Saturday, 28 February 2009

Mind, Conciousness, Ego and Nature

Reflections, paraphrase or direct copying of part of Ecopsychology (Roszak, Gomes and Kanner. Sierra Club Books, 1995) that I have picked up to continue reading again:

The concept of the "Mind" is usually usually seen as a label for the "psyche" or "mental processe" that is unique to any individual and doesn't exist beyond their existence.

There is a line of thought that has suggested that the Mind is the sum of all the natural processes and the information that emanates from an individual. Mind is also an immanent (existing or operating within; inherent; (of God) permanently pervading and sustaining the universe) property of the universe. Thus Mind is not just the property of an individual, but exists beyond it. Mind is more fundamental that consciousness, it encompasses all consciousness. Buddhist philosophy reflects this, apparently.

Do I agree with that? How do I feel that my mind may in some way extend beyond the property of my being? Can I exist beyond my physical nature? How about the idea of a universal consciousness that is so often talked about? Is God the Mind?

Consciousness would therefore be a property of the Mind that allows us to have a self-reflective experience. It arises out of Mind and exists in various relationships with it. In our urban-industrial Western culture consciousness is often experienced as being separate from Mind. We have developed our modern culture and society through being conscious of our actions, creativity, developments and life enhancing abilities. But has this ability to self-reflect, be addicted to knowledge and to process information taken us too far and have we become alienated from the grounding to the earth around us?

Then there is the Ego (a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance; the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity). We could consider the "Ego" as a collection of cognitive (the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses) abilities that quite simply exists to serve our various need-fullfilling activities. So... we have needs and our Ego enables us to fullfill those by our desire to be something...

So if our Ego takes over much of our thought processes - it can get overstimulated and used to excess and this is the cause of our split from natural processes or rather it would lead us to believe that to be so. Our urbanised and industrial culture tends to reinforce this conviction.

Our culture seems to have inflated "distinction making" so that it dominates our Ego and entire consciousness. We could say that our conscious is split from Mind - and I am not now really understanding this passage - and this reinforces our separation from Nature even though we are immersed in it. Domination of Nature occurs, and exploitation - because of the imbalance caused by our Ego......

Thus when we have wilderness or deep nature based experiences psychological changes take place within us that is a shift from that which is culturally reinforced - dualism-producing reality becomes more of a non-dualistic mode. Consciousness becomes dominated by the need-crazed Ego leaving a simpler "nonegoic" awareness in its wake. This seems to encourage a greater openess to Mind - that is, to the more natural flow of information from nature. If you open you mind to natural processes then nature reinforces itself; likewise cultural processes reinforce culture.

This can make the transition between being out in the wilderness/countryside and returning to the urban world difficult (don't I know it!) because of the widely divergent forms of egoic processing and accompanying different modes of consciousness. People can feel "open" and "airy" in wilderness and "tight" and "turgid" (swollen and distended or congested) in urban culture.

How do people enter the wilderness experience psychologically? Some may cross it physically but not psychologically - they may take cultural comforts with them and not really cross the boundary to the extent they could do. Some wilderness experiences are designed to develop skills dictated as "useful" or "empowering" by our culture, and if that culture is destructive towards nature then there is a problem. Nature is exploited to meet the voracious needs of culture.

Humans have the idea [...] that we are above natural processes rather than immersed in them. We have thought, and continue to treach our children to think, that we can control nature, at least most of the time, and we have felt validated in the belief by the modest success of some of or own inventions.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Woodland Earth

It is a cold February day and much of the snow we had over a week ago is still lying on the fields. The landscape is so very different with snow on the ground, all the trees and snowless areas seem so much darker to look at, there appears to be very little colour around. I've walked out from home and seen many deer today. When I look across fields and into woodland, the snowy ground between the trees makes deer loose their camouflage and they can easily be seen running off between the trees. Apart from the snow making their food more difficult to find - I found many places where deer had scraped away a covering of snow to get at the grass beneath. The snow must make them more vulnerable to predators or hunters. In one place I passed within about 20ft of two muntjacs standing motionless against a woodland backdrop. At any other time I might not have seen them, but today it seemed as though they had nowhere to run to.

