International Writers Magazine: Earth
Nature Through the Twelve Senses
opening the doors of perception to the natural world
Forest stretching endlessly
Snow covered, quietly breathing its tremendous, wide, conifer expanse
And the sough of wind rising and falling
Most beings here
- plant or animal - are melded into this spacious and soul-purifying
As is the human - But the human is also, at least in part, separate
from the land.
And human nature can discern, by way of the 12 senses, aspects and nuances
of the natural world through these 12 portals.The snow sifts down into
the forest, falling windless and so light as to seem almost weightless,
afloat in place. A deep silence holds sway, an ocean of stillness that
invites entry. And there is space enough here for any size contemplation.
In the northern, boreal realm, across this endless range of semi-homogenous
evergreen forest radiating its steadfast and grounded, robust energy
- across the conifer deep - here and there, an accent counters the etheric
expanse with an astral focus, an animal being - raven, jay, squirrel-hunting
marten, wolf, moose, or chickadee. Tracks in the snow tell the stories.
A snowshoe hare nips birch tips from a fallen tree. A luxuriously furred
marten pursues a red squirrel. Unless the squirrel quickly makes it
to one of its underground dens it will become the martens meal.
Sometime in the night the wolf came near. It came to investigate
who was howling in the evening, howling like, yet unlike, another
wolf (its own sense of language revealing that, although the
sound of my howl seemed very similar to a wolfs, there was
a subtle difference). It came near enough to discern the scent of
human presence, approached as near as it dared, always keeping a
periphery of safety as it circuited the area of the cabin.
What curiosity was
left unquenched? And in the daylight I could feel the wolf watching
me from somewhere in the woods, as I went out on the frozen lake to
investigate the passage of its own movement, the story told by its tracks.
Surely, from the wolfs point of view, it experiences the most
challenge of interpretation (in a sense, the wolfs level of conceptual
sense) from the human community. As is well known, the wolf can read,
very intimately, the comings and goings, the various aspects of, the
moose, and other inhabitants of its immediate neighborhood. But the
human being becomes rich in enigma, embodies a broad range of Unknown
in the sphere of the wolfs experience.
Snow-shoeing through a forest during a snowfall can be an ideal setting
to attune to the landscape. Distractions are reduced - sound is muffled
and visibility is confined to a radius of a few feet (of course it goes
without saying that one has to exercise care, bring a compass and be
good at orienteering, or you can end up in oblivion!)
Overall, the Spirit of the boreal forest - the heart of the boreal forest
landscape, like the heart of one of its trees, one senses, is golden,
intricate, warm despite the climate, perhaps because of the climate,
to counterpoint the cold.In sharing this encounter with nature through
the twelve senses, I will begin with the outermost, least penetrating
sense and proceed to the deepest-registering sense (please note that
the following presumes a basic understanding of the 12 senses.
If the reader wishes to prime him/herself on this subject, use the links
under "Further Resources" at the end of the article. Alternatively,
information is readily available by entering an internet search via
"12 senses" - and adding "Rudolf Steiner" can be
The longer I touch the snow and ice here, the number grows this sense.
Then, in turns, it is awakened by prickle of conifer needle, rasped
by bark, or caressed by the soft feel of usnea moss. Whatever the sensate
experience of touch, I have to admit that it defines my separation,
the selfs bounds, or at least the physical bodys self-bounding.
I do touch nature with this sense, but only her outermost surface, a
Braille of rebuff, no entry past the outermost edge. As we continue
down this list, we enter, increasingly, into the inner nature of things.
But the sense of touch is the most external.
For example, when the wind gusts across my face, my sense of touch feels
the impact of that gust, but my sense of temperature registers how cool
or warm it is.
A manatee, with more brain space dedicated to touch than any other mammal,
has a long-distance sense of touch. Whisker like hairs all over its
body act as sensors, so that it can, in effect, "touch" from
After a long day of snow-shoeing my sense of life feels drained, very
low in energy/chi, even despite practicing energy-enhancing Qi-gong
along the way (Im not by any means a master in the art yet). Overall,
as I undertake this trek, my sense of life is both enhanced and exhausted.
My constitutional energy is put to the test, the body forces are working
at their limit. However, the etheric energy of the forest is so resplendent
that there is a constant influx of vitality. An interesting point to
be made here is that in urban areas people have to enhance their life
sense due to the lack of nature-borne vitality. In consideration of
this, we can say, if asked what is truly the most valuable property
in, say, New York, the answer is that Central Park has more worth that
all the rest of Manhattan combined!
Migrating birds can detect and use magnetic fields of the Earth to navigate
by. Is this so-called "magnetic field" actually part of the
sense of life of the planet streaming forth? And are the birds, in a
way, projecting their own sense of life outward to detect the Earths
energy in this manner?
Wolves are known to stare into the eyes of their prey before opting
to attack, reading in their potential prey the nature of their sense
of life, their overall constitutional strength and condition of health.
