So, you think you can fly.

This post is formatted to reflect an original journal entry.

3/16/21

Went for a walk last night and found a hawk feather. (A little gift from nature. If I’ve identified it correctly, from a Cooper’s hawk.) I love walking. Of the many kinds of exercise I enjoy, walking is tied, perhaps most intimately, to my well-being. It’s good for the soul. It cleanses my mind, a kind of moving meditation. 

Anyway, been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between nature and goodness. Between gratitude and goodness. And a lot of the junk positivity that’s floating around out there telling us all to “be kind” and “be happy” and “be grateful” in really superficial and unrealistic ways. (It’s not all bad, of course. It’s vital that we encourage ourselves and one another, but too much of this talk, especially when taken out of context, I think, can lead to unrealistic, even damaging expectations, and an inability to cope when things go awry.) I’d rather be good than be seen as kind. These two things aren’t the same. 

Maslow talks about this in Religion, Values, and Peak Experiences, which I’ve been leafing through quite a bit lately, as I’ve decided (once again and for the final time) that organized religion isn’t for me. I was so convinced it was going to work out this time, which, in retrospect, should have been a clear indication that I was about to find out otherwise. But, I digress. This isn’t something I feel like talking about at length now. Maybe sometime in the future. Or maybe not…What’s interesting: Maslow thinks the more we become ourselves—become inner-directed, fall in line with our own true nature—the more we instinctively move toward goodness, beauty, truth, the higher values and virtues. This is different from the kind of positivity that’s popular now. To my mind, that’s because most of this “be happy, be kind” business is totally divorced from values. 

We can no longer rely on tradition, on consensus, on cultural habit, on unanimity of belief to give us our values. These agreed-upon traditions are all gone. Of course, we never should have rested on tradition—as its failures must have proven to everyone by now—it was never a firm foundation. It was destroyed too easily by truth, by honesty, by the facts, by science, by simple, pragmatic, historical failure.

A. H. Maslow

Of course, Maslow wrote that in 1964. And that’s to say nothing of our present condition: postmodern, post-truth, hypermodern, or whatever you want to call it. But I’ve got to be honest. All that jargon’s a bit overwhelming for me. What it all boils down to in my mind: we’re too damn civilized for our own good. And I often think the need for all those heavy-handed philosophical terms is proof of just that. But that’s my opinion.

Why this matters: I think nature teaches us about our own goodness, about beauty, about balance, about the art and the harmony of embracing our own wildness in ways that culture simply can’t—and is antithetical to. Indeed, over the years, I’ve come to view my life as if I simultaneously inhabit two worlds (and must in order to survive): the natural world and the civilized world that we’ve plastered over it. I vastly prefer the former. Even when nature is cruel, she never fails. It’s as Henry Miller says: “The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.”

Anyway, I do think, that when all else has failed us, nature remains our constant source. We’re just so preoccupied with the civilized world we don’t see what’s in our own backyards. Literally. Emerson says, “Nature is loved by what’s best in us.” He’s right. It’s my experience that nature shows us who we are. And to develop a healthy reverence and respect for nature—to really look at and appreciate the miracles all around us—is to uncover the best in ourselves. Often, without even having to try.

15 thoughts on “So, you think you can fly.

  1. The greatest detriment of being “… too damn civilized for our own good” is the effect that has on young people, in my opinion. It does not seem children roam and explore nature like my generation did. I was encouraged to see (on the news) a few innovative schools conducting class outside due to Covid restrictions. Of course this presents its own challenges, but the students were able to run, breathe fresh air, explore, and learn about in nature. 🌳 💖 Your essay was enjoyable and relatable.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When my children were at primary (elementary) school, they were outdoors in all weathers, had forest-school sessions, and began to develop what might be called ‘naturalist intelligence’ in the Gardner classification. Once they hit high school, it changed abruptly. Such a pity.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, I’ll tell you, you’ve now sent me down the path of researching “naturalist intelligence.” I hadn’t even thought of Gardner, but you’re right, and you make an excellent point with your example. Thank you.

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      2. How wonderful that your children had that early outdoor education. 💓 Even if they were not able to continue in HS, that is foundational learning that will remain with them. Thank you for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you, Michele. I think you’re right. Kids don’t seem to play outside like we used to. I don’t have children myself, but I imagine the challenges posed by technology (social media, video games, etc.) can’t be easy for parents to navigate. And certainly being out of school due to COVID has to present a whole host of other issues for families. It’s cool that some teachers are teaching outdoors. At least the kids can be social and get out and explore. I tend to think that spending time in nature contributes to the magic of childhood…and can also help adults rekindle their own sense of awe and wonder. 🙂🌻

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  2. This journal entry is filled to the brim with things I would love to talk to you about over a strong cup of coffee or a tulip-shaped glass of amber colored whiskey 🙂 “I’d rather be good than be seen as kind. These two things aren’t the same.” I couldn’t agree more…a truth that people try to complicate so they can avoid what’s staring back at them in the mirror…that requires integrity and courage…both of which seem to be lacking nowadays..

    “The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.” This is so perfectly stated. I agree so much with your perspective as you emphasize this point. Nature, even with its brutality and cruelty, truly never does fail. We hail from this world…our job is to remember that and understand that the civilized world so often stunts the peace that can only be realized through our “unison” with the beauty and cruelty of nature. Junk positivity won’t get us there and unrealistic expectations leave us depleted, disappointed and seeking the next thing that will fix it all… Nature silences the “the next thing” and simply invites us into its backyard so it can show us who we really are…thanks for sharing your thoughts, my dear friend..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’ve got it right when you say we complicate things to avoid what’s staring back at us in the mirror. We do the most absurd things to avoid ourselves.

      I think the most wonderful and miraculous thing about nature is that it can lift our spirits, heal us, give us deep and penetrating insights into our own nature, and provide us with a constant source of beauty and inspiration all without our even having to try. All we have to do is show up, engage our senses, and pay attention.

      Maybe we will discuss the rest over coffee (or booze) one of these days. I don’t think we’re too far from one another, are we?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said 🙂 as always :)…and yes, we are not too far from each other so I indeed see us getting together and sharing our thoughts over a cup 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This post rings such truths for me. Society as a whole moves further out of nature’s reach, or at least it tries believe it does. I think most people forget that the ground we stand on is a living breathing being in and of herself.
    A beautiful post that I could babble on for hours about.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Henry David Thoreau says, “…the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.” It’s amazing how easy it is for us to forget where we come from—or never even to acknowledge it in the first place. Thank you for commenting. I’m happy this post resonated, and I agree that we’re always trying to master nature, or move further away from her reach (and consequently further away from ourselves). This is a topic I could talk about for hours myself. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

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