Looking Into the Future

I am looking into Leif’s newly eye-locking five-week-old eyes these days, and wondering. What does he see? Does he see me? Or just beady black circles ringed with blue, white, peach, and brown?

Does he see a Face that goes with the Taste and the Voice? Or just shadowy, shifting shapes? Is he looking at my eyes because it is there that he sees me looking at him? I have no idea. All I know is that he likes this play of images on his visual field. He smiles.

So why do I look into his eyes? I am looking for the future—for his future. What will he look like? Who will he be?

In some moments, he resembles each of my other four children so much that I blurt out the wrong name, and run to the family albums, desperate to find something to distinguish him from the others besides blankets, backgrounds, and the length of my bangs. I want to see him.

I look at the other children again, trying to see who they were, what they looked like in their past. Somehow the process doesn’t work in reverse. I can’t see who they were, only who they are—as if they have always been. I can recall photographs, but only rarely can I remember moments of sheer presence that imprinted themselves on me. So where was I in my children’s past? What was I seeing? And where will I be in their future?
On July 10 and 11 Geoff and I participate in an annual Vermont happening: a three-day conference for renewable energy, sustainable living, and great music called SolarFest. We go as a family to join those who gather outside, in large tents and barns, to share new developments in earth-friendly living. We are looking to learn about new technologies for building, motoring, and powering that promise greater responsiveness to the life-enabling rhythms of the natural world. It is Leif’s first big outing in the world and he spends most of it curled like a bean inside a slinky black sling that hangs from Geoff’s shoulders.

We are looking for the future in the present. Leif is the future in the present. He will see it, make it, live in it. What will it be?

Through much of modern western history, humans have pursued technological invention for the purpose of protecting ourselves from the vicissitudes of nature. Our ideal has been to erect hermetically sealed buildings, impervious to earthquake or hurricane, lit day and night with incandescent rays, whose filtered air circulates at the same temperature year round. We have idealized a freedom from the rhythms of the natural world, going so far as to separate ourselves from the nature in our needs and desires. We have convinced ourselves that we have a right not to want—a right to have everything we want, easily and effortlessly. Now.

Change is coming, for we realize that our labor-saving, time-saving, life-protecting technologies are killing us. We have forgotten that we are earth too. We have forgotten what a body knows. Immured from the rhythms of the natural world, we are more likely to manufacture toxic thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our bodily selves are increasingly weak, sick, static, and depressed. Our relationships wither. The world warms.

Even so, the solution is not to reject technology, but rather to align our uses of it with the life-enabling rhythms of the earth in us and around us. And an important step in doing so is to cultivate a sense of what those rhythms are—a sensory awareness of our bodily selves that will enable us to find the wisdom in our desires.

Or so I try to convey in the workshop I teach on Friday to those who assemble in the large white tent pitched among tall growing grasses beyond a stonewall with forest and fields in view.

Later in the afternoon Geoff appears on stage, making music with piano and plectrum sounds. Shiny flat solar panels arrayed alongside the stage transform sunrays into electrical currents that push waves of sound through amplifiers and speakers into the open air. Energy to art.

Halfway through his set he calls me up on stage. While he plays, I read a few pages from What a Body Knows where I describe how an impulse to dance arises in me after months of careful, sustained attention to the sights, sounds, and rhythms of our land. It was a mystical moment—as I danced, the land came alive in me as what was enabling me to move at all. I close with a song I wrote, Dance Your Life.

Leif sleeps through it all, doing his part to conserve energy and enable art. There will be much work for him to do soon enough.

His gaze focuses on mine. I ask him again. What will your future be? How do I let the life-enabling future in you live?

He is wearing one of his eco-onesies. Whether due to his name or our farm life or the changing times, many of the gifts people have given us feature eco-themes—think green, free range, save the planet, hug a tree. Or the onesies are made of organic fibers, natural dyes, packed in recycled and reused containers. They come in earth tones, decorated with plant and animal themes. Leif is a nursing, napping beacon of change, blazoned with emblems of life.

Our eyes lock. Something happens. A current passes between, igniting a burst in my heart. Does he feel the same thing? I smile. He smiles. I smile again. The energy within me rises and crests, inspired to care, ready and willing to act, wanting the best that can be. For him.

I want to let Leif live. I want to let nature live in him and around him, enabling him. For he is enabling me to be someone who cares about the future with an intensity that funds radical action. For his sake, for my sake, I want to learn new ways to move that remain faithful to the earth within and without. I want to bring my senses to life, through music and art, and so bring sense to life, appreciating the wisdom of my body and his, of the ecosystem we are, as our guide.

Dance Your Life, Leif!

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