Updated: Sep 7, 2020
This blog is adapted and updated from a piece that I wrote when I was studying for my Masters in Holistic Science at the Schumacher College, Devon, UK, in 2013. The process of knowing described below is very similar in sentiment to the way of knowing that my heart taught me during the course of my PhD. In this sense, Goethean enquiry and heart centred knowing are very similar – offering a different way of engaging with the world that honours all life as sacred, all narratives as important, and all phenomena as valuable at every single level of existence. This involves engaging the qualities of openness, kindness, respect and love in living relationship with life.
“What would it be like to sit with the speechlessness?” This fantastic question, posed to me by Ally my course mentor, finally gave me permission to stop fighting the utter desolation that I felt during the third week on my Masters course. During this life-changing week, my fellow students and I had been exploring applied Goethean Science by entering into relationship with a beautiful plant called Groundsel (see image below). In the Goethean way, we were guided to come into enquiry with Groundsel; describing her as we saw her directly, from root to flower so that in the process we could become, according to our course tutor Craig Holdrege, ‘better, more transparent instruments of knowing’.
By opening up a space within ourselves for Groundsel to talk and express herself, we found ourselves in a unique position beyond labels and prejudices; opening up a dialogue with Groundsel without pertaining to know her before she had chance to tell us who she really was. As the week progressed, I felt increasingly sad. In addition, I also became increasingly unable to find the appropriate language to convey why I was sad, even though I somehow felt a strong recognition of this sadness on a deep level. I literally had nothing to say or offer. My feelings of sadness were so strong, and words were not enough to explain what I was experiencing. I felt very uncomfortable and, I have to admit, a little scared.
Groundsel made me acutely aware of my difficulty to find appropriate words, yet each day, she continued to lovingly invite me into a relationship/dialogue with her, encouraging me to see the dynamics of her being; radiating her beauty, and willing me to see her exactly as she presented herself. Indeed, the practice of Goethean science requires a shift of attention within everyday experience. This is not an easy concept to grasp hold of practically, let alone describe with words. However, the way of practice is to enter into a relationship/dialogue with the ‘subject’ you wish to explore in more detail, entering into the dynamics of its being and letting it disclose itself. This is best performed by cultivating openness, curiosity, and interest (qualities that could be associated with the heart); paying attention to the senses, thoughts and feelings, bringing forth words over a period of time to describe what is perceived.
This is where I became unstuck.
While as a child I remember being able to talk with nature - trees, rocks, plants and animals - the dialogue occurred on a deep, sensory level. After I started school the dialogue stopped, and I never revisited Nature in this way again - the disconnection was too painful, and I banished all memories from my heart and mind.
The intellectual, left-brain way of viewing the world that rudely interrupted my discourse with nature at the age of five taught me to perceive an object from the standpoint of ‘we already know how to know’. However, the short time that I spent with Groundsel and Craig opened by eyes to the fact that when we do this, we are already what Henri Bortoft (philosopher and author of many books, including The Wholeness of Nature) describes as ‘downstream’, and have labelled the world in terms of our past, biases and judgements. In this case, we already find ourselves at a cul-de-sac in our perception and no matter which way we turn, we are in effect, stuck. We constantly label objects, and in a sense we meet them knowing them already - any dynamic life that might be within them squashed by the folly of our preconceived thoughts.
Informed by our biases from the past, we immediately recognise what we already know and never allow the phenomena to show itself as it really is, in that moment, in that particular space. When this happens, everyday phenomena which hold the story of the world in every fibre of their ‘beingness’ literally die before our eyes; and it is we who hold the executioners axe.
However, in deep relationship with Groundsel, I slowly came to realise that as a child I was naturally practising Goethean Science, and that this intimate way of knowing the world had been blocked from my experience of reality when I started school. I then spent the next three decades trapped in a reductionist way of thinking - leading me to a total separation of myself from nature, and me from myself.
I was a broken person in a reductionist world – physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally; living in a dead world, separated from a meaningful dialogue with nature and everything around me. And although I have spent many years slowly coming to understand that positive and loving relationships with ourselves, each other and nature hold the key to health and wellbeing; in just five days Groundsel showed me exactly how her existence and transformation was strengthened by her intimate relationships with the environment around her – the warmth of the sun on her leaves and the richness of the soil blanketing her roots. Through these non-judgemental, loving and reciprocal relationships, she gives voice to the warmth of the sun, the richness of the earth and the life-giving power of the rain; bringing forth intricate leaves over time, developing and growing though a process of transformation, finally yielding into a delicate yellow flower - the direct expression of the wholeness of nature living through her.
The sadness that I felt during my week with Groundsel was a deep recognition of a treasure that I lost when I was a young girl, and this sadness morphed into speechlessness and awe, as through our dialogue she helped me to see her authentic beauty and dynamic expression. In our heart-centred space of togetherness, my calculative, reductive dictionary of words had no place in my relationship with her, and so we sat in together in speechlessness.
Reflecting back on that week, I am so glad that I welcomed speechlessness and Groundsel into my being – sitting together in an open space of interest and curiosity, allowing them the space to come fully into expression. Groundsel became my counsellor; helping me to understand myself a little more fully - not through rational intellect, but through a deep connection, a sense of knowing, feeling, sensing. Just as she allowed herself to be transformed and brought into expression by her relationship with the sun, wind, air, water and earth, she also brought into expression my sadness and speechlessness, helping me to gain some understanding of their purpose in my life.
At this time of great global challenge, particularly in relation to climate change, ecological degradation, societal and educational breakdown, what if humankind shifted its consciousness and allowed the natural world to speak purely and authentically in its own environment? What might the world around us become? How might all our relationships be transformed in reciprocally rewarding ways, and how might we start to understand ourselves and our place within nature with more kindness, compassion and a sense of heart-full-ness? (See also my blog about communing heart-fully with Caterpillar)
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