A Daily Practice of Reconnection
There is an eye staring at me from the window of the house across the street. Whenever I look up from my writing, I see it: a giant eye looking back at me. Knowing it’s the reflection of a tree branch distorted in a way that evinces the shape of an eyeball doesn’t make it any less potent: the house across the street is watching me. By extension, my own house also watches and listens to me. It knows whether I’m home, whether I’m paying attention to it or neglecting it; and it has a history that affects its present just as my history affects my present.
Have you ever had an experience like this? Been in a house that seems like it’s listening to you, or camped out in the woods and felt watched, or walked down a quiet street in the early morning and felt you weren’t alone? Our ancestors experienced this all the time. To them, the idea of unseen beings keeping an eye on them was as normal as the idea of an invisible worldwide network of information is to us. What a trip.
We’ve forgotten our ability to see what children see: a world that sees us in return.
We’re born with this, though. Most of us come out knowing that the world is animate. As little ones we befriend stuffed animals, trees, sticks, cars and dolls. What is that, if not an innate drive to understand the world as alive? Our ancestors, the vast majority of them, would relate better to a two-year-old child than to a modern adult, not because their brains weren’t equally developed but because the modern adult has lost the animate link. We’ve forgotten our ability to see what the child sees: a world that sees us in return. All it takes to regain it is a night alone in the woods. The call of an owl or a wolf, the rising of hair on the back of your neck: suddenly, in the space between heartbeats, you are an animist again. You don’t believe, you know the trees are alive — watching you. The cellphone in your hand feels more distant, your ancestors more near.
We need these experiences, and the world needs us to have them. The more we understand Earth is alive, the more likely we are to care for her: this beautiful, terrible, animate being that is our only home. When we know the water, trees, soil and air as our kin…