A patch of woodland beneath some scots pines hold my attention and thoughts for a period of time. I sit on the damp and cold earth against what I think was a small hornbeam. The ground is criss-cross covered with the long, double-stranded scots pine needles. Around me I also see small twigs, cones, hornbeam (?) leaves, moss, pieces of bark, deer droppings and bird droppings (from roosts in the tree above me). I scrape away a small patch of this surface litter to reveal the lower surface of finer decaying organic matter - about an inch deep above the actual soil level. I see a couple of centipedes and also a some new nettle shoots with fresh green leaves. A fine, long deep-magenta root reaches out horizantally into the surrounding woodland. How many of the tall dead nettle stems are linked I wonder? All poised to expand again with new spring growth. As I scrape away some more leaves I find some small creamy long objects which I at first assume are strands of some fungi. I then realise that they are small bones. I uncover more and find some vertebrae and they must have been about an inch long. Perhaps this was a rabbit at some stage. I don't find a skull, but I didn't want to disturb the earth more than I had to.

I find several deer scrapes made where deer have cleared a patch of woodland floor for a temporary bed. The ground is brown and almost lifeless under these trees. The leaves and wood look almost black in places. February can seem quite a dark month yet I know that it will imminently take on a whole new meaning and dynamic. I don't stay much longer as I have got cold. I'm dressed for a brisk walk today and not with warmer layers for sitting round in woods in a cold wind.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A Cold Day on Croft Ambrey

I had the chance to visit Croft Ambrey (National Trust) in north Herefordshire on February 1st. I spent the day wandering around this wonderful hill and woodland to which I am always returning when I get the chance. Much of the focus of my writing was to reflect my continuing focus on the element 'air' and to see how it related to the landscape through which I was walking. The headings I give are various approximate locations along my walk.

Fishpool Valley
It is nearly mid-morning and very overcast with a high cloud cover. A moderately strong and very cold wind blows giving a high wind chill over the partly frozen ground. There is an occasional snowflake in the air. I expect to find little shelter from the breeze today. The valley is seeing much change as trees are being felled/thinned and the area more carefully managed by the National Trust. It seemed as though many of the trees may have been wind blown and these were now being cleared.

As the wind waves though the trees, I hear the creaking and groaning of branch against branch. I am sitting on a long log, just above one of the pools by the victorian water mill, with my hands getting cold as I write. A wren chatters below me in some rhododendrons and I can hear the gentleness of water tumbling out of the pool and down the distant stream. The water on the pool is gently rippling and grasses and leaves around me are agitated but not really being moved from their place. There are some blue tits nearby too. The trees in the bottom of this valley are relatively still, whereas those on the high edge of the valley move in the unsheltered wind. A gorgeous red fungus catches my attention on the ground in front of me (probably Scarlet Elf Cap) - such a bright red amidst the winter shades around me.

A fish jumps in the pool (I assume that's what it was that made a splash) and ripples expand across the deep grey-turquise depths - a strong colour against the greys of the ashes, oaks and maples. People walk past, talk and chattering echoes around the tall bare trees that listen. How much have these trees heard over the years? Silent witnesses - absorbing, unresponding, but ever present and feeling the sound around them.

On the pool there is now a beautiful reflection of the trees and valley skyline, mirroring the grey valley in the turquoise water. Then a wind arrives and the surface image dissolves into a blur of ripples - gone, for the moment anyway.

Wild Arum leaves are appearing out of the partly frozen earth, several inches tall already. I see quite a few old fallen trees, blown over by the wind perhaps, where the surface soil is too thin and fragile to allow a root system to gain a stronghold. Branches and twigs suffer in the wind too - a sort of natural pruning of the weak or the dead by nature.

Opposite Leaved Saxifrage is just coming into flower on a rotten tree stump and so is Dog's Mercury on the soft muddy bank of the tiny stream.

Lyngham Vallet
A greater spotted woodpecker flies up from the ground near me and flies up into a nearby tree.

I am sitting against a pine tree on the side of the small valley looking towards Bircher Common. I am sheltered from the wind that carries the sound of the high canopies above me. There are the tall thin ashes below me, many of their slender trunks have the orange Trentpholia algae on the north, sun-shadowed side of their greyness. Another bright colour against the winter hues and the green-black of the background conifers. Tall grasses on the woodland floor, a pale creamy brown, sway in the breeze. Fragile stems and feathery heads that held the long forgotten seeds of summer. Their dark green basal leaves forming tussocks, rugged and strong - secure in the earth below.

