“In the Amazon, people refer to the forest as a speaking world, relating, talking, communicating. People can be inter-intelligent with their lands; the languages being formed from the land, and then people in turn singing up their land. The roots of “intelligent” are inter and legere which means both “read” and “gather”—people could gather plants and words from their lands. To gather, of course, itself means both “to collect” (for example, fruits) and “to understand.” So we gather.”
“All languages have long aspired to echo the wild world which gave them growth…. According to phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, language ‘is the very voice of the trees, the waves, and the forests.'”
—Jay Griffiths, Savage Grace: A Journey in Wildness
From 2014-2016, I participated in the Inner Life of the Child in Nature program at the Center for Education, Imagination, and the Natural World in Greensboro, NC. https://www.beholdnature.org/ As part of our practice, we each focused on deep, sacred listening to the forest and its beings. Listening is perhaps the most fundamentally receptive — one might say, passive — of the senses. How different it is from our restlessly darting staring seaching gaze, from our touching grasping manipulating hands.
I had been listening to the larger-than-human world since early childhood, so I was comfortable with my silence. Still, as I practiced with more clarity and intention, I learned to “listen” more and more closely with my whole self — not only with my ears, but also with my eyes and nose, skin and heart — eager to hear what the natural world would volunteer to say when neither questionsed directly nor bullied into relinquishing its secrets. Simply listening alertly, respectfully, lovingly — as at the feet of a wise elder — seemed appropriate kfor an adult of our all too often arrogant and domineering culture.
Little by little, I began to understand that the beings of the forest were not only speaking to me, but listening to me as well. I knew, of course, that my animal kin — birds, deer, rabbits, coyote, bear — were aware of and responding, often unseen, to my presence. But the trees too were listening to me, waiting. And after a time, I became aware of some deeper, more comprehensive listening taking place. It was the Forest herself, waiting for me to speak.
I had been chatting with trees, frogs, stones and other beings all my life. But it seemed that now something more was being asked of me. I remembered the theologian Nelle Morton’s wonderful phrase “hearing one another into speech.” I felt that I was asked to accept my full role in the conversation. I was being “heard into speech.”
To be a full participant in this Universe, I must bring not only my listening heart but also my unique voice. I must engage in the conversation of the cosmos, neither dominating nor withholding… That is what it means to be a member of what Thomas Berry calls “a communion of subjects.” It is unmediated intimacy: that which I behold also beholds me, that which I come to know also knows me; that which I hear also hears me; that which I encourage to speak also encourages me to speak.
The forest says “Speak.”
What shall I speak?
Rooted in and spun out of mystery,
we all belong to each other.
What shall I speak but gratitude?
What shall I sing but praise?
“Sound: a body’s way of making itself known.
Silence: a way of knowing.”
— Diana Khoi Nguyen