Are You In or Out?

There are two ways to attune your attitude toward the natural environment.  You can generally view it as an outside “thing” to be tamed, shaped, mastered and utilized for resources.  Or you can look at the whole as being an ecosystem, which you are a part of, not an outside agent to.  The position you choose will influence the way you behave toward everything else on this island in the galaxy.  If nature is outside, you are in competition with it, and you must conquer it.  If you see yourself as a part of nature, you become motivated to find your place in it.  Your efforts will be spent in achieving balance and harmony.

Taking one or the other position has a ripple effect on many areas of your life.  It’s no secret that I want to be IN nature, even though I was raised to be OUTSIDE of it.  There’s only so much planet, so much air, space, food, and fossil fuels.  So I drive the smallest car I could buy for a low price that needs few repairs and gets high mileage.  I want to put less exhaust into the air.  We also bought close to my work, a recent conscious decision since we previously lived an hour away from our jobs.  I now drive for about two to three weeks on a tank of gas.  And we live in a small house that uses less electricity and water.  And the plants and trees are mostly native species that we don’t have to do anything to.  We mow the grass twice a year.

I could go on all day about the minutia, all the little things you can do to be more inside than outside of nature, but there’s also a “woo-woo” side that’s more interesting to consider.  I’ve been thinking about it because of some great comments Margie ( made in reaction to the deer pictures from two posts back.  Many scientists and naturalists advise people to not interact with “wild animals” because they become habituated to people, and that’s bad for them and for us – they say.

I don’t think the issue is as cut and dried as that.  Native Americans lived, hunted and interacted intimately with wild animals at every possible opportunity for more than 10,000 years.  They didn’t have all our cool technology with which to study animals, and they still managed it.  In those cultures, and in tribal and older cultures elsewhere, people are taught from a philosophic position of being inside nature.  That is the difference.  In our culture, where humans are on the outside, those dangerous wild animals are something we have to watch out for.  If they get too used to us, they’ll attack to get our food, kill our kids and pets, and mess with our cars!  We fail to understand that living in disharmony with wild animals is an indication that our way of living is wrong.

I thought about the Garden of Eden story, a familiar teaching story in my tradition.  The first humans live in harmony with the animals, until they eat something they were forbidden to – the fruit of the tree giving them the knowledge of good and evil.  Knowledge, kids, not wisdom.  Just like technology.  Knowing how to do things.  Not understanding when to, or if you ought to be doing them.  After they ate of the tree, Adam and Eve attempted (literally) to cover their asses, but it didn’t work.  The cover-up is always worse than the crime.  Among other things it’s a cautionary tale about one of our most dangerous characteristics.  We know everything, and are free to do the wrong thing, on purpose.

Animals are not in any sort of intentional competition with us.  That’s a misunderstanding of their motives.  They’re only trying to get enough to eat and very basic shelter, just as homeless humans will do when they are forced to live outside.  It’s fairly easy to trigger an animal (or person) to attack you.  The challenge is in learning how to project to other beings, and other species, that you are attuned to them and their needs, and that you respect their right to be alive.  I have seen it done, and I want to learn more about how to do it.  The discipline I’m working on right now is being still.  When I am still, people and the other animals feel free to come closer.


Filed under animal communication, Ethics and Morality, symbolism, Technology

34 responses to “Are You In or Out?

  1. jgavinallan

    Very insightful…animals and people…should they be so close together?
    Your piece rated another reading.
    One of your better posts.

    • Thank you, Jaye. And what a good question! For now, I would say it depends on which people and what kinds of animals. Lots of people are killed by hippos, crocodiles, poisonous snakes etc. On the other hand, some people have encountered or even had relationships with every kind of dangerous animal on Earth. I will consider your question over more time. It’s worth some deep meditation.

  2. I am not scared of them. I am scared for them. If they get habituated and too trusting of humans, there is going to be that one inevitably who does them harm. I am afraid deer who are not scared of humans will become easy targets for hunters.

    Animals and people are close together whether they should be or not. We should respect them and their needs for land, food, water, etc. on this planet too. “Can’t we just all get along?”

