Sensory Agility, Part 2

Our senses were originally and until recently attuned to the Earth’s emanations (not to cell phones, computer screens or money). We’re built to sense nuance so fine that, as you will see in the excerpt below, we have the capacity to see the future in tangible detail before it arrives - not telepathically but literally. How appalling that, in the artificial glare of Modernity, we now consider this once-normal state of being to be unattainable or, at best, aberrant and dismiss such possibilities as far-fetched. Monoculture has seduced us away from the capacity for direct experience that is engrained in our original design. 

Our primordial relationship with the Earth was fully reciprocal. Erotic, joyful, and nuanced. It was a filigree of exchange every bit as complex and, therefore, as essential as the fine web of mycorrhizae beneath a forest. I mean this literally. In all the talk of sustainable living, responding to the climate crisis and the rest of it, little attention is paid to our relationship with the Earth as it originally was designed to be. When we say that we are sentient beings, that Gaia and all her myriad creaturely expressions are sentient, this does not refer to rudimentary awareness. Sentience implies a full spectrum of sensory-motor, mental and emotional awareness and responsive capacity. This understanding belongs front and center of any discussion of ecological restoration. It is the keystone. 

Beyond our penchant for violence and desecration, it is the loss of this primordial relationship between humans and Earth that is killing Her. How could it not sicken Her for us to turn away? She gives us food, water, beauty and wonder and suddenly we give nothing in return. We refuse Her gifts, or we abuse them. The truth is, we have created a system that is wholly dependent for its survival on the destruction of the relationships that feed Life. 

If I were the Earth, a sentient being under relentless attack, deathly ill, my beloveds dying or in danger, I would do whatever I could to protect myself and to heal. Volcanoes, for example. Fires to burn out the fever. Warnings and pleas. And, if the Earth were a battered woman – which She is, She might take courage to know that the hearts of some of us still belong to Her, and that She can find sanctuary within us. This is one form of energetic activism I have chosen: to create an internal safe place that offers protection for what is intact, so that it may endure, and a place for what has been lost so that it might yet be once again. If you are reading this, perhaps you feel the same. 


Excerpt 2: GIFTS OF UNKNOWN THINGS: A True Story of Nature, Healing and Initiation from Indonesia’s ‘Dancing Island’, by Lyall Watson

Eventually the little green heron grew tired of retreat and, sitting hunched up on a fallen tree trying to look resentful and invisible all at the same time, let us walk on by. 

I was still excited by my discovery of Tia’s ability to hear colors, but didn’t want to push too hard, so we changed the subject. Or at least, I thought we had.

“You haven’t been in school this week.”

“I keep house for Paman Abu. My cousin Ali has only eight years and needs help.”

Abu kept the village store, and I knew he had taken his prau to guide the Little Flower to another islands several days distant where the crewmen could get supplies. They were anxious to return to Java, and I had paid them off with a letter of credit to my bank.

“When will he return?”
“By sunset today.” She was very certain.

“How do you know?”

“I have seen him coming.”

We had reached the point that conceals the village from the sea, and now the whole horizon lay open to the north and west beyond Pintu, the gateway between the two sentinel rocks on the reef.

“I see nothing.”

“He comes. And with another ship.”

I looked in the direction she indicated, but I could still see nothing. And my eyes are very good.

“Show me.”

Wah! Who then is the guru that I must even teach you how to see?” 

“Never mind all that. Just show me those ships.”

“One cannot see the ships!”

“But you said ---”

“I said Paman Abu was near, and he was not alone. I see no ships, merely the signs of their coming.”

Now I was thoroughly confused.

I began to think that Tia must be either precognitive or in telepathic contact with her uncle. 

Neither of these possibilities would have surprised or disturbed me, and I would have been quite content with her prediction if she had made it with her eyes closed.

That kind of ‘seeing’ I have grown accustomed to in my friendship with western psychics, but I could not understand why Tia was looking so intently out over the ocean. 

There was nothing out there that I could see.

“Look, Tuan.” Now she was being very patient and polite with me. “What happens when two fighting cocks dance?” 

I shrugged.

“You have seen them in the village. They fly near to each other, then stop.” She held up her hands about six inches apart. “It is as though they run into a wall and go no farther. Each strains to attack, but neither can because something holds them back.”

Now the child was teaching me ethology. But I listened.

“Well, you can see this wall if you look carefully. It is a dark line, like smoke. And it hangs there between them until something pushes it away. Then the cocks hit each other with their feet. And the one over which the smoke passes will always lose. We all know this.”

I didn’t. I felt naked and did not know what to say, but she wasn’t expecting a response.

“Dogs and buffalo do the same. And people. Whenever you grown angry in the school, your smoke covers the whole class, but it passes quickly because we let it go. The same is true of any strong feelings. Fear and love and hate all make shadows, but their colors are different. And blow away as smoke will in the wind unless they touch another of their color and meet to form a wall.”

“And Abu’s prau produces such a color?” I thought I could see where she was leading, but Tia shook her head.

“If you simply walk on the beach as we are doing, you have no special color. But if you travel with a purpose, it is different. When you go somewhere important or you return home from a long journey, you build a shape around you and it reaches out ahead to touch your destination. Last night, looking out to sea, I saw the shape and color of my uncle and I knew already that he was coming. This morning I saw it more clearly, and with it something else I do not know. It can only be new people.”

With that she turned and left me, going back to her chores. 

I stood there on the beach for a long time staring at the horizon. I squinted at it, I looked at it quickly out of the corner of my eye, I tried to imagine shapes and forms reflected in the clouds. I looked for waves and smoke and envelopes of energy. 

I saw nothing.

But at noon the children were calling out that two boats could be seen, and just before sunset Abu came drifting into the lagoon in his little prau followed by the larger lateen sail of a Bugis trader.


How shall we go about reclaiming the capacities of our original selves – and the responsibility inherent in doing so? Aside from sensory and relational delight (which are motivation enough in my book) there are practical reasons for this reclamation as well: There isn’t a single government or modern political system today that doesn’t benefit from our sensory numbness. In fact, today’s power structures depend on it. The farther we drift from our capacity for nuanced sensory awareness and interaction and the kinship with the Earth that is the natural result, the more distorted the false power structures become, and the greater the danger we face as a result because illegitimate power will stop at nothing to protect itself. It does this by diverting more and more resources to the military; by creating distractions both petty and profound; by constantly changing the rules to benefit itself over its constituents and by changing the terms of the discussion, thereby redefining reality on its own terms for its own sake. It convinces the populace that strangers are not to be trusted. That Nature must be conquered. That scarcity is clawing at the gates. None of these things is inherently true. 

What is true is our original design. If we trusted our senses, the power structures that shape our lives would become instantly obsolete. Not a shot fired. Not a vote cast nor an election stolen though perhaps social media would become authentically social - no smart phones or computers needed. We would see for ourselves the smoky walls of discord that arise between us from the ugly words spewed by haters of all stripes, particularly our leaders, or anyone else with something to lose. We’d see all the many hues of the shadows cast by our emotions and learn to change them so that the smoke of discord would clear, and rainbows take its place. We would remember in a visceral way that words shape reality because the intention behind both words and actions is verifiable since it is visible as color and structure for all to see. We would remember how and why we are in charge of our emotional residue, and we would see how our intentions affect others. It would be as tangible as seeing ships on the horizon bringing our loved ones home.