Thirty-two mice I caught in my humane new “tin cat” trap; 2, 4, even 6 at a time. They would go in, be unable to come back out, scrabble and bite the metal a bit, then settle down for the night until I could release them in the morning. When I opened the lid they would stare up at me with frightened eyes, awaiting their fate. Not so the 33rd mouse. He (or she) kept up a racket the whole night. I just didn’t feel like getting up, getting dressed to go out into the cold damp night, into the forest, to the woodpile where I released the rest of the family (hoping it was far enough away but I am not sure…32 mice?). So she had to wait. Just after dawn I picked up the box and opened it cautiously as I always do to see how many I had caught. When I get to the wood pile it usually takes them a few moments of frozen fear before they leap out when I open the box (happy mice or happy owls – either way is good). Sometimes I even have to tap on the box they are so paralyzed with fear.
But I made an error assuming all mice are the same! The instant I opened the box to peer in she made a leap for freedom. I closed the box quickly enough to catch her just above her hips, holding her in what I hoped was just enough pressure to keep her caught without hurting her. It is a long walk to the wood pile. I held the box in both hands to steady the pressure as she did frantic contortionist moves, twisting, biting the metal furiously, biting her leg. It was like watching an animal caught in a fur trap; how a wolf or lynx or mink or coyote must act. It was a very long walk to the wood pile. I released her and she was gone into the safe darkness – no hesitation there. I walked back thoughtfully, and made myself my cup of morning tea thinking about her determination, her will to live, her vitality. I was impressed by the 33rd mouse.
I talked about the 32 mice “awaiting their fate.” Rupert Sheldrake, a brilliant and innovative scientist, suggests that each species inherits a collective memory that influences behavior through “morphic fields,” a field within and around a unit of life such as a cell, plant or animal, which organizes it. Though we can’t see them, he proposes that morphic fields are physically real in the sense that gravitation, electro-magnetic or quantum fields are physically real and are as pervasive in the universe. Though we can’t see them, we experience their effects and they organize our lives in a physical way.
He suggests it is a morphic field rather than genes that organizes the development of an embryo, for example, with the genes simply responding to the information in the field. He proposes that the structure of the field depends on what has happened before…”the past presses up against the present.” Each member of a species is molded by the field unique to that species, and in turn contributes to it, thereby influencing future members of the species. Could it be that after hundreds of thousands of generations of being a prey animal at the bottom of the food chain, mice “await their fate” not just in the present moment but with resonances; reverberations, of fear and expectation based on millions of experiences of their own kind before them? That to some degree they already expect their fate? That was the feeling I had as they looked up at me.
And another thought –what if these particular mice, being freed, add THAT experience to their species’ collective memory. Would it change it to some degree? Can we change the “presence of the past” through our actions? Is there a way to do it in some particular way that makes a few positive experiences counteract the millions of negative ones? Can we apply it to human populations who have been traumatized for generations? Is there is way we can apply it to the destructive patterns we inherited that are devastating the earth?
So many questions from watching one little mouse. But if we are all connected and are varying expressions of the One energy, intelligence, force, God; however each of us sees it; then quiet observation of any part of nature can lead us to fruitful wonderings and to deep, universal truths we can use to guide us. It is important that we allow ourselves time in our lives, against the press of modern life, for being in the quiet space that living in nature or meditation allows us. It will contribute to living our own lives more wisely and making better collective decisions as a society.
- For more information on this, Sheldrake’s book is called “The Presence of the Past.” He has written many book that shake our world view in a good way, – asking such questions as “ How do dogs know when their owners are coming home?”