Consciousness – a universal reality?



In Self Organizing Universe Jantsch writes that If consciousness is defined as the degree of autonomy a system has with its environment even the simplest autopoietic systems have a form of consciousness.


Christian de Quincy Dean of Consciousness Studies at John F. Kennedy University states in interview with Dean Radin at the Institute of Noetic Sciences that consciousness is probably not “energy” as we commonly understand the word although it co-exists with energy. Consciousness according to de Quincy is not a result of complexity but is part of every living organism at every stage of its development.


Dr Rupert Sheldrake, biologist/plant physicist/author states the same idea when he posits that consciousness extends outward to include all of nature and that some kind of mental activity or consciousness is present in all physical systems at all levels of organization from electrons to galaxies.


In a Trialogue with Rupert Sheldrake and Terrence McKenna, Ralph Abraham, (the latter best known for his work on dynamical systems/chaos theory) speculates that all Nature is conscious. His notion that the origin of the unconscious is a relatively new phenomenon that arose as human began to populate the planet makes a great deal of sense. It seems to me that the shadow side of humanity/evil may be a human construction. Perhaps humans developed the unconscious so that they would not have to deal with living through instinct, or deal with suffering their “animal” (soul) selves? Certainly, humans regularly project their shadow elements onto hapless creatures in the wild in order to kill, identify with, or admire them.


Charles Russell a well known black bear and grizzly bear naturalist and author believes that co-existing peacefully with wild grizzly and black bears of is possible when trust, love, intelligent behavior, continual self assessment, and respect are present on the part of the naturalist. Furthermore, he believes that all animals when approached in this manner will expand human consciousness.


Rupert Sheldrake also suggests that consciousness includes both the field of the body as well as the mind. This field of awareness and subjectivity or consciousness could also be expressed as the soul of an individual, animal or human (personal communication 2011). In this way of thinking the soul is both within and around all species that inhabit this planet. This is not a new idea but it has been suppressed by our materialistic/technocratic culture with devastating results. To the Greeks the “Anima mundi” was the Soul of Nature or the World Soul. Anima, of course, is the Latin word for soul; Animal is derived from the word animate, and to animate is to breathe life into an organism.


Animals are experts at developing awareness for survival purposes. Humans have to make a more deliberate conscious choice to enter the field of the “other” especially if that field is not human. As I have already mentioned it has been my experience that we communicate with non human beings most effectively through our bodies, and that this bridge is created unconsciously from body to body when we enter each other’s archetypal/ morphogenetic form producing fields.


When I began my study with bears I already assumed that fields existed on an archetypal and biological level. Thus I was in the position to make an intention to enter the field of the bears in a participatory way to learn from them. I wanted to learn about bears from their point of view, as well as mine and this intention/attention probably helped me to keep an open mind.


Although the subject of consciousness in humans, let alone in animals, is hotly debated and beyond the scope of this essay to discuss in depth, it is important to recognize that there is an enormous amount of research being done in this area and what consciousness is remains an open question to scientists and philosophers alike.

The Claret Cactus – Reclamation



Author capturing her cactus (photo Iren Schio) and a picture of my Claret cactus when she bloomed.


A story of Reclamation


One beautiful blue and gold afternoon late last fall Iren and I wandered through a nearby arroyo. As always we were always on the look out for whatever might capture our attention. Both of us were desert “beachcombers” by nature, each with her unique preferences.


On a steep hillside amidst some scree I glimpsed an uprooted cactus clinging, somewhat desperately I thought, to the slope. Almost all of its roots were exposed. How had it gotten there I wondered. It appeared to have tumbled down the mountain, or perhaps it had been pushed by water or trampled on by cattle.


I recognized the cactus immediately because even in its desiccated state I could identify the species; it was a Claret cup cactus, a native to the area, and a wild hedgehog that was very dear to my heart.


I had first seen one of these beautiful cactus blooming at Iren’s the June before last. The color of flame, I thought it was a summer solstice vision.


The following spring I planted my own claret cactus in the ground after I moved into the casita and after it bloomed for a few days in June some creature feasted on the startling deep orange fruit. Eventually one of my gophers munched down its roots. One morning late that summer my spiny friend simply toppled over dead. I was bereft… Out of all of my wild dug cactus this one was my favorite.


In it’s present state the cactus in front of me was shriveled almost beyond recognition. The poor plant had a steel gray cast to it. Neither Iren or I held out much hope for life but I couldn’t resist bringing it home anyway.


I have been a plant gatherer all my life, paying particular attention to flowers, herbs and plants that are native to a particular place. Around my house in Maine I have transplanted so many herbs and wildflowers over a period of thirty plus years that my land is literally awash in wild species from other micro-climates in this area.


