The reason humans have largely ignored the role of attunement in nature, seems to be that they are unwilling to accept its importance. Admission would reveal inadequacy. Indeed, if there were an opposite to attunement, humans provide the example. Humans teach each other that they are superior to nature, and can live without it. That nature is not essential. The prospect of having to complete your potential and mind’s development through attunement with nature is anathema (this will change one day). The modern human has little understanding for nature or its fundamental mechanisms. They do not feel sufficient loss whilst clearing it away for their new developments and housing estates.
Attunement is important in nature because when achieved, you can listen to its signals and warnings far more keenly than those ignorant or detached. Some animals can seem to have a sixth sense about their world (more beetle). Black trackers found many lost white children in Australia, because Europeans could not read the signs of the bush and do the job themselves. The healthiest animal in the wild is usually the wisest and most attuned, with its knowledge of how to navigate the terrain and sense out food. A tame animal would be a sitting target if dumped in the wild. Like Elsa the lion in Born Free, it needs to be released slowly and carefully back into the wild, so it has time to learn new skills and develop a new level of awareness. Without attunement, you cannot receive open and honest feedback on your performance from nature. You do not know how to adjust. Without intimate and direct interaction with nature, your mind could pursue its own tangent and become delusional. You could lose track of what you want, of how to function, and of how to be of lasting benefit to your home and world. You could become the modern human. The failure to comprehend attunement has also caused humans to misinterpret some key adaptations found in animals and themselves. If attunement is important, certain adaptations should exist that are designed to promote its development. Humans waffle on about instincts, trying to understand how they work, while blind to half the picture. Humans think instincts are inherited, because of how deeply entrenched they become. But in reality, instincts are codes of behaviour learnt during attunement (more beetle). Instincts are the records of the tight and direct bonds of common sense and good reasons that grow between animal and niche. With a few sound instincts, animals can sense and decide their way through life. Instincts and reflexes are honed through play, and by repetition and training. That is, by interactive learning and practicing within the environment. The other vital adaptation in animals, even less understood, is the pursuit and desire for parsimony. Parsimony is finding a way to link a set of facts using fewest possible steps. The most parsimonious route will invariably be the simplest, most versatile and wisest course to take. The value of parsimony (sometimes called Ockham’s razor) is recognized in some factions of science and evolution, when something closer to the truth is sought (more beetle). Parsimony is so important, that animals have an adaptation inside them that is designed to seek it out. I call it the interaction desire, and for vertebrates it involves the measuring ability of the pleasure centre based in the hypothalamus, which is the gateway to the cortex (the instinct learning centre) (more beetle). The most parsimonious circuit used by the brain to understand or interact with a set of events will be the most pleasurable. People might call out eureka when they find it, or feel the penny drop when they achieve the insight. It also explains why people enjoy getting things right, understanding, and music. Parsimony is needed to help sort and identify which are the right interactions and interpretations to learn by rote and accept as instincts. Those lines of connection that are most direct and simple with your environment, are those that will make you attuned and bring you closer to the real inner workings of your world. Attunement gives inner strength and wisdom.
Humans have some history of attempting to attune with nature: The problem for them is that it takes time to attune with the finer and richer points of nature as it occurs within the niche being occupied. And, the full advantages of attunement will only occur if the partnership niche you are attuning with is always the real niche you should be dealing with. It needs to be stable. The fundamentally new events that arise out of human curiosity and quest for discovery, regularly makes their earlier niches redundant. Therefore, the old findings, instincts and value systems that were emerging during previous attempts at attunement become strained. These old instincts and cultures will retain some inner truth and be much loved, but they will also reach their failings in the new arena of knowledge. The usual human response to such problems is to try and fill the gaps and failures of the old instincts and cultures with belief. Beliefs are ideas that lack direct contact with reality, and avoid the natural checks for accuracy available in wildness. Beliefs become a statement of ‘no need to double check with another on this one’. Without such checks, beliefs become delusional, and can become very odd and self absorbed ideas indeed. Therefore, when looking at past attempts at attunement, each example will vary in the benefits it can gain such as fulfillment, social happiness, and responsibility for the environment, while also bearing the scars of unsubstantiated ideas and naivety.
The majority of past human cultures had greater links with their natural world than occurs today. The cultures generally began with philosophies and softer religions that respectfully saw spiritual entity in all surrounding objects like the animals, plants and rocks (animism). Then, as cultures plunged further into belief, religions arose that assigned power and potency more selectively, creating a range of gods and deities (polytheism, e.g. pagan, Hindu, Shinto). Animists have the general perception that everything about them is alive and bears a soul. The close bonding that hunter gathers achieved with their environment is demonstrated in those few cultures surviving today. If these cultures had not understood the ways of nature and its cycles, they would probably have died from exposure or starvation. Animists often feel on equal terms with the other components of their world, and are keenly interested in its details. Recognizing when to move camp, the migration times and trails taken by animals, or learning which plants could be used for healing, were all abilities that would benefit from a closer relationship or attunement with nature. Many hunter gatherers see spiritual beings around them, and are named after some element or animal in the land. Such an honour can focus the mind, and encourage the person to learn more about the animal and it’s ways (a bit like a taxonomist with the honour of having a species named after them). Some would build totems to aid spiritual communication with nature and their ancestors. Sacred sites became places that could not be disturbed for spiritual reasons. Some cultures had shamans, who had greater knowledge of the land and the spirit world. They could often cure ills or predict coming events. They practiced traditional medicines, the value of which is increasingly recognised today. But also, belief and naivety allowed snake oil ‘cures’ to proliferate as well.
