A CALL TO RE-ENCHANTMENT
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Kiva and I loved teaching a class on the topic of enchantment at the Good Medicine Confluence last month. The following piece on this topic, celebrates the birth of Enchantments, Kiva’s rewilded, acc-sense-uated new manifestation of her long beloved Medicine Roots blog. You can read the earlier, much longer versions in the book The Enchanted Healer, and in the Good Medicine Confluence 2017 Class Essays Ebook, both available by clicking through to the Bookstore page at www.PlantHealer.org
The little cabin where Kiva and I sleep, nests far from what is called civilization, seven river crossings from pavement and 250 miles from the nearest real city, and thus from the sounds of sirens and traffic that so easily impacts the rest of oversensitive and neurodivergent. The only sounds we tend to hear after dark, are the nuanced songs of the crickets as they slow their tempo with each degree of drop in the canyon temperature, the tones of owl and whipporwill, the steady background murmuring of our nearby Sweet Medicine River, and the tidal cadence of my dreaming wife’s restful breaths.
And so it was not an alarming sound that woke me up one recent night, but rather, it was the incredible white-blue light of the full moon seeping through my closed eyelids, exciting my brain to resume its fervent explorations. I sat up extra carefully so as not to rouse anyone, turned to the window and beheld what seemed to me a magical sight.
At first I imagined everything might be covered by a surprise Spring snow, as all within reach of the moon’s silvered brush glowed with an unbelievable intensity – the tops of ancient volcanic rock frosted and luminous, yucca fronds reflective like glass, the upper faces of every leaf jewel-crusted and glistening, and what seemed to be a sparkle to the air itself.
I could feel my eyes widen like an astonished child’s as I pressed my nose against the window, my heart quickening. It was, as I quickly realized, an effect not of cold and water but of atmosphere and light, the lunar gilding of a landscape normally beautiful but familiar and as expected. This night, that moment, it was as if transformed into a fantastical setting for an unfolding fairy tale, a place of untold possibilities, not just the background but the means for unforgettable events and life impacting visions. It called to me to slip outside and wander about amazed, called me to “come out and play,” and I once more proved susceptible to its spell. The so-familiar scenery now seemed somehow strange and new. Time felt suspended, and tingles reigned where no words yet cared to follow.
I was – to be clear – utterly enchanted.
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” — Iris Murdoch
enchantment |enˈCHantmənt| noun:
1. a state of great interest, heightened senses, and extreme delight
2. being under the influence of a spell (as in magic)
We can love a place, person or thing deeply and attentively, never taking it for granted, and yet still suffer a loss of sheen… a reduction in our sensing of – and being affected by – the world’s ever present luster. We can easily find ourselves slipping away from palpable engagement and deep experience, withdrawing into circular thoughts and prefabricated scripts, moderating and monitoring our consciousness, the moon shrinking until it is only a small bit of background decoration instead of a heart-lifting celestial orb that we can barely take our eyes off, a force summoning the ocean’s waves, a celestial enchantress. But this night, it was enchantment that reigned, as my habitual ways of perceiving this canyon that I’ve loved for nearly four decades were in an instant exceeded and enhanced, with the land again revealed as it really always is: enlivened, evocative, wondrous, spectacular, astounding, and ever so compelling.
One of the primary effects of enchantment is the sudden and dramatic boost in our ability to find things fascinating. As children, the world seemed to be communicating to us and we often switched from whatever we were doing to listening raptly in an attempt to discern the language of animals and plants, decode the designs in rock, uncover meaning in every form and gesture. We were very likely entranced by the back and forth of foraging park squirrels, mesmerized by the interactive patterns of a scattering of raindrops falling into a puddle, and characteristically susceptible to the mind altering effects of full moon’s light. But gradually, some of us may have grown accustomed to the puzzle of squirrel behavior, increasingly inured to the interlocking circles that rain falling in puddles makes, grievously immune to the faery dust of lunar illuminations. It is enchantment that can summon us back, again and again, before those aforementioned portals to infinite possibility.
Later as adults, if we chose to study or practice some form of healing and bettering the world instead of securing a typical education and corporate career, most of us were acting not so much out of a rational strategy as out of enchantment. And enchantment can continue to inspire, adjust and flavor our lives and work, to the degree that we cease blocking it out and begin to welcome it, to help both create the conditions and clear the way for it, and learn to sustain the sensibilities and perceptions that fuel creativity, raise excitement, call attention to the wonderful and the mysterious, and help make our healing practices feel not only valuable but personable and magical.
