Becoming Animal, by David Abram

I have been reading “Becoming Animal” by David Abram, a very interesting read. The style is unusual to say the least, and is reminiscent of a celtic knot, where thoughts and ideas spiral in and out of each other, creating a woven whole which is intricate and very beautiful. The book is not easy to read, and is not a conventional pagan book, but addresses the mind/body/spirit boundary issue by simply stating that there are no boundaries – there is only a continuum of awareness. He also writes most movingly about the way we can communicate with the world around us using non verbal means which as western urbanites we have mostly forgotten. Ironically for a book, he writes about the way the western world has begun to focus only on abstractness and flatness – the flatness of words on a page, of a television screen, of a computer screen, and even the view from a window becomes flat and like a picture. It is only when we stand within the immensity of the Earth, that we begin to understand that we are within the ecosystem, not on it. We are of Earth, not on Earth. The wind, the waves, the clouds and birdsong all communicate clearly, but without words, sending information about the gathering storm, the nearness of the sea, or the predator swooping from above. We have simply forgotten how to listen, and turned inwards, like surly teenagers. We are so taken with our own concerns that sometimes when we look up, we are genuinely surprised at the everyday magnificence of a sunset, or the bluest of blue skies. Our breath is taken away momentarily, yet that ecstasy is available in everyday life if we are willing to listen.

As I write, the wind is swirling around the demountables where I work, rushing through the tunnel between the offices, and whisking up dust devils. It is a day for feeling dissatisfied, for wanting to run and dance with the wind, to climb a hill and feel the full force whipping through hair and mind – ‘blowing away the cobwebs’.

The everyday objects in the office creak and groan, doors slip out of the hand and bang shut, and swept dust obstinately refuses to stay in a pile. It is a good day for kite flying or sailing, not paperwork and computers. Like at the end of Mary Poppins, the wind has changed and it is time to move on.

This morning at a very early hour I took the dog for a walk as I try to every morning to visit my circle on top of a nearby hill. The power centre has been roughly defined by logs and rocks, and I weed the area of grass a little on each visit to allow the wildflowers more space. As the dog and I walked up the hill at our separate paces – 4 feet are a lot faster than 2 when it comes to a steep muddy track – a band of choughs sounded the alarm call. Choughs are a magpie or crow sized bird who run in flocks of anywhere up to 15 birds, but my local band has around 8 members at present. They feed on the ground and turn over the mulch in order to get at the insects, and they can be a terror to your vegetable garden, especially newly mulched seedlings. The alarm call was first short for the dog, and then became longer to denote ‘human-and-dog’. When I looked up at the birds and projected ‘harmless’ with my body language, the alarm call shortened again. The dog being a definite danger to fledglings, I left it at that. On top of the hill, three of the adult birds came over to check me out, after spending some time talking amongst themselves. They inspected me very closely, while pretending not to be interested by pecking at random things, and sharpening their beaks.

I decided to leave before they became too comfortable with my presence, not wanting to have the dog responsible for killing a bird. At the bottom of the hill – what a gift! There in my path lay a fresh flight feather, which I will be adding to my soon-to-be constructed dream catcher.

At home, the book spoke of the song of birds at sunrise and sunset as a hymn of jubilation sweeping around the world in a continuous line, following the light. Along with three dimensional shadows and the inhalation of the breath of the whale this will be my enduring image from the book.

The mood of the wind has changed, and scuds of cold rain are driving into odd cracks and corners, rattling against the windows, and driving human activity inside. It is no longer a day for running, but for huddling quiet and warm, while the wind hunts around the outside of our dwellings, looking for ways in. A day for curling up with a good book, the crackle of a fire and maybe the swish of a spinning wheel or the rattle of dice to echo the rattles outside. A day for roasts and soups and warm blankets smelling of childhood.

What tension then, in the human body and soul when on a day for running and flying kites in the morning and coming home and snuggling warm under blankets on a rainy afternoon, it is stuck in an office doing paperwork and no respite when that is done, because there are errands to be run and shopping to be done. To become animal, we would need to live in a more animal like way, and how is that to be done?

The child still needs to go to school, the mortgage must somehow be paid, and food needs to be bought, and all of this needs to be paid for. There are ways to live more simply of course, and we do many of them, but nevertheless the modern world is part of us as we are part of it. This article will be written entirely in cyberspace and the act of putting pen to paper will never happen – there is simply the melodious clatter of the keyboard

ARH

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