To behold, to touch….

It is all breath. It is all touch. Every incorporation is a meeting of two sensitive surfaces, an exchange of skin through skin.

—Andreas Weber, Skincentric Ecology

I hope you’ve all had a chance during the last week or two to read Andreas Weber’s beautiful essay Skincentric Ecology.

It is such a rich and poetic piece that it seems a shame to try to add any more words. Nonetheless, having said that….

I immediately recognized Weber’s way of “seeing” the lichen as the deep process of Beholding. Even in early childhood — back in the days when children were turned loose to entertain themselves for extended periods of time — I intuitively knew how to let myself become still and silent, to open myself to whatever aspect of the natural world presented itself and, taking time, to let myself be drawn into a sense of oneness and belonging with that tree, that animal, that stone, that river……. Becoming an adult — child of this culture as I am — I still did this but, after an hour or so just sitting beside the river and loving it, I sometimes had the thought that I “should” write a poem about it or attempt a sketch of the scene — as if the time spent just Being with the world had to be “justified.”

When I first became involved with the Center for Education, Imagination, and the Natural World in Greensboro NC [ ], I was delighted to discover that they shared this as a practice: Being, Beholding, Belonging. Now when I was asked about my afternoon, I could simply say that I’d spent it “beholding.”

[As always, I was amazed to notice — yet again — how Naming seems to make things “real.” Definitely a reminder that The Words We Use Matter!]

Through CEINW’s programs, I saw that even today’s over-programmed children or those labelled ADHD or just plain “trouble-makers” in the classroom — and even unpracticed adults! — could, in the quiet of the woods, discover how to be and to behold and to feel the deep sense of cosmic belonging that follows. Beholding seems to be a fundamental way of knowing, an intrinsic part of our human being. Imagine how life might be if we could all behold the world as deeply Andreas Weber does here….

Of course, one of the first things that came to mind as I read Weber’s delightful description of knowing the wider world through skin and touch was fiber, the medium with which I love to work — weaving, felting, spinning, just touching & dreaming. The touch of each different kind of fiber conjures up its own story, its own world. The long tough fibers of flax (linen) – used by humans for more than 34,000 years, woven in the kingdoms of ancient Egypt, and immortalized in European folktales such as Rumplestiltskin. The lovely short and fluffy fibers of cotton, with their darker historical links to empire & slavery and current links to water shortages in several parts of the world. The long fluid fibers of silk — telling of cocoons and of all the transformations of animal, leaf, tree, earth, rock, water, sun — and speaking of the fiber’s long history in human culture, the carefully protected secrets of technique & craft, and the Silk Road with all the stories & ideas & materials & peoples that flowed along it, forever changing both human and larger-than-human worlds. Or wool and fleece of all sorts, singing of diverse animals (camels, sheep, goats, llamas, yaks, rabbits, dogs, even mountain goats) and of all the ecosystems and cultural configurations of which they have been a part. When I touch the soft red fleece of my dear llama Ricky, I am drawn into memories not only of his gentle personality and his healing interactions with a variety of people but also of the pastures and woods in which he & I shared life and then on, back beyond my personal memories, to thoughts of the high Andes Mountains and the pivotal role that llamas have played in the rich cultural, economic, and deeply spiritual lives of the Andean peoples for more than 5,000 years….

Through touch — through my skin, my body — my mind/heart/spirit (like the ever extending mycelium of lichen and other fungi) creates more & more interconnections — placing me in relationship with the world, opening my life to endless sources of nourishment, making me who I am.

Ricky, his fleece

1 thought on “To behold, to touch….

  1. to justify
    this has been “the work” in the last months, well for years, to some degree,
    maybe a lifetime. to some degree. but in the last months, responding to the
    NEED to simply Behold with no justification. A couple weeks ago i found self saying that aloud and i was
    alone…..saying that aloud.. There is no need to justify. none. Wonder Full to
    find you using that same word here.


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