This sense of awareness of the body-in-motion enables us to know where
any part of our body is even with eyes closed. It is a sense that can
be refined and enhanced, as in the case of intricate choreography.
When projected outward, we can sense movement in others. One evening,
as I was bent over a campfire, cooking a meal, I could sense something
passing over above me. As I looked up I saw an owl flying in the trajectory
I had been sensing. The owl, as we know is capable of flying quite silently.
I did not hear its passage, nor could I see it in any way, until after
I looked up.
Tracks of a solitary snowshoe hare enter the woods, appearing to have
crossed the frozen lake - a distance of about 2 miles. What could have
drawn the hare across such an long open distance? Its progress would
have been little noticed as its coat matched the snow so well (here
again, a developed sense of movement projected outward would have helped
to sense the hares passage.) Does the weasel sense the movement
of mice and voles in the sub-nivean chamber beneath the snow, before
it dives in?
Often have I watched a flock of shorebirds, or snowbirds, as they fly
in complete unison, twisting, turning, diving, swooping as one. Here,
the sense of movement has been refined and con-joined to each member
of the flock, as though a single being is operating every nuance of
movement. This particular example can also shed light on how the sense
of ego operates within the realm of nature - more on that below.
The human sense of balance is conveyed through inner ear structures.
In animals, "otoliths" serve a similar purpose. In nature,
we are often challenged to refine our sense of balance, as the terrain
is often rugged and variable.
As with movement, deep appreciation of a dance presentation actually
requires us to project our sense of balance, as we extend ourselves
into the performance. Within the animal kingdom, exceptional acrobatics
in the balance arena include the cat and squirrel.
A blossom permeates the air with its gaseous aroma. Forces of
will meet, from outer (e.g., the roses "will") and inner,
as our own will streams out to meet it.
Desert animals can smell water vapor over a great distance. A wolfs
nose has been estimated to be from a hundred thousand to a million times
more sensitive than a humans. The bear has one of the most sensitive
olfactory capacities of the animal kingdom, and is able to track through
water, or read information from a scent trail several days old.
Just as the sense of smell operates via the airy element, taste depends
on the liquid element. A substance must first be partly dissolved before
we can taste it. Nature has a way of producing the most flavorful tastes,
for example, in fruits that evolve in natural conditions. Despite humankinds
most lengthy and deliberate attempts to improve crops in this regard,
nature cannot be topped. Notice how the smallest fruits, such as a wild
strawberry, have the most incredible taste. The larger agri-business
causes its fruits to grow, the more the taste of its products seems
to fall bland.
Salmon are famous for their ability to taste their way back up to waters
from which they originated. Some fish can detect substances diluted
to one part per billion. Bees have taste receptors on their jaws, forelimbs,
One night, as I lie in my sleeping bag, I am enchanted by a pre-sleep
show courtesy of Aurora borealis. I look through the window up into
the night sky, past willow and spruce to the backdrop of stars and drink
in the Aurora ribbons, the northern angel flights, radiating, dancing
in striations that breathe in and out in fanning coruscations.
Vision is a sense that begins to penetrate further than the foregoing
senses. When our eyes perceive the blue-green color of the spruce tree,
compared with the yellow-green color of the pine tree, we begin to discern
something about the inner nature of these different trees.
Bees, birds, and some animals can see in the ultraviolet range. A hawk
has 20/5 vision - it can see from 20 feet what most people can see from
5 feet. A falcon can see a 10 cm object from a distance of 1.5 kilometers.
A buzzard can observe small rodents from an altitude of 15,000 feet.
We can sense outer surfaces via touch, but we actually use another sense
when it comes to detecting temperature variations. As stated above,
the wind is physically felt on ones skin, but its relative cold
or warmth is sensed via our sense of temperature.
Because an object is permeated by its warmth or cold, the sense of temperature
reaches still deeper than vision, further into the foundation of things.
Pit vipers, and some boas, have a heat sensitive organ between their
eyes and nostrils, with which they can ascertain body heat in another
As I journey on, I can hear the rise and fall of the wind through the
trees, and the crunch of my snowshoes atop the crusty snow. Resonance,
the sound quality that permeates an object, in its vibrational tone
reveals much about the nature of the object. Consider candle ice clinking
together. The tone the snow gives forth when walking reveals a lot about
snow conditions underfoot. When sawing firewood, the sound of the particular
log reveals much about the woods quality. As we listen to the
sounds of both things and living beings, in a certain way hearing begins
to tell us something about the soul level of what we are encountering.
A pigeon can detect sounds in the infrasound range far below our own
limit, as low as 0.1 Hz. Bats can hear through a range from 3,000 to
120,000 Hz (compared with the human range - 20 to 20,000 Hz.).
Language is a sense that goes beyond merely hearing something spoken.
By the sense of language we are able to perceive meaning behind an expression.
