Loren Eisley's [And Other's] Nature based Spirituality



Heh, so let's try this again. I think this thread has been gobbled up twice so hopefully this time is the charm.

The Dance of the Frogs

It's always been unclear to me whether Eisley wanted this story to be regarded as fact or fiction. But in his collection the other stories are clearly meant to be non-fiction.

Something I've hesitated to mention before is that when I was a kid I'd see "game lords" but they were giant bats. I learned early on that no one else could see them, and perhaps they weren't really there anyway. But they are among my earliest memories and perhaps why I've always been open minded about the Numinous.

"The special tent with its entranced occupant is no different from the cabinet," I contended ... The only difference is the type of voices that emerge. Many of the physical phenomena are identical -- the movement of powerful forces shaking the conical hut, objects thrown, all this is familiar to Western psychical science. What is different are the voices projected. Here they are the cries of animals, the voices from the swamp and the mountain -- the solitary elementals before whom the primitive man stands in awe, and from whom he begs sustenance. Here the game lords reign supreme; man himself is voiceless."

A low, halting query reached me from the back of the room. I was startled, even in the midst of my discussion, to note that it was Dreyer.

"And the game lords, what are they?"

"Each species of animal is supposed to have gigantic leaders of more than normal size," I explained. "These beings are the immaterial controllers of that particular type of animal. Legend about them is confused. Sometimes they partake of human qualities, will and intelligence, but they are of animal shape. They control the movements of game, and thus their favor may mean life or death to man."

"Are they visible?" Again Dreyer's low, troubled voice came from the back of the room.

"Native belief has it that they can be seen on rare occasions," I answered. "In a sense they remind one of the concept of the archetypes, the originals behind the petty show of our small, transitory existence. They are the immortal renewers of substance -- the force behind and above animate nature."

"Do they dance?" persisted Dreyer.


Above all, some of them, a mere handful in any generation perhaps, loved -- they loved the animals about them, the song of the wind, the soft voices..... On the flat surfaces of cave walls the three dimensions of the outside world took animal shape and form.

Here -- not with the ax, not with the bow -- man fumbled at the door of his true kingdom. Here, hidden in times of trouble behind silent brows, against the man with the flint, waited St. Francis of the birds -- the lovers, the men who are still forced to walk warily among their kind.
-Loren Eisley, 'The Inner Galaxy'


“Though men in the mass forget the origins of their need, they still bring wolfhounds into city apartments, where dog and man both sit brooding in wistful discomfort.

The magic that gleams an instant between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature's cry to homeless, far-wandering, insatiable man: "Do not forget your brethren, nor the green wood from which you sprang. To do so is to invite disaster.”
Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe

“Since the first human eye saw a leaf in Devonian sandstone and a puzzled finger reached to touch it, sadness has lain over the heart of man. By this tenuous thread of living protoplasm, stretching backward into time, we are linked forever to lost beaches whose sands have long since hardened into stone. The stars that caught our blind amphibian stare have shifted far or vanished in their courses, but still that naked, glistening thread winds onward. No one knows the secret of its beginning or its end. Its forms are phantoms. The thread alone is real; the thread is life.”
Loren Eiseley, The Firmament of Time

"Man would not be man if his dreams did not exceed his grasp. ... Like John Donne, man lies in a close prison, yet it is dear to him. Like Donne's, his thoughts at times over leap the sun and pace beyond the body. If I term humanity a slime mold organism it is because our present environment suggest it. If I remember the sunflower forest it is because from its hidden reaches man arose. The green world is his sacred center. In moments of sanity he must still seek refuge there. ... If I dream by contrast of the eventual drift of the star voyagers through the dilated time of the universe, it is because I have seen thistledown off to new worlds and am at heart a voyager who, in this modern time, still yearns for the lost country of his birth.”
Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid


God enough: We should see the ceaseless creativity of nature as sacred, argues biologist Stuart Kauffman, despite what Richard Dawkins might say.

Biologist Stuart Kauffman has plenty of experience tilting at windmills. For years he’s questioned the Darwinian orthodoxy that natural selection is the sole principle of evolutionary biology. As he put it in his first book, “The Origins of Order,” “It is not that Darwin is wrong but that he got hold of only part of the truth.” In Kauffman’s view, there is another biological principle at work — what he calls “self-organization” — that “co-mingles” with natural selection in the evolutionary process.

A physician by training, Kaufmann is a widely admired biologist; in 1987, he was a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award. He’s also one of the gurus of complexity theory, and for years was a fixture at the Santa Fe Institute, the renowned scientific research community. A few years ago, he moved to the University of Calgary to set up the Biocomplexity and Informatics Institute.

