Step 7

Move Beyond Thinking

Though I play at the edges of knowing,

truly I know

our part is not knowing,

but looking, and touching, and loving,

which is the way I walked on

— Mary Oliver

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings. But the truth is that, more often than not, we make our decisions based on emotion, instinct, and cognitive biases, and then rationalize our decisions after the fact. But as deep ecologist Paul Kingsnorth explains, this isn’t necessarily a limitation.

“Our human relationship to the rest of nature is not akin to the analysis of bacteria in a petri dish; it is more like the complex, love-hate relationship we might have with lovers or parents or siblings. It is who we are, unspoken and felt and frustrating and inspiring and vital and impossible to peer-review. You can reach part of it with the analytical mind, but the rest will remain buried in the ancient woodland floor of human evolution and in the depths of our old ape brains, which see in pictures and think in stories. Civilization has always been a project of control, but you can’t win a war against the wild within yourself.”

There’s nothing wrong with thinking, but sometimes thinking turns into ruminating, which can lead to anxiety and depression. There are some problems we can’t think our way out of–we have to feel our way instead, using our whole selves, including our animal brains and all of our senses. This is what Kingsnorth seems to mean when he writes:

I am leaving on a pilgrimage to find what I left behind in the jungles and by the cold campfires and in the parts of my head and my heart that I have been skirting around because I have been busy fragmenting the world in order to save it; busy believing it is mine to save. I am going to listen to the wind and see what it tells me, or whether it tells me anything at all.

Paul Kingsnorth, “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist”
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