Thirty-six people, including nine first time participants, from Canada, Poland, UK, and US gathered on Zoom to read a prose excerpt of poet/zoologist Diane Ackerman’s The Moon by Whale Light and engage in reflective writing.
After listening to two voices read aloud, participants commented on: the beauty of each sentence, “the miracle of the self” and an “early embodied awareness of mind-body connections”. As a group, we responded to the author’s word choices and phrases: “hand-me-down mammals”, “blood, dream, and electric”, “the shy hooves of a goat”, “all the grander and lesser mayhems of the heart” (“what a great way to sum up what happens in this organ,” someone commented). We thought about what makes us human, and whether we have our origins in hydrogen. We wondered about “location”—where we are when we are in our minds and when “out of one’s”? We marveled at all a mind is able to do: abstract, compare, consider, imagine, project.
Many raised the what felt like the existential question at the center of Ackerman’s text: What is a mind? What is the self? Are we a space? A way of being? The brain is an “infinite, strange organ”, remarked one participant; and yet, another added, our consciousness is “a whole universe”. As with many of our sessions, the text left us with even more questions to explore and pursue beyond our hour together.
We wrote for four minutes to the prompt: Write about simmering.
Three writers read aloud their work and several people generously responded to each. “Simmering” elicited associations to soups and stews and chickpeas cooking and coagulating; to ourselves as “stews” with changes in hormones, the gains and losses due to aging; moods simmering, heating up, and coming to the boiling point; time needed to create visual and culinary art that can be shared. One reader defined simmering as “the precursor to peace”. In this spirit, we hope tonight’s simmering of words and ideas bring you all a peaceful week ahead.
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!
Please join us for our next session Wednesday, December 2nd at 12pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
After all, mind is such an odd predicament for matter to get into. I often marvel at how something like hydrogen, the simplest atom, forged in some early chaos of the universe, could lead us into the gorgeous fever of consciousness. If a mind is just a few pounds of blood, dream, and electric, how does it manage to contemplate itself, worry about its soul, do time-and-motion studies, admire the shy hooves of a goat, know that it will die, enjoy all the grander and lesser mayhems of the heart. What is mind that one can be out of one’s? How can a neuron feel compassion? What is a self? Why did automatic, hand-me-down mammals like our ancestors somehow evolve brains with the ability to consider, imagine, project, compare, abstract, think of the future? If our experience of mind is really just a simmering of an easily alterable chemical stew, then what does it mean to know something, to want something, to be?
Diane Ackerman: The Moon by Whale Light: and Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodiles, and Whales (1991)