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Black Elk

My naked mind confronts the unknown

August 13th, 2009

Twelve thousand years since the Caveman stood at the mouth of his cavern and gazed out at the night and the stars. He looked again and saw the sun rise beyond the sea. He reposed in the noontide heat under the shade of the trees, he closed his eyes and looked into himself. He was face to face with the earth, the sun, the night; face to face with himself. There was nothing between; no wall of written tradition; no built-up system of culture—his naked mind was confronted by naked earth. He made three idea-discoveries, wrest­ing them from the unknown: the exist­ence of his soul, immortality, the deity. Now to-day, as I write, I stand in exactly the same position as the Caveman. Written tradition, systems of culture, modes of thought, have for me no exist­ence. If ever they took any hold of my mind it must have been very slight; they have long ago been erased. From earth and sea and sun, from night, the stars, from day, the trees, the hills, from my own soul — from these I think. I stand this moment at the mouth of the ancient cave, face to face with nature, face to face with the supernatural, with myself. My naked mind confronts the unknown. Richard Jefferies ‘The Story of my Heart.’

From an article by Simon Coleman:

Richard Jefferies(John) Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) is best known for his prolific and sensitive writing on natural history, rural life and agriculture in late Victorian England. However, a closer examination of his career reveals a many-sided author who was something of an enigma. To some people he is more familiar as the author of the children’s classic Bevis or the strange futuristic fantasy After London, while he also has some reputation as a mystic worthy of serious study. Since his death his books have enjoyed intermittent spells of popularity, but today he is unknown to the greater part of the reading public. Jefferies, however, has been an inspiration to a number of more prominent writers and W.H. Hudson, Edward Thomas, Henry Williamson and John Fowles are among those who have acknowledged their debt to him. In my view his greatest achievement lies in his expression, aesthetically and spiritually, of the human encounter with the natural world – something that became almost an obsession for him in his last years…

[The quote is from] ‘his extraordinary autobiography, The Story of My Heart (1883).  He had been planning this work for seventeen years and, in his words, it was ‘absolutely and unflinchingly true’.  It was not an autobiography of the events of his life, but an outpouring of his deepest thoughts and feelings, beginning with his first ‘soul experiences’ on Liddington Hill, expressed in prose poetry that is often impassioned, sensuous and evocative.  He describes his mystical communion with nature and his yearning for the fullest ‘soul life’.  Within him burned a desire to grasp the great truths which he felt were all around him – ‘to have from all green things and from the sunlight the inner meaning which was not known to them, that I might be full of light as the woods of the sun’s rays’.


See also The Richard Jefferies Society

4 Responses to “My naked mind confronts the unknown”

  1. Jeffries’ ‘Story of my Heart’ contains some of my favourite passages of all time. His descriptions of sitting upon the tumulus and realizing, in the true definition of ‘mystic’, what time means, is exquisite. His ability to think with his soul, or rather, to be present as a Soul, as a Witness, without the intellectual accretions of society, and to express his sensations so vividly, deserves its place in the annuls of the greatest mystic writings. One only wishes the term ‘mysticism’ could regain its original meaning.

  2. I’m not at all familiar with Richard Jefferies so I may be grossly oversimplifying his ideas based on this one quote, but still…

    I’ve stood at the mouth of my own cavern and gazed out at the same night and the same stars. There is great value in experiencing Nature and the Divine for yourself, unmediated by priests, doctrines, or traditions. Some things you can only learn by experiencing them, and the desire for this experience is one of the reasons I’m following a Druid path instead of the religion of my childhood.

    At the same time, there is also great value in the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors. The love of family and tribe taught by the earliest humans. The social justice of the Hebrew prophets. The introspection and compassion of the Buddha. The reconnection with Nature and the reverence for it of modern Pagans.

    We need not – and should not – erase this wisdom from our minds. Rather, we should us it as a foundation on which to build our lives and our communities, and we should add to it so that future generations can build even higher.

    Just don’t forget to stand at the mouth of that cave every now and then…

  3. I’ve just finished teaching the first ever Experiencing Shamanic Consciousness week summer school at the University of Sussex and this extract from Jefferies captures so much of what we have been doing this week. When I first read his The Story of My Heart, about ten years ago, I was so moved by his ‘soul thought’. I asked the students to journey to their souls to connect with them and let the soul speak. How lovely to be reminded of Jefferies. Thank you!

    Susan Greenwood

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