Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Communicating with insects

I just wanted to share two quick stories about communicating with insects which has happened in the past 2 days.

The first occurred while my wife and I were up on a forested hill, in a grassy meadow over looking a nearby lake here in the Seattle area. She was feeling very sleepy and had put her head down in my lap as I read. I asked here if she would like me to read to her out loud. She agreed, so I started reading some paragraphs from the book in my hands which was Derrick Jensen's A LANGUAGE OLDER THAN WORDS. It is essentially a book about the animist experience and having conversations with nature that are beyond the limitations of language and words. It is an excellent read.

Just as I began, a beetle that had been flying around us for several minutes landed on my wife's shoulder.

My wife was concerned it would crawl into her shirt and she might squish it or otherwise harm it, so I nudged it gently a few inches away from her collar. I offered the beetle to stay there and listen to the story if it would like. Then, I continued reading.

The beetle remained waiting there barely moving at all except for occasional waves of an antennae or subtle movements with its mandibles. I read slowly, paragraph after paragraph. At least 25 minutes passed, and the beetle remained. It had taken two slow steps forward, but was clearly not going anywhere.

I read on until I reached a point where I needed to digest what had been shared in the book. I looked out over the forest, at the nearby stinging nettle and sword ferns and finally down at the beetle. It waved its antenna once more and then popped its black and yellow wing-case open and its wings sprang forward. Then it lifted off into the air and did not return again. I felt a strong intuitive understanding that not only was this beetle curious to hear what was being said and enjoyed being welcomed to listen in, but that there was another side to its visit.

This might sound strange to you but, I felt that through this little beetle the whole forest was scrutinizing us. It was one of the forest spirits coming to see how we were progressing in our work in communicating with nature as an equal partner. If you are open to the possibility that the planet as a whole and everything on it is alive, aware and responsive then this is not so far fetched.

Ever since I dropped the idea that the natural world is dumb and mechanical, other possibilities have made themselves visible. You could say that over time, in place of that view I accepted the idea that the world can communicate with us, and we with it. Now, I have had so many experiences that demonstrate to me personally that this is so that I no longer feel the need nor see any necessity in having to believe that this is so.

It simply IS.

The second story took place today at work, as I was instructing a group of 11 kids at summer camp. During snack, one of my kids plopped his bag down near a small hole in the ground and ran off to play. I had not noticed, until one of the kids pointed out all of the "flies" flying around this particular bag. They were not flies, but were ground nesting yellowjackets swarming into the air angrily!! If you have ever worked at an outdoor summer camp, you know that young kids and wasps don't usually mix well. More to the point, they can lead to some of a summer camp instructor's worse nightmares.

Well, my assistant and I scramble to move the kids out of the general area as quickly as possible. Thankfully, none of them got stung in the process.

There was still a problem though. The wasps were still swarming around the now abandoned backpack, which to make things more interesting was opened and had a open lunch bag in it! I chose to leave the bag there for sometime to see if they would calm down. But they did not stop flying around the bag and buzzing intensely.

It was at this point that I had a feeling it was time to put my money were my mouth was, and see if some direct communication with the wasps would be effective. I have talked with ravens, lizards and other animals so why not? The memory of the beetle from the day before helped give me a bit of confidence.

I took a few deep breaths, and started by apologizing out loud to the yellowjackets about this disturbance. I told them of my plan to walk up slowly, peacefully and remove the offending bag from the spot right near their nest. I had some flashes of violent retaliation from the wasps, and had some rather vivid pictures of big welts swelling up on my bare legs and having one of my eyes swell shut from their stings. I couldn't continue with that kind of imagery. So, I immediately rewound the mental movie and gave it a peaceful ending, free of stings or wasp grudges.

Next, I started towards the nest at about 9 meters distance. I moved very slowly, all the while speaking to them softly about my peaceful intentions and asking them not to sting me. As I near to within about 2 meters from the bag, I hesitated a little. Surprisingly I was not feeling any fear, but I had a sense that I needed to take some deep breaths right then and there in order to relax my body even more. As I did so, a few of the wasps flew away from the nest and circled near my bare calves, then flew on. As my hand tightened around the bag, I slowly lifted it up and back away from the nest. Then took a slow step back and tossed the bag at good 10 meters to my right. Meanwhile, I took some more rapid steps in the opposite direction away from the nest. I checked my person carefully. No wasps and no stings.


Then, I gathered some long sticks and made a wide circle with them around the nest. Lastly, I contacted the camp director and told her to spread the word about this nest. When all was done, the bag was retrieved without mishap. The wasps were happy, and all was well again.

I can tell you honestly, I have never had an experience like this before. I felt in good report with the yellowjackets. I have been stung by them in the past. The communication was clear both ways. Until today, I did not know it was possible. But, today I could not have afforded to be close-minded about it being possible either.

Insects are generally seen as more simple minded and mechanical than almost all of the other "higher" animals. Even by those people in our western paradigm who are open to the idea of animals being more aware than mainstream culture might believe. But from the animist perspective, neither size nor physical structure limits the awareness of an entity in the natural world. Insects are as aware as dogs or parrots or dolphins or people. They simply have their own individual ways of experiencing the same world that we might take for granted.

There is no hierarchy or superiority of species in the fundamental animist world view. All are on an equal playing field.

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