In The Pageant of Summer (the first essay in The Life of the Fields (1884)) Jefferies wrote:-
My heart is fixed firm and stable in the belief that ultimately the sunshine and the summer, the flowers and the azure sky, shall become, as it were, interwoven into man’s existence. He shall take from all their beauty and enjoy their glory. Hence it is that a flower is to me so much more than stalk and petals.
Pondering this, one might find oneself asking how an individual human being might set about weaving sunshine, summer, sky & flowers into their existence instead of regarding them as no more than sun – generator of warmth – summer – length of time with higher temperatures than usual – the sky – a variously blue, grey, mottled or black universal canopy – a flower – just stalk & petals. That’s how we ordinary mortals regard such things normally. How could we change the way we perceive the world – how we see it, how we hear what goes on in it and what we feel about it? Perhaps we need some practical advice. During the course of Jefferies’ recording of natural events – the way the grass grows, the way birds sing, constellations swivelling round the night sky, water flowing – there are plenty of brief indications of what he does: breathing deeply, looking up from field-stubble to stars, the lonesome habit of finding special places that anchor him in exalted feelings. One might take this further to develop a careful strategy for oneself or define more clearly what one already practises.
We might, for example, decide to watch the sun coming up over the horizon as it does early every morning and instead of saying to ourselves, “It’s just another day!” raise our arms in welcome, saying to ourselves, maybe out loud, “This is me here & now being me here and now saying hello to the sunshine on this most recent day in twelve thousand years…” Doing this will have the effect of raising our consciousness, perhaps even as far as capital-C Consciousness. At least it will feel different from ordinary everyday small-c consciousness, which is just a daily unfocussed awareness of what’s happening around us. You will have invited the sunrise to interweave itself into your sense of being. The old Russian ponderer GIGurdjieff calls this process ‘self-remembering’.
Their lives only overlapped by about ten years but I think Jefferies must have employed something like ‘self-remembering’ without having a label for it. He might have got the notion of a possible heightened sense of being from his reading of ‘old philosophies’. It could be that he was indulging in Zen ‘non-dualism’. Anyhow, used with discretion, labels are only a useful way of pinning down intangibles; when we know what it means, ‘self-remembering’ becomes a useful tag to do a bit of weaving.
Another example of a way of weaving things into human experience: we could first of all remind ourselves of how we habitually think of ‘summer’ – lazing on the beach, going to the Algarve, watching a cricket match (the click of the ball, clapping in the middle of the afternoon…), alfresco meals… Thinking in this way about the concept ‘summer’ turns it into a commodity, something to be handled, defined, loaded with past associations. It has ceased being ‘pure’ summer.
On the other hand we could decide to go out into the midday warm summer breeze or the cool air of evening and become summer by just breathing them deeply into ourselves without thinking of any past associations. This would be to consume the ‘Food of Pure Impressions’, as Gurdjieff would say, the highest form of food without which we would perish. In The Story of My Heart, Jefferies himself says, ‘Every spot of colour is a sort of food…’
We could also repeat the Interweaving Mantra ‘This is me here and now being me here & now breathing summer so I make it into me…’
As Jefferies used to do, we could spend some time each day looking around us, listening, touching things which once upon a time would have seemed quite ordinary, feeling what we see, hear & feel in a new way. Greenfinch, chaffinch, robin, shrike, kingfisher, blackbird… pure impressions which require thorough digestion. We could find a particular place that anchors a transformation without having to think about it.
Oak follows oak and elm ranks elm, but the woodlands are pleasant; however many times reduplicated, their beauty only increases. So, too, the summer days; the sun rises on the same grasses and green hedges, there is the same blue sky, but did we ever have enough of them ? No, not in a hundred years! There seems always a depth, somewhere, unexplored, a thicket that has not been seen through, a corner full of ferns, a quaint old hollow tree, which may give us something. Bees go by me as I stand under the apple, but they pass on for the most part bound on a long journey, across to the clover fields or up to the thyme lands; only a few go down into the mowing-grass. The hive bees are the most impatient of insects; they cannot bear to entangle their wings beating against grasses or boughs. Not one will enter a hedge. They like an open and level surface, places cropped by sheep, the sward by the roadside, fields of clover, where the flower is not deep under grass.
