Mysticism, and reactions of readers, to the mysticism
QUOTE: P. 63 – 65 “I had experiences there that changed my life. In time these strange things that began to happen to me when I was out on the prairie, not only in that particular field, but in others as well, began to come together for me to gradually form a shadowy but increasingly powerful whole. I was discovering something about living in Nature that I had never heard anyone speak of, or read in any books, though it might have been in some of them if I’d had the eyes to read it there.
Many of my writer friends who love to spend time in Nature have their own numinous experiences . . . (of or characteristic of a numen; supernatural; divine. having a deeply spiritual or mystical effect.) .. . . communicating with wild animals, seeing things which aren’t there in the everyday sense, learning things from people who are not present, being flooded with new understanding. I begin, despite official silence on the subject by much of religion and most scientists, to think that experiences are so widespread and frequent as to be the norm rather than the unusual. It seems inarguable to me that, as Erich Neumann wrote in “Mystical Man”, “Man is by nature a homo mysticus”.
I have said,”This is the place where words stop,” referring to that moment when, out in Nature, not shooting, collecting, studying, naming or farming, we realize that an entity is present, or that Nature is alive, even that Nature has a memory. I meant by this that suddenly there seem to be no words to describe, adequately our experiences, no familiar phrases or colloquialisms to fall back on, no single nouns or verbs which have been given over to the sole purpose of describing such awareness.
I think we have so allowed the scientific approach to the world to take over our perceptions that we are afraid to mention such experiences for fear of being laughed at or vilified. When we do, we find ourselves stammering, struggling for words, never being able to convey in language to our own satisfaction exactly what it felt like or looked like or what sensations it evoked in us. We struggle against skepticism, our own as much as anyone else’s, and in time we lapse into silence about them and a whole, valuable dimension of human experience remains unsung and unvalidated.
(RE Butala’s point: we have so allowed the scientific approach to the world to take over our perceptions – – John Ralston Saul’s tome, Voltaire’s Bastards, the Dictatorship of Reason in the West, 1992, addresses the issue. Or, his much shorter and more easily digested, “On Equlibrium“, 2001. Excerpts from it are in Understanding why we flounder, help from John Ralston Saul “On Equilibrium”.
It is hard not to be very angry with scientists for this loss. Their unshakable belief in a materialistic, purely objective world has so permeated our culture that only in religious life are we allowed the slightest latitude in the dimensions of what we might call the “real”. Scientists have specialized in narrowing experience, told us that the only truths possible are the ones they know; they have developed specialized language the rest of us don’t understand and have elevated themselves and been elevated by us, to the status of those who know, while poets visionaries and mystics have been relegated to the realm of the crazy.
We use words like “awareness”, “perception”, “sense”, or “intuition” or a “sixth sense”. They are as close as our language, as far as I know, allows us to come to describe the way in which we apprehend experience that is out of the realm of the ordinary. None of these words seem quite sufficient. And as for describing the quality of the experience, its texture, color and the accompanying emotion, the way it permeates our being and floods us with new knowledge/awareness/perception, it seems to be impossible to find the right words and a way to structure them that will make our listeners believe us.
Until one has had an experience of this sort, one cannot hear what one who has these experiences is saying. Those of us who allow these experiences room in our psyches, who do not refuse or deny them, know we are walking a narrow ledge with psychosis on one side and scientism on the other. It is a dangerous journey we gladly make, putting one foot carefully before the other, our arms out to maintain our balance, our concentration on the path absolute. The world is more wonderful than any of us have dared to guess, as all great poets have been telling us since the invention of poetry. To discover these truths we don’t need to scale Mount Everest or white-water raft the Colorado or take up skydiving. We need only go for walks.
QUOTE: Page 79 (contains references to some of the books that informed Butala’s quest to understand.
QUOTE: “I began to see, in the place of emptiness, presence. I began to see not only the visible landscape but the invisible one, a landscape in which history, unrecorded and unremembered as it is, had transmuted itself into an always present spiritual dimension.”
QUOTE: “If wilderness has anything to teach us, it is about our own weakness, our failure to control much less understand this earth onto which we are all born. And with this growing humility in the face of the unknown, slowly a sense of being in the presence of some great consciousness, other than one’s own, begins to grow too“
QUOTE: (I may add some more)
COMMENTS ON THE BOOK, with thanks to goodreads.com:
Amna: I appreciate her years’-dawning realization that we are completely different when shaped by urban environments than we are when we’re surrounded by nature. And I loved that she started having mystical dreams and experiences when she moved to the prairie. It was a reminder that this connection is always there, and just covered up by the busyness and noise of daily life.
Nelda: I do like some of the telling of the spiritual experiences and in no way question their validity. The attempt to, analyze, and place these experiences makes them “less than” to me.
Valerie: The cover says, “An appreticeship in Nature.” It truly was. She studied nature and awakened so much of her soul in her search. There were a number of things that were “flaky” to me, but I appreciated her thoughtful, deep study and presentation.”
Lee: Her dreams annoyed me intensely, and her constant assumption of their profound meaning left me nauseated. I cannot understand why any publisher would accept such a piece of writing and foist it on the reading public as worthy of its cost. Truly, one of the worst books I have read a part of.
Kristine: Butala had courage to write her story especially as she says we don’t really have the words to articulate this “otherness”. Especially because she went through this metamorphosis in the 1980’s and wrote the book in 1994 – was anyone else admiting to such thoughts and questions?
Stacey: I don’t typically write a book off and not finish it, but I couldn’t even get past the first chapter of this one. I just wasn’t interested in it at all.
Irene: Give yourself a gift of the amazing openness of the prairie.