Returning to the casita with my thorny friend I decided to plant it in a pot next to the other cacti that had survived the attentions of my wily gopher, teaching me in the process that it was useless to plant anything in that dirt without an underlying screen to protect its roots. Every wild cactus I had was now living in a pot.


That first night I left the cactus roots in water; the next morning I placed it lovingly in a frog pot and left it in a protected place by the southern wall where it remained all winter. Every single day when I came out the door I gazed at that very dead looking cactus, willing it to come back to life. I never gave up hoping…


Early in March I noticed that the cactus seemed to be absorbing water because it’s wrinkles were starting to smooth out. Next the cactus took on a pale greenish cast, and this was when I realized that my rescue had been successful – this cactus was going to live!


However, nothing prepared me for what happened in April. One morning I discovered a small reddish bump on my cactus. My spiny friend was actually going to bloom!


Soon there were seven bumps that matured into seven tightly closed teardrop blossoms.

I knew from reading that this hedgehog cactus could grow in clumps as much as 3-4 feet across, and that the brilliant blood orange or scarlet flowers – depending on the soil type – often covered the entire plant. Someday, I must witness a whole colony of these cacti. If anyone knows of one in our area, please let me know!

Even though I had already returned to the North County before the cactus flowers actually opened I saw pictures of mine. I didn’t mind not seeing them – these flowers were emblazoned in my mind and besides this reclamation story has such a happy ending!

Two Friends


Iren by Iren Schio


Root Woman

Tree Woman

Sky Woman

Dear friends


converse with one another

on the steely silver edge

of Truth and


Weaving together


twigs, leaves,

clumps of dirt,

the two carve out

an underground story.

Mythic toads instruct them

about the Ground Way

of Being:


sweet summer rain

through leaf and root,

translucent skin.

We are all related.

Sing to the Earth

And S/he will comfort you.

Breathe …”



Working notes:


When I saw this picture that my friend Iren took of herself I knew that a poem would be forthcoming because I was struck by meaning at least for me. Iren sits amongst tree roots. I catch toads. We are both dealing with uncertainty, transitions, and deaths of one sort or another.


Trees are, above all, protectors sheltering the living from storms; even when uprooted they provide comfort. Under their gracious canopies new life begins…


In myth toads are almost always associated with women, older women in particular. Sometimes wise woman. Neolithic toad images are associated with death and signify the capacity for new birth. Toads live on the edge.


Toads shed many skins during one lifetime ingesting them in the process. This peculiar toad habit of eating one’s one skin after shedding it suggests to me the wisdom of not trying to escape one’s past. Being able to let go while incorporating what was into the present as part of the whole is a paradox, but one worthy of our attention.


The key to moving through transitions is to breathe through them, to stay as much in the present as possible, to be flexible, to know when to hide out, “to bend like a willow and flow like a river” (the latter phrase belongs to Iren).

I capitalize the word Nature to emphasize the importance of allowing the natural world to teach us how to become more human. We are the youngest species on the planet and definitely the one most lacking in wisdom.

The Toads of North Pond



I heard the astonishing hum around the second week in June coming from the bog on North Pond. The toads were singing – advertising that it was time to mate. I knew from earlier years that within a few days long strings of eggs would be laid in shallow waters, soon to hatch into wiggling “toad –poles.”


Unfortunately, a hand injury kept me from exploring the pond in my kayak for toads and eggs. I was so disappointed, and then a few days ago I was walking down by the pond, when I saw them. The eggs had hatched.


I returned three times in all to gather toad –poles to augment my toad population around the house, placing some in a vernal pool, and even created a small aquarium indoors to watch seven wiggling characters transform.


There is something magical about raising eggs that turn into terrestrial creatures, and although I missed the first stage I was excited to be able to participate in the rest of the process.


With all amphibians comprising the most endangered species on earth, assisting any frog or toad to adulthood seems like a worthy endeavor. But I began to raise frog and toad eggs as a child, and have been doing it ever since because it is so exciting! What follows is a bit of natural history:


Toad eggs hatch in three to twelve days and some studies suggest that the tadpoles have a reciprocal relationship with Chlorogonium algae, which makes the tadpoles develop faster than normal. Toad tadpoles are considered herbivores because they graze on aquatic vegetation; adult toads are carnivorous. Often entire groups of tadpoles reach the toadlet stage at once and a mass migration to higher ground takes place usually to shaded woodland areas with plenty of vegetation (this occurs around here early in August most years when tiny toads appear in the grass or dirt roads in profusion). Toadlets can be observed eating microscopic bugs; as they get larger they also love ants, spiders, snails, beetles, slugs and worms. Unlike most toads who wait for prey to come along American toads can shoot out their sticky tongues to catch prey; they also use their front legs in order to eat larger food. They grasp their prey and push it into their mouths. Some toads also wipe their mouths with their four fingered “hands” after eating. One American toad can eat up to 1,000 insects a day. Just one more reason to raise some toads!


