Reflection 237: Being There

February 27, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I had it all set. I was working on the handouts I would give out tonight. Then the phone rang: “We cancelled the class because only one person signed up.” Leaving me with five sessions mapped out in my head with nowhere to go.

After Welch poet Dylan Thomas drank himself to death in 1957, his wife wrote a book, Leftover Life to Kill. That’s what it felt like. But in my case it isn’t terminal. My hyperactive loop of engagement had suffered a setback, that was all.

The class was (past tense) called “Being There.” It was about my favorite topic of putting my body where my values are so that life becomes a full-bodied experience. With working folks these days shut away in cubicles ogling digitized words of other people while the rest of us walk around with cellphones glued to our ears, we are growing more and more out-of-touch with our physical locations in the world. And with our collective impact on that world.

That is, we find it easier to use technology to engage people like ourselves than to have immediate experience of our places on this Earth. Meaning the state of the Earth is out of our minds as we grow increasingly self-concerned.

Being there, for me, means being actively engaged with my environment so all my senses connect me to the place where I am. Inviting that place to nourish my hungry spirit. That’s how I learned how estuaries work—by tracking horseshoe crabs fitted with sonar transmitters. I practically lived in an estuary for two years, listening for signals from those 26 transmitters, being there with my senses alert and aroused, noticing everything that happened. Making me in my open boat an honorary member of the estuary community, which I learned to know from the inside.

That’s the sort of thing I wanted my class to talk about. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell being moved by sights of sun, moon, stars, and Earth from his Apollo 14 capsule. Carl Sagan waxing eloquent about the sight of Earth from space. Bill Fraser living on the Antarctic Peninsula, taking it all in, beginning to grasp the living complexity of the place. Thoreau being stunned by being present on Fair Haven Pond in 1850. May Sarton becoming herself through full immersion in a poem she was struggling to write.

Being there is about our loops of engagement in action in particular places where we direct our attention to where we are, so we can be fully who we are in that place. That is how we grow larger than our former selves. How we become the people we yearn to be.

That’s what I’m not going to teach about tonight. But I am going to live anyway.

As ever, yours, –Steve

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