Archive for 11 October 2011

You will find more in woods than in books …

“Believe one who knows:  you will find more in woods than in books.  Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters” —  Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Whether we believe Bernard or not, his claim is eminently testable.  After testing it for yourself, belief is rather beside the point. So what is it that trees and stones teach, and how does it differ from what we can learn from “masters”?  Some of this natural wisdom is difficult to put into words, not out of some obscurantist pseudo-mysticism, but because it is a kind of somatic knowledge — a knowledge the body  gains from doing as opposed to what the mind gains from thinking and conceptualizing.  How do we know how to ride a bicycle?   Once the body acquires the experience, it doesn’t forget — even if the actual knowledge is not something we can usefully put into a set of memorizable “instructions.”  That won’t help.  Your body has to learn how to ride and learn it by muscle memory, and no amount of intellectual learning will bring us closer to such knowledge.  Only experience will do.

moss rock

The bookish culture of medieval and early modern Europe referred to the “Book of Nature” as a source of great wisdom, alongside holy scripture.  For Druids, nature is scripture.  While there is plenty of book learning a Druid can acquire, the beginning and ending of Druidry lies in experience of the natural world.  If there are things I “can never learn from masters,” nevertheless a good master will turn me loose to experience them for myself.  However much I look out my front picture window at the wind bending the ash and the red maple, and the sun shining on them, I know little compared to what I learn feeling the wind on my face and the sun on my skin.  A sense of natural presences — of what have been called spirits, devas, elementals — is also something you can’t gain by thinking, any more than you can meet a new person by thinking about people you already know.  But time outdoors can deliver this new knowledge to you, if you’re patient and alert, and place this knowledge beyond intellectual argument, because it is at least partly somatic knowledge.  The body simply knows.  I found this out myself last week, astonished at the number of presences on the small piece of land where our house sits.  The back yard teemed with beings.  I didn’t have to “believe” in them, anymore than you have to believe in people picnicking near you in a park.  The decision at hand for me was whether or not to greet them.  They were so perfectly who and where they should be that for me it seemed discourteous not to.

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