Language in nature is a great challenge to de-code. The language of
animals and birds, the language of a landscape. Once some familiarity
is attained in this area, the human element of language interpretation
(that is, truly understanding another in ones native tongue) becomes
One morning, a ptarmigan singing its dawn poem became a particular challenge
to interpret. As the sun began to rise, and the ptarmigan began its
song a few meters from the cabin I was waking in, I could sense an intricacy
to what it was voicing. But my own sense of language, being not yet
sufficiently developed, wasnt up to interpreting its message.
However, in my research I have discovered that within the human community
there are individuals who are becoming increasingly adept at this level
Besides the human capacity to interpret language, within the animal
kingdom there are some who can use this sense fairly effectively - e.g,
the gorilla. However, on a deeper level, all animals have a Spirit of
the species aspect that is as egoic as ourselves, and thus capable of
fully exercising this faculty. And so, by evoking connection with, say,
the Spirit of the Wolf, we can begin to enter into a viable level of
As with language, the sense of concept is an arena in which individual
animals reach a limit. "One can be directed by intelligence without
possessing it, and that is how if is for animals," according to
Rudolf Steiner. Here, he is referring to how the over-lighting being,
the Spirit of an animal species, can utilize the higher senses - language,
concept, and ego - on a par with human capacities, but not in the case
of a single animal.
This is not to say animals are not intelligent - only to acknowledge
a level of conceptualizing that differs from human. The Spirit of an
animal is, indeed, intelligent, and has much to offer in ways that can
deepen our understanding about our sojourn upon Earth.
Sense of concept can be a potent arena due to the way in which prana/chi
has moved from its traditional forum (the breath) to thinking. Once
we learn the ropes, through our thinking life we can enhance our energetic
Nature causes me to conceptualize in particular ways. One key mode is
to reflect on the spiritual ecology of aspects of nature. How does the
spruce tree part of me have its being? The wolf? The squirrel? The forested
part of my inner terrain? the spring? The lakeshore part? The starry
dome? What does the magic of Aurora borealis evoke in me?
Sense of ego - among ways of getting to know oneself further - that
is, using ones sense of ego upon oneself - relating to others
is primary. But so, also, is spending time in nature in solitude. Nuances
of ones individuality can be explored. How do I experience solitude
over a duration? What issues arise? What fears are met and what are
my individual "edges" therein? For example, fears related
to loneliness, or provision (as ones food stock depletes), of
the darkness (what shapes form in the dark out of fear?), or what mid-life
issues still prevail?
Central to this line of questioning is - how am I in the face of prolonged
silence and stillness, the great leveler of humankind and human aspiration.
In what ways does this sabbatical from my life cause me to reflect on
my life? What things to strengthen? Or to change? Or to come to terms
with? Or seek more understanding about? How do each of the animals,
plants, etc I encounter resonate with various parts of my being?
In reference to animals, the world is in a state of spiritual evolution,
meaning that while we humans are evolving toward a fifth kingdom level
of being, animals are also becoming more egoic - individualized, and
more and more capable of abilities that were once attributed only to
humans (or to the overall species level of the animal). Especially those
animals who are spending time with humans, pets, are advancing more
rapidly in this way.
All forms of life are advancing, including the other two realms of life
on Earth. as plants develop more astral qualities, and the mineral kingdom
becomes increasingly etheric.
Hearing and vision - nature automatically creates aesthetically beautiful
forms in both aural and visual arenas. Humanity chooses to create beautiful,
or not-so-beautiful forms. The more one spends in nature, the more one
is immersed in aesthetic beauty.
Projecting ones sense of motion onto the snowflakes, and there
is a feeling of softly sifting down through ones being.
Projecting to high mountain peaks, there is a feeling of excarnation,
or moving up out of ones body, in a sense.
Similarly, on the West Coast, where the energy is experienced as diffusive
- all the rain and sea and growth and abundance of plant life, rainforest
exuberance, calls for an extra degree of focusing to counteract the
The 12 senses referred to here pertain primarily to the physical aspect
of humanity. Other senses come into play as we enter into our spiritual
nature, including the human astral body. Steiner refers to some of these
metaphysical senses as imagination, inspiration and intuition. Earth
Vision proposes to delve into this subject, along with a more extensive
examination of the 12 senses in relation to the natural world - a book
will likely result in the foreseeable future. If you would like to contribute
to this project, please contact author Josef Graf through the email
on the EV site.
article is part of the Earth Vision project. Visit www.evsite.net
for more information and articles that provide in-depth treatments of
current environmental issues, as well as E-books on spiritual ecology.
© Josef Graf
Encountering Nature Through the Twelve Senses
Visit the Earth Vision site for in-depth treatments of environmental
issues, or e-books on spiritual ecology.
nature in the light of spiritual ecology
Further resources:Mercurius on the 12 senses
A 12 Senses Chart
More Life and Times
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