eyeMuch of our understanding of the world comes from visual input. Every book we read, every movie we watch, every play and every painting is primarily rendered to our brains through our eyes. But what about what we do not see?

We sense the vastness and complexity around us, yet most of our days follow well-trodden paths that keep life predictable and familiar. There is safety in thinking that we are in control of our lives and in knowing what is coming next. But this proclivity toward the predictable can blind us to the amazing mysteries and persistent shadows that actually shape the world we think we know.

celine handbags The writer and poet Wendell Berry’s daughter once said to him “I hope there is an animal somewhere that nobody has ever seen.  And I hope nobody ever sees it.”  Berry then wrote her this poem:

wendell-berryThis sweet poem affirms the richness of the unseen, and draws us deeper into cherishing that which is beyond our perception. It turns out it’s not just about what we see and what we don’t. It is more about what we allow ourselves to accept, about our receptivity to the numinous.

stone-faceI realize that the the word numinous – that which evokes a sense of the sacred – is not a common one. But we need ways to talk about things beyond the rational, and we need to do so without triggering the issues that many people have around religion. Being open to the numinous requires being attuned to the world in new ways. Aldous Huxley said There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” I think the world of today is calling us to become more attuned, more perceptive of the subtleties we do not see.

For an example, allow your mind go the the moist, dark and fertile earth beneath the forest canopy. In this musty rich soil one finds organic materials, bacteria, arthropods, roots, rocks, and fungi. We are now discovering profound and far-reaching interrelationships taking place in that humus. Recent research by Peter Wohlleben and Suzanne Simard has revealed some of these relationships, including the fact that mature trees supply nutrients to saplings through root networks, in effect ‘nurturing’ their young.

celine handbags Simard, using tracer isotopes, has gone on to illuminate massive networks of fungal mycelia that connect roots, allowing chemical signals to be sent over distances as great as 200 meters and among hundreds of individual trees. She observes “‘These plants are not really individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals, competing for survival of the fittest. In fact they are interacting with each other, trying to help each other survive.”

forestMight that invisible newtork of harmonious relationships help explain the deep sense of peace and harmony one feels walking in a forest?

There are many other areas where unseen things shape our lives.  One key example is our brains — where new studies are revealing astonishing capacities we didn’t know we had. I will follow up on brain research and other unseen phenomena in future essays. But let’s stay in the forest for the moment. We have been shown that time spent in nature correlates with positive body image, reduced likelihood of obesity, healthy stress management, and prosocial behaviors.

These positive influences have been experienced for generations by people who live close to the land. But only in recent times have we separated ourselves from nature to the degree that our energy and resource consumption habits are threatening entire ecosystems.   Now science is documenting the benefits of the unseen but profound influence of nature. Might this knowledge help draw us back into living harmoniously?

canada goose canada goose moonriseOnce while backpacking in the Cascades, I had settled into camp after dinner and was preparing for bed. For some reason I felt the urge to run up a little bluff above my campsite.  So I started scrambling. At the moment I reached the top of the knoll, a gigantic orange full moon was just beginning to appear over the horizon, and I was overcome with awe and delight at the sight. I could not say what drew me to climb that bluff at that moment.  But it was as if I was called… and my call was answered!

Can we open the doors of perception to which Huxley referred, and begin sensing things that are not visually apparent? What would life look like if left our well-trodden paths and reestablished the sense of wonder we were born with?


Parenting Tip: Try this with your kids: Brush your teeth together using your non-dominant hands, and share your sense about what it feels like. (And can you balance on one foot long enough to finish brushing?) How about eating dinner in the living room or the basement, just to experience familiar spaces differently? Help your children stay creative by frequently trying new things with them. Not only will you have unexpected experiences, but you’ll bond around a sense of fun and possibility.