    • You are right that it isn’t an easy situation to just put formulaic responses on, Debbie. Our “city deer” would be easy for hunters to pick off, but they don’t travel farther than a few blocks from the edges of actual forest so long as they can get food, and hunting hasn’t been allowed anywhere in the city limits or incorporated areas for about 100 years. Long-term residents tell me the deer were not here at all 20 years ago, but moved in because of habitat reductions throughout the county. The last deer killed intentionally in town (by an arrow) was in 2005. Citizens put up thousands in reward money for info, and the shooter’s buddies turned him in.

  3. lifewith4cats

    ooh ooh, Ill try not to write a book with my comment. (but I could)

    I used to do a thing called still hunting. Its where you sit down indian style in some wilderness area and Not move a muscle for a hour (or more if you can manage it.) One time I did this and a doe allowed her baby to come within 2 feet of me to smell me.

    Another time a flock of migrating birds landed in the brush I was under to feed. I was literaly amongst them and seeds fell into my open palms. The only problem is that when exciting things like that happen…thats when my nose would suddenly itch something fierce. It would be so hard not to itch it.

    • Those are cool experiences, and you obviously know what I was trying to get at. I’ve done a bit of that too, way back when I was a guinea pig for science and lived in a hospital room. I’ll need more sunscreen to try it now.

  4. I believe in live and let live and if it poses no danger to you, you aren’t going to kill it for food, you need to let it be.

    PS. I wont leave for org if i cant keep everything as it is basically

    • I do wonder if my recent decrease in killing for food will have an effect on how animals perceive me. Not like a karma thing, but more like meat-eaters having a different smell from grazers and browsers. I’ll have to look up some work about that.

      Those technical .com versus .org issues are over my head. I’m not having problems here, so I figure why fix what aint broke?

  5. Deborah

    Perfect morning tea timing — and another letter to add to my wooden box (I may have to get a bigger one).

    lifewith4cats’ experiences are wonderful. My far less dramatic experience is an ongoing one: whenever I am gardening the resident robin comes down to keep me company; however long I am in the garden, it stays nearby. I turn over the earth and it hops about next to me, eating the tiny creatures I expose. There is something magical about being in close proximity to wildlife, even a humble garden bird. Does it see me and think ‘food’ or ‘food and some company’? I suppose part of the magic is never quite knowing the answer to that question.

    • Another part of the magic is that you are able to experience relationship, because you and the bird have made a deal acceptable to it. I remembered seeing a program where some sort of small birds fly into the mouths of hippos and “clean their teeth”, and the hippos don’t eat them. Despite being poorly adapted for cognition, birds seem to be good at observing and estimating dangerous behaviors, and they will approach individuals (cats, dogs, humans) of species that could be considered their predators. Therefore, when in the garden, you can be in the Garden. Definitely an inside experience, and I thank you for sharing it.

  6. Gemma Sidney

    Hey Mikey, I really liked this post. I like to think of myself as ‘in’, but I know that there is a lot more that I could do to improve my relationship with the environment.

    I found what you said in your reply to Lisa about smelling different if you’re a meat-eater (or not) really interesting. I’d never thought about that before. I don’t think that factor would change much in the eyes of our pets, as they are accustomed to being fed and cared for by us… but wild animals, sure.

    When I’m near to any kind of animal, I feel myself become very calm. Animals generally seem to come to me more than they do others… Perhaps there’s some kind of intuitive communication going on between us that I’m not aware of. But I’m working on that.

    Your post has given me a lot to think about!

    • Thanks, Gemma. I thought about that when I realized most other animals have a sense of smell that far exceeds our sensitivity. You know how pungent it is to us when we cook. Imagine what it’s like for a creature that can differentiate human being scent at 100 yards. I get that “centered” feeling in the presence of animals too, and I do think there are ways to communicate more effectively than most people have tried to do. Stillness helps, but another way is successive approximation of behavior. If you can do anything more like the animal, mirror their way of moving, imitate their sound, they accept your presence better. If the deer are startled seeing me raise the window shade, I look back nonchalantly and pretend to chew as I move about the kitchen slowly. They calm right down.

      • Gemma Sidney

        Come to think of it, how on earth do our dogs manage to contain themselves when we cook up a really tasty, pungent meal? I love that you imitate the deer. I’ve tried it with my rats and a few times I’ve managed a realistic squeak, but they totally freaked out. I wonder what I said?

