The following is my reflection from “Nature and Eros,” a course offered in the Spring time by the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness graduate program at CIIS. So that you have context, I have provided the course description below:
Nature and Eros
Instructors: Brian Swimme and co-facilitators Kerry Brady & Brock Dolman Description of Course:
This course is an engagement in holistic education, founded in the evolutionary philosophy of Brian Swimme, the integral wisdom of Kerry Brady and the ecological science of Brock Dolman. During the industrial era, education was understood primarily as the transfer of knowledge and information from teacher to student. The widely assumed worldview of the industrial era regarded nature as something out there, something inferior to the human, something that humans learned about in their classrooms. But in the new evolutionary cosmology, nature is understood as both our primary matrix and our primary teacher. Nature is the source of existence as well as an ongoing wellspring of wisdom for what it means to be human. This five-day intensive retreat employs conceptual, emotional, experiential, and intuitive learning processes in order to embrace nature as the multidimensional matrix, not only of our bodies, minds, and souls, but of our civilization as well.
Nature-and-Eros: Undulating in the Undulation
The first night of Nature and Eros was a test:
As the speaking bowl moves around the circle Council, the mood of our group undulates from heavy to light and back again. Landing with J1 we are inspired to giggle as she recounts her story of Losing, of Loss, and being Lost. Before leaving for the retreat J1 loses her bag, the keeper of her whole life—cell phone, keys, credit cards… What will she do when she returns? At this note the mood takes a dip—the circle-round sharing her fear, our mutual fear of Uncertainty. Losing her bag, like she’s lost her car once; like her bicycles—lost to Bay-Area-bike-thieves; even herself, often turning-round to realize she doesn’t know where she is. As I await my turn to speak in the Council circle, I fight off a barrage of rehearsal language. How offensive to my sensitive persona! I know most everyone present is fighting the same battle, but our mutual suffering isn’t enough to keep me from cursing myself. How selfish I am for being swept up by thoughts, thinking so loud it puts my comrades on mute! All we need do is air out where we’re at; what we’ve arrived with; how we are. Why does that warrant a plan? Why am I so incapable of letting go? Suddenly, the speaking bowl lands in the hands of S next to me. The woman next to her, M, prompts her with the question,
“Do you know how beautiful you are?”
Alas, if only that question had been directed at me! All my thoughts would have been obliterated in a reaction of tears—real authenticity. That would be the correct response. But because I so identify with tragedy, S’ response absorbs me and I forgot about my story. She and I are similar, I realize, as she tells her own—a frequency close to mine.
And then it’s my turn. I didn’t think it would, but my heart
Will she ask me the same question?
Does she feel our fellow-feeling already?
But she doesn’t—doesn’t ask me the same question.
Instead, she asks me the question we were instructed to ask if we couldn’t think of anything else:
“What is in your heart?”
A beautiful question no matter the circumstance, but a move that catches me off guard. I was expecting to play my part—my script at the ready. Alas. Our eyes slowly break contact and I turn toward the middle of the circle—heart still pounding—and behold the small wooden bowl in my hands. I thumb over a raised, circular part, like a pregnant belly, and think of my mother. I feel the fullness of her love set against the current estrangement I feel from her, a mist of uncertainty and suspicion hanging over my life. Whatever performance I had in mind dies and instead upwells a volcanic force that erupts from my being as tears, trembling, and words that are heaving with the impossible weight of loneliness:
Eyes closed, I buckle over. I can’t bear to look at anyone. Not out of embarrassment, but something more like… Isolation. I pass the bowl to Mary-Ann next to me. Meeting her eyes, I ask her a question I mean for myself,
“What are you missing?”
Reflecting on that moment today, I write to you, dear reader, from a place of surrender. I’ve put my reflection off, let it marinate, until smoke started to rise and I smelled the burning. The taste is charred; I’ve lapsed into the same habits of doubt as usual: how will I muster the creativity to complete this assignment? How will I find the right answer to the single question? Am I even capable of capturing the significance of those five days?
Though I felt somewhat annoyed with the persistence of my planning mind during our first circle Council, the honesty I tapped into became an anchor for my return. I sank back down there today for the sake of a “performance,” what I prefer to think of as a “presencing,” or an embodied “re-presentation” of the shift in cosmological orientation I so badly want to stick.
What did that consist of?
First off, it was grounded by the anchor I mentioned, by the release of plans and the sinking into a moment. A death. If Creativity is the primordial force of the cosmos, worrying about how I will produce enough of it to churn out this reflection is completely unfounded—an error at the ontological level. It was never mine anyway. And so I let go of that self who feared my typing this, trusting that the stupefyingly “perfect” rate the cosmos expands at—a rate which allows galaxies, life, and flowers to blossom—might mean something for my reflective efforts, too.
That kind of trust figures into my life later on the evening of our first night. Compared to the sweltering, screaming Amazon Rainforest and its hint of jaguar, Bell Valley seems a safe new addition to my stories of travel. The name even sounds quaint. But with my tent pitched furthest away than anyone else’s—a gold star spot I secured at the end of a needlessly strenuous quest up the mountain—the walk back home after first Council proves spookier than I expected. A mob of wild boar hollering echoes through the land, through my being, raising my hairs on end. The haunting of their presence is accompanied by a growl I’d heard in the brush hours earlier, a large animal by the sound of it, and angry too—angry at my intrusion, I felt. Instead of irrationalizing my fear, I embrace the possibility of somehow being killed by the creatures of the valley. I trudge on, marveling above at the net of jewels I hadn’t seen shine so brightly for at least a year. I accept the mystery of cosmic unfolding and whatever role it might have in store for me next—even if that were to be a victim of wild boar mob mentality. Indeed, the creative advance of our collective story may transcend my immediate wishes as an individual. Better to let go and feel the flow.
The ecstasy of release I felt made all the more acute a lesson I learned uncomfortably throughout the night as I tossed and turned: stop “shoulding!” The should I was saddled with was my stubborn decision to camp far away from everyone, even when my gut said otherwise. Ironically, I pitched my tent directly over a patch of holes tusked up by a mob of boars and spent the night as if on a slide, my body painfully conforming to a lumpy incline. I should be getting 8 hours of sleep, I scolded myself as I woke each hour. Tomorrow is going to be miserable, I prepared myself.
“Stop shoulding, Ashton!” Listen to B and K, echoing the anthropologist Eduardo Kohn when they reject the industrial 6-8 hours of productive sleep for a productive workday. No need to pathologize sleeplessness and seamlessness between waking and dream. Consider this:
The liminal which makes you feel so anxious and vulnerable may be just what “you” need.
I bark this at myself, but then I realize that’s the wrong tone. Soften, sweet thing, you are a result of the 14 billion year long artistry after all! Carbon life-form, oh, you diamond you! This is the place where I “presenced” from earlier today, the place I write from now. It is a confidence, slowly flowering, in my response to the moment and its endless possibilities—the breathing back and forth of possibility and actuality. It is the annihilation of “just me,” in the light of relationality all the way down.
Sleepless, socially over-stimulated, and a bit disillusioned with my current incapacity to live-into big ideas, I cut (but am I really cutting?) into B’s lecture, asking:
“What do you mean when you use the word “consciousness?”
—Was I curt? I wonder to myself, I hope that didn’t seem rude… My overly-sunny persona too tired to keep up—what I can see now as a gift of that momentary exhaustion—
“I mean Consciousness here as that with which the Universe presents itself to us.”
But it doesn’t land, the gears (an appropriate metaphor for this context) of my mind Caught, catching,
until Greased up,
After B brings Ancestral Light
(in a manner of speaking)
BACK into the room.
“Cup your hands,”
he asks of us. And in the light reflected back from my unique skin
that patchwork of infinite pixels,
I behold the Photons from the Beginning:
Here, Now. Epiphany Glows Over Me,
Impregnating the moment with a fullness of possibility,
I push my body to the back of Yurt where Sunlight pours through and let it pool in my cupped
hands. What a holy gift. I sit there, Glowed Over
taking-in what it means…
then M asks,
“But what are Space and Time if the photons from the beginning are here?”
