For a long time, I have been seeking an experience outside of myself. Something to give meaning and depth to the perceived mundanity of my human experience – a glimpse of divinity in the void or a connection to a consciousness greater than my own. A justification for existence, or even an experience of the magical and mystical to take me beyond my own repetitive thoughts and painful emotions. Inherent in this pattern of seeking was a tacit denial of my direct experience in connection to everything else around me.
The further I walk down my own path of growth, exploration, and, yes, spirituality, the more I find myself coming back to Earth – to the ground beneath my own two feet and the felt sensations of my body. To a wide-open embrace of every aspect of my experience, inclusive of my joy, my elation, and my contentedness as well as my anxiety, loneliness, grief, and boredom.
More important than any of this, however, has been the realization that I belong. That I am not separate from nor in dominion over the world around me. That I can take my place in my animal body right alongside the living, breathing, and sentient beings all around me – the trees, plants, animals, stars, soil, air and water. That I am, in all actuality, one small piece of a greater ecology; and that I live in a state of continual evolution and relation to all that surrounds me.
In this way, my spiritual deepening has been more of a homecoming than an arrival anywhere else. The boy in me who roamed freely on the loamy forest soil, tasting of dirt and sweet air, chasing lizards and feeling the slimy squish of earthworms or armored shells of grasshoppers beneath my fingers, was closer to the spiritual realm than the intellect, philosopher, seeker, or scientist in me will ever be.
Somewhere along the way though, I became disconnected and cut-off from my five senses and my relationships to the living world. I immersed myself in the promises of modern life and the technological wonders that so readily helped me to forget the texture of rocks beneath my bare skin, the rising thrill of anticipation, fear, and awe that precede the coming of a storm unsheltered in the wilderness, or the primal and guttural response of my body in confrontation with an animal that outranks me on the food chain. I was told that safety, security, and material wealth were the ultimate paths to freedom, and conditioned into a perpetual and selfish search for wholeness founded on the fundamental lie that who I am is not enough. I rejected the sacred profanity of my embodied experience in hopes of finding an enlightened state or religious experience outside of the human realm – whether I sought this in the cold rationality of science or the abstract and esoteric realms of faith, religion, and spirituality made no difference – I was still separated from the life that surrounded me and breathed through me.
It is no wonder then, that I and so many others have such difficulty in accepting the ordinary world all around us as the ultimate spiritual destination. What an utter disappointment to renounce my search for escape or the promise of perfection and fulfillment beyond this life in favor of the ache in my hip, the gnawing fear of inadequacy ever-present in the back of my mind, and the gross dimensions of being a germ-riddled animal in an all too imperfect life.
Yet, as I allow my edges to soften and come more fully into my body I find that this world is the miracle I have been searching for. As my self-centric thoughts, judgments, and worries fade into the background and the unfiltered experience of the present moment rises to the surface I find myself enwrapped in the extra-ordinary and super-natural. The glint of sunshine through the leaves holds my attention as surely as if it were the voice of god, a glistening drop of dew holds an entire universe, and the gently wafting scents on the breeze hold teachings, blessings, and wisdom beyond fathoming. I allow myself to be a part of the happenings all around me, and suddenly snap into place between the sub-atomic particles buzzing within me and the vastness of the cosmos all around me. I realize that the ‘entities’ and ‘beings’ I so desperately hoped to encounter in some mystical realm are actually all around me in the form of birds, mammals, insects, plants, and elements – all sentient, conscious, and responding to the same existence I find myself a part of.
This form of spirituality is so utterly ordinary that it breaks my heart; and, paradoxically, it is such a profound miracle that it brings me beyond myself. It leaves nothing out, demanding that I bring presence to every aspect of experience. It requires responsibility, for once I acknowledge my intimacy with my environment I can no longer abdicate responsibility for stewardship of the only planet I will ever call home. It humbles me, because it means I must acknowledge my relationships to both human and non-human life and amend for the ways in which I have caused harm as I seek to deepen into a mutual reciprocity of giving and receiving.
Yes, this is where I belong. Embodied, imperfect, and interconnected I take my seat at the edge of an ever-expanding universe, at the tip of an evolutionary tide that is so much greater than me and so much a part of me. I acknowledge the divinity of my human experience and give myself over to be more fully human, more fully animal, more fully spirit. There is nowhere to go except for where I stand, breathe, and exist in this moment, and I would not have it any other way.
It is precisely this earth-based cosmology that David Abram describes so wondrously and poetically in his book Becoming Animal. He explores every facet of existence – from stone, shadow, and wood to thought, language, and spirit – and weaves a tapestry of words that is at once mesmerizing, captivating, and yes, sensuous. He speaks the truths of being that have long been written across my heart, and does so in a way that is both beautiful and pragmatic. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, for I believe that if we are to progress as a species it will be a pre-requisite for us to take our place among all life that surrounds us.
Do yourself an extra favor and get the audio-version, letting the metaphors, pictures, and textures of his writing wash over you as you engage not just thought, but all of your senses. And, hopefully, take some time from the busyness of doing to let yourself be more animal.