Reconciliation ecologist Pete Yeo took inspiration from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence in a new-found understanding of the natural world through chaos theory and fractals. Here, he shares his appreciation of Blake’s words and their popularity for how they speak directly to the heart of the matter.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Why is it that these opening lines of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence have become so well-known? Might the answer draw out a dichotomy in our modern relationship with the cosmos, yet still augur well for our necessary reconciliation with the web of life?
I cannot now recall when I first encountered these lines yet I suspect it was in the early nineties, around the time of my introduction to chaos theory and fractal geometry following a travelling scholarship to the USA. Whilst I may have begun with an intellectual interpretation of his poem’s beautiful opening invitation, his words would have resonated with my felt experience of the connective patterning of the world around me. I’m sure I’m not alone in having seen the macrocosm in the microcosm, and vice versa. Blake’s words are popular, I suggest, because they speak directly to the heart of matter.
Recalling that trip to the USA, and a mind alive with new-found understanding and meaning, I began to see further into the depth of the world as I toured nature preserves around the southeastern states. And not just with my mind; an artist’s feeling sense was being nurtured too. Atop a landmark granite outcrop in Georgia, I took a photograph that was soon to have great significance for me. The subject was simple enough, a crescent of lichen and moss initiating the process of plant colonisation around a small solution pool of less than half a metre square. With time, as weathering and root action proceeded, they would be joined by grasses, perhaps a shrub or two, even a pine sapling. In awe of the power of the vegetal realm, there I left it.
A golden thread
On my return to the UK I began to satisfy my craving for more knowledge of chaos theory, the self-similar scaling of fractals and, inevitably, quantum physics. Within a better grasp of Life, how might I use this information in my work with plants? It wasn’t long before serendipity offered its help. The latest issue of a magazine subscription included a supplement on Australia, within which was a photograph that rather took my breath away. It was an aerial shot of a beautiful bay fringed by mangrove forest, this forest exhibiting the same light/dark green banding as the lichen (light) and moss (dark) in Georgia. The similarities can, of course, be explained rationally, and yet, for me, it was a heart-felt sign; here was a golden thread to follow.
Plants have long ignited my imagination, and they had taken me to the States. These days I have a growing appreciation of the extent to which they have supported me throughout my life as I have searched for meaning in various ways and places. They have been both generic and specific totems. It is with deep gratitude that I now work with them as nature connection portals for others, supported by the latest discoveries in plant behaviour, intelligence and connectivity. My interest in physics has continued alongside, especially in recent years with the fascinating insights arising from the field of unified physics (readily accessible via the Resonance Science Foundation, for instance).
Auguries of innocence: a unified field
This new physics is radically evolving our modern worldview, evidencing the ancient spiritual mantra, known to Blake we might imagine, that “All is One”. The mind is now explaining what hearts have long felt; rather than having separatist dominion over a ‘clockwork universe’ of parts, we are an expression of a living cosmos that is far more than the sum of its interdependent parts. The ‘Ocean of Being’ is now described as an immersive, unified field of energy from which all physical matter is spun into patterned existence across an infinite scale. As plant cognition scientist Monica Gagliano puts it, “we are not in nature, we don’t go to nature. We are nature. We literally spring out of the planet.”
This unified field expresses the sacred geometry known to the ancients, its foundational structure represented by the ‘flower of life’ symbol, and its fundamental energy flow pattern by the yin yang symbol. Inherent to the latter is a reflexive learning and evolving mechanism known as ‘feedback/feedforward’. This is reflected, for example, in the Earth’s electromagnetic field or a halved apple. Simply use opposing fingers to trace a pattern exiting one pole, passing along either side, re-entering at the other pole, and reuniting via the core. In other words, what is given out to the world is received back, things work or they don’t. Just as Blake’s poem goes on to suggest, our actions have consequences for us in time, and we can learn and evolve accordingly.
