Recently I saw an interview on television with Jane Goodall who in 1960 began studying chimpanzees in East Africa. Her mentor, the archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey, was interested in whether chimpanzees and humans exhibit similar kinds of behaviour. If they do, this would support archaeological evidence indicating we share a common ancestor. During the interview Goodall spoke about an occasion when she was walking through the bush with one of the chimpanzees she was studying and getting to know. After a while they stopped and she offered the chimpanzee a piece of fruit. Looking her in the eyes he took the fruit, dropped it, then squeezed her hand - then got up and carried on down the path. Goodall was so astonished she just sat there for a while, taking in what had happened. It seemed obvious that although he had refused the food, he wanted her to know he was grateful. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings. It was just how a human being might have responded.
She then described another scene. Some evenings the chimpanzees would gather by a waterfall. They didn’t go there for any practical reason – they weren’t going there to drink or eat or sleep. It seemed they were simply going to look. As they looked they swayed from foot to foot, as if they were dancing. Jane imagined that for them the water cascading down was a mysterious, awe-inspiring thing for “it was always flowing in, always flowing out, and always there”. In the face of this magical vision, what did they do?
Her picture of the waterfall is a perfect description of the present moment – things are always flowing in to this timeless awareness, always flowing out of it, and always present in it. Though what is in the emptiness is always changing, yet there’s always something in it. How amazing.
What is your (human!) response to the miracle of this moment, the miracle of sounds, colours, sensations and all the rest, flowing into and out of this timeless emptiness?
I love to dance!
For information about Jane Goodall: