On Spiritual Mentors: Loren Eiseley

My spiritual search over the years has introduced me to many great teachers. Some have been family and friends. Some of been wounded ones coming to me for help. Many have been writers of the spiritual way.

I have especially enjoyed writers of nature — thinkers who find a god of their understanding in the midst of God’s creation. Writers such as Annie Dillard and Wendall Berry have been especially helpful. But the first such observer of creation to cross my path was Loren Eiseley.

Loren Eiseley was an anthropology professor at University of Pennsylvania and was a prolific essayist. He described himself as “a contemplative naturalist” and indeed much of his writing consists of the products of such contemplation. Beyond that, though, he was a poet. Whether writing poems or essays, he had a poet’s sensitivity to beauty in mundane places. More than anything, Eiseley taught me to pay attention to the manifestaion of spirit throughout creation.

Though he did not really use the word, Eiseley was modeling mindfulness long before it became the popular notion it is today. Whether commenting on a sunflower growing atop a boxcar or a released hawk soaring to reunite with his mate, Eiseley showed the way in terms of being mindful.

One essay in particular has stayed with me. This piece is called “The Starthrower”. Eiseley is walking along a beach near Cosabel:

“Ahead of me…a gigantic rainbow of incredible perfection had sprung shimmering into existence. Somewhere toward its foot, I discerned a human figure standing…He was gazing fixedly at something in the sand.

“Eventually he stooped and flung the object beyond the breaking surf…I labored toward him…He was starting to kneel again.

“In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling sand.

“It’s still alive” I ventured.

“‘Yes’ he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea.

“‘It may live'” he said “if the offshore pull is strong enough.”

“‘The stars'” he said “throw well. One can help them.”

(The Starthrower, Harcourt Brace Javonovich,  1978, pp. 171-72

The image of the Starthrower continues to haunt me and, in a way, offered me a metaphor for my work. I don’t fix or change people. I only gently push them in a direction where they can thrive and continue their own journeys.

A contemplative naturalist. A good calling in life, I’d say.