Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones

For we cannot think like Indians; at most, we can think with them.  – Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics

As far back as I am able to think, to remember, which is a kind of thinking, there are memories of places, of plants and animals, of a kind of light and air, the smell of water on leaves, root and dirt, the strange sight of lava flows reaching the sea, the band of white coral touching blue ocean, of roads leading through orchards, of flowers against the sky, of moss-covered rocks and river pebbles.

I have these myths.  These are my myths. 

When I was very young I dreamt that my parents drove me out to the forest in their little jeep and left me at the base of a tree with a family of foxes.   I was very happy there although sad to see my human family drive away.  

That is one of my myths.  

Also when I was very, very young I dreamt of spiders hanging above my bed (crib?) in a dark room.  I don’t know whether I was in the crib or whether I was a spider.  

I learned later that there was a line between me and the foxes and the spiders.  That they were not me, ever.  It took many years for me to learn this because the borders were always blurring between myself and other animals, other bodies, other realities.

I learned the myth that I only had one body, one reality.

When I was pregnant I lived in another world.  This was frightening but also it made me angry because I knew the pregnant body did not fit with that myth of separate bodies.  The pregnant body had no standing in the Reality that I had learned, even if the pregnant body is the most necessary reality – this body, the maker of bodies. The pregnant body is not allowed to speak out loud.  It must whisper in the dark, even if it is a body radiant with light.

We are only allowed to break down the barriers between bodies through sex, which is also sometimes called love. This makes for endless confusion and frustration.  Because it’s never enough.  Love and sex are fine things but one other human being (in the patriarchy, one woman) cannot be a whole world.  We have to let the actual world in, not just one other human. We have to let life in, and many other people and animals, with all their worlds. 

We learn that we are supposed to build up the barriers.  To harden them. To build higher and grow richer, so that nothing can hurt us.  Then we die. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.  This is what makes us crazy in our hardened worlds.  Because it’s never enough. 

The one world is never enough.  We must let ourselves slip into the other worlds.  One life; many worlds. 

We all live in many worlds already.  It’s just a matter of giving them some standing.  Of standing up for them –  the world of your body as it lives through the day and the night, as it dreams, as it labors, as it delights, as it sorrows, as it dies; the world of animals, the world of language, the world of machines and of business (if we must), the world of children, the world of plants, the worlds of air and light and water.


Never let them catch you. The colonizers, the one-worlders. Be ready to go into the forest. Shape-shift.  Mind-shift.  Eat them for breakfast. 

The basic idea was that Amazonian and other Amerindian peoples (from the Achuar and the Runa all the way up to the Kwakiutl) who live in intense proximity and interrelatedness with other animal and plant species, see these nonhumans not as other species belonging to nature but as PERSONS, human persons in fact, who are distinct from “human” humans not from lacking consciousness, language, and culture – these they have abundant­ly – but because their bodies are different, and endow them with a specific subjective-“cultural” perspective.  – Peter Skafish, Cannibal Metaphysics. 

3 Replies to “Metamorphic: for all the Wild Ones”

  1. Funny isn’t it how we crave disembodied experience and fusing with the general life spirit, yet also love and need the independence and autonomy our bodies give us. Our very own private sacks of life-sustaining seawater to drag around, or to drag us around.

    Your post made me go find this from Thoreau:

    I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one… but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries!

  2. This great posting gets things churning in many directions eventually settling out into three areas.

    The first is the theory of mind that a friend with an
    autistic child had me begin reading about and trying to understand many years ago. Exploring the concept that we all, all of our conciousnesses, fall on a wide spectrum of living and being in a world where we are variously aware of what others can and do experience, from having that sensitivity of knowing what others can see, both with physical sight and mental understanding, and what they are feeling about what they can see. Or not. With a scale that ranges from some of us having no understanding or perhaps even interest in the actions, thoughts, or perceptions of others (much less the non-humans) to those of among us
    that know that not only do other humans have their own individual conciousness and feelings, but that the trees, animals and rocks have a conciousness and life of their own as well, this latter more vividlyevident on an active volcanic island.

    The second part of our situation that you touch on is that we are taught to disregard, grow “beyond”, these childish notions that one might communicate with animals (or that animals might communicate with you), or learn something from the earth, the sky, the wind, or the sea, or something so basic as being in touch with, listening to, our own bodies. These insights not only acquired from careful observation, but from understanding and believing our own experience, despite the mainstream knowledge imparted by our educational systems at all levels. Let’s just say “too much useless information” for learned folk.

    The third thing that comes to mind has to do with a rudimentary understanding of the teachings and practise of Buddhist thought, clumsily simplified into learning the practise of meditation focused on various external objects, and with practise and mastery, moving toward direct realization of the item of focus. Seeing, experiencing the world from another point of view.

    As usual thanks Michelle, send the book when you are done, though if you are anything like me, you never let go of the ones that mean something.

  3. Thanks, Chris for that comment and quote. It’s an excellent one. “I tremble to meet them.” It is surprising that for all of our medical knowledge, our knowledge of the body as a kind of object, we seem to have little interest in it as a subject in its own right, even our very own bodies. It’s really quite strange.

    Thanks for thinking with me, Richard, it’s a great help when you go out on a bit of a limb like I did with this post! Also, I never thought of Zen Buddhist meditation quite as a kind of shamanic technique to reach direct experience of an other being’s Being but now that you say that it makes perfect sense!

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