Becoming Animal by David Abram

Exploring sensuous relationships with the world

English: A Yin & Yang symbol surrounded by the...

English: A Yin & Yang symbol surrounded by the ‘ba gua’ in a park outside of Nanning, Guangxi province. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul Vick, during the cranial sacral course I attended (Blog;Life in the Womb) recommended “Spell of the Sensuous” which is David Abram’s first book, but I also ordered this, his second book, which arrived first. In fact, now I am reading “Spell of the Sensuous “, I am glad I had read “Becoming animal” first. It is even more poetically written and reading it is like diving into a rich sensuous world. Much of it consists of descriptions of David’s lived experiences of the possibilities of living with a more direct connection to the earth and other beings within it. “Spell” starts to outline these new possibilities, however, it explores them in a more theoretical way . Both books explore, in their different ways, why we have arrived at this time in our history when most of us are living lives which are very disconnected from the earth.
We journey, along with David, using all our senses to explore our connection to the earth. We vividly experience shadow, depth, texture and relate directly to other living beings. We enter the body of the bird and soar through the mountains. We sense the energy of the deer watching us and the insects zooming past. We take time to taste the water and feel the snow beneath our feet and the solidity of the rock. We share the life of healers in India, living with David, the simplicity and rich complexity of a life where we are tuned into the rhythms of everything around us. He does not stop at natural presences but includes made artefacts, as they still are made from the earth and carry some of her energy. We listen to the moving walls of his house in America, who are feeling sad to see his family move. We feel the movement of the chair beneath his body as he sits writing. We feel the different relationship we have with a computer screen, which with its flat screen, takes away the depth of our experience, compared with an apple tree bursting into blossom. Our senses begin to merge as we taste smells and feel light.
Our ”eyes inhale colours” . We slide into the shadows of the night “sleep is the shadow of the earth as it seeps through our skin”..dissolving our individual will” (p24) . He uses such evocative words as telluric, crepuscular, gazzillions and chthonic.
We experience how much “while gliding in huge undulant schools through the depths of amniotic oceans….our brainy bodies have steadily formed themselves in dynamic interaction with the textures and rhythms of celestial nature ((78)
He re-visits the theme outlined more theoretically in “Spell” of how have we become disconnected from our body and the earth. He attributes this largely to a change in the philosophical world view, beginning with Plato and Socrates, which separated the mind and the body, which enabled a shift in language to a phonetic one. Oral cultures and ideographic (ie using images to convey meaning) language kept us connected with our environment. These languages in their very essence trigger our remembering of the earth and remind us of our consanguinity with all beings. This made me realise why Chinese philosophy and medicine is so much more expressive of this direct connection to the land: Chinese is an ideographic language.
He considers the impact of the relatively recent development of reading silently in one’s head. That observation made me sit up, as it is something which we take so for granted, but was not part of our ancestors’ experience of the world. Now, with mobile phones, even more of our time is spent silently reading and processing information: this must have had a profound influence on the functioning of our brain, especially for young children. We have so much more chatter in our brains than our ancestors and spend so much of our time in isolation not only from the land, but from each other. He does not argue that we need reject written language as it has enabled many developments in communication, but that it needs to be underpinned by a strong oral culture in order for us to retain our connection with the land. And, I would also suggest, with each other.
Abram ponders that since the Greek word for idea and species was the same, perhaps this indicates that ideas could have an existence separate from mind and even more radically

“What if the mind is not ours but is Earth’s? ..a property of the Earth in which we are carnally immersed? “ (p123)

”our bodies are always intertwined with the broad flesh of the Earth” (p127) .

This holds echoes for me of Chinese medicine: our psyche and language are intertwined with the different spaces we inhabit and different cultures develop. Our mood is affected by wind, rain, thunderstorm and he evokes this with vivid descriptive pieces.
He suggests that once Galileo and Copernicus showed that the earth was not the centre of the universe and that the stars above were not the roof of the world, people started to feel adrift, lost in limitless space. The new theories encouraged us to distrust our senses and deepened the process of the rift between our sensing bodies and thinking minds. This rift has enabled us to make amazing technological discoveries, and he is not arguing for a rejection of all the advances we have made. However he argues that we need to heal this rift, before we destroy the earth.
In order to heal this rift, we need to embrace our corporeal reality, recognising our bodily/mind connection with the earth, and not just valuing what we perceive as a spiritual connection. Even many “new age” spiritualities include a rejection of our connection with the earth with their notions of transcendence. He suggests we are scared of embracing our corporeal body because it reminds us of our vulnerability. When we accept our bodies we are brought into facing our limits: decay, death and otherness.
He finishes with a lovely image of the sun, moving in its darkness right into the centre of the earth. Spirit is not some disembodied sense out there. It is within the earth and within our body which is part of the earth. This evokes for me the basic concepts expressed in TCM of the human body being part of the microcosm which is the macrocosm. It also evokes the fundamental Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang, light and dark, sun and moon. We need both so that we can inhabit our body and the earth more fully.
A powerful book and one I would definitely recommend. And especially as my son is called Bram!

4 comments

  1. It was a client at work actually.. someone doing a degree course in ecology and fairy tales!! She was researching shapeshifting within Shamanic practice.. Quite an interesting conversation :)

  2. Suzanne thanks for this… great piece! I was inspired by it to google him;very interesting.
    Lets talk ;-) xx Katy

  3. What a wonderful and timely article! I was just recommended these books only last week, and it was the titles that made me sit up and think yes ! Thanks for such a great post and highlighting thought provoking aspects…. like the suggestion that our thoughts could the earth’s blows my mind! Amazing :)

    • suzanneyates

      thanks for the comment Christine. Let me know what you think of the books. Who recommended them to you?
      Suzanne

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