I believe in everything- nothing is sacred.
I believe in nothing- everything is sacred.
Ha Ha Ho Ho Hee Hee
– the goatman, from Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Today at my new job I knew I was in the right place when my colleague said that what we do is a kind of animism. What he was referring to was how we don’t just grab a bag of tea, drown it in boiling water and throw it out when we’re done.
We set up a scale. We weigh out six grams of tea leaves with a ceramic spoon, being careful not to crush any of the leaves or drop them on the floor. We pre-heat the vessel the tea will be brewed in and the cup the customer will drink from. We set it all on a wooden tray and walk it out to our guest. We explain the tea and where it comes from. It’s a ritual, it’s an exercise in respect, in this case, respect for the tea.
That’s the animism. “Animism” stands for the worldview that sees everything, both living and dead, as having a spiritual essence. Rocks, trees, and mountains have spirit. Even things like hand-made quilts and carvings have spirit. Hell, even your laptop has spirit. Everything does.
This is opposed to the typical “western” view that sees only living beings as having a spiritual nature (and what’s more that only humans have a spiritual nature). The worldview that sees non-living beings as mere dumb matter. A rock is just a rock, who cares if it’s shattered? A mountain’s just a big rock, who cares if it’s stripped layer by layer until it’s nothing? (There’s coal down there!)
And from here it’s not a long leap to the conclusion that humans are just mountains of flesh, so what if we extinguish them as well.
This entire western/scientific/Cartesian worldview is summed up by the phrase “pathetic fallacy”. If you know what this is, skip ahead. But for those of you who don’t, a pathetic fallacy does not mean to make a pathetic mistake. The root here is pathos or feeling. To make a pathetic fallacy is to attribute pathos or feeling to inanimate objects. To things which are supposedly unable to feel.
I think the phrase pathetic fallacy is itself fallacious. Things feel. Trees empathize. Furniture responds to being positioned carefully. Art radiates energy. Trash radiates energy.
But it sure doesn’t seem that way. Not most of the time. Most of the time we are tired. We don’t have time to weigh tea out carefully. We don’t have time to look at our front door, the same front door we’ve opened and closed for years, but this time to really look at it, I mean look at it, seeing it for the first time, as with new eyes. That takes energy. It takes attention. It’s no wonder the word attention comes from the word tension, which means thin. We’re spread thin by so many distractions, we don’t have the wherewithal to notice how magical the most mundane things are.
That’s why I feel like my new job is a good fit. It’s slower paced, meaning emphasis can be placed on Care. We don’t scald the tea, demanding it release its flavor. We coax it in a warm bath, while performing a ritual not unlike what goes on at the altar during Mass.