Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Awareness of Awareness


Looks like the sun is inside this cloud, but actually it was on the other side of the sky.

Once upon a time, people believed only our species possessed subjective awareness. Eventually, as we paid closer attention, we had to finally admit that animals, too, have minds that can be aware of themselves. Initially we only conceded that animals closely related to us could be sentient, but the list has grown by leaps and bounds, now including even one-celled animals. In recent years we have added plants to the list of sentient beings. I just read an article about Venus flytraps and the way they plan to "hunt" their prey. A few years ago NPR did a creepy story about vines and how they "sniff" out the plants they want to strangle. There was an accompanying video on their website. Most recently physicists have even added subatomic particles and DNA to the category.

These "discoveries" are no surprise to me. I believe that sentience pervades the multiverse. Like many of my Pagan brothers and sister, and lots of indigenous cultures, I think rocks, trees, clouds, stars, the sun and the moon - even dirt - are sentient. The sentience of dirt is more subtle than our brash human sentience - of course! But it's there. I sense it, I do.

In fact I've been thinking, especially since Jake died, that the life force itself has its own particular sentience, that it finds a way, as Jeff Goldblum said in the movie Jurassic Park. Part of life force sentience is a survival instinct. Life wants to keep on keeping on, no matter what. I think that's why even when people (or dogs) are old and sick and feeble as can be, there's still a struggle of sorts when death comes to tap them on the shoulder. Life force sentience is determined to hang on as long as possible.

My theory du jour is that there is a struggle even for people who lay down for a nap and never wake up, or keel over in mid-flight, or just die suddenly and "unexpectedly." We may not see the struggle, but the resonance of death is equally traumatic for the living, whether death was "peaceful" or not. Our shock and sadness is a symptom of something we've intuited about the process of dying. After death, everything calms down, but that passage through the gate - whoa! It's a struggle. Maybe the soul is trying to break free while the sentient life force is trying to hold on. Do you think?

My mother thought of the life force (well, specifically sexuality) as a kind of bully, controlling us through hormonal surges, and though I understand what she was talking about, I don't see it that way. I think life is a precious existence, well worth all the sturm und drang of it all, including the final battle.

Life is good (and it knows that). Carpe diem, y'all. Cheers!

26 comments:

Dan Gurney said...

Jains and Buddhists and Pagans and indigenous peoples the world over and many others have long been aware of the sentience of all life forms, and even things we think of as not alive like rocks and dirt, as you say. I'm with you: sentience pervades the multiverse.

Our current forgetting/denial of the sentience of life forms--especially of animals suffering on factory pharms--is a relatively recent development of capitalistic thinking gone completely crazy with greed and wrong-hearted "efficiency."

karen said...

Thought provoking! I've always been fascinated by the sub-atomic atoms, as well as the idea of the sentient plants.

I really loved the feature about Jake's ears on your earlier sidebar, by the way...

Al In The County said...

Wonderful picture and very well written post. Thank you.

My way of getting this across is a taoist-like thought: Life flows, but we are determined to build dams sometimes despite ourselves.

Reya Mellicker said...

Dan I agree with you completely.

Part of the life flow includes dam building, at least I think so, Al. Yin and yang - build dams and then watch the flood rush through them, breaking them down.

Thanks for these cool thoughts, and thanks Karen. I loved Jake's ears.

lacochran said...

A few years back I saw a photo/video exhibit on flowers and it basically described/showed them as writhing in pain once they were cut. I've never cut flowers since.

rothko said...

Funny. We were just talking in my writing workshop last week about whether or not lions made "choices." I am under the opinion that they do, but the consensus was mixed.

Not to get too deep, but I wonder how suicide factors into the whole "life wants to keep keeping on" thing. I don't disagree with the idea that it does. I think basically that's how it works. I just wonder how to explain when it doesn't. Is something broken?

rothko said...

Oh, and lacochran's comment makes me feel bad about all the pruning I did this weekend.

Barbara Martin said...

The soul or spirit's hold to living makes sense as we were given an opportunity to experience life on the earth plane. To release that hold, one does not know precisely when they can return or if they will be allowed.

Excellent post, Reya.

Nancy said...

Wow, have you read The Intention Experiment? there have been experiments on plants where they actually show "alarm" when one is thinking about harming them. Talk about sentient. So I totally agree with you on this post. There is life in all things. And it wants to live.

ellen abbott said...

I have been aware, or accepted, the sentience of all things since I was in my early 20s. Maybe earlier. I never doubted that my pets were self aware. When I prune or pick plants it is always with a thank you for sharing their beauty. I talk to everything. It has always struck me as profoundly stupid for people to think they were the only sentient thing on the planet. All you had to do was pay attention to know that was not true.

I read a little volume once called 'The Consciousness Of The Atom'.

ellen abbott said...

I see Nancy's comment. Yes it is true. I read another book called 'The Secret Life of Plants'. One experiment had some plants wired up to measure electrical activity. A person came into the room, trashed, totally destroyed one of the plants and then left. When he came back in the room, all the sensors went berserk.

Ronda Laveen said...

I sometimes wonder if the end of life struggle that we see is the molecular change of the expanded self.

Jeninacide said...

Amen!

Tom said...

I started reading 'The Secret life of Plants',too...pretty wild stuff. Great thoughts, and the Rene Magritte photo is pretty cool too!

Reya Mellicker said...

Rene Magritte? Cool!

Rothko, in Chinese medicine they believe suicide is the result of being possessed by a life-sucking energy that removes all of a person's life force, after which the victim sees no use in continuing. They treat suicidal people with a series of needles that they call "The Release of the Seven Dragons."

This does not account for culturally acceptable suicides, like sepuku. Is that how you spell it?

Anyone have theories around this?

Ellen I love it that you talk to everything, and yes about the plants, which makes you wonder how vegetarians can truly justify calling we omnivores "cruel."

It brings up a million questions. I love that.

Madtexter said...

As usual a wonderful post. I once heard or read somewhere that if you think of all living things on the molecular level, everything is really moving in and out of everything else. Nothing is really a solid; it's just that the molecules or atoms (I'm not a scientist), are more tightly connected in some things than they are in others, for example the solidity of a rock vs. water, but in essence they still react off each other.

All living things (and their spirits) move in and out of each other.

Deborah said...

thank you

love

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

I read somewhere how it seems lots of people die only after a very important date or event...as if they were hanging on...

Merle Sneed said...

A lot of the rage and fury among the religious is over the growing realization that we aren't all that. Just another species.

G said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
G said...

p.s.
I think I'd better not stir up things on your blog, so I'd best move along. Meeting you, has been nice. I like you because you grieve for your dog. You have a good heart:)

Amy said...

Sentience was one of the things I loved studying most when I was studying Buddhism.

I really admire the way your mind works, Reya. You know how to get back to "center" but also know that it can't be forced.

Your healing is evident. That makes my heart happy.

Fireblossom said...

I've alway liked the Native American phrase "the everywhere spirit."

Pouty Lips steered me here. I'm sorry to hear about jake's passing. having lost two of my three dogs since October, I know very well how much it hurts the heart to lose them.

And...you're wrong, the sun IS in that cloud. Today she will seem to vanish altogether. I believe there is an eclipse.

Reya Mellicker said...

I love "the everywhere spirit." That is so perfectly articulated, thanks Fire Blossom.

Amy I didn't know you studied Buddhism. I so admire that practice, and especially the philosophy behind it. Buddhism is truly non violent. Very cool.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes Merle, we are just another species. But we are so adorable!

Reya Mellicker said...

(I delete comments that are mean spirited, and especially comments that slam the characters of people who read this blog.)