Thinking like a Rain Forest

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Photograph by Tom Forward

Why do we who spend time in rainforests “become enmeshed in our perceptions and thinking about them?”

In the fourth World Rainforest Report, Queensland zoologist Peter Dwyer noted that the New Guinea highlanders find the rainforest wildlife not only good to eat, but also “good to think”.

He goes on to say that “Whilst we don’t eat our rainforests, we do become enmeshed in our perceptions and in thinking about them until they suddenly and vividly possess for us values that we can only identify as symbolic, intrinsic and - with some desperation - as spiritual.”

“The tropical rainforests are primitive and ancient ecological systems whose origins stretch backwards through the emergence of the flowering plants in Jurassic times over 135 million years ago, to the plants preserved in the coal measures of the Carboniferous, millions of years before that and which appear to us today in the form of plastics… Such is bio-geo-chemical continuity.”

Dwyer’s ability to see rainforests of hundreds of millions of years ago embedded in the plastics of the present age is a good example of the psychological effects of rainforests upon people who spend their time in them. Psycho-bio-geo-chemical continuity?

Why is this so?

Why do we who spend time in rainforests

“become enmeshed in our perceptions and thinking about them?”.

I believe that contact with rainforests

energises and enlivens

a realisation of our real, our biological self.

They awaken in us the realisation

that it was “I” that came to life

when a bolt of lightning fertilized

the chemical soup of 4.5 billion years ago;

that “I” crawled out of Devonian seas

and colonised the land;

that, more recently, “I” advanced

and retreated before four ages of ice.

We are composed of the ashes of ancient stars

weaving themselves into ever more brilliant complexity,

weaving themselves into rainforests,

weaving themselves into US.

I AM that*!

Yes, our psyche is itself a product of the rainforests.

We evolved for hundreds of millions of years

within this moist green womb

before emerging a scant five million years ago,

blinking, into the light.

When we enter the rainforest

we become acutely and personally aware

of the exquisite intelligence of Nature,

holding millions of species

in dynamic, evolving equilibrium.

In the light of these forests, our puny human intelligence becomes aware of itself as a mere fragment of this vast compassionate web. Our tiny, momentary life finds a true frame of reference there, against which our humanity can see itself. We realise the matrix within which (regardless of any arrogant fantasies we may have to the contrary) we are inextricably embedded.

The intelligence of the rainforest which gave rise to human beings (as well as the other myriad creatures) remains accessible to humans who choose to surrender to it. Unfortunately the thick insulation of social fictions that we call our “selves” may prevent us from recognising that we are just one leaf on the tree of life, just one strand in the vast biological fabric, incapable of independent existence.

We may then labour under various delusions like: the universe revolves around the earth, the world was created for our benefit, or that our relationship with the myriad creatures is to “subdue and dominate” them.

A few years ago, the Pulitzer prize winning eco-poet Gary Snyder was working for the then Governor of California Jerry Brown. An exasperated Brown said; “Gary, why is it that you’re always going against the flow?”

Snyder replied; “Jerry, what you call ‘the flow’ is but a 16,000 year eddy. I’m going with the ACTUAL flow.”

Thinking like a rainforest!

If we enter a rainforest

and allow our energies to merge

with the energies that we find there,

then the rainforest may be a place

where our roots are able to penetrate through the soft soil

reaching beyond the sad 16,000 year history

and into the reality

of our billions-of-years-of-carbon journey through the universe.

Various truths which had been

heretofore merely “scientific”

become authentic, personal

and, yes, spiritual.

We may now penetrate to a truly deep ecology.

John Seed is an Australian environmentalist and Director of the Rainforest Information Centre which successfully campaigned to save the sub-tropical rainforests of New South Wales. He is also a prominent figure in the deep ecology movement and co-creator of the Council of All Beings, along with Arne Næss and others.

*‘Tatwamasi’, meaning ‘I am That’ is a tenet from the Vedanta.