The early morning silence in the vast sagebrush field was profound. Meditative. The dense fog lent a quality of mystery. The world was still.
Out of the mist came the call of a raven in the nearby woods and suddenly, the air itself was filled with a sense of life and vitality. Another bird chimed in and the world feltmore full and rounded, the earth, the woods and the air more complete. I pondered what I want to share in my writing–so many things. This is what came up for me:
I had just returned from a conference on the science of consciousness. As with any relatively new field, there were a wide range of views and approaches, from detailed anatomy of individual brain neurons (incredibly complex) to expansive ideas of the universe itself as conscious. An underlying theme was the question where does consciousness lie? In the brain itself? Is it a fundamental property of the universe expressed through each living being? Are physical brains necessary for consciousness?
Most presenters were people from academia trying to understand consciousness from a hard science perspective—molecules, the nerve structure of neurons and electrical impulses, parts of the brain. (Experiments to date show it seems to be in the back of the brain, in the more ancient parts.)
A few presentations took another tack. Deepak Chopra, among others, saw consciousness as outside the brain altogether, as part of the essence of the universe itself, and that our brains function as receivers. Others explored the potential reality and mechanisms of telepathy and precognition. There was a sense of politeness between the two camps, but also a slight undercurrent of tension—two very different ways of understanding the world. Yet, there were several scientists who briefly mentioned having had near death or other unsought experiences they couldn’t explain…
A good portion of the conference was spent trying to get “objective” evidence for where consciousness lies—a difficult thing to do—or even to define what it is. A few participants tried to come from the inside, accessing knowledge from intuitive observations and insights. But how do you prove those? Or is it even necessary to prove consciousness when it is a common experience for all?
Sitting quietly alone on a stone wall in the heat of the Tucson night at the first evening’s reception, I watched clusters of animated groups talking. A woman approached and asked if she could join me. Of course. I asked what she did. She said she studies how animals sense impending disasters, possibly a form of precognition. I asked what led her to choose that subject. During the course of the conversation, she shared experiences she didn’t understand and was afraid to acknowledge, even to herself. Yet they were compelling. Studying what the animals were sensing scientifically seemed like a compromise where she could explore something mysterious, yet generally accepted as true. I wondered again why we have to go through such contortions to avoid being called crazy in a culture committed to a western scientific world view, and the cost of limiting our explorations.
She talked about her daughters both having strong intuition, so much so that she tried to shut one of her daughters down, worrying that she would be ostracized if she shared them. As she talked in the darkness of the desert night, with a glass of wine in her hand and myself as a receptive audience, she hesitantly shared a story. Walking along a lake shore in the early evening, she saw a small object seemingly out of place at the end of a dock. Curious, she went to investigate. It was an egg, about the size of a duck egg, just sitting there. She hesitated. She touched it. It was still warm. Something compelled her to pick it up, so she put it in her bra, walked home, and found a way to keep it warm until she could get an incubator.
Finally, it hatched. It was a snowy egret chick! She fed it pounded anchovies. She watched in amazement as this mostly naked being with a long, scrawny, wobbly neck prepared itself and then—Wham!—speared its “prey,” sometimes missing and spraying anchovy oil everywhere.
When it hatched, she called a wildlife rehabilitation center and was told that what she had done was illegal and she should have let nature take its course. Ignoring them, she successfully raised the egret herself, eventually releasing it into the wild.
She still has no idea why she didn’t just leave the egg, or why she put it in her bra. But it was obviously a big deal to her, as she brought it up to a stranger at a conference. My own feeling, which I shared with her, is that she unconsciously sensed the life force in it, and as a nurturing female, she could do nothing other than follow her instinct. As we spoke, she realized she was studying the mystery of animal precognition as a safe way to work with her own intuitive talent, which she had pushed away. She mused about why she had chosen to sit next to me.
As I wrote this, the phone rang. It was a friend, Tony, who lives in the middle of a city. Walking along, she had noticed a duck waddling along on the sidewalk, looking frantic. As she watched, the duck went over to a bare patch of soil, fluffed herself up, and laid an egg right in front of her. The duck stood up, looking confused, and flew off. Tony, an animal lover, waited and waited. She didn’t know what to do. There were coyotes in the city, and the egg was just sitting there in this patch of dirt. In the end, she picked up the egg, brought it home, and put it in a box with towels and a heat lamp. She ordered an incubator to arrive tomorrow and spent the night reading about ducks and duck eggs (28 days to hatching). We will see…