A CATALOGUE OF EXTINCT EXPERIENCE
My mind’s eye conjured dusty vitrines in long forgotten museums preserving relics of extinct experiences and shelves lined with long gone creatures in yellowed formaldehyde. But I also registered an immediate emotional reaction: the human consequence of the diminution of sense experience felt tragic to me. I moved from the idea of extinct experience to the feelingof a less colorful, less fragrant, less delicious, less sensualworld. I considered the possibility of the loss of experiences that had had a deep effect on me: Not to stare in wonder at myriad stars in the sky? Not to slake my thirst with water directly from a stream? To never again witness, with a shiver of fear, a stalking tiger? To know the fragrance of sandalwood only through an old novelty fan, ever less redolent, that my grandmother brought back from India? It made me deeply sad.
We already live pretty inured from the rhythms and cycles, the cause and affect, that spawn the natural world. At some point the extinction of experience will be common enough to make our disconnection plain—our world of scent and sight and sound, flavor and texture, will be sufficiently contracted that we may finally notice. Certainly the world will be a much less interesting place. Things (experiences) we enjoy pretty much without thought—the visual thrill of a vermilion ranunculus, the heady perfume of a gardenia, the luscious taste and feel of an avocado, the sweet spread of honey across your tongue, the crunch of an almond—arise in a web of relationship: the flower attracts the bee that makes the honey and pollinates the flowers that become avocados and almonds, and more gardenias and ranunculus and more honey and more bees.
Beyond sense delight and physical sustenance (we too, are inextricably part of this biological web), these sense experiences (and others, of course) have flooded me with feeling, with delight. They have been routes to a wondrously capacious place. It feels like love, I guess it is love--an opening of the heart, an awareness of the connection and interconnection that characterizes the very experience of being alive. I have been changed by these experiences, made more compassionate I think, as this sense of interconnection is made palpable. Like making love—they are physical experiences that dissipate boundaries, they connect and transcend. It is a shame, criminal really, to extinguish avenues that give rise to this awareness, because it so enriches, imparts meaning to our lives. Vivifies the inherent possibilities of our incarnation. I think it wise to preserve as many paths to such an awareness as possible. To the extent that it continues to develop in myself, it has influenced the way I live, the choices I have made in my life, how I relate to others.
Mostly experiences become extinct precisely becauseof the absence of this awareness. Our dullness and stupidity about the fact of the interconnected nature of existence yields careless behavior that often results in the evolutionarily untimely extinction of the very experiences that might engender this awareness. By which I mean that the extinction in question happens not as a natural process over time, but as a result of human folly; greed, ignorance. . . For example, climate change and all its causes, urban and industrial development in inappropriate places, the release of toxins and pollutants into the environment, deforestation, etc. A recent example is the UN’s failure to extend protected status to a variety of endangered sharks (and the feeling of terror that they engender—is there any more iconic provocation of human fear?).
It is true that such awareness can also arise sitting in a cinder block cell, but preserving the opportunity for its arising in a sensually delightful way--through sense experience is far more appealing to me. That is a central idea of A Catalogue of Extinct Experience, to call attention to the fact of lost and endangered experiences in the first place—I don’t think most people have ever considered the idea----and create various opportunities through other experiences for this awareness, with all its possible personal implications and consequence, to arise.