Belief opened up new realms for excuse, by thinking that some unseen part or spirit existed that was not bound by known physical constraints. Those spirits could manipulate earthly events in unexpected or malevolent ways. They could even survive beyond death, and perhaps return in some other form. People could try to please the spirits, in the hope that they might reveal some higher meaning or reality, and consider the worshiper more prominently in their godly whims. Odd rituals emerged to appease or influence the imagined spirit. Tools and food may be left with the dead person to help them survive into the spiritual world, headhunters shrunk heads to try and contain the spirit and vengeance of those they had killed, and fertility rituals or even sacrifices could be made to encourage the growth of crops.
While many of the beliefs were quaint and ridiculous, those held by the animists and hunter gatherers were usually inclusive, and extended some dignity and respect to the surrounding environment. Their cultures were usually sustainable, causing little lasting environmental damage. Alternatively, the changes caused were gradual, allowing much of the environment to adjust and adapt. Just how risky the removal of a spiritual connection with the environment can be, for believing humans, was shown by the Easter Islanders. They must have given such devotion to their gods, that they built massive monuments and statues in honour. But at the same time, they ignored their earthly environment, denuded their island of trees, which led to catastrophe, war and decimation.
As the cloud of belief gained greater hold over humans, their religions became even more isolated and contrary to the earth’s environmental world. More recent religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam believe in one god (monotheism). With such growing detachment and diversion of emotions and hopes into a god that does not live on earth, the willingness to expunge the contrary real world increased. Non-believers became sub-humans, infidels, pagans and heathens (meant as derogatory terms). Shamans became witch-doctors. Virtual smear campaigns were run against religions and philosophies showing greater respect for animals and nature. Pagans were seen as barbaric and animalistic. A good example of the growing division is given by how snakes are viewed. Hunter gatherers usually held the snake in high esteem. For example, the rainbow serpent was said to have made the rivers in Aboriginal culture. Sure, they would also eat them when found, but they still held their spirit (like their value or meaning) highly. Hindus revere the snake and see them as protectors of the land. This compares to Christianity, where the snake is a despised evil. In an example of conformity to the prevailing belief systems, some evolutionary psychologists even hold that the modern fear of snakes is inherited. To many, wildness has become a dirty word.
For those who would like to connect with nature without resorting to belief, the examples I can think of are ecopsychology and naturalists or ‘nature lovers’. Ecopsychology is a relatively new branch of science that explores the human connection with nature, and identifies its therapeutic benefits. Some examples are the soothing and healing experiences gained by troubled youth during wilderness camps, the faster healing patients experience when they have views or access to parkland, and the regenerative benefits of getting away from the busy modern lifestyle into natural settings. The high prices paid for homes with views to natural settings (mountains, valleys, seas, rivers) confirm the tangible benefits of having some kind of connection with nature. The refreshing value of a day in the bush has given rise to a growing number of businesses involved in ecotourism.
Naturalists or nature lovers represent the most natural method for attuning with nature. Note that there is a philosophy called naturalism, which looks interesting, but I have a sceptical aversion to assigning the mind into any label or category. Such surrender of care is the beginning of the believing approach, which can only harm the flexibility and openness needed to access nature. The nature lover approach involves simply offering respect and reception to nature. There should be no need or desire to see the outcome follow a belief, but instead, let events unfold naturally without your human intervention. With such an open and listening mind, nature finds more licence to restore its partnership with you, and place its messages directly into the mind through insights found during the search for parsimony.
Simply mingling more with nature will help to receive its messages. View it more often, read about it, and join a club that seeks to help it – e.g. weed eradication, rubbish collection day, recycling helper, wildlife rescue, naturalist club, taxonomy hobbyist, indigenous plant society. Attunement begins with an interest in nature. Gradually, that interest can become a fascination, during which time you may undergo some specialisation of being particularly interested in some kind of animal or natural aspect. Fascination is a state of mind that is highly observant of its subject, so that the fascinated person is often the one that will make a breakthrough in their field of interest. The next step after fascination is to achieve a receptive mind, and is the level needed to achieve wildness and attunement. This step moves you more deeply through fascination, removing believed differences with subject, so that you can absorb directly and become like an extension of nature. The unritualised approach of simply offering a receptive mind to nature is one of the first steps needed to become wild and wise. It can open yourself to the second half of your being, that resides in nature, so that it can enter to make you complete. And this advice comes from a creature that is now half man half beetle!! (Posted December 2005)