  7. We are definitely part of nature, not outside of it. Only when the majority of humans give up their strange belief that we are somehow “better” or “apart” will we also develop a respect for our planet and stop destroying it.

  8. Even though I strongly believe that we’re a part of nature, it’s basically impossible to coexist harmoniously with them in today’s technologically advanced world. We need more land, we need more resources, and we aren’t exactly as contented with basic needs like the Native Americans.

    This is my first time here and I enjoyed this post. Interesting, (:

    • I sure agree that it seems impossible – until you begin trying to do it. I think you get my point, that even if we can’t “go back to the Garden”, we can do things to be LESS outside. What’s required is a change of heart and mind, by choice. Instead of looking for “more”, we can use what we have better, and you CAN live on less, use less, waste less, buy less, and be extremely content if you decide to for your good, and the good of the planet. My wife and I were uber-teched up workaholics, hard core city folk who used to work in mass media. We used to buy the most house we could afford. We learned. Anyone can learn.

      Let’s talk about you though! You are a teenager, living at the Terminus of the Silk Road. You are just at the right age and in the right place to deconstruct these ideas that keep people chained to habits that are killing the planet. Your family has more money than most who live where you live. You can be like Buddha, and ride out from the safety of the protected palace to encounter the truth of life as others experience it! It’s a HUGE city, but also an OLD place, so much older than anywhere in this country. There once was the Empire, and there were the farmers. Sure, people pee on trees where you live, but they also know how to PLANT trees. I urge you to begin figuring out for yourself how long a road it has been from the fields and forests to the concrete jungle. (By the way, this young woman is visually gifted – such good drawings, cartoons, choices of photographic humor, plus a smart, light-hearted approach to being an odd duck in a big Chinese city.

      Many of my articles are about gradually changing from an outsider to an insider, because I’m still in that process, as I have been since we moved from a city of 7 million to this town of 9,000 a year ago. I’m so glad you dropped by, Jessica. You’ve given me a good idea for some reprints from the past year’s archives!

  9. Margie

    The deer that live in our area soon fall prey to things with claws, sharp teeth, or shotguns if they lose their instinct to run. While I am happy to let them live in the forested areas around our house, I do not want them to think they are safe from predators here. When they see a human form, I want them to run for their lives, just as they would if a coyote threatened their young, or a bear or cougar appeared.
    I hope your community will be able to develop an approach that works well for the prey and predators in your ecosystem.

    • It is a big challenge, you are sure right about that. My particular town’s approach has been to ban hunting since shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, about the same time they disallowed the carrying of pistols. It has had some unusual effects historically. The coyotes are smarter, so they stay away from town in (probably prudent) fear of people. The deer aren’t as smart, and they avoid the coyotes by coming IN to the lawns and green spaces and browsing (eating). They retreat to cover to mate and give birth.

      This “city deer” phenomenon is pretty recent. The deer are basically caught between two kinds of predators, the ones outside town, and us. They do that bouncing run away if people are too close. The only instances of aggression have been when someone tried to actually rope or trap a deer. I don’t know how it will end up, so I pray for guidance, and try to study info about their behavior. Most of my neighbors either keep dogs, which they avoid, or use fencing. Both of those work – but they do have to go somewhere, and so they move into the wilder yards, like mine.

      I certainly thank you for giving me the main inspiration toward thinking about this in/out paradigm, Margie. Personally, I am trying to reconcile being a tiny part Lakota genetically with knowing little about that by upbringing.

  10. We are all “in.” Some of us just don’t know it!

    I have done some of that still sitting by the creek at my cabin. Not for an hour, but long enough to see things I wouldn’t see if I were moving around. Deep woowoo.

  11. Mike,

    I actually think there’s a third option to out or in: “oblivious.”

    This is a huge difference > “In those cultures, and in tribal and older cultures elsewhere, people are taught from a philosophic position of being inside nature.”