If this sounds heady, it is. And getting Kauffman to explain his theory of self-organization, “thermodynamic work cycles” and “autocatalysis” to a non-scientist is challenging. But Kauffman is at heart a philosopher who ranges over vast fields of inquiry, from the origins of life to the philosophy of mind. He’s a visionary thinker who’s not afraid to play with big ideas.

In his recent book, “Reinventing the Sacred,” Kauffman has launched an even more audacious project. He seeks to formulate a new scientific worldview and, in the process, reclaim God for nonbelievers. Kauffman argues that our modern scientific paradigm — reductionism — breaks down once we try to explain biology and human culture. And this has left us flailing in a sea of meaninglessness. So how do we steer clear of this empty void? By embracing the “ceaseless creativity” of nature itself, which in Kauffman’s view is the real meaning of God. It’s God without any supernatural tricks.


Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver


While I've at times said I'm not a spiritual person, upon reflection I love doing hikes and trails near the ocean. I guess for me there's a sermon in the Ocean hitting the cliff side. This guy says it better than I can:

"How else could one encompass and explain the terrible grace of the Hull Peoples, who lived within the caves hewn by a waterfall, and who, when dispossessed by Dradin and sent to the missionary fort, complained of the silence, the silence of God, how God would not talk to them, for what else was the play of water upon the rocks but the voice of God? He had had to send them back to their waterfall, for he could not bear the haunted looks upon their faces, the disorientation blossoming in their eyes like a deadly and deadening flower."
-J.Vandermeer, City of Saints and Madmen


Interesting that both of these people believe blackbirds warned them of Sept 11:

The Spiritual Life of Crows

Our iridescent hitchhiker stared intensely into my eyes for several minutes from its mirror perch. We didn’t have any food, shiny objects, or other known treats for this scavenger… I sensed he wanted something else. Why did I think that? A series of meaningful, odds-defying synchronicities with ravens and wolves had been ongoing in my life for several years. That opened me up to researching them and considering a possibility I never would have before.

I turned to my friend and asked out loud, “What could the raven be trying to communicate?” I had developed my intuition in order to communicate with domestic animals, babies, and patients who don’t speak. “I think something major, and I mean major, is going to happen in the next 24 hours. I just don’t know what it is.” That statement felt so real that a deep chill streaked up my spine as I said it. The next morning we awoke to the events of September 11, 2001.
Raven’s Appearance: The Language of Prophecy

The sacred model is based on an altogether different principle: on the principle that you simply have to discover everything is already there to begin with. It is all there to begin with because everything is given. Everything we ever need to know is automatically provided to us in the very moment when we need to know it. There is only one requirement for entering into a living relationship with this sacred model: the ability to be open to the unexpected and the unknown.

I will give an example. We all know what happened on September 11, 2001 — or at least we know about the outer events. But three days before, on September 8, a raven came and told me what was going to happen.
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The Summer Day (Mary Oliver)

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-the one who the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


The Living Tree Bridges of India

"Cherrapunji receives about 50 inches of rain a year which would easily rot normal wooden bridges. This is why, 500 years ago, locals began to guide roots and vines from the native Ficus Elastica rubber tree across rivers using hollow bamboo until they became rooted on the opposite side – eventually creating a bridge."



Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves...
...Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver
Interesting contrast/similiarity in her other poem involving water fowl:

by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.


The osprey with its wingspan and talons, the owl with its judicious eyes and motion-detecting granules, geese with their star- and sun-maps, were knighted long ago by vanished gods. Currents of air, below and above the feathers, fins resisting waves through rippling flow - these are sciences too.
-Richard Grossinger, Dark Pool of Light

Even the trodden worm contrasts his own suffering self with the whole remaining universe, though he have no clear conception either of himself or of what the universe may be.
-William James


To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle’s wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may the imagination’s heart
Is constellation high and can’t be weighed.

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.
--Mervyn Peake


[Klaus] Kinski always says [nature] is full of erotical elements. I don’t see it so much as erotic. I see it more as full of obscenity... Nature here is violent, base. I wouldn’t see anything erotical here. I would see fornication, and asphyxiation, and choking, and fighting for survival, and growing, and... just rotting away. Of course there is a lot of misery but it is the same misery that is...all around us. The trees here are in misery, the birds here are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain...

Taking a close look at, at what’s around us there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder... but when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it. I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.

--Werner Herzog, of the filming of Fitzcarraldo

I like this bit from the interview in your post.

"I don’t doubt agency in my dog Windsor. And once you’ve got agency — and I think it’s sitting there at the origin of life — then you’ve got food or poison, which I call “yuck” and “yum.” And once you’ve got food or poison, it is either good or bad for that organism. So you’ve got value in the universe."

Stuart Kauffman


The moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

-- Margaret Atwood