The flower that’s ‘much more than stalk and petals’… ‘This is me being me here & now like the bee weaving this flower, its scent, its shape, colour & texture into the fabric of my being here & now…’ as a Pure Impression.
Having deliberately gone into it at least once a day for many years, I can self-remember but I do not know how to legislate for the whole brother & sisterhood of man.
9 thoughts on “WEAVING THINGS INTO HUMAN EXISTENCE (70)”
Tom, how would you say this links with Buddhist practice?
Reading your elegant essay, Colin, and then reflecting on your question above, two distinct strands of Buddhism came to mind.
First, your recounting of Jeffries’ – and your own – efforts at experiencing events of nature (such as a brilliant sunrise) from a totally engaged place of appreciation rather than from a more habitual passive place of familiarity made me think of mindfulness, one of the Buddhist “eightfold path” of virtues that can lead the practitioner to lessening their own and others’ suffering. One could certainly argue that the pleasure of “weaving such a brilliant sunrise into one’s own experience” might well contribute to the kind of well-being that leads to more joy and less suffering, if only for the moments it’s being so experienced.
Second, and I think of more relevance, the very notion of weaving nature into one’s human existence struck me as the very core of Buddhism’s much-misunderstood concept of “non-self”. Here, at least, is my understanding (or, quite possibly, mis-understanding!) of this idea: Our perception of our “self” is not only constantly changing, it is also completely connected to, and dependent upon, the ever-changing myriad array of persons and events we are necessarily a part of. Yet in spite of our undeniable interconnectedness with everything else, it’s a common delusion that our “self” exists as a fixed entity independent of the world around us – a delusion that Buddhist wisdom urges its practitioners to avoid. The effort that Jeffries and you undertake in weaving experience into your existence could well be seen as a practice of fully connecting yourselves with the constantly changing world around you.
Normally, this is where I would end with our customary “Onward!” But, given the Buddhist nature of our exchange here, the traditional Zen expression “a deep bow to you and Jeffries ” seems a more fitting sign-off!
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Thanks for this, Tom. You deal with something that I’ve been thinking quite a lot about. It’s odds on that Jefferies came across the ideas of Buddhism – he sometimes mentions the word. Likewise, Gurdjieff!
In my studies of the latter, as you know, I’ve suggested the term ‘Meta-I’ to stand for G’s Observer-I, going beyond the tons of ordinary ‘I’s we have at our disposal and being able to put them in some kind of sensible order. They are built up over time depending on ‘the ever-changing myriad array of persons and events we are necessarily a part of…’ as you say. Our fundamental mistake is to assume that we are one Unified-I – ‘fixed entity independent of the world around us’ as you say again! We are not Unified-i at all but a huge bundle of lesser ‘I’s (Typing-I, for example!) Meta-I could be equated with ‘Non-self’ – that part of us that, with practice, can stand apart from the whole mess of ‘I’s we get locked into.
Meta-I is a something-or-other (as Gurdjieff would say) that can take us apart from the ten thousand & one things into a place of Nothingness or non-self where we can start over again – Jefferies often talks about tipping out all our presuppositions to start again (as does Gurdjieff!)
I like the idea of ‘Non-self’! It entertains the notion of Zen non-dualism: not perceiver & perception, not thinker & thought, not feeling & felt.
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I’m always pleased to discover instances where Buddhist thought intersects with other wisdom traditions. Your alignment of the concept of “non-self” with Gurdjieff’s term “Meta-I” is yet another such instance, which I’m grateful to become aware of. Thanks, Colin!
And so I wrote this down this morning, but didn’t think about putting a comment in until now and I notice that Tom has said something in a similar vein. But I’ll write anyway –
The Interconnectedness of life.
Whether we notice or not, the whole of the natural world has an effect upon us since we are a part of it.
Whether it is feeling glum on a dreary day or the opposite, feeling chirpy at the first signs of spring promising the sights and sounds of anticipated summer or watching lambs gambolling in the fields or fledgling birds fluttering.
