To put it simply, in concentrating on one thing at a time, we miss everything else. Going shopping, we miss the sky. Doing work, we miss the singing of birds. In conversation with one person, we ignore the presence of others. Through it all, we fail to appreciate our own precious being - the soft flow of breath, the beating of heart, the subtle beauty and wisdom of body, the sheer pristine wonder of being aware. One could say these are only aesthetic qualities, unimportant in handling the real tasks of daily life, but our handicapped awareness has serious and far-reaching practical implications as well.

Like domesticated animals, we are completely unprepared for the wild - the wild outdoors, the wild in our cities, the wild in our own psyches. In any of these places, we panic when we're lost and afraid. We frantically concentrate our attention here and there, following nonexistent tracks, unaware of a thousand clues from sky and light and smell and inner Wisdom that could tell us where to go and what to do. Feeling so divorced from the nature within and around us, we make wildness an adversary that we must tame rather than join, master rather than learn from. Wherever we find it, we feel we must force Nature into the tunnel of our own concentrated vision. That's what brings us to manage natural resources, engineer social change, strategize our child-rearing and human relationships, control our emotions, and cope with our stresses.

There are, of course, places for focused awareness. I'm happy that my airline pilot and my surgeon are able to concentrate on their checklists and technical procedures, but I hope they have plenty of contemplative presence as well. When the checklist is complete, I hope my pilot will be open to all stimuli at once, the sound of the engines, the look of the surrounding sky, the feel of the controls, simply present to everything as a whole. And I hope my surgeon will pause frequently to take a breath and sense the subtleties that don't fit into lists and procedures, to be attentive not just to the rate of my pulse and breath but to their gentle rhythms as well, and to all the sights and sounds and smells and feelings and intuitions of each precious moment. In any activity, in any setting, it is this contemplative possibility that makes the difference between simple technical correctness and truly accurate responsiveness.

My hunch is that life needs 95 percent openness and 5 percent concentration, and we have the proportions reversed. I wish we could encourage our children's natural contemplative awareness as well as their capacity to concentrate. And I wish that we adults who have been trained-away from contemplative presence could have a teacher to show us where the present moment is. All it takes is Someone or Something to point us in the right direction, and then, when we look there, we discover teachers waiting everywhere: inside trees, animals, wind, and stars, in the pristine eyes of little children, and in our own souls."