And so, we come full circle. Whilst Blake took issue with the emergence of Science, most notably with his painting Newton, this adventure in reductive reasoning – the so-called Enlightenment that became what countercultural intellectual Charles Eisenstein calls the ‘Story of Separation’ – was perhaps a necessary detour for humanity. Putting a positive spin on the matter, the inherent and multivalent learning therein has likely moved us forward as a species, delivered us to a more informed space. I would like to think that my personal journey into disconnection has had a similar outcome in microcosm. It could be said that we have come full spiral; indeed, in 3D the yin yang’s energy flow pattern is in fact spiralling (for a visualisation, see the link in the notes below).
As heart and mind, feeling and intellect reconvene in our crisis-ridden time there would appear to be cause for hope. Yet, however resonant our intellect, that is no guarantee of better decision-making. Consider the decades of appeals to society with respect to climate change. The world around us and its events need to be acutely felt for effective action to be taken – what has been called compassionate empathy – just as you might act on chronic pain within your own body. The revolution is love, as they say, and we care for what we love.
Thankfully our heart connection is always there for us; to modify an old adage, you can try to take the child from the cosmos yet you can’t take the cosmos from the child. The new physics is telling us that at the centre of every 3D yin yang, at whatever scale we choose – from proton to galaxy, we will find singularity and the intimate portal of connection with the unified field of the cosmos, or ‘Source’. Far more than a pump, the human heart, generator of the body’s largest electromagnetic field, is in every sense our centre of felt connection.
It is no coincidence that just when we most need to reconcile ourselves with our planetary home there is now a popular surge in nature connection activities, like forest school (for all ages) or foraging, alongside ecological campaigning. A beneficial aspect of today’s media is that they are helping us feel the collective trauma. The restorative power of our heartfelt connection, evidenced also in the rise of forest bathing and nature prescriptions, can even ‘resuscitate’ those numb to the world around them, to quote nature connection practitioner Danny Shmulevitch. It could be as simple as bathing in a starry night. The joy of the world is as much ours as its pain; as the yin yang symbol shows, they are intimately entwined.
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
These later lines from Auguries of Innocence further evidence Blake’s channelling of some mighty wisdom, describing the seed of truth at the heart of matter – our consequential connection to cosmos. What, I wonder, might have happened if Isaac Newton had interpreted his falling apple another way, coming to know that he had held infinity in the palm of his hand and eternity in that hour? Blake may smile wryly at the question, yet in fairness to Newton, I’ll close with a line from another popular text, the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.
No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
In his previous Finding Blake post, An Evergreen and Pleasant Land?, Pete finds inspiration in William Blake’s poem that later became the hymn Jerusalem when contemplating the impacts of our changing climate on Britain’s evergreen plantlife.
For more from Pete, see his website, Future Flora, and his similarly-named Facebook page for weekly musings. Lately, he’s felt a call to write more expansively on the need for a more holistic and reverential relationship with the plant realm (and hence all Life). At times the muse has felt rather Blakean.
You can read Auguries of Innocence and more of Blake’s poems at Poetry Foundation. In a September 2020 article on Blake’s four-fold imagination, Mark Vernon discusses Blake’s view of the limitations of the ‘singular’ vision of science as exemplified by Isaac Newton and illustrated in Blake’s painting.
Wikipedia, as ever, has useful introductions to chaos theory and fractal geometry, and there is more at the Resonance Science Foundation, a global research and education non-profit organization working for the unification of physics and science as a whole.
You can hear plant cognition scientist Monica Gagliano, as quoted by Pete, discuss plant sentience in this 2020 podcast from Camden Art Audio. For more on the ‘flower of life’ and yin yang symbols Pete discusses — and illustrates in his image, the cosmic matrix — again Wikipedia provides good overviews. Pete has provided this link to a more 3D illustration of the spiralling nature of the yin yang energy flow, as mentioned in his text.
Pete mentions the thinking of Charles Eisenstein on the ‘Story of Separation’, and you can watch a short video of Charles talking about the root of this separation on his website.
Finally, the full text of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata is available here.