Encountering another being

Mountjack deerIn a videotaped interview, Stephen Harding described that:

“Encounter is the act of recognizing something – a planet, a woodland, a person. It’s the acknowledgement that there’s something there which has the gift of life, self, soul, and the ability to surprise.”

“Encountering means really meeting something in a way that goes beyond one’s intellectual process.”

As a point of contrast, he discussed how, when scientists study living things, they categorize and name and describe types of features or behaviors, but:

“That’s not encounter. Encounter is when that intellectual structure vanishes, and you actually meet the being, as the being, coming forth from itself as itself, revealing itself to you in a way that’s beyond your intellect, in a way that’s much more deeply intuitive, and much harder to express. In fact, scientific language is inappropriate for this kind of encounter. It’s poetry that does it. It’s a poetic encounter.”

An example, for him, came when observing a mountjack deer (a species he’d studied and understood well, scientifically). In a forest, while watching a deer, the deer stopped and looked at him, and their eyes locked.

“Then, time stood still. Time stopped. And, there was this infinite moment of meeting between myself and the mountjack. There was a sense of the being of the mountjack, as a revelation . . .“

Another example was given by Alan Lightman, who described how, for many years at their summer home in Maine, he and his wife had observed a family of ospreys and, with a camera and an osprey journal, they had recorded the number of chicks each year and how they grew.

“Then, one August afternoon, the two baby ospreys of that season took flight for the first time as I stood on the circular deck of my house watching the nest. All summer long, they had watched me on that deck as I watched them. . . .

On this particular afternoon, their maiden flight, they did a loop of my house and then headed straight at me with tremendous speed. My immediate impulse was to run for cover . . . But something held me to my ground.

When they were within twenty feet of me, they suddenly veered upward and away.

But before that dazzling and frightening vertical climb, for about half a second we made eye contact. Words cannot convey what was exchanged between us in that instant. It was a look of connectedness, of mutual respect, of recognition that we shared the same land.

After they were gone, I found that I was shaking, and in tears. To this day, I do not understand what happened in that half second. But it was one of the most profound moments of my life.”

“Encountering Another Being” (interview with Stephen Harding)