“Reasons for being nice to other lifeforms abound, but around them, there is a ghostly penumbra of feelings of appreciating them for no reason at all. Just loving something never has a great reason attached to it. If you can list all the reasons why you ‘should’ love this particular person, you’re probably not in love. If you have no idea, you might be nearer the mark.“
— Timothy Morton, “Being Ecological“
Bodies of water are usually terrifying to me. I find fish completely alien and disgusting since I’ve had memory, which is why I can hardly enjoy swimming in lakes and seas. But last weekend, I decided to overcome this fear and surprised myself with a plethora of sensations.
A group of friends and I spent a day in Füssen, a charming town in the Bavarian region. It was a sunny Saturday and we were picnicking by a lake. With a little bit of encouragement from my friends, I took my slippers off and stepped in the water. It was covering my ankles and I quickly looked down to discover I was surrounded by dozens of fish. They were swimming there, centimeters away from my skin. I was petrified and overfull by a feeling of unease, but I waited and paid attention. The fish weren’t even curious about my presence. They were just there being fish and doing their own thing. I felt silly.
I slowly walked further into the lake, up to the point I couldn’t see them anymore. I knew they were there in big numbers, swimming around my hips, my waist, and my shoulders. I took some air and submerged my head in the water. I came out frantic, gasped, and looked at the hills and mountains surrounding the lake. I was so little in a mesmerizing landscape, sharing the fresh water under the warm sun with these little fellas. A friend pointed out there were a couple of ducks swimming my way. I felt like that meme of Arnold Schwarzenegger being one with Nature.
After a few minutes of trying really hard not to freak out, I noticed one of the ducks caught a fish in its mouth and I suddenly became super conscious about water creatures. I nervously came out of the lake, feeling victorious, nevertheless.
Why does it matter?
Because after reading hundreds of pages about our “being” ecological, (not in the sense of caring about the environment, but in the sense of becoming deeply aware that we are just a part of this über complex system we call nature), I’ve decided to take these lessons off my books and into my experience of the world I inhabit. This is what made me step in the lake and pay attention to the fish that have so intensely disturbed me in the past.
It’s almost indescribable, the shift I get to feel in my entire body, like scraping from my skin all my preconceived notions of self-importance in an ecosystem that has a life of its own. It isn’t always pleasurable nor easy. I was born and raised in the city, with concrete below my feet and smog within my lungs. I became most familiar with A/C, leather couches, iced coffee and perpetual electrical outlets. Sometimes, experiencing things like fish in lakes feels daunting, awkward, unfamiliar.
Come to think of it, everything in my cultural upbringing taught me that us humans are a special kind of species. We can force beings we don’t find pleasing out of their habitats. We can domesticate other beings to meet our most capricious desires. We can transform our environment to simulate our modern dreams of minimalist lofts, carpets, lamps, ceramic, mosaic.
It’s starting to dawn on me that perhaps we shouldn’t. Perhaps we should be respectful and pay attention to our surroundings and the other lifeforms that inhabit it, stop making our needs and wants the center of the fucking universe. It doesn’t matter if it’s fish, snails, bees, weeds, flowers. Shifting our perception of other lifeforms and our relation to them is the single most powerful feeling I believe can make us ecological.
The greatest tragedy for folks like me who grew up in concrete jungles is that if we don’t make a conscious effort, this mysterious feeling of being ecological will pass us completely by. We might visit forests, oceans, deserts, the Mayan jungle, but we’ll consume them just as we consume iced coffees. We’ll watch the waves until the sun sets, cocktail in hand, from seats where we can’t quite see coral reefs dying. Then we’ll go back to our resort to sleep in a king size bed with fresh linens.
It is not our destiny, though. We’re always one decision away to rediscover the world with the eyes and curiosity of a child. We can decide to venture into unknown sensations, looking closely and attentively at other lifeforms as if nothing was given, as if things weren’t there for our pleasure or consumption. All we need is to be respectful and take a minute to pay attention. I’d say otherwise, all we’re left with is petty pleasures. We’ll be missing out on something truly magical, destroying irreplaceable things and ourselves in the process.
Picture of the lake taken by Diana