Symbol Rock


The Indians considered Symbol Rock sacred, and I can understand why. Unlike them, I know its approximate age, mineral content, and how it formed, yet knowing all this makes it seem no less miraculous. Why, then, does it lies ignored on the side of an abandoned logging road? Surely, there are other people who go there as if on pilgrimage, but I have't seen them.

Last week, I wanted to bring a piece of it home, there being thousands of fallen blocks, but I worried that doing so would be a desecration. I had decided against it when, after much discussion and reconnoitering, Peggy and I made a summit attempt. We proceeded on all-fours on rock so loose and exposures so precipitous that we could have been killed had we fallen, but we finally made it to the knife-edge ridge. The summit itself was hundreds of feet distant, and Peggy demurred, so we turned back. I felt good about turning back because what I most wanted was for us to be together, and because having made the attempt made me feel okay about taking a piece of the rock home--having given something of myself to Symbol Rock, I imaged that Symbol Rock was willing to give a piece of itself back to me.

We take from the earth with little thought about the morality of doing so, and with no thought about whether the earth itself might object. I do this myself. To give an example, when I replaced our wooden fence in 1997, I didn’t agonize over whether it was ethical to support the killing of trees and the destruction of habitats so that I could have a fence. This year, I gave the matter a lot of thought, and would have considered chain-link as an alternative had Peggy agreed, but she did not, and I eventually bought wood. The trees are no less dead for my guilt, the habitats no less destroyed, and the earth, perhaps, no less offended, but I take some small comfort in knowing that I’ve grown more desirous of mitigating the damage I do.

Science is increasingly discovering that life—if not the universe as a whole—is more complex and interrelated than previously thought. For example, rather than only being “red in tooth and claw,” living things are also more cooperative—if not altruistic. For instance, mature Douglas Firs have been shown by experiment to share nutrients with young Douglas Firs, and other examples of “lower species” altruism are ever increasing. Unlike many, I wouldn’t credit such things to the supernatural (images of a god who consists of some undefinable material that is separate from and superior to everything else in the universe doesn’t fit with any fact that I know, or can imagine, or would want to entertain), but to something that I consider far more interesting, which is a web of underlying connectivity that might someday be shown to not just involve obviously interrelated lifeforms but life as a whole.

My guess is that it also extends to what we now consider non-life and that it includes universal consciousness. I speculate, of course, but if I were to be penned down as to what I believe metaphysically—or at least to what I think might be the case—I would have to say that from my earliest childhood, I have believed that all things were conscious, and that I still think it might be true. When I wrote recently about my difficulty in reconciling my heart and intellect, this is one of the conflicts that I had in mind. 

I don’t believe in universal consciousness because I believe it’s true, but because I can’t believe it’s false. The amount of credibility that I give to it varies. In the presence of Symbol Rock, I was 75% sure, but as I write this, my degree of certainty is half that. This is a major issue in my life, if only because an acceptance of it would paint the universe as other than a place of meaningless darkness, meaningless frigidity, and meaningless emptiness. Unfortunately, even my desire to believe makes me mistrust the fact that I do believe. No matter how far afield my imagination takes me, I always come back to the certainty that truth matters more than happiness, but this doesn’t necessarily make truth easier to recognize.

15 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

The need and wish to believe always gives me pause as well. Sorry to say.

Stephen Hayes said...

I remember reading about "Absolute" consciousness when in school, and "a priori" knowledge. I like the idea of everything being aware and that there's a purpose for everything even if I can't comprehend what that purpose is. I actually like thinking there are things too great for me to understand. It keeps me humble.

Elephant's Child said...

I also lean towards believing that everything has a consciousness. I can't see any reason why not - and I find it somehow comforting to think of trees, rocks and mountains quietly aware.

All Consuming said...

" a web of underlying connectivity" - yes I think this is true, it also seems to me to be impossible to rule out the collective consciousness. Taking into account the giving and taking element.is missing from so many peoples actions. As for the fence? You can always go and get an acorn (or whichever seed seems appropriate, and plant it somewhere, thereby replacing the tree. There are many who think this kind of thing is tosh and simply pliƩ through life taking what they want regardless. Even just thinking about it though is a start. The earth was not provided just for humans, we stare it, and should stop pissing all over the show. When I hold a rock in my hand I can feel it's age. It's one of the reasons I have so many and enjoy things just like your expedition with Peggy. Your stone was well earned and will connect you to that place, and the time spent with Peggy there whenever you see or feel it.
Great post dear. X

Myrna R. said...

