What is a real encounter? When was the last time we really encountered another being? Not just casually saying ‘Hi’ and going our way as if nothing happened but truly connecting in silence and feeling each other’s heartbeat …

We are longing for a deep connection and yet it seems to evade us. We keep hurrying through life almost as if we were afraid to stop and meet each other. I am talking about the kind of meeting where time stops, where there is great intensity of presence in the silence between the thoughts … where your consciousness reaches out and starts merging with the consciousness of another being. Where every cell of your body gets activated with life and remembers that it is part of the surroundings. Can we have such presence with ourselves and meet another being from this place like Stephan Harding did in his encounter with a muntjac deer?

In his study of ecology one of David Fleming’s most intriguing ideas was encounter. Encounter is the act of recognizing something – a planet, a woodland, person. It’s the acknowledgement that there is something there which has the gift of life, self, soul and the ability to surprise.

When the animal ecologist Stephan Harding observed the little muntjac deer in Rushbeds Wood there was encounter. The experience and his realizations of what encounter is and isn’t are best conveyed in his own words:

»I was very honored to be quoted by him David Fleming in Lean Logic, so, yes, I think we we felt a very strong affinity for each other. Well encountering means really meeting something in a way that goes beyond one’s intellectual process, so normally in the West, particularly as a scientist as I am, once taught to encounter, say a tree, through one’s idea – so how did the shape of that tree come about through the process of natural selection? What might the forces have been that made say the sycamore leaf the shape it is and you know it becomes a sort of instinct when you’re a scientist and an ecologist to look at nature in that sort of way. That’s not encounter.

Encounter is when that conceptual structure vanishes and you actually meet the being as the being coming forth from itself as itself revealing itself to you in a way that’s beyond your intellect. In a way it’s much more deeply intuitive and much harder to express. In fact, scientific language is inappropriate for this kind of encounter. It’s poetry that does it. It’s a poetic encounter.

I had many experiences of this kind of encounter with the muntjac deer that I studied for my doctorate and some of the moments I most remember would be when I was just waiting and for many minutes or even an hour or more nothing would happen; and then if I was lucky a muntjac would appear and just stand there, even just for a few seconds and if I was lucky would look in my direction. Then time stood still, time stopped and there was this infinite moment of meeting between myself and the muntjac. There was a sense of the being of the muntjac as a revelation as if some kind of syrupy smoke was moving from the muntjac to me infusing my whole being with muntjacness so I could immediately understand the wholeness of the muntjac and how they relate to the entire wood – I could have an intuitive perception of that in that instant about who the muntjac were as an animal with their own ecological niche in the forest. And it went further than that, I could also get a sense of the ecology of the whole forest. It suddenly came into focus through the being of the muntjac. The whole came into my perception and then if I was very lucky then that wholeness would spread out and I’d get a sense of the ecology of the entire Earth. That didn’t happen very often but that was possible.

It was possible for it to expand; so in other words I sank into myself, I sank into my wider body which is as my friend David Abram would say it’s the Earth herself. I became aware of my wider body all through the presence of the muntjac, because for me the muntjac became a kind of totemic animal. I’d spent so much energy and effort, intellectual effort, physical effort, emotional effort in studying them, that all those energies became concentrated in the  magic which for me symbolized all these different aspects of the ecology of the wood and indeed of the Earth itself.«