What a holy question, I wonder to myself, Glowing over by a Whisper:
In so many words, B offers his humble speculation,
“Time is the Creativity of the Universe and Space, the relationship between Creations.”
Stunned by the Revelation of this lecture (ceremony?),
I hollow out a place in my belly and my brain for the Glowing Awe Feeling so it might move through again next time. Next time (with my fingers crossed)
So that it might Move-In with me,
have a place to stay—
“You are always welcome on my couch—No!
You can have my bed!”
Photons from the Beginning!
…in another Moment, another Undulation, of Space-Time:
“I’m thinking about the world-shaping power of concepts,” I write in my journal
as I take-in the myriad beings stretching out before me—what we’ve called “the landscape.” And then I think of the Ancestral Photons that are present now… The magic story of this moment as the Whole of Space-Time… Magic. A translucent thread dangles from my fingers, fluttering, glimmering in the Sunshine-Wind. “But what if it isn’t so?” The loop re-looping, the voice re-turning, and then I realize that I’ve forfeited my right to choose—I am indeed living by a story (a loop) regardless of how skeptical I might seem. I still loop back to somewhere… somewhere, something like mechanism. Dualism. Of course, Doubt will always remain (that well-meaning friend), but I’ve been flakey. Perhaps it’s time to commit.
But commit to what? A Story told from concepts that haven’t the flesh of Symbol won’t gather anyone around the fire, much less my own comportment.
Commit to what?
I’m thinking now
like the ever-present Photons, making space in ourselves for that Glowing Awe,
the space made from and for moments that came before. That’s where the Story spins from.
That’s what I’ll commit to…
…that space still open in another Moment, another Undulation, of Space-Time:
I journal-write, “our lecture on the process-relational worldview just ended…and I’ve never felt it more alive inside of me. Never such a potent feeling of that:”
In the subtle plane/moment of enfolding / prehension / re-membering each out-breath of existence, all together and unique at once, despite how convincing our cognitive apparatus might make separation out to be. That stubborn reduction valve! And yet, what a gift! The gift of incarnation, making Matter dance together. J2 and I, radiating across the yurt from each other—for each other—undulating in The Undulation. M and her tree consort too. Everything bundled into that abysmal root-ball of soils squirming with ancestor and fertile somedays.
That “lecture,” or “ceremony,” a word I think better characterizes the holiness of our circle round, ended with my heart blissing open. Never had I experienced such a visceral explanation of quantum entanglement—a Quantum Sermon. My lighthouse worry of,
“He loves me,
he loves me not,”
Dissolved in the epiphany of “always re-making We:”
My miles away Lover,
And my long-gone Father—
a-part of Me.
What is loneliness, but ignorance?
Licking alive, the Fire ceremony begins. Our esteemed Guest dances with so much grace and Power, Proudly
It flickers, taunting us to our turns. Not far in—about three turns so far—I feel a tug in my belly. Is this the call? Is this an indication of my call to undulate in the Undulation?
Eros? Is that…
“But it’s so soon!” I think to myself,
my “should” mentality expressing its confusion.
“Something this significant can’t possibly happen so soon, can it?!”
I wait another beat. My stomach turns, tugs, pulling me toward the flickering. I know this feeling, one that mobilizes my entire physicality, and re-member moments when I didn’t honor it. Moments when I didn’t speak up, when I didn’t act, didn’t make eye contact…
Those moments felt like a failure, disrespect—of myself.
But Eros is persistent! Eros is calling!
And so I get up—I answer the phone—and greet the Fire formally. Raising my hands up slightly to meet the eyes of my comrades, and reveal my dad’s high school homerun Baseball
to Gasps—our circle’s undulating suddenly shot up in
the Baseball I brought, what I knew immediately to feed our ceremonial Phoenix Fire,
was daddy outside of me.
