Saturday, 14 March 2015

To Thing or Not to Thing

Well. I wasn’t going to write this week. It’s been a non-week: nothing except the hum-drum happened, and so really, there was nothing to write about.

And then something caught my attention. It was an article entitled “Thinging and the verb ‘to thing.’” The article was written by environmental philosopher Ray Grigg, who uses our local freebie shopping news as his regular platform. Such are the little surprises you get in a small town newspaper.

Thinging, says Grigg,  means to section off a little piece of reality, separating it from the rest of the world, and regarding it as an object on its own, with no connections to the rest of the world. The word ‘thing’ becomes a verb, rather than a noun.

If I were to “thing” a specific tree, for instance, I would look at its shape, its size, its colouring, how many board feet it would yield if cut.

 I would not think of this specific tree as related to its environment, its roots holding together the soil on a river bank; I wouldn’t think of it as something which evokes deep emotion within me as I gaze at its beauty, wonder at its age, and appreciate how it feels as I rest in its shade; I wouldn’t check out how many animals rely on this beautiful bit of nature for their homes, their food, their protection; or how this tree is embedded in the web of creation, an amazing organism that breathes in carbon dioxide and breathes out oxygen.

When I ‘thing’ a tree, it has no connection to me.

In a busy world like ours, with millions of bits of information being tossed our way every day, it’s an easy, almost automatic, reaction to ‘thing’ our world. It’s much easier to ‘thing’ a tree than to feel the pain or wrestle with questions when we read about environmentally unsound logging practices. The danger of ‘thinging’ is that we no longer feel connected to or responsible for the world we live in.

I am so guilty of thinging. I started this blog with thinging: I wrote that this week was just a humdrum, ordinary week in which nothing important happened. I neatly sectioned my week off from the rest of my life, as though I could discard it and be done with it. I dismissed the words I said that may have impacted, for good or for bad, the people I met this week. I disregarded the actions I took: the hugging and rocking of our newest grandchild, the little pieces of art that I tried to create, the workshop I attended.  I left out the big and little events that colour my life: our son’s birthday bash, the first meal of the year outside on our patio, the worries about a friend with whom I’ve lost touch.

And the antidote to “thinging”? It’s summed up in a wonderful poem by one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver. When I looked up her poem The Summer Day on the Internet, the introductory comment said it all: “The act of attention is a form of prayer.” The opposite of thinging is paying attention, and paying attention is a form of prayer, connecting ourselves with our world and the Creator of it all. “Tell me,” writes Oliver, “what is is that you intend to do with your one wild and precious life?” Tell me, she challenges us: how will you spend these moments and days as they pass?

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

From New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992.

Reprinted at

1 comment:

  1. You have encouraged me to thing instead of thinging, so that I can be assured of fully living my wild and precious life. Way to go, Jessie.