If you stop in the woods

If you stop in the woods, or move unobtrusively, and make a point of noticing, you discover there’s a lot going on.

It takes a few minutes, like eyes adjusting to the dark, before your senses re-tune. There are birds and rustlings, and puffs of air across your skin. Your nostrils open to the cacophony of scent. After a while longer, maybe an hour, a kind of spatial synaesthesia has taken over. The area around you is abuzz with conversation. In all directions stories are unfolding, on various temporal scales. Insects whirr and trees sigh. The ripples from your presence on the scene are noted and are fed back to you, and you become aware of that too.

You experience these stimuli as intimately as if your surroundings have become an extension of your body. It feels awesome. The woods themselves are your organs of perception.  They and everything that’s in them seem to be doing the thinking for you. What’s left is a kind of heightened sixth sense. Like waking into a lighter and immeasurably more alert state.

Is that how it is for the wild ones, all of the time?

It may have been an effort at first to “notice”, but when it’s time to trudge back to normality you find it’s almost a greater effort to switch off that enveloping hum, to shut your senses down and buckle into the familiar mental harness. There’s a boundless dialogue of life going on out there and the denizens of the wildwood are all a part of it. But we, the tamed ones, mostly blunder through insensate, having fenced ourselves off mentally and physically.

Why would we do that I wonder? How much was really gained in return for all that we lost?

10 Replies to “If you stop in the woods”

  1. What you describe, so eloquently, Chris, is High Sense Perception. Maybe we don’t have to turn it off. Consider the possibility that each of our organs of perception can expand with mindfulness and bring us information. The boundless dialogue with life requires only our willingness to participate.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Susanne. It’s good to know we have that capacity – if we will it – to open up and to some degree fuse with the natural environment rather than just being in it.

  2. Chris,
    Beautifully expressed! You are exactly right. When one stops in the woods and “makes a point of noticing” our senses take in so much more. “The woods themselves are an organ of perception.” Yes, I do think that wildlife experiences this heightened perception all the time. If they don’t they likely fall victim to a predator.
    But it isn’t only in the woods that our sixth sense can awaken. Even walking in the urban jungle we can be aware of the flow of humanity around us. The cacophony of noise, engines roaring, the boundless energy humans have applied to build the world around us. Our senses can expand with mindfulness as we fall into our center and watch the bustle and flow around us.
    It is strange, I agree, why we fence ourselves off mentally and physically. Most would probably say it’s for our protection. Maybe living in the human jungle we are too easily swept up in the mental and emotional confusion, unable to separate our thoughts and feelings from those of others.
    Taking time to contemplate or distance our self by walking into wild areas helps us re-balance. Life slows down when we stop and pay attention. Our lives are so much richer when we become willing participants in the boundless dialogue with life.
    Thank you for the lovely post.

    1. Hi Jody, I’m glad you like it and I believe you’re right, we can access this state almost anywhere. I nearly managed it waiting at the supermarket checkout the other day. (A sterile monoculture compared with the woods – the only obviously organic things around were a few other customers, and like me they were waiting to transact business with a talking machine!) However, based on a subjective sample of one I’d venture that what we crave (maybe neurophysically need?) is the flood of news, on all frequencies at once, that pours in from a vibrant natural world when we tune into it…

      1. Chris,
        “what we crave (maybe neurophysically need?) is the flood of news, on all frequencies at once, that pours in from a vibrant natural world when we tune into it”

        Somehow the image of a flood of news on all frequencies at once, sounds overwhelming to me. Maybe in a natural setting it isn’t. I like what Susanne said about it being High Sense Perception. I think in some places at some times it wouldn’t be enjoyable to open our senses to the flood of input. There is probably better times and places. But I do agree life seems better when I am more mind-full of what is going on around me.

        Perhaps the human psyche is too adept at filtering out information deemed unimportant. In our normal everyday world experience we learn to filter out a lot what is mundane. We drive the same route as usual and daydream the entire trip oblivious to the details along the way.

        I think our modern western lifestyle can cause sensory override when we are always running being way too busy. It’s like the effects of strong dominant flavors on our taste buds. Really hot peppers, for example, become easier to tolerate the more one eats them but eventually make less hot peppers harder to find interesting. Too much sugar makes it difficult to enjoy the natural sweetness of food. When I stopped eating sweets it took a few weeks but one day I was shocked by how sweet raw almonds tasted to me.

        I think it’s normal for our psyche to filter information, but when we enter a natural setting and we chose to open our senses we are choosing to be open to heightened sensory perception.

        I’m curious to know more about you. Do you mind telling me more about yourself? For example where you spend time in the woods? I think there is a way to send private communication to me if you don’t want personal information in an open post. I’m not sure how to do it though. 🙂

        1. Jody – I live in Cardiff and have spent most of my life in very big cities, so am a little prone to idealize any experience of Nature. From the comfort and security of my networked, insulated, brick-walled home of course! But more on that another day. I really appreciate the ideas you express and the perspective you bring in these pages and look forward to reading and learning more about you too. Best wishes, Chris

          1. Chris,
            You must be a very special soul to have lived in very big cities and yet can experience the woods as you describe.
            I live in Indiana in a small city of about 100,000 people. My family lives in a neighborhood down a private lane with about 3/4 of our 5.5 acres being wooded ravines. I love being in a city and a woods! I will upload a few pictures.

  3. Thank you and welcome, Chris! Your piece is an awesome Sunday morning gift for me almost exactly on the other side of the world.
    “The woods themselves are your organs of perception.” A great sentence. Also “Insects whirr and trees sigh.” Basho-worthy.
    My teenage nephew (now studying diesel mechanics in Phoenix) put it this way: “When I come out of the forest I feel like my brain has been cleaned, yeah?” I think there is a need or a longing to be in touch with what the psychologist James Hillman calls our “outer soul.”
    OT: Technical tip on the WordPress Twentyseventeen theme that we’re using. You can go to the bottom of the post page and use the “Featured Image” to make your image go across the top of page which I think would totally work with your image of the woods.

    1. Hi Michelle, thanks, and looking forward to reading and exploring more ideas here. This word anima leads onto a rich vein of thought. Just tried what you suggest re “featured image”. Please feel free to tweak if I didn’t get it right.

      1. And by the way I know just how your nephew feels. They call it forest bathing in Japan, shinrin-yoku, a balm for the soul.

        We should never have made war on our friends the trees!

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