It takes two to three years for a toad to reach adulthood and sexual maturity. Toads usually don’t live more than 3-5 years in the wild although they can live up to thirty to forty years in captivity.


I should add that the Eastern toad has a western counterpart. However, the Western toad has become ‘functionally extinct.’ This means that its numbers are so low that this identical species will not survive. Damning the rivers, ongoing drought, pollution, and agricultural pesticides are some of the culprits. In the spring it is eerily silent in the desert because toad trills are absent.


The disappearance of these amphibians has been noted since the 1970’s and we have yet to ban common but deadly pesticides. All toads breathe through their skin. These creatures are warning us that the air we breathe and the water we drink is polluted by dangerous chemicals. Frogs and toads are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine trying desperately to get our attention; if only we would listen…

A Blinding Light?



Nature is a Living Being. Animals and plants have souls, and a spirit. Each species is unique, and yet we are all interconnected, human and non – human species alike. This is more than a both and perspective; its multi-dimensional.


Many books are written about using nature to heal humanity of its ills. ‘Recreate’. Climbing a mountain, or taking a walk are common examples of using nature to help ourselves, but how many of us are asking the question of how we can give back?


This is a question I was obsessed with for about thirty years and may be the reason I gained entrance into this seemingly secret world that we call Nature.* When I experienced unconditional love from both animals and plants I needed to reciprocate in kind. This idea of reciprocity between humans and the rest of Nature is probably similar to what Indigenous peoples experienced because they loved (or feared) and learned directly from animals, plants and trees. They respected animals, for example, for their unique qualities. Indigenous people never psychologized Nature the way westerners routinely do.


I rarely read books about Nature anymore because I am so troubled by this psychologizing. From my point of view psycho-babble is just another way of dismissing the reality of Nature as a living feeling, sensing, sentient Being.


To demonstrate this “normalized” way of looking at Nature I use an argument that I recently read as an example: Humans assign meaning to individual animals, trees etc. where there isn’t any, or because of projection (the unconscious human tendency to ascribe human tendencies onto other human/non human species). Or, more generously, these entities have intrinsic meaning of their own, but whatever it is has nothing to do with us. In the first meaning is absent. Projection dismisses nature as irrelevant, useful only as an appendage to human centered thinking. In the third argument nature may have meaning but it has nothing to do with humankind. With these arguments dominating our thinking, it is no wonder that we are destroying the planet.


We are totally split away from the experiential, the idea often based on personal experience, that we are related to other living creatures.


The purpose of Nature is not to serve mankind. Nature’s primary drive is to ensure the survival of all species. Does this mean that S/he has no interest in humans? Quite the opposite. There is a peculiar “both and” aspect to Nature. Although focused on the whole Nature seems to need and thrive on personal attention; S/he responds to our devotion allowing for example, the animals we befriend, to offer friendship in return. As a naturalist I have been privileged to enter into a relationship with Nature that allows me to ‘converse’ regularly with individuals and even the elements, especially that of water.


Experiences in Nature, if we are in relationship with her elements/creatures sometimes reveals new information or a glimpse of the immediate future. Here’s a painful example:


Yesterday I saw great blue heron fly into a nearby bog – the first thud. I call this one the ‘dark god’ because usually when I see a heron I can expect some personal difficulty to arise (it is ironic that I find these birds so beautiful). Later, on the phone with my son, I witnessed and dimly registered the retreating male grouse as a deadly mother – son conversation unfolded. The birds’ combined presence in one day: the heron, and later, the grouse (the one bird I associate with my son) retreating behind the fence as I was on the phone speaking with him revealed the eventual outcome before it occurred.


Desertion in time of need.


The appearance of these two birds also indicated that nothing I could have done would have mattered.


The script had already been written.


The reader is probably wondering how this happens. Here is one possibility: the soul aspect of an animal that is closely connected to a particular person might be constellated during a time of positive or negative emotional intensity. I define soul as the invisible bodily aspect of self – it’s personal – not transpersonal – that can move through the space between a human and a human or a human and an animal that an individual has a relationship with. Or both. The strength of relationship is key to this form of communication, which can also be termed telepathic. In this case I was familiar with the grouse as a bird that was tied to my son’s life in an intimate way. The birds’ behavior preceded my son’s actual rejection, which didn’t actually occur until hours after the phone call ended.


It is my experience that heightened awareness allows us to read Nature much like we would read a book and that what we have to do is to pay close attention to our relationships (either positive or negative) with our non – human relatives, something I do as a matter of habit during the course of each day. I note that these occurrences also seem to increase in frequency and peak during times of natural power like solstices and equinoxes. So it is not surprising to me that this incident occurred so near the summer solstice, a time of almost blinding light.


