Tuesday, July 03, 2007

If you've never stared off in the distance

The hounds and I hike five miles and in this travel run across a fawn, hiding among the ferns. We find a good quarter-acre of wild blueberry, though there is not a ripe berry to be found.
The mountain is a living thing, its trees, its lichens, its millipedes breathing in and out. Loose stones and water relaxing toward the Potomac speak on its behalf. The sound of my own voice, reciting Flavoparmelia caperata and Punctelia rudecta for the benefit of the dogs’ education, seems trivial for a moment, but in the end I see is no less a part of the mountain. I consider for a moment that both "psyche" and "chi" come from words that mean breath.
I ruminate on Emerson:
"These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most requests is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs."
In the next few days, make some time for walking, for woodland pools, spring holes and ditches, for the solace of open spaces.

2 comments:

Sue said...

Ah -- walking in the woods, with dogs! And indeed the mountain is a living thing, all the more wounded by the great gashes of strip mining. While I am with you (and Emerson) on the values of solitude in the woods, as a sociologist I must maintain that without society and culture with its "norms names and customs" we would have no mind, no thought, no awareness, nothing to think in the solitude the woods afford. I counter with a quote from the sociologist Leslie White "All human behavior originates in the use of symbols. It was the symbol which transformed our anthropoid ancestors into men and made them human. All civilizations have been generated, and are perpetuated, only by the use of symbols. It is the symbol which transforms an infant of Homo sapiens into a human being; deaf mutes who grow up without the use of symbols are not human beings. All human behavior consists of, or is dependent upon, the use of symbols. Human behavior is symbolic behavior; symbolic behavior is human behavior. The symbol is the universe of humanity."

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
Thank you for reading and commenting. Forgive me if my train of thought meanders more than usual; my mind is still in Prague, though my body and my watch are back in DC.
I’ll use a bit more Emerson to agree with what I think is the spirit of White’s quote, and perhaps to extend it a bit:
1. Words are signs of natural facts.
2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts.
3. Nature is the symbol of spirit.
Clearly, Emerson’s third point inherently contains a corollary: People create, recognize, and/or interpret symbols.
I’ll qualify that with a couple of caveats. With respect to White, I’d prefer to use the words "rational thought" or "civilization" in place of "behavior". Taking a queue from Maslow, I think a number of human behaviors, particularly those toward the bottom of the hierarchy are substantially similar to behaviors that exist among animal species that have no symbology. Humans, just like badgers, stoats, voles, woodpeckers, &c. are inclined to eat and sleep whether or not they have words or symbols for these behaviors.
Related to that notion are some psychological elements that come from Eastern traditions of thought and practice. Meditative states associated with Buddhism and Taoism address the idea (or perhaps the ideal) of awareness that is discrete from symbolic thought. Of course, discourse on this subject is fundamentally limited by the fact that words are symbols. Moreover, the people who practice these traditions have a tendency to organize themselves and teach one another, which makes the "just being" behavior more elusive to discussion.
I am, for my own part, fairly enamored of all of the symbols. Otherwise, all of those Latin names I’ve memorized for this and that seem fairly pointless (Perhaps that statement is a lesson in its own right). However, I think there is fundamental value in finding those vacuums of symbol, whether that is walking in the woods or practicing tai chi.