Seeing Deep Into Nature--Ours and the World's


There's an apocryphal story Seeing Deep Into Naturethat goes like this: When Captain Cook's ship arrived on the shores of Terra Australis Incognito, or unknown southern lands, the Aborigines could not see it. This large ship was so beyond the realm of anything they had experienced, they were literally blind to it. I contemplate what this might mean for us in terms of our relationship to the natural world. Could it be that in separating from nature, in having it be something we increasingly know nothing about, we are in danger of not seeing it? Could we be moving beyond nature deficit disorder into nature blindness?

Mary Oliver, one of our most beloved poets, writes constantly of the need to pay attention to the world about us. To do so, she asserts, is a kind of prayer. We build a reverence for the world thorough attentiveness to it.

Any time you stop for a moment to notice the air, the light, the season, you are training yourself to see the world. The more you open up to a full bodied embrace to the world, the more she will reveal to you.

My work with earth’s archetypes provides another way out of nature blindness. Writes Robert Stetson Shaw, “You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.” When we see not only a tree, but a rooted presence, that is a living metaphor for some aspect of the self, then the tree is no longer some object to be viewed, but a part of the psyche to be experienced, acknowledged and integrated.

Metaphors help us see ourselves in the world and the world within us. Mary Oliver’s poems begin by focusing on the natural world, but always return us to our inner world. Thus a summer day spent looking at a grasshopper with enormous and complicated eyes, begs the question, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?"

Ingesting nature’s metaphors we are coming to see, as Thomas Berry writes in The Great Work:

Only if our human imagination is activated by the flight of the great soaring birds in the heavens, by the blossoming flowers of Earth, by the sight of the sea, by the lightning and thunder of the great storms that break through the head of summer, only then will the deep inner experiences be evoked within the human soul.

In other words, in becoming blind to the natural world, aren't we also in danger of losing sight of what makes us human?