Ignorant Understanding

wildflowers and rainbow at Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo courtesy of BigCypressNPS

“The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”

by Joshua Kezar, Centennial Volunteer Ambasssador, Big Cypress National Preserve

I ate breakfast this morning on my screened porch overlooking a small pond behind my building.  As I blindly and repeatedly stuck my right hand down toward the bottom of the bag of powdered donuts in my lap, gazing out at the pond and the pristine prairie behind it, my left hand rested calmly on its armrest. 

After not too long, I found myself doing something unusual for me.  No, it wasn’t my hand at the bottom of an empty bag – though that did happen.  I…wasn’t…thinking. That’s what I caught myself doing – not thinking.  I had no particular thought process in my brain in those minutes I sat staring into the wild.  As soon as I noticed this, I began to consider why was it that in that time I had no cranial occupation?  How could nothing consciously go on in my brain and I still have such bliss? 

Naturally – and ironically enough – it got me thinking. 

I find myself not thinking in very few situations: when I’m around something so overwhelmingly stimulating that sensory overload captures my entire attention (the Grand Canyon or Times Square, for example), attending a lecture or presentation that uses highly technical jargon, or not realizing how much I don’t know about something.  I found myself in this last situation this morning.

I saw the land only as a field of way-too-tall grasses and scattered palm trees – face value.  I was ignorant to the biodiversity between the blades, the predators that rely on the openness to stalk their prey, and the fish beneath the pond’s surface, among many other things I don’t know to detail. 

We’ve all been there: you’re in your house and hear a strange or loud noise outside.  Maybe it’s unexpected footsteps or a thunderous clap of lightning.  Maybe the hair on the back of your neck stands up or adrenaline rushes through your system.  You’re on high alert.  You don’t know what it is, but you know it’s something. 

While I had the same mindset of unknowing and uncertainty, all of my hair stayed in place while I sat with no great concern.  New awareness of all I possibly didn’t know arrived without the stressful company of unease and muscular tension.  In those minutes, I embodied blissful ignorance.

How could I be so calm? I was thinking again. Phew, glad the hamsters hopped back on their wheels.  The pond separates me from the vastness, sure, but a sizable alligator calls it home.  It could chomp through my screen if it really wanted.  I’m trying to phrase this best, but some of it I can’t articulate.  I’m sorry.  Nevertheless, just as my left hand sat calmly upon its armrest without required action or impulse, so too did my body and mind sit blissfully in their respective seats of chair and skull. 

Ignorance can so often rear an ugly head in debates and arguments founded on fact-lacking opinions.  Here, though, it came in peace. 

I was ignorant to the complexity I viewed, but somewhere within myself I also understood.  I understood man was originally with nature, not recklessly exploiting it beyond his need, Don’t tune out just because I put reckless and exploiting beside each other. Anger not: I cite a Republican in just a few lines. That as a species we need it to survive. It’s no wonder to me anymore why a Blackfoot chief told new settlers in 1880:

“Our land is more valuable than your money.  As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animal; therefore, we cannot sell this land.  It was put here for us by the Great Spirit and we cannot sell it because it does not belong to us.”

Over two thousand years earlier, the Greek stoic Zeno of Citium wrote, “The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.”  Jeb Bush has rhetorically asked, “Who among us has never looked up into the heavens on a starlit night, lost in wonder at the vastness of space and the beauty of the star?”  à la infomercial disclaimers, my inclusion of this quote does not mean I necessarily agree with this candidate’s views and does not act as an endorsement of any kind.

Influential figures since recorded history have recognized either a respect, philosophy, or awe toward the natural world.  Zeno had so little knowledge of the biological world relative to our knowledge today, yet he made the aspiration to a lifestyle and relationship with it.  Native Americans (the political correctness of this term varies regionally; I do apologize to American Indians if this finds you in a place of political incorrectness) participated in a two-way exchange with the land of the Great Spirit.  They respected its power and saw its worth to be far greater than greenbacks.  A present-day politician seeking the most exclusive club in the world is aiming for the stars by seeking the Presidency; it clearly isn’t the first time he’s seen them.  Each of these people have seen the magnificence of the natural world, and accepted it without cognitively knowing everything about it. 

When is the last time you adopted any of those mindsets, if only for a day? 

This morning showed me that it’s okay to be at ease with nature despite not knowing each cog in its wheel, that it’s okay to be in blissfully ignorant awe of its intricacies while peacefully content in its not-so-primitive complexities. (Just look closely at a leaf – its veins, coloration, chlorophyll concentrations, edges, texture, shape, …)  So often today what we don’t know can incite fear before curiosity the topic a dissertation in itself.  I implore you today instead to not be afraid to be curious.  Explore somewhere new.  You just might surprise yourself. 

Phil 4:4

Joshua