Enjoy reading your thoughts. Nice to get closer and closer to our own consciousness and become more aware. It's this deep searching that I like best about you.

Paula Kaye said...

The picture of Symbol Rock is awesome. I hope you found a nice piece to take home!

Snowbrush said...

"The need and wish to believe always gives me pause as well."

Pause? I think torment would be my word. I want so badly to know, but I can't, and I have trouble living with that. Yet, most people don't appear to be likE I, and I have trouble understanding that as well.

"I like the idea of everything being aware and that there's a purpose for everything"

Well, there's a cause, certainly, but I don't about purpose. I suspect things simply are as they are because they have to be that way. Once you inject purpose, it suggests a deity of some sort, doesn't it? Despite my "belief" in universal awareness, I guess I hadn't thought about the possibility of it resulting in purpose, but being instead a passive awareness.

"I find it somehow comforting to think of trees, rocks and mountains quietly aware."

And you an atheist! Well, that makes two of us anyway. I guess I'm not really surprised. If we could sit 100 atheists down and have them tell us about their most extra-rational beliefs, I wonder how many might think similarly, or would they just talk about their quirks and phobias?

"Taking into account the giving and taking element.is missing from so many peoples actions."

What enabled slavery and is now enabling environmental destruction is that the more unlike ourselves we perceive something to be, the less we think we need to concern ourselves with its rights. This is why people who stomp spiders with abandon don't ordinarily stomp small dogs even if they're annoying barkers.

"It's this deep searching that I like best about you."

Thank you. I think most of those who do are bloggers. I can honestly say in regard to this that my wife doesn't understand me. While Peggy is sensitive, she's not philosophical, and who knows but what it isn't for the best as far as our relationship is concerned, although it does make it hard for us to talk sometimes. Likewise, if I were to talk about the things I write about with my friends, they would just look at me without finding much to say.

"The picture of Symbol Rock is awesome."

Thanks for noticing. I was afraid that people might think it was the little thing in the foreground.

"I hope you found a nice piece to take home!"

Some of the columns that make up the rock are four sided, and others are five-sided. I brought home a piece of a four-sided that's about 15" tall.

PhilipH said...

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, ...

Or should I have written Snowy and not Horatio?

No, I guess not - otherwise I would have omitted the word 'heaven'.

Beautiful picture of this mysterious place.

Sissy said...

Is that picture of the rock true to its colors? It is beyond beautiful.

I live by the creek; all my land is a bed of rocks; Joked to once that "rocks grow". Ah, who knows?

Joe Todd said...

Neat place.. good post

The Blog Fodder said...

A beautiful place and it should be sacred. You are right, it should have many pilgrims to visit it.

Reuben said...

Hey Snowbrush, long-time reader of your blog, thought that I would share a link if it interests you, a TED talk (which I don’t normally have much interest in) by David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher of mind and language. After some setup about half way through he explores the same subjects you’re ruminating upon here. If nothing else it may boost your confidence in your intuitions on the nature of consciousness. Intriguing stuff, not too long either.

http://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness

Snowbrush said...

"Is that picture of the rock true to its colors?"

Symbol Rock is andesite in different forms and shades, and with large patches of moss here and there, so it does change appearance as the sky changes and the day progresses. This photo was taken around noon, and i increased the contrast to make the image more defined, but I didn't change the colors as such.

"If nothing else it may boost your confidence in your intuitions on the nature of consciousness. Intriguing stuff, not too long either."

I will visit the link, Reuben--thank you. As for your point, I tend to lean more in that direction as I age, perhaps because sometimes, if only for a moment, I'll suddenly see reality as if from another vantage point, and it will look so strange to me that I hardly recognize it (it's the kind of experience that I want to have until I do have it, at which point I'm not so sure I have the courage for it). At such times, I feel frightened to the point of nausea. I think that, for rationalists (which I probably am more often than not), there's a temptation to opt for conservatively mundane interpretations rather than to take the risk of honoring one's intuition, but with whatever time I have left to live, I want to move away from that because I've come to regard it as more limiting than useful.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snowy, have you ever heard the TED talk on mushrooms?? It's amazing!! This post reminded me of it...

Joe Todd said...

Snow I'm going to have to visit your blog more often. I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about each post. You are by far the most interesting person I've not met in person. A thought: If you are a pharmacist/addict you don't worry about getting the narcotics only worry about getting caught.. LOL