Re-membering him, John Scott Arnoldy awakens in my body
deepening my voice, anointing me with posture, with strength and holy Worth,
Value as sheer existence:
Baseball melting, melting down…
Through tears and sputtering I wade through my Fire offering to laughter and joy. Witnessing and being witnessed exorcises so much for our entire clan.
Breathe out: screams from one pair of lungs echo across Space-Time, storying anew the Undulation.
Breathe in: regardless of our individual self-evaluations, each of us brought to burn what was right for that moment.
The transparency of some burned what was not present to be burnt for others. This, for me, is the significance of a relational world view—like the village dream—each member reflects and inflects the group. The dreamer’s dream is mine too, the dreaming Undulation inflected by and from another perspective, another umwelt.
Gazing into the Fire, I feel a tug and know it’s time to go home—back to my tent. Step by step with the rhythm of the night, moonlight creatures singing, I wonder—
What will my life be like after this?
That Baseball… I clutched it as if being held by strong arms against the jungle screaming, so close my ears ringing, hot jungle breathe breathing goosebumps down my neck. What if I need it again? The presence of my father stayed vigilant in that ball, protecting me even after I left the jungle. But then I remember what K told me when I sat aside with her, sharing the stories that spun out my relationship with the ball and the panic-stricken two years trailing behind me:
“One foot in the past, another foot in the present,” she told me. “If you keep two in the past, it will continue you to overcome you. Two feet in the future and you’re spiritual bypassing.”
So I lift one foot out of the past and mindfully bring it to the wet grass beneath me, anchoring it there with more mindfulness than most of my steps enjoy. I touch my heart and tell myself…Ourself,
“It’ll be okay. I’m here.”
Another memory comes to mind, one from my first Wander. After struggling with my goal-directedness, I eventually settle down onto a spot in a clearing near a fallen tree and did nothing. I neglected to stop here on my way to the pond (my goal), despite how enticing the Sun’s spotlight made it seem. Disappointed with myself for not letting go, I pull out my journal and ponder my feelings. “Sitting with the lichen,”
and a fallen tree covered in other composters, I wonder about how I might die well; what separating from an old understanding of family means. I turn to my left and see what appears to be two organisms, one feasting on the other. But no, it is only “one”—a verb—the shell of a former time, a new beat of the rhythm having just emerged, perishing… Its wings are like a newborn baby, innocently soft and full of promise. I let the pale green thing climb aboard my finger and bring it closer to my eyes. It reminds me of the locusts from back home. Perhaps it is one. A drop of moisture glistens under one of its wings—residue from the chrysalis? It looks like a teardrop.
Good Grief—what so many of us came with, leave with—what everything carries, consciously or un. Together we moved some of it, opened-up space, creating pathways for Awe to move in… J1 even got Lost on our first solo Wander—a story that had us all howling-round. Lost in Wonder, and then found…
Lost again eventually—that is for certain.
During our last Council, some things came full circle. The bag J1 lost reappeared, a miraculous moment to crown the last of our 5-day Undulation. As the bowl made its way to me, I had some distracting thoughts arise, but I didn’t fight them in the same way. Arising, falling away—attuning back to the current Soul modifying our group Undulation with story. When M, next to me, ends her share and turns my way, she asks,
“Will you accept the nourishment you deserve?”
Oh! My heart wrenches even now—the memory swelling my tear
I soften, blink my eyes and meet her’s with a
“Thank you,” and an
“I love you…”
The bowl is with me now, and rather than keep my eyes closed, I rove my head-round and look—see—into each pair of eyes, each Undulation in the Larger Undulation of our Council-round.
“The first night, I could not look into your eyes. I could not even open mine,”
“But now, I can—and I want to.”
… I leave off,
still a little Lost…
But not isolated.
What will my life be like after this?
I wonder as I pack my things,
as we head back to the city bustle.
Aside from some vague anxiety, nothing in particular arises. Just space, more room. And yet, in that room there are recent memories, still warm with the afterglow of Awe. Memories I can commit from. The closure around my loop—still running—doesn’t feel as final. There’s a porousness, a something of
Photons from the Beginning…
One foot in the past,
And the other…