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.