The real relatedness existing underneath the skin
We are, each of us, literally connected to the tree stump and to these other things. People in a primitive society, where both the world which they themselves built and nature too had living structure, felt this connection with almost everything around them. We, in our world, where less of the built world has living structure, feel it more rarely. We feel such relatedness weakly with nature and for things which occur in nature. But I dare to say that it is, indeed, only experienced weakly. It is not an encompassing feeling of relationship, such as was felt by a farmer in a primitive traditional society.
“I like the weather every day”. In that simple phrase he expresses his contentment and his happiness in his world. The relatedness between him and the world is profound, and does not need to be mentioned. To him the relatedness I write about is obvious. For us it seems almost like a mystery.
It is easy to imagine a positivistic explanation saying that the tree (bowl, cloud, doorway, etc.) has a structure which is similar to certain cognitive structures, and that this creates the feeling of relatedness. However, I believe such a positivistic explanation is not very interesting, and is probably wrong.
Why (not)? — According to the footnote part of the answer will come in chapter 10.
I wish to say that the relatedness through which I feel that my own self and the tree in the field are directly connected is the most fundamental relation that there is. I wish to say that it is in this relatedness — in realizing my connection between my own self and the tree, or the pond, or the road or the grass — that I learn, feel, understand, that I am of the world, that I partake of the world, and it is in this relation that my real connection with the universe may be understood and experienced by me. Far from being a minor cognitive resemblance between me and the tree, this relatedness which exists between us and the living things in the world occurs, I think, because of a fundamental connection between our own self and something which is in those things.
What is that “something”? I say that this relatedness occurs, because there is, in the very matter we are made of, a connection to self, a rootedness in self.
Thus it is only in connection with these living things that I am fully real. Only then is my relatedness to the world fully expressed, fully developed, fully manifest. In a place surrounded by alien non-living structure where I do not feel such a feeling of relatedness, my actual relatedness to the world is interrupted or destroyed. Then I myself am not as real. My reality is damaged and inhibited.
I claim that the relatedness between myself and a thing in the world which encourages my relatedness is the most fundamental, most vivid way in which I exist as a human being. When it occurs, my own self — the degree to which I am connected to the world, the degree in which I partake of the interior “something” that underlies all matter — is then glorified, is at its zenith, and I then experience myself, as I truly am, a child of the universe, a creature which is undivided and a part of everything: a small extension of a greater and infinite self.
I claim, therefore, that this simple relation between myself and the tree stump by the pond, which moves me, is a connection so profound that my full existence in the universe is made solid, is manifested, is captured by it in its entirety. It is not a small moment. It is the glory of my existence as a person — no matter how humble I am — which I can feel so long as I am in the presence of nature or in the presence of other human-made structures which, too, have the same living structure and hence the capacity to form this bond with me.
Thus the fullness of my existence, my capacity to be a person, my capacity to drink in, enjoy, and commune with the full depth of living matter in the universe is sanctified, and allowed, and enlarged, by my relatedness with the tree stump. It is prevented, atrophied, cut off, by my not-relatedness with the plate-glass window, the fashionable facade, and the deadness of the supermarket parking lot.
Although this conception of a self, intertwined and not distinguishable, may seem strange in our highly rational period of history, there is some fascinating evidence that this attitude may be a consequence of sharply drawn ego-boundaries, more associated with the masculine temperament, less with the feminine. David Gutmann, “Female Ego Styles and Generational Conflict”, chapter 4 in Judith M. Bardwick, Feminine Personality and Conflict (Belmont, Calif.: Brooks-Cole, 1970), 77-96. Gutman describes women as tending towards what he calls auto centric, and men as tending towards what he calls allocentric. There is some suspicion that this allocentric, the sharply defined self, divided from the world, is a product of the highly sequential and rational mode of perception that was on the rise in the second half of the 20th century, and may now once again be declining.
Indeed, it is my view that our ability to experience the relatedness with nature to with buildings is damaged when we live in a world of objects and structures that are non-living structures. Thus, the modern person who “loves” nature and goes to visit nature is not able to enter this relatedness with nature as easily, because the daily proximity with so many non-living structures — freeways, motels, traffic lights, office buildings — dominates our awareness, cauterizes the person and the person’s capacity to enter into this relatedness, to see it and feel it. This is true even in the case of nature.
If I am right, it is the presence of living structure in our built world that decides the extent of our relatedness with earth. Buildings which lack living structure not only destroy our ability to feel relatedness through them. They also inhibit, somehow, and reduce the ability we have to feel relatedness at all, even in nature — places where we would otherwise feel it naturally.