    I appreciate your practice of being “still”, which seems to create a safe space for animals and humans. Have you read Naked in Eden by Robin Easton. Robin spent a year in the Australian rain forest being still. It’s an amazingly inspiring story and speaks to the heart of what you are expressing here. I realize that I’ve generally grown up afraid of animals. I would need to transform some of that cellular level stuff to follow in your footsteps. I admire your curiosity and experiments!

    • You are right that there are always more options, Sandra, a third, a fourth, and so on. It’s the thousand-petaled lotus. There are levels beneath and beyond levels, and as the eyes of Brahma close, the universe ceases, and as the eyes open, a new universe is born.

      Haven’t heard of that book, and I’ll read it. I thank you, my friend and conduit.

  12. I so wish I could learn to be still.

    This video is one of my favorites-

    • My goodness, thank you for that video! I totally believe that the notion of wildness is more a matter of habituation than genetics. You have to be careful around anything that can hurt you by accident, but that’s no different than learning to use power tools safely.

      You know how to be still, B. You just do it rapidly, like hummingbirds do. At some future point when your life is slower, the moments of stillness will expand in length.

      (PS – Your article was such fun! If you have a mailing list for your publications, would you put me on it?)

      • Thanks, Mikey!

        I don’t have a mailing list, but I’ll add you to the list of “People I contact every time I’m published.” (Right now it’s mostly just family members and editors who’ve rejected me in the past.;))

  13. One of my favorite posts yet, Mikey. Having been raised as a “part” of Nature, it’s easy for me to understand the desire to bring it closer. In response to Jaye’s question, I would say yes, animals and humans should be close together. We should live in close proximity, I do live in close proximity.
    It’s extremely easy to co-exist with Nature, one just needs to go about his business without interfering with the business of others. Unfortunately, most humans have forgotten how to do that.

    • So glad, you liked it! I think most humans in “developed” nations are raised as outsiders, as I was. I had to learn to be more in as an adult, and I still have so much to learn. I do think the in/out model helps create an opportunity for changing position.

  14. I think you will find it quite easy to change your position, Mikey, you’re an observant man and all it takes to be a part of nature and a member of the “in” crowd is to pay attention to how it works without interference. You are already paying attention to your impact on Nature, such as carbon footprint, dependency on resources etc., but look beyond that. Look at how Nature responds to you going about your business, you fulfilling YOUR needs.

    In the spring I tilled a new plot for a larger vegetable garden, my children have grown much in the past year and need more to sustain them, my young son now eats like a man. As I tilled the first day I noticed robins hopping along behind me. By the third day, there were robins perched all over patiently waiting for me to get to work. At first, I wondered how futile my seed planting would be with all these birds around to scoop the seeds up out of the soil. But then I realized that I had opened a smorgasbord of bugs and worms and larvae in the dirt and weeks later I noticed that I hadn’t lost a single seed. There they were, the lettuce, carrots and peas sprouting exactly as I had planted them. It still makes me laugh to think of the robins waiting for me in the mornings.

    As things grew, I laid thick blankets of mulch and my new garden was quickly invaded by snakes. It was my daughter who pointed out why. They use the roughness of the mulch to help slough off their skin. In return, my garden was aerated without me having to lift a trowel.

    The robins are all still here, only now they feed on the grasshoppers that threaten my vegetables and the deerflies that swarm me while I’m picking the fruits of my labor.

    In this day of greener living and the like, the focus is more often on the negative impact humans have on Nature. We forget that we are a part of it and fail to remember the contributions that are ours to make. Like you said, most humans are raised on the outside.

    Go about your day, as you need to, just be aware of how Nature responds, it’s the easiest way to find your place on the inside.

    • Your experience with the robins is similar to Deborah’s, up near the top of the comments. I have had a good working relationship with birds, even when I lived in the city. Every living thing wants enough to eat, plant or animal. The more I learn about what they want, the easier the relationships become. There’s this badass squirrel in back who keeps yelling at me to get out, but I’m going to make peace with him.

      We pruned the bushes and put in more native plants and gave the vines some trellis to climb. Most of the trees on our land are Madrona, Red Cedar and Douglas Fir. Some of the Madronas are sick, but it varies by individuals. There are five kinds of fungus attacking them here, and the local Indians say it’s diseases of the spirit brought on by disharmony with the Mother. I don’t speak the same language, but I basically can’t disagree.

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