At root, these assertions lead, in my mind, to one conclusion: that the “I-like presence in the universe” is real, is somehow a real thing, and plays a role in the scheme of things, and in the structure of matter, in the way the universe behaves. In slightly more detail, I have myself concluded this: There must be some relation between the ultimate nature of a living center, and the nature of this “I”.
The relation of ourselves with some presence in things that animates them also makes them feel related to us. But the subject of the I, and our perception of it, is deeper than that. For, as part of our experience, the I appears in nature, too. It touches our relation with all the things in the world.
Some experience of I, within the things of the world, and especially within the things of nature, is shared, I think, by every human being, in some degree.
Experience with various degrees of intensity
Alexander describes various responses one could experience when looking at a waterfall:
- Find it simply pleasing
- may be aware of a relation between me and the waterfall
- stop short of identifying with it, or that there is any possible identification between the waterfall and myself
- Enjoy it
- feel a stirring of some relationship to it
- feel related to it
- Experience a strong relationship as somehow interior
- the relationship is touching; it matters
- strong emotional linkage
- Touches your core
- Being there, being filled with the experience, I know that an essential core of me, the best part of me, is stirred, touched but the “I” which I perceive within the thing.
- Feel some actual identification; identify with it
- less common in our society today
- experience that it is profoundly related to my being
- experience not only my feeling, but that my own self and the waterfall are somehow related; doesn’t mean that I actually feel my self to be present in the waterfall
- in some refreshing way it nourishes, releases, refreshes me
- become aware of a relation to my self, which exists in the waterfall
- Experience as a spirit, as an animate being of some kind
- common in preindustrial cultures
- Reify identification by giving it explicit substance
- primitive cultures with currency in ritual
- e.g. animism
- Recognize explicitly, and feel that our own self exists in something
- Experience not merely identification, but actual identity
- Experience the relationship so that I not merely identify with it, but in some fashion am it
There is a stronger version yet of the experience which, according to the reports of anthropologists, was common in preindustrial cultures. In these primitive experiences the person experienced the waterfall or the tree as a spirit, that is, as an animate being of some kind. Reports from (so-called) primitive societies describe the way that people not only identified with trees or with the forest, but endowed the entities of the forest, the rocks of the ocean, with spirit. I believe this was an expression of a situation where people felt, or experienced a presence, as being in the tree or in the waterfall.
“There is some kind of an identity between my self, and the waterfall. My I is really in the waterfall. My self and the waterfall are not merely similar, but it feels as if they are the same, as if both are parts of one thing.”
Here we begin to enter metaphysics. This experience is no longer merely a statement about psychology. It is now asserting that the I which I experience as my own self, is in some fashion the same thing as the I which I feel and see in the waterfall. It appears to the person experiencing this, that both are expressions or manifestations of a single thing. I experience nature as if everything in me and without me is made of the same stuff.