Wilderness in a Feather
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson
In the 1960’s, Marin County, California became a Mecca of a specialized hybrid blend of pop-psychology and the spiritual exercise of mantric meditation made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The blend was named Transcendental Meditation or “TM” for short. Many psychologists eagerly embraced the new trend and added their own creativity. Clients were welcomed into candle-lit rooms that featured “New Age” mood music. Some therapists included body massage and used a variety of aromatic esters or oils, e.g., eucalyptus, camphor, lavender, and wintergreen. The degree of how much clothing clients elected to retain was privileged information, however, there was a common legend that the ultimate curative procedure involved the practitioner gently passing a peacock feather over the client’s body. Whether the experience became restorative, scintillating, titillating or erotic was, or should have been, strictly confidential. I was in my 20’s and figured that if it made people feel better about themselves, so be it.
Greg Marvin, a former art teacher/colleague, mentioned that artists see everything in Nature as either beautiful or interesting. Loren Eiseley agrees and adds that trips into the wilderness usually include seeing visions, marvels, wonders, even miracles, which “are always worth thinking about and discussing. Something funny recently happened on the BOFAW Fb page. I mentioned that I was enjoying Thor Hanson’s book, Feathers. I assumed that I was citing the title; I was not. For some unknown reason, Jane Berg also referenced the book but, included the whole title. I was surprised. She properly stated the title as, Feathers: The Evolution of a Miracle. I grabbed my copy and discovered that the last five words were not on the front cover but, nearly camouflaged on the cover spine.
I wondered if Hanson’s cover designer cryptically responded to one of the book’s themes in a Freudian manner. The book is a wonderful collection of interesting information, however, perhaps equally important, Hanson not only acknowledges that the origin of birds, feathers and flight is still not fully understood, but that feathers qualify as a legitimate miracle. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly secularized and it is possible that publishing a “scientific” book with the word “miracle” boldly printed on the cover may not meet the publisher’s plans for promoting the book.
As Roger Sperry and Loren Eiseley, etal. have pointed out, when secular scientists can not explain natural events they typically ignore them, deny them, create their own mythologies, or even distort or lie about them. Hanson wrote something both humbling and touching. He urges his readers to put his book down and take time to appreciate the miraculous nature of feathers. He did not use the word “contemplate,” however, that is the feeling he conveyed to me. Contemplate is one of those simple, yet powerful, words.
“Contemplate” derives from; con=with, temple or to make a temple with; to consider carefully and at length; meditate on or ponder. Hanson invited us to make a temple with a single feather and perhaps allow its sacred origin to permeate every one of our 150 trillion cells. He may be inferring that failure to do this may result in a sin of omission that is frequently committed by scientists and theologians alike. Scientists who deny miracles will not experience the ecstasy of feathers. Theologians who are prone to glibly assign feathers, and other miracles, to the hackneyed, overused three-letter-concept, G-O-D, also miss out on the rapture of creation.
Timothy O’Leary and Carlos Castaneda may have recommended “dropping Acid” or smoking peyote to “groove” on feathers, Hanson recommends the safer, saner, classical method of contemplation to appreciate the ecstasy of a feather.
After all these years I am wondering if maybe the peacock feather actually has restorative properties.