In a world filled with technology and industry, it can become increasingly difficult to take a step back and view the world in its natural state. In essence, we are humans trying to figure out how we fit into a world seemingly contradictory to the path of humanity. We look to nature for answers. We look to each other, as well as to one anothers accomplishments for these same answers. In the end, our entire species comes to the same conclusion. In order to fully understand our world, we must first seek inner-peace and come to understand how we can relate to one another on a spiritual level. Both David Abram and Ellen Dissanayake found that through a new level of conscious, we can better come to terms with our world. We, too, must strive for this alternative consciousness if we as a race are to escape our cultures self-imposed shackles.
David Abram was a man of western culture who found what might as well have been a new world. Through his excursions in nature and curiosity of eastern culture, Abram was forced to live through a part of himself that he never knew he had. He explains his epiphany in the lines, It was from them that I first learned of the intelligence that lurks in nonhuman nature, the ability that an alien form of sentience has to echo ones own, to instill a reverberation that temporarily shatters habitual ways of seeing and feeling, leaving one open to a world all alive, awake, and aware. It was from such small beings that my senses first learned of the countless worlds within worlds that spin in the depths of this world that we commonly inhabit, and from the that I learned that my body could, with practice, enter sensorially into these dimensions (Abram 13).
Abram has reached an epiphany that so many of us strive to achieve through various techniques, but never accomplish. By becoming one with nature, he can put the world into a much different perspective than you or me, thus restructuring his life by a set of priorities, which we have no knowledge of. It is not every day that the average Joe stops to notice the countless worlds within worlds that spin in the depths of this world, let alone to ponder them. But could what weve all been missing have, quite literally, been in front of our faces all along? It is very possible. Abram goes on to explain that upon returning to western culture, he felt as though he was lacking something important from his life. ” I began to feel- particularly in my chest and abdomen- as though I were being cut off from vital sources of nourishment (Abram 12). It is not so difficult to see Abram’s point of view. Many adults in our culture get to the age of about forty and start to panic, feeling as though theyre missing out on a large part of life. We call it a mid-life crisis, and they buy a sports car. We all pretend the whole thing is over. The reality of the situation is that we dont even consider looking to nature for spiritual help, because we feel that our technological world is superior to that of Abram. I promise you, Abram will not need a sports car to feel as though he has accomplished something in his lifetime.
Abram found this parallel universe through an altered outlook on the same objects and forces that act on us each day. He explains further in the lines, The deeply mysterious powers and entities with whom the shaman enters into a rapport are ultimately the same forces-the same plants, animals, forests, and winds- that to literate, civilized Europeans are just so much scenery, the pleasant backdrop of our more pressing human concerns, (Abram 5). By merely changing the way in which he perceived the world, Abram was able to change his entire outlook on it. This is not hard to imagine, considering that we base most of our judgements on how we perceive things. The interesting topic here isnt so much what Abram did, as what the rest of us have failed to do. How easy would it be to change the way we look at things, instead of so frequently changing the things we look at? We have become a culture set on changing things that make us uncomfortable, or frightened, or upset, instead of exploring why they make us feel that way or considering if anyone else feels the same way. Our cultures schooner of self-realization and self-exploration has been blown off-course by the winds of technology, but instead of going back and trying to re-find our way, we sit back and hope the winds will change, praying we will once again find our way. This is where Dissanayake makes such a valid point.
Ellen Dissanayake undertook the terrible task of trying to determine what art really is. At the same time, however, she unknowingly had a much greater realization. Dissanayake realized that for an art to be considered art, it must be extra-ordinary, not to be confused with extraordinary. She explains it better in the lines, …Art was not a variety of play or ritual, but like them it was concerned with a special order, realm, mood, state of being. In play, ritual, and art things were not ordinary- they are less real or more real than everyday reality. What Dissanayake is saying is that for art to be created, the product must hold a value unachievable through creating it with our everyday level of thought. This should be no surprise, since we so commonly use the cliche that all artists must be inspired. What is surprising, however, is that the author holds art to much higher standards than that. Extra-ordinary no longer means something that we are not used to. For Dissanayake, it means the realm where individuals are able, …To briefly transcend their humanity and tap this reservoir (for example, during dance, trance, visions, dreams, and heightened emotional and religious states), (Dissanayake 210). How does this make art extra-ordinary? To create what the author considers art, we must again attempt to change our perception of what is real and relevant, in an attempt to find the extra unity and enlightenment that are so commonly associated with visions and heightened religious states. By adding extra emotion, extra preparation, extra detail, extra concentration, indeed extra care- we create a parallel environment, which is, in fact, extra-ordinary.
So how does this relate to Abram? Dissanayakes art is special. By special, Dissanayake means that, …Not only are our senses arrested by a things perceptual strikingness (specialness), and our intellects intrigued and stimulated by its uncommonness (specialness), but that we make something special because doing so gives us a way of expressing its positive emotional valence for us, and the ways in which we accomplish this specialness may not reflect but give unusual or special gratification and pleasure…, (Dissanayake 213). In essence, this art (having been created by the artist under an altered perception) will change the life of anyone who sees it, if only for a second or two. We gain a special gratification by observing this art because it is through this art that we can relate to other human beings on a spiritual level. We learn that what is meaningful to us is undoubtedly meaningful to others, and so we feel united with a common spirit of humanity. This added spirit of humanity is what allows us to truly be happy in our lives.
With all this enlightenment, one might ask why our culture doesnt buy into the idea of becoming united through both nature and our shared ideas and feelings. It must honestly appear to everyone to be an easy solution to our problems with mid-life crisiss and unfulfilled dreams, right? The answer is amazingly simple. We are a society of impatient thrill-seekers. We will squander futures filled with fortune if it means erasing the tiniest bit of sacrifice on our part now. While this may seem unfair, consider the facts. Our children would rather play countless hours of shoot-em-up video games than indulge in a book or in a game of chess. While careers and relationships are two of our major goals in life, many of us will settle for gambling and one-night stands. Because of our impatience, we miss out on the finer things that deserve a closer look. We shun movies without violence or sex, and in doing so deny ourselves the pleasure of connecting with the visions of our fellow man. We discard nature as something that belongs in a forest or the zoo, and thus we alienate our race from the world in its most basic form. Abram and Dissanayake may appear at first to be a little off the deep end, but a closer look reveals that perhaps it is not them, but our society which is so terribly out of place. Could we really have gotten so off track as to regard the only elements in our lives that are basic and concrete in such a trivial manner? Yes, we have. The only way for all humans, as one, to reach this deeper level of understanding is to follow the examples of Abram and Dissanayake. We dont need to be as specific as to replicate their experiences, but we do need to examine their understanding in order to realize what we too must do in order to reach the same type of epiphany. Humans not need think of these authors as leaders into a new day of enlightenment, but rather as examples by which we too can be enlightened.
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