from Intentional Kayaking: Awakening to Intimacy Within the Natural World by Nancy Rowe, Ph.D.
Intimacy Within our Earth Community: An Introduction to this Exploration
This longing for intimacy, for reciprocity and the experience of aliveness and connection with other beings within a living landscape, is not surprising as the “natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong” (Berry, 1990, p. 81). We long for relationship and to feel part of the living landscape as co-participants in the unfolding inter-connectedness of life. Perhaps it is because “there is no such thing as human community without the earth and the soil and the air and the water and all living forms. Humans are woven into this larger community” (Raymond, 2010, p. 59).
Perhaps we are searching for our true home, our place within “the family of things” (Oliver, 1992) or for a wholesome connection to our outer landscape that embraces both individual and planetary life. As Linda Hogan (1995) expressed in her book, Dwellings,
We are looking for a tongue that speaks with reverence of life,
searching for an ecology of mind. Without it, we have no home,
have no place of our own within creation. … We want a language that… returns us to our own sacredness, to a self-love and respect that will
carry out to others. (p. 60)
This article blends personal quest with scholarship from transpersonal psychology, spirituality, nature writing, and philosophy. It highlights the results of a thematic
content analysis of journal entries made during a week of kayaking with the expressed intention of being in better relationship with a specific lake community. I share how this act shifted my lived experience of being part of the lake community and how this contributed to a more transpersonal and conscious engagement with my immediate environment. Finally, I make the case that we can all achieve this intimacy by cultivating what Maslow (1970) referred to as the plateau-experience, and by incorporating the wisdom of mystics and nature writers.
Peak Experiences in Nature
What are peak experiences and how do they contribute to awakening to intimacy within the natural world? Peak experiences have been described as feelings of love, well-being, awe, wonder, unity, awareness, and higher consciousness. They come on suddenly and last only a short time, although their effect can last a life time (Maslow, 2011). These transpersonal moments can be triggered through a variety of experiences, such as sports, sex, meditation, nature encounters, creative exploration, and meditation (Taylor, 2012). They have been characterized by “euphoria, noesis, harmony or union with the universe, a profound sense of beauty and love, and ineffability” (Davis, 1998).
Peak experiences often result in increased clarity and compassion as well as refined levels of beauty and truth (Swan 2010). People who have been awakened in these sudden ways sometimes report an increased love of nature, fresh life perspectives, and transformed lives (Coburn, 2006; Laski, 1962; Swan, 1990).
Poets have often portrayed peak experiences as moments of ecstasy and deep mystical experiences (Frager & Fadiman, 2005). Many scholars believe that peak experiences cannot be created but can be triggered by an experience such as an intense, inspiring occurrence (Frager & Fadiman, 2005; Goswami, 1993 ) or amplified by places such as sacred sites (Swan, 1990). Taylor (2012), who has preferred to use the term “awakening experiences” (p. 74), suggested that certain conditions are conducive for having peak experiences and proposes a psychological-energetic theory of awakening.
These awakening experiences include moments when perceptions and awareness become more intensified and expanded.
Five key themes—harmony, connectedness, intention, aliveness, and reciprocity of process—emerged from their phenomenological study, and they proposed that these themes might be true in other encounters with cetaceans and possibly universal to all wild-animal- triggered peaks. They concluded that “connecting with another being, and ultimately, being fully connected with oneself, is the underlying desire of the cetacean-
triggered peak experience” (p. 169) and that this experience can bring a sense of reciprocity, harmony, aliveness, and connectedness to the human participant.