Coming to Our Senses
Human beings co-evolved with nature. Our deepest essence is intertwined with all beings everywhere, with all of creation on Earth, our home. Our souls know this to be true and when we lose this sense of interrelatedness, we develop what I call soul sickness.
Historically, our society developed a worldview based on the machine and separate from nature, which we seek to control. We live our lives inside climate-controlled houses, office buildings, "health" clubs and cars. Shut off from nature, our bodies lose their reference points for night or day, warm or cold, winter or summer. Our circadian rhythms move out of sync with nature's daily, monthly and seasonal cycles, and we readily develop sleep disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders and a host of other conditions.
We also learn to disconnect from our bodies, our sensate animal selves. While many humans were caught unawares and perished in the tsunami that hit Asia in December of 2004, animals anticipated the danger and fled to safety. Elephants ran to higher ground, as did goats and other species. According to one report, a herd of buffalo grazing by the beach lifted their heads, looked out to sea, then turned and stampeded up a hill, followed by villagers, whose lives were thereby saved.
How did those animals know to run? Perhaps their hoofs picked up a slight tremor from below. Or maybe they sniffed a wave of moisture riding on air. Somehow, they sensed imminent danger and reacted accordingly. Villagers who were attuned to the buffalo recognized their alarm and similarly ran away.
Our human ancestors gathered information to keep themselves healthy by smelling a substance, feeling it on their skin, tasting it on their tongue, looking at it closely, and opening their hearts to its messages. Some herbalists still teach students to gather information about properties of plants this way. They encourage students to nibble on a tiny piece of leaf, noticing sensations on the tongue and the back of the throat. A plant that feels gooey or slimy, for example, indicates that it has mucilaginous properties, which will be soothing to the skin or digestive tract.
These days most of us not only tune out sensory messages, we further confuse our senses with artificial sights (flat screens of computers and TVs), smells (perfume, room deodorizers), tastes (artificially flavored, sugar laden food), constant sound, and a barrage of other incoming stimuli, including electromagnetic frequency waves. We disregard bodily symptoms and trust diagnostic machines more than our own sense.
Not surprisingly, we have become so dissociated from the natural world that we have lost sight of the precious nature of our planet and readily abuse it. We pollute our air and dump toxic pesticides and herbicides on the earth. Residues of carcinogenic substances are appearing in our water supply. Dangerous by-products of "civilization," including nuclear waste material and hazardous chemicals, are stored in hiding underground.
Some psychological symptoms (depression, addiction, anxiety) can be traced to an awareness of what is happening to ourselves and Earth. Deep inside, we feel the pain of Earth along with anxiety about the future, and try to protect ourselves against these feelings – a form of psychic numbing. If we begin experiencing these feelings, we're encouraged to take Prozac or another SSRI (serotonin re-uptake inhibitor), which helps to numb us even more.
We live in a society of quick fixes, bombarded by ads that offer immediate gratification and transformation. We're seduced into buying drugs that purportedly cure every imaginable disease. Or a perfume or a car that will make us look beautiful and land the man or woman of our dreams. Yet quick fixes keep us hungry and yearning, buying one promised remedy after another. They might provide temporary relief from pain of many kinds, but underlying issues never get addressed.
Human beings intuitively seek out natural settings for healing. Deep inside, we yearn to connect with nature. Some people are drawn to the beach, others to the mountains. Our bodies, our psyches, and our souls resonate with these special places. When we bring plants and flowers to people recovering from surgery in a hospital, it's a way of bringing nature's healing influence into that otherwise sterile environment.
After living in an urban environment, I moved to Harmony Farm and began opening my senses to nature. While tending plants growing in our gardens, I sent my own roots deep into the earth. Whenever possible, I went barefoot, delighting in the sensations as my feet made contact with soft damp earth.
I encourage everyone to spend some time outside each day. Fortunately, nature exists everywhere, right outside our doors. Wherever you are, engage your senses. Breathe, smell, notice, listen. Use your heart as an organ of perception to send and receive messages with plants, animals, trees, rocks and also other humans. When we open our senses we come alive.
Lesley Irene Shore, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist, deep ecologist, organic grower, and workshop facilitator. She founded and directs Harmony Center – a non-profit with the mission of helping people connect with nature and align with soul. Visit www.harmony-center.org for a workshop schedule.