The summer solstice has passed and the weather, at home, and here at the Atlantic shore, has turned decidedly autumnal. Day after day has featured damp and chill. Fog shrouds the ocean. Fortunately, many trees and flowering plants are in full bloom, providing bursts of brilliant color in the dimly lit landscape. Here and there a squirrel may be seen. Birdsong fills the air.
Yesterday we were in Cambridge, MA., near Harvard Square, where I happened to notice a young rabbit grazing adjacent a busy sidewalk. The rabbit and I looked at each other, perhaps being four or five feet apart, as other people, many attached to cell phones , moved briskly past. The rabbit was about the size of a gray squirrel, and similar in color. This chance meeting deep in the heart of our urban universe left me wondering how many other denizens of nature we walk by each and every day.
Technological culture places animals outside, as other. We build cities of glass and concrete, and place most other species on reservations. We identify with a few wild species such as wolves, eagles and bears as totemic friends, sources of health and power, or apt emblems for our athletic teams or governments. When displaced species turn up in our urbanized environments we are amazed, often bewildered, and frequently inconvenienced. It is almost as though we are afraid of wildness, our own, or that of the other.
For many of the world’s Indigenous people, animals live in the heart. We are born with them. Each animal is a soul and contributes to our Selfhood. Perhaps one animal is understood to be a “power animal”, and the loss of that soul may result in illness or death. While wolf or bear may be such an animal, so might minnow or shrew, cockroach or cowbird.
Unlike the Western view of a person with a solitary soul, the Nativist view is often one of complexity. Just as mind is composed of many selves, each person may be perceived as containing multiple souls. Rather than unitary, both personality and Self may be understood to be vastly complex and collaboratory.
As we explore Self, we may discover we hold the world, and all Her myriad beings, within our hearts. As my Amazonian teachers might say, “We hold the rain forest within us”. To lose a species, no matter how apparently insignificant, is to lose an aspect of self. Yet, in another sense, nothing is lost. We hold ancient trilobites as self, as surely as we hold eagle.
What is truly lost is the sense that each of us, regardless of physical or social stature, is infinitely vast, and unimaginably complex. To put it another way, we may forget each of us is sacred. We are connected to all that is, has been, or will be. Self touches all species across all Earth time, the gods, and our Ancestors and progeny across all generations.
To forget these things is to be diminished, and to risk losing soul.
This is the first part of a two part post. (Read Part Two.)