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What We Can Learn From Animals

Animals have two ways of using their senses, focused and panoramic. The senses which they can use panoramically are seeing, listening, and smelling.

The blackbird watches-out for cats in between bites of his worm, the hare listens-out for dogs, and dogs can scent an intruder above the smell of coffee and log fires.

Panoramic perception evolved because it was the most efficient 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.

For animals, survival depends on coordinating their panorama mode with all their focused activities. Both are fundamental and vital to life.

Our modern early training of focused selective attention, with its brilliant ability to handle abstract thinking, has completely overwhelmed our panoramic way of sensing.

And simultaneously with an ever-increasing variety of methods, we are destroying animal species, our environment and ourselves. This is not just an irrelevant coincidence.

The survival and success of a species is dependent on the use of all of their sensory abilities.

The Human Survival Strategy

To get everything modern civilisation offers, we had to focus on it, and this had amazing advantages, it gave us security, purpose, even hope. Focusing our thoughts and actions is how humans survived. We associated ideas and became clever and creative. And when humans developed beliefs, with Gods and ideologies to focus on, they became the central priority for our sense of reality, identity and security, in the world.

Our sense of purpose and belonging was found within our social group. The communal identity within our group, with each other and in relation to the big picture of our world, was confirmed by each other.

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 our beliefs, we lost the mutual confirmation in our social group.

The most precious fruits of our focused understandings are in danger. Our fight for survival in the abstract world of ideas, opinions and beliefs, is causing division and insecurity, worry and suffering, in a way that no animal or early human has 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. – Focusing is always selective, and continued selective focusing will inevitably lead to more division.

Displacement Activity

And, as a response to our insecurity, we are now overcompensating with our species' tried and tested, habitual survival stategy – our habitual rut: Focusing.

We have collectively developed, what in animal psychology would be seen as a form of displacement activity. Displacement activity is the term used when animals under stress, revert to habitual but inappropriate action. For example when hens scratch and peck at nothing, just because they feel nervous and insecure. And we have begun to act like birds in captivity who can't stop chattering, in a desperate search for mates and territory, commonly plucking out their own feathers.

Any habitual activity can be displaced. We are displacing with all our focusing abilities. We are overfocusing. We are destroying ourselves, our culture and our environment driven by a natural but involuntary response to stress and insecurity. All the focusing - doing, thinking, and creating, - has directly disturbed our fundamental balance in life.

While it is vital in life to focus – especially on higher aims and ideals – only, ever, exclusively focusing is an unbalanced use of our sensory faculties.

We have forgotten the panoramic way of sensing. Modern man has lost and we are neglecting, part of how we always sensed the world around us, part of how we managed to survive for millions of years. Our sense of ourselves and our world is incomplete.

The panoramic senses are a neglected human resource. No creative modern culture can afford to ignore, the possibilities which panoramic sensing offers for securing our survival.

The Panoramic Perspective on Life.

With the panoramic way of sensing, animals feel directly connected with everything they sense. It evolved over billions of years exactly for that reason: because it is the most effective way of hearing, smelling, and seeing, all that's going on around us. Using the senses like this is a different way of experiencing and understanding life – not just sensing it, but being involved with it.

When we're alert and on the lookout for the first signs of possible danger it neutralises abstract thinking. If we start thinking, we stop being aware, and at that moment an animal would be vulnerable.

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 inside, awake, and open to everything.

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 random changes in his environment.

We have overcome the necessity for this interruption to life's pleasures ... but with that, we have also lost the ability to neutralise our panic, fear and worry.

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 suddenly 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 random changes, we could just carry on being alert, receptive and directly in touch with everything. Experiencing the 'big picture' (at least) in our immediate environment, and the attitude of openness to life (generally) which this generates.

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 is similar to a number of meditation techniques, but only few are so fundamental, natural, and easy.

Panoramic sensing is evolution's way of staying safe, and in the same way that focusing stimulates being clever; panoramic sensing stimulates peace of mind, and lack of worry. It counteracts the insecurity and its displacement in overfocusing.

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.

I'm not saying that i can empathise well with how animals sense. I'm 70, i lack the youthful energy to experiment or learn anything quickly. It's just that after 50 yrs of doing meditation like things, i found this, and it opens up a whole new perpective on meditation, and on life in general.

Children are born with this way of being in touch with and sensing the world.

We must balance our increasingly early education in focused reading, writing, and thinking, with an early education and encouragement of the panorama mode.

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 use and coordinate, their panoramic senses with everything they do.

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.

The Individual Usage is discussed in Chapter One
The Cultural Consequences are discussed in Chapter Two

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