Admittedly, there are many reasons for dreading, avoiding or repressing our enchantment. Extreme or prolonged states of enchantment can be disorienting, intimidating and sometimes terrifying, for the above reasons and many others. Altered perception and awakened senses are indeed intense, and we would find ourselves bombarded by a confusing flurry of sensory information without some perceptual filters straining out unneeded information, prioritizing what requires our immediate attention. Even the processes of forgetting are often natural bodily mechanisms for protecting us from the hurtful traumas of the past, and serve to block out the distracting irrelevancies of the present. It could be hard to get our work done if the intricate motions of our hands, the workings of our computers and tools, the patterns in a wooden table, every word and expression a client makes, or the slightest shift in the breeze all clamored for focus, all the time.
These perceptual filters are similar to an optic lens that bends or distorts light to create a message that can be deciphered by the brain, but unfortunately these easily harden, and once rigid, the eye is no longer able to adjust for changes in focus and light. Once we allow our perceptual lenses to harden with habit, everything beyond our understanding or out of the ordinary is treated as bewildering, threatening or untrustworthy, and as something other, alien, introduced, as an imposition or manipulation as if it were a hex being placed on us by a malevolent entity. Enchantment is, however, a lot like entheogenic plants, in that something like Datura doesn’t implant visions, and mushrooms do not impose ideas. They work not by inebriation but by temporarily sweeping aside the neurochemical barriers to free association, synthesis, sensations of a unified field, and the experiencing of ecstasy. What they can and often do is to unleash intrinsic, already existent means and capacities, open the door to repressed memories and untapped abilities, and make possible ecstatic connection through our natural, native senses. Similarly, enchantment works not by implanting or imposing, and not by altering who we fundamentally are, but by disrupting the filtering processes that can not only protect us but also impact our realization, creativity, and blissful wonderment. It is a lantern in the dark, through the swamp of disillusionment we follow its light.
Disenchantment results not from the disappearance of enchantment, as the world is never less magical, and the capacity for ecstatic perception and engagement still resides in us even if dormant. Disenchantment is a result of the overabundance and dominance of our protective filters. Because we feel safer in a predictable world, we tend to try to eliminate or downplay surprises. Because change can be so stressful, we often try to spin reality in ways that make it appear as if it actually stays the same. Unfamiliar environs and situations can feel scary, so we sometimes recoil from new revealings. Due to the fears, preconceptions, and judgments of family, friends and employers, many of us become guarded about revealing the extent of our transformative enchantment. To keep from feeling stupid, we may prefer acting as if we know over acknowledgment of the unknown. To protect ourselves from the wild visions, intense sensations, and perceptions and responses that might set us apart, we may have downplayed our enchantments, while sequestering ourselves behind our filters.
“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up… not me!” –J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)
In the story of Peter Pan, Peter faces what is framed as a dire choice between clinging to the perspectives, liberties and joys of childhood, and growing up to assume his place and role in society. Who could be blamed for refusing to climb down from the boughs of a magical looking tree, into the cold arms of societal expectations and rote assignments, dampened passions and debunked mysteries?
We damn sure don’t need to do “what we’re told,” if what we are told is to unquestioningly accept their reality, to “straighten up,” “settle down” or “get with the program.” We do need, as we’re advised, to “come down to earth,” but in terms of getting closer to elemental life and the living world we’re a part of, and actually experiencing rather than simply conceptualizing and analyzing, doing as well as planning… not in terms of letting go of our lofty hopes, cutting loose our cherished dreams, doubting and turning our backs on our visions, rejecting the giddy extremes of sensing and savoring, or retreating from the depths of ecstasy and brilliance of visions. We need to “get real,” as most of us have been admonished, not by abandoning fantasy but by doing all we can in the real world to make the fantastic and visionary come true. We need not grow “up” but “inwards” and “within,” growing not bigger but better. Growing more beautiful. Growing more healthy, more hopeful, more imaginative, more creative, more determined to be healed, and to help heal others and this earth.
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.” –J.M. Barrie
On one level, we don’t need to ever grow up… only to learn how to act in public so that we don’t handicap our efforts or endanger ourselves or our goals! On the other hand, humankind and the entire planet does need us to take on the best attributes of adulthood, including mature consideration and reflection, discernment and critical thinking, patience, focus, responsibility, initiative, service to a good that is greater than ourselves, self-discipline, follow-through, pledge keeping, and sacrifice when and as required.
As adults we have more entrenched disbelief to get over, and more preconceptions to overcome, but at the same time we have a deepened capacity for a more complex and greater realized enchantment than we knew as kids, a state of ecstatic wonderment made richer by our actual experiences, informed by our memories, feeding our creativity, and fueling our healing purpose.