The wind seems like long breaths, with periods of calm for many minutes before gently gathering strength for a longer period of activity; then calming again. A gentle, slow rise and fall of energy.

I wonder how (or if) conifers are more adapted to better withstand winter winds than deciduous trees, even though they may be covered with pine needles. Perhaps the fine feathery nature of the needles offers less wind resistance than larger flat deciduous leaves. Perhaps the branches are lighter, finer and yet more flexible in windy conditions.

I see and hear two jays and hear a buzzard calling.

I come across a line of oak trees and observe that there are still some dead leaves rustling at the very top of one tree, whereas all the leaves have disappeared from neighbouring trees. Why are these leaves still high up in the canopy? Is there a small area that is more sheltered from the wind, or are there fewer branches in their vacinity to knock them off?

Bircher Common and Dionscourt Hill
The sun is now out and it is just after midday. I am now out on the common land and in a good easterly wind. I find a small pool on the hill top at the edge of a field, beyond is a clear view of Clee Hill in the distance. The pool has ice around the edge furthest from that facing the wind. I look to see how the ice has formed - small ridges where surface ripples have been blown against previously formed ice. Frozen in the shallow ice are patterns created by the wind catching floating duckweed and froth.

My eye catches something sparkling above me and what I assume is a foil party balloon gently passes - a delicate, twirling, silvery object against the blueness in the sunshine. It is just too high above to make it out in detail, but low enough to make me wonder if it will get caught in trees further up the hillside. It floats silently, westwards and is gone.

I pass some sheep and pick a few pieces of sheep's wool off a hawthorn hedge. It is amazing example of ideal insulation. A think coat of very fine hairs that traps air and reducing heat loss from the animal. With even a small piece of wool between my fingers I can feel it keeping in the warmth. The individual wool strands are all wavy and create a beautiful interlocking structure of wool and air space. No wonder it is used for making clothes, but I wonder whether the most effective use of wool is in its rightful place on the back of a sheep - processing and weaving surely reduces much of its effectiveness as an insulator.

A willow tree by a roadside catches my attention. Its trunk has divided and one half leans out at a seemingly impossible angle to hold up its branches. Air creates space around the tree and the branches have to be held upright against the force of gravity. Only with the aid of a significant root system can a tree maintain the balance of its above ground structure. Space is hugely important for a tree and I am often thinking about how plants and trees organise their stems, branches, leaves and flowers spacially. Air is also important for seed dispersal for many plants.

I come across a stream. There is a large pipe carrying the water under a farm track and, when the water exists, it splashes into a small, but deep pool forming a mass of agitated air bubbles perhaps 3-4ft long and 1-2ft deep. I think of the process of aeration/oxygenation where oxygen is dissolved into moving water and which can help support water life downstream.

Croft Ambrey
I am sitting on some dried bracken on the top western side of the hill overlooking Shobdon Hill Wood. It is mid-afternoon and the sun shines in the valley below through a rare gap in the clouds - a strong beam of light cutting through the clouds and light haze. A small pool reflects a silvery light amidst the sunlit fields which are a bright yellow-green. There is only a slight breeze in my sheltered place and patches of beech leaves gently rustle where they still remain near the bottom branches of their trees. The brown bracken around me I am sure gives an almost imperceptible rustle and crackling as it dries out in the wind.

The air is always beautiful up here in this quiet place and has, no-doubt, been appreciated even by the iron-age people who once lived here, The idea of fresh air to them may have seemed odd as their air would always have been fresh - apart from perhaps a hut filled with wood smoke, smelly bodies or dead animals! Hills like this are surrounded by a space full of air which separates their presence from other hills around them.

How the wind can change in a landscape like this. One part can be calm and still, another can be so cold it takes your breath away! And it can come form so many directions depending on the topography.

A crow croaks loudly and glides not far away - a being of blackness with a deep, loud and echoing call.

On the top of Croft Ambrey the wind doesn't seem so cold now. Clouds are moving quickly and the valley is lit up with patches of fast moving sunlight. For about half a minute the whole of the hill around me is bathed in clear sunlight and then it has gone. The light, cloud, wind and natural patterns constantly change in this landscape. They all interact with each other in a graceful play that belongs to the earth around me and not to my time or place.

The sun sets and my journey off the hill must begin.

I give thanks.