Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Coming Under the Influence of "The Spell of the Sensuous"

I've been reading some thought-provoking books this fall, and none more so than the one I just finished, The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram.

This book hypothesizes how "civilized" humans became so divorced from the living world around us that many people can't fathom how its health matters to them at all. I've learned some really interesting things while read it. For example, Plato was one of the first humans to use the phonetic alphabet to write down his (and Socrates') ideas. Why didn't Socrates write things down himself? He was probably illiterate. At that point in time, the phonetic alphabet was new technology. Literally. Like all of the most influential new technologies, it changed the way we humans lived, even thought. All of those discussions about what truth, beauty and goodness are? This was the first time in history that those abstract concepts could be looked at and studied without referencing the specific circumstances they occurred under; the first time that you could go back to what you said the day (or week or month or year) before and refresh yourself and others on EXACTLY what you had spoken about.

Divorcing the abstract concept from the specific circumstances changed how we judged our actions and behaviors in very fundamental ways.

Being able to recite (read) the same story, in exactly the same words, day after day after year after year, concretized our experiences too. The stories became unchanging, compared to oral traditions where the filter of new experiences changes the stories every time they are told, even by the same storyteller. This, too, changed how we understood the world around us.

Starting with a research grant to study magic in indigenous cultures, Abram found that he lived in relationship with the surrounding environment differently when he was "home" in the United States than when he was overseas meeting and learning from other "less advanced" cultures, where ties were much closer to the natural world. He found that he missed the deep sense of connection that he felt in those other cultures, and so he set out to try to figure out what had changed in human society to cut us off from that sense of natural connection.

I certainly understand now why Abram was picked by Utne Reader as "[o]ne of the hundred visionaries who are changing the world." I've been interested in the environment and the human role within it for most of my life. This intriguing book literally has me changing my understanding of who and what I am, as well as changing my understanding of my relationship with the natural world around me. I truly can't think of too many books I've read in my life that I can say that about.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Numinous Mundane

Sometimes there is incredible beauty in the mundane.

This morning I awoke at 5 a.m., thinking the dawn was beginning because of the light coming in through the bedroom window. As I slowly gained more awareness, I realized that the light was the glow of the full moon, shining with a luminous aura through the dewdrops caught on the screen of the window....