“You have to turn your back on a culture that has gone sterile and dead and get with the program of a living world and the imagination.” –Terrence McKenna
Healing is largely about helping to mend the rifts – not only to pull together the bloodied edges of parted flesh, but also the torn fabric of community and land, to heal the schism between us and our own bodies, and between the land and us. In need of mending, too, is the perceptual gap between science and spirituality, magic or the mysterious, between investigation and wonder, what we think and what we do, who we are and what we love… between doing good and feeling good.
There is no inherent contradiction between being a serious, effective, credible Healer of any sort – even a professional clinician, mathematically-minded climate researcher or academician – and being an enchanted Seeker, Seer, Shifter and Celebrant. The best Healers will be those who tend their hearts as well as minds, exercise their capacity for wonder as well as their ability to assess and test, discern and understand. Assuming we already know something impedes new realizations, taking anything for granted diminishes its significance and value, and “normal” states of mind provide a limited and often disenchanting view of the world we seek to enjoy and improve. Curiosity and excitement are vital to both our learning and our practice, and satisfaction comes from enjoying not only the act of knowing but the exhilaration of the unknown, the teasing and encouragement of the evident but invisible that even now coaxes us forward.
Conformism and the need to fit in, convention, objective distancing, imagined certainty and the desire for predictability, systems of blind belief and cultures of cynicism, all combine to paint an unremarkable reality, featuring stark limits and reduced colors, contributing to our personal and collective disenchantment. But we were born to be enraptured explorers, unafraid of new revelations and the overturning of paradigms, glad to be different and to take chances, unafraid to “go out on a limb”… because exploring high in the boughs, wonderstruck and leaf-dazzled, is a natural place and way for us to be. With our increased awakeness, intense presence, heightened senses and greater awareness – with increasing tools such as the self-nourishment of sacred indulgence, our homes and work spaces made beautiful and intriguing, the creation of an inner sanctum, plant and animal totems, conscious cooking, drumming, dwelling on the edge, questing, places of power – we have the chance for a life and mission that is as fantastic as it is authentic.
Enchantment is not about being bewitched or bewildered, it is a healthy glamour that amazes us with revelations of magic in the mundane, of significance in the overlooked, misunderstood or undervalued. It is neither hallucination, feel-good diversion, self delusion, sleight of hand tricks or entertainment. It is allure, necessarily followed by engagement with what fascinates us, engagement with the ever so real world and our work within it… albeit a world that will always be at least in part a wonderful mystery, and everyday healing work that is nothing less than extraordinary – not so much credible as incredible, not so much known and conventional as mysterious, adaptive, and mind blowing… with effects and results that can be astounding, awe-inspiring, and incontrovertibly phenomenal.
One can access all the universe through an intimate exploration of the natural world and ourselves, with threads and trails leading off to every mountain and gully, ocean depth and star’s song, to the missions and processes that need us, and to the very healing herbs we most need. The portal we seek out is not only located in the deep woods, however, unless we include the wooded recesses of the wild mind. The doorway to our enchantment is always near to us, its wrought-iron latch within easy reach of our hand. In the clinic or lab, turn our heads quickly enough and we just may get a glimpse of the tree shaded contours of its Wisteria-covered frame. On the streets, handing out medicine to the homeless, we may hear above the noise of the traffic a siren’s call that leads us down an alley – or thought-way – that we have never been down before. We can be ensconced at our computers, far inside the bowels of some hospital or university, and feel a draft we can’t explain. If it is insistent, and we prove sensitive enough, we will look up from our screens and follow it to a needed opening, an escape from the rote and entrance to the wild unbeknownst.
We have the possibility and option of stepping through this portal again and again, each time finding ourselves more intensely right here, not a new person in a new place but in the same place, a place somehow freshened and revealed, with our purpose deepened and fueled, and with ourselves each time renewed. We become not only self-appointed servants of healing – in the very deepest, largest, most meaningful and encompassing sense – but also agents of awareness, imagination, the always evolving Gaian imperative, the percolating powers of discovery, of adaptation and synthesis, and of emergent balance and bliss.
One reason for the existence this Enchantments Blog, is to bring attention to this important truth, to celebrate our sensate lives and purposed roles – a call to re-enchantment! The practice of healing is ours to claim, to commit to and fulfill, develop and utilize. And the gift of enchantment can be ours as well, empowering and exciting our personal missions and wild adventures, infusing wonderment and delight into our ever more purposeful lives.
(please share freely and widely)