Or noticing the cool of sitting in the shade of a tree or the quiet of a snow blanket or as today, the roaring of gale force winds – Everything has it’s effect.
So there is no need for weaving as we are a part of nature, so it is a part of us – it’s automatic. How to become more aware and appreciative can be achieved through presence, raising our consciousness as you so aptly put it Colin.
Bing absolutely in the moment (this is me – right here – right now) – just noticing and drinking in.
As for the whole of brotherhood and sisterhood of man – I’m wondering if there is any need to aim that high. There are many cultures and civilisations acutely aware of, in touch with, and live life in tune with nature and it’s seasons because they recognise and live out the fact that reciprocity is the key.
(I think it’s where Jung’s collective unconscious might come in – we are all indisputably interconnected.)
How to get industrialised nations to reconnect with nature? – Perhaps send over indulged and mollycoddled teenagers on a field trip for a year to Northern Norway, where ordinary everyday folk live in tune with the seasons and with nature they hardly need to shop. One of their governments top priorities is the ecology, not just preserving it but actively nurturing it. These teen folk could/would learn to live off the land, learning to fend for themselves, learning self sufficiency and weaning themselves off social media and the spoils of capitalism or ‘stuff’ as I like to call it. – Maybe it could be as an alternative to the national service of times past. A kind of right of passage. As part of this maturation year – they would also attend a Norwegian Folk High School or Folkehogskole.
These schools have no grades, no rigid curriculum and no exams. Students get to practice what they learn, not merely immerse themselves in theory. They are “supervised and encouraged by dedicated teachers” in small classes or 10 – 20 students. They run from August to May. usually students are between18 and 25 years BUT THERE IS NO UPPER AGE LIMIT. These are boarding schools with dormitory accommodation, usually there are also common rooms and kitchens in the dorm.
They believe that living together with fellow students creates an outstanding learning environment. Living with people who are different from each other, means you learn about them and to work together and handle problems and get to know your fellow students in a completely different way when you are with them around the clock. Meals are shared in a communal dining hall.
These Folk Schools are not just about academics and subjects – social life also plays a big part with the school organising some events and trips. Some for all students some for smaller groups. Different folk schools offer different curriculum or focus on one particular subject e.g. music, outdoor life, theatre. Some are based on Christian values, and some are called Liberal – where they have no particular faith or world view as a starting point where their values are linked to established values in Norwegian culture and in human rights.
Dualism is so destructive – Yin & Yang however, are distinct but intertwined. Each has it’s distinct set of characteristics but contains a necessary element of the other so that each can be appreciated more fully.
Losing our-self in nature is an almost miraculous transportation away from everyday nonsense.
Nature IS a part of us and we a part of it. We simply need to reconnect – before we lose it all.
‘As Jefferies used to do, we could spend some time each day looking around us, listening, touching things which once upon a time would have seemed quite ordinary, feeling what we see, hear & feel in a new way.’ – I reckon Jefferies nailed it.
That is all.
The ancient civilisations and those still acquainted with their ways – Still do it.
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So nicely said, Pat! “We simply need to re-connect, before we lose it all.” I couldn’t agree more …
Thanks Tom, thanks for listening and noticing
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Thanks for that, Pat! The Folk Schools sound like my idea of school not being organised for producing sad capitalist fodder. Jefferies is eloquent on this too!
In one way, of course, since we are part of Nature, there is ‘no need for weaving’. The necessiity for ‘weaving’ comes about because human beings have separated themselves out as something special – masters & mistresses of the universe. There’s a need to set aside all pre-suppositions to see the flower as ‘much more than stalk and petals’; to have a strategy for doing that & all the rest of it…
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Many moons ago (so many moons that I’d forgotten it) there was a little pamphlet by one Sugaki Arimoto called ‘Richard Jefferies and Buddhist Ideas’ (Society of Cutlure & Humanities in Japan 1987). Lodged in my brain all that time I rather fancy it put me on the trail of Zen in RJ ! The introduction to a book of Found Haiku (‘Something Beyond the Stars’) from his ‘Notebooks’ (mostly I seem to remember) makes much of this.
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