Excerpt from The invitation

Jul 2017
363
Kettering, Ohio USA
Many people have written about how, generally speaking, indigenous people seem to pick up more information traversing a landscape than an outsider, someone from a culture that no longer highly values physical intimacy with a place, that regards this sort of sensitivity as a ‘primitive’ attribute, something a visitor from an ‘advanced’ culture would be comfortable believing he had actually outgrown. Such a dismissive view, as I have come to understand it, ignores the great intangible value that achieving physical intimacy with a place might provide. I’m inclined to point out to someone who condescends to such a desire for intimacy, although it might seem rude, that it is not possible for human beings to outgrow loneliness. Nor can someone from a culture that condescends to nature easily escape the haunting thought that one’s life is meaningless.


Existential loneliness and a sense that one’s life is inconsequential, both of which are hallmarks of modern civilizations, seem to me to derive in part from our abandoning a belief in the therapeutic dimensions of a relationship with place. A continually refreshed sense of the unplumbable complexity of patterns in the natural world, patterns that are ever present and discernible, and which incorporate the observer, undermine the feeling that one is alone in the world, or meaningless in it. The effort to know a place deeply is, ultimately, an expression of the human desire to belong, to fit somewhere.


The determination to know a particular place, in my experience, is consistently rewarded. And every natural place, to my mind, is open to being known. And somewhere in this process a person begins to sense that they themselves are becoming known, so that when they are absent from that place they know that place misses them. And this reciprocity, to know and be known, reinforces a sense that one is necessary in the world.


Perhaps the first rule of everything we endeavor to do is to pay attention. Perhaps the second is to be patient. And perhaps a third is to be attentive to what the body knows. In my experience, individual indigenous people are not necessarily more aware than people who’ve grown up in the modern culture I grew up in. Indigenous cultures, of course, are as replete with inattentive, lazy, and undiscerning individuals as ‘advanced’ cultures. But they tend to value more highly the importance of intimacy with a place. When you travel with them, you’re acutely aware that theirs is a fundamentally different praxis from your own. They’re more attentive, more patient, less willing to say what they know, to collapse mystery into language. When I was young, and one of my traveling companions would make some stunningly insightful remark about the place we were traveling through, I would sometimes feel envious; a feeling related not so much to a desire to possess that same depth of knowledge but a desire to so obviously belong to a particular place. To so clearly be an integral part of the place one is standing in.
 
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