THE SENSE OF IT ALL
I'm going to tell you a story about the all-round sensing of the blackbird, watching-out for cats in between bites of his worm, the hare listening out for dogs, and hedgehogs scenting on the wind.
Animals have two ways of using their senses, focused and panoramic. The senses which they can use panoramically are seeing, listening, and smelling.
Panoramic perception evolved because it was the most direct method of being receptive to and aware of sudden movements and changes in the immediate environment. Animals use this to guard against danger; it makes life safe.
Focused sensing evolved to do things. It involves something animals need or want.
Focusing and panoramic sensing are different ways of relating to the world, connecting with and being in the world. Both are fundamental and vital to life.
For animals, survival depends on coordinating their panorama mode with all their focused activities and also when dozing. This is a balance.
Humans neglect the panorama mode. Young children have it and some autists do, but our modern human culture is preoccupied with developing our focusing abilities. With our early education in focused sensing, drawing, reading, writing, and thinking, we actively, but inadvertently suppress our panoramic abilities, before they have even started to develop.
The Human Survival Strategy
Focusing gave us security in the material world. From fashioning the first flint stones to controlling fire, from farming to working with metals – focusing and concentrating worked so well, that now we even have solid brick walls, warning signs, and labels on food, and we slowly overcame any need of our panoramic senses.
Focusing our senses and our understanding (concentrating), became a human trait, a special talent. And when we found explanations and stories with Gods to believe in and focus on, the relationship between individuals, groups, and the whole universe became secure or at least negotiable. This was an enormous step away from our animal heritage.
And it felt so good to know who and why we were, that generations of children were reassured as we retold these stories. The stories and beliefs gave people and cultures their integrity, meaning and purpose.
And it really didn't matter if we believed we were living on the back of the Great Turtle, or, that the stars were the children of the sun and the moon – because for our security, the only necessity was the confirmation of the tribe, other people who agreed on the same story.
But slowly, over the last few centuries, as we started questioning all our old truths; any trace of the original animal social sense of belonging has disappeared, and now we have lost the mutual confirmation of our social group.
The most precious fruits of our focused understandings are in danger. Our thoughts, beliefs and opinions are insecure in a way no humans in any previous culture have ever experienced, or even imagined.
And the development is exponential. Our modern emphasis on freedom of individual thought, will inevitably lead to ever more extreme and diverse ideas. And if the beliefs are true or not, is largely irrelevant for a feeling of psychological security in our abstract world, as long as there's a social group to confirm it. – Continued selective focusing will inevitably lead to more division and insecurity.
And at the same time – we are neglecting
the panorama perspective on life.
With the panorama way of sensing, animals feel directly connected and involved with everything they sense. It evolved over billions of years exactly for that reason: because it was the most direct, most reliable way of sensing all that's going on around you.
Throughout evolution the panorama mode, was the natural way to stop doing everything and be aware. For animals, this is a constant reminder of how it feels to be still, receptive and awake. Using the senses like this is a different way of experiencing the world – not just sensing it, but being involved in it.
It must be a state of nervous agitation for the blackbird, to keep interrupting his delicious worm. But rather than be vulnerable, or paralysed by panic, fear, and worry, every other second he is alert, still and receptive, he keeps watch, he checks for sudden changes in his environment.
Humans ignore the privilege and luck we have, to be actually safe. We don't need to run away, when a door bangs or a light goes on. We don't need to panic when any small thing changes in our surroundings.
Mostly we don't even notice such stimuli any more, and that's the point. It used to be scary, so we eliminated the problems, and with them, we eliminated the need to develop a part of our awareness. Now that we have no need to feel worried by the changes, we could just carry on being alert, receptive and directly in touch with everything.
This story is related to religious ideas. But this is not a new form of meditation. This is something we were all born with – and not a spirit body, or anything deep or philosophical –, a practical physiological ability which we have inadvertently suppressed, and with it, part of our essential feeling of what it means to be alive.
It is similar to mindfulness, but mindfulness is usually applied to a selective focusing on breathing or inner body awareness. Animals apply it to a panoramic awareness with their three external senses. It may be similar to any number of meditation techniques, but i don't think that anything could be as simple or as natural.
I discuss different aspects of panoramic sensing throughout Chapter One.
Animals use their panorama sense in a variety of ways. When dozing, the hare turns his ears outwards, open for sounds, and sleeping birds have one eye open. Predatory animals from snakes to kingfishers and buzzards, use the panorama mode to watch for the movements of their prey.
In its most sensitive form it's an intense receptive presence, and a pre-emptive awareness, always ready and waiting, a second before things happen. And this neutralises abstract thinking, we can't think when we're on the lookout.
I don't fully understand it, i just know i enjoy it, it's a stillness and peace inside. It feels natural, and with familiarity, it's become vital to my life. It makes me feel whole and gives me ‛a sense of it all’.
Children are born with this way of being in touch with and sensing the world.
We must play at going on the lookout with our children. Watching for movements all around and out of the corner of our eyes like blackbirds, listening out for dogs and humans like a hare does, and smelling on the wind for coffee or food cooking, just as the hedgehog will smell for apples and beetles.
In previous cultures, the stories we told about our Gods gave people security, understanding, and purpose in life. To be effective it had to be a simple, entertaining tale which everyone could understand – and every child can understand why animals must coordinate the panoramic sense with all their other activities.
And incidentally, as we have seen, whether a tale is true or just a beautiful fantasy, is largely irrelevant ... tales only need to be re-told, and it only needs a few people to start re-telling to confirm a belief; and as more people hear and understand it, to be confirmed in the culture's traditions ... and then there could be a happy ending to this story.
Please continue with The Survival of a Species