* I capitalize the word Nature not necessarily to deify the natural world but to highlight “Her” importance, and to protest the earth’s apparent insignificance to westerners. I experience different aspects of Nature as both female and male.



Meeting at the Edge



She looks like a child, expectant, this seventy four year old woman as she approaches the lake to collect more “toadpoles,” her word for tadpoles that are Eastern toads in the making.


The wiggly black dots swimming around in sandy shallows are such a welcome sight. She has been searching for them all spring. Just the week before (June 12) she heard toads trilling in unison in a boggy place across the pond; the solitary strings would appear within days. She thought she had missed her toad opportunity because she cut her hand and couldn’t go out in her kayak to search for eggs… then today when while walking, she glimpsed the tadpoles huddled together by the shore. Natural Grace had intervened.


The water is clear until she muddies it with her boots; the tadpoles scatter and it is a challenge to catch even one. Depositing a single toadpole in her bucket she bends low to capture another, impressed by the wily behavior of these creatures who seem to know that she is after them. One by one she scoops up the little black bodies, pouring them gently into her bucket. She doesn’t like frightening them.


The child in her is thrilled, living in the moment. She has been raising tadpoles and catching frogs and toads for most of her life.


The aging adult has fallen away, her fears stilled by being alive in the immediate present. She will place some of her catch in the small pond by the garden, the one the bears drink from, and the others will find homes in the vernal pond she dug next to the brook.


With all amphibians the most endangered species on earth, she hopes that her small ponds will allow them to transform safely into healthy wetland creatures who will seek out the deep shade of the forest, emerald mosses, and moisture that she can provide. She simply wants them to live. She can’t imagine an Earth without a symphony of frog songs and toad trills and doesn’t want to try.


The day is blue and gold with a light northwest wind – she notes the date – June 17th – the day the toadpoles found her at the edge of North Pond.

Deet, a Hidden Killer?

We all know that ticks and mosquitos are a problem here in Maine. Recently, when I went to the supermarket to buy a non-toxic insect spray to use around my door I was astonished and dismayed to discover that all but one spray used Deet (I came home and ordered lemon eucalyptus oil). Granted, Deet is the most widely used insect repellent in the U.S. It has been around longer than any other active ingredient, and many scientists say it’s the ‘gold’ standard for all repellents.

Deet known to chemists as N,N – Diethyl – meta – toluamide is a yellowish liquid that, when applied to skin or clothing, repels a number of biting insects, including mosquitoes (some sources say it does not repel mosquitos at all!), ticks, and fleas. The chemical was created by USDA chemists in the 1940s for use by the U.S. military. It has been commercially available since 1957 and has since become commonplace.


“How this chemical kills insects remains a mystery to scientists.”


Does anyone besides me find this statement alarming?


Deet is a pesticide that has been banned in many countries in Europe – but is considered safe in US. Why? There is no direct (key word) relationship between D and neurological disorders say the “experts.”


Many people routinely use this product on their skin or clothes – What we do know is that this product kills amphibians, fish, and reptiles along with insects – and almost immediately ends up in the nearest water source. We all drink it and don’t know it.


Although Deet is not supposed to stay in the environment for long we have absolutely no idea what damage it does to the rapidly disappearing helpful insects etc. while it’s there.


After living in New Mexico where bees, butterflies and other insects are still relatively common pollinators I wondered why the loss of bees is so much more severe here in Maine. This year, although my many fruit trees were all blooming profusely I never saw more than a few bumblebees disappearing into the flower heads for nectar (I used to be able to stand under my fruit trees listening to a deafening collective bee hum).


To answer the above question I looked to the use of pesticides. While living in New Mexico I lived in a desert where grass was absent and the common garden variety of deadly insecticides like Round –Up weren’t needed to control pests. Annoying mosquitos were only found at the river’s edge and Lyme ticks were non – existent. No need to sell Deet in the desert. Of course agribusiness still uses other deadly pesticides, although not in Rio Arriba County where I live because people, especially Indigenous peoples, have banned the use of these products. Each Pueblo sells pure (and the most delicious) honey from honey bees that have not been exposed to antibiotics.


I reached the tentative conclusion that the use of common pesticides like Deet might be responsible for the shocking absence of pollinators here; at least that’s my present hypothesis.


I thought about biologist/scientist/environmentalist Rachel Carson’s prophetic book Silent Spring  that was written almost 60 years ago. Deet was one of the chemicals that environmentalist/scientist/biologist Rachel Carson objected to.


Written in response to all rampant chemical pesticide use after World War II. Silent Spring suggested that the planetary ecosystem was reaching the limits of what it could sustain. Rachel challenged the practices of agricultural scientists, the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world, warning the public about the dire consequences of indiscriminate pesticide use.


Maybe we should have listened.