“The guy’s bats, he’s really gone bat sh-t.” These insults are serious misnomers.
They’re insults directed to someone who doesn’t get it, someone we regard as crazy. But bats are not crazy and they do get it. They have an unerring eye –– more accurately, ear ––for the big picture while skillfully maneuvering the minute details of their immediate tasks and, I might add, all managed in total darkness.
Late last fall, as I stacked my woodpile, I lifted a log to place it elsewhere. Under it I saw a tiny bat hunkered down between the two logs in a space that would ensure a safe and warm place for him to hibernate for the winter. I must say I thought he was a lovable, cuddly little guy, and except for his teeth (I didn’t see them, but I knew they were there) I would have picked him up to have a closer look and just to feel the warmth of his furry body.
Once his habitat was exposed he twitched a little. He fussed at me with high-pitched hisses, protesting my intrusion. I replaced the log carefully over him out of respect for his space that I’d inadvertently violated.
In our previous home in Timonium, bats lived in our house, along with us. Occasionally one or two would fly through the house late at night. What will always amaze me about their excursions was that in pitch-darkness, sound asleep in bed, I’d wake for no reason and know they were there. They were soundless, invisible to me in the dark and I can’t imagine that I would have felt any breeze from their flapping wings; inexplicably, I simply knew they were there.
One of the remarkable things about the way bats get around is the way their intuitions guide them: how in reading their own echo, they are able to remain in touch with the big picture even while in pursuit of the tiniest of insects. Actually, if they lost sight of the big picture, they’d go all over the place or crash into a wall . . . or worst still, get tangled in someone’s hair. They never do.
I have wondered about myself –– about all of us –– how much of the big picture we do know, but don’t know that we do.
I’ve read about educational theories that hold that the task of the teacher is more like that of a midwife than an instructor. This is to say, that the skillful teacher calls forth from the child’s mind what the child already knows. in that part of the brain other than the reasoning, judging and analyzing part.
Writer, Maggie Ross, who has explored the nature of our interior life identifies one way by which we know that she calls the “self-conscious mind.” This is our psychic warhorse that manages information so we can get around. It directs our daily chores. Ross tells us that we have still another way of knowing. This part doesn’t play by the same rules as this self-conscious mind. She calls it our “deep mind;” it comprehends the incomprehensible which is to say, it gets the whole picture in a flash even as the self-conscious mind is still parsing and struggling with the details. The self-conscious mind works twenty-four seven, figuring things out. The deep mind just perceives.
I have been in the middle of a sentence and can’t recall a familiar name or place. “It’s gone from my mind,” I say. But it’s not. Frustrated, I finally let it go and then, as if out of the blue, I remember. The data didn’t go anywhere; it was there all the while and I needed only to stop trying so hard to recall it (self-conscious mind) so it could be freed up to come back to me (deep mind.) This phenomenon is related to the folk wisdom that advises us when trying to solve an intractable problem, to “just sleep on it.”
The most important things in life are rarely tidy, black or white, up or down, fast or slow. Whatever is of consequence is always paradoxical; such matters are typically both/and.
This self-conscious mind tries to parse things into bite-size pieces. it takes a microscopic view. The deep mind is more like a wide-angle lens; it sees not only the mountains of the scene, but the streams and shrubs up close and everything all around. This comprehension transpires outside of conscious awareness. Our eureka moments are often a product of the deep mind
Bats are scary, people say. They’re spooky and go about their business under the cover of darkness. Their wings have a kind of angular configuration, sharp edged, not soft like an owls’; they seem formidable, and a few bats, with needle-sharp teeth, like the legendary Dracula, drink animal and human blood. They’re called vampire bats. And then too, what does one make of creatures, many of whom sleep (daytime) upside down, hanging from rafters or from ceilings in dank caves? Like locusts, bats swarm from caves by the thousands. Not an endearing profile.
I’d argue that going batty is not a bad thing. Some days I’ll be obsessing about a leaky faucet, fretting about the minor inconveniences of social distancing, harboring old resentments, or fuming about still another insult tweeted from the White House to the American people. Then as if from nowhere, out of the dark, from my deep mind, I sense a larger landscape around me, the big picture. I see the good people inhabiting our land, its beauty; I become alert to the healing properties inherent in nature and, at least for a time, I stop going batty, or more to the point, I really do go bats.
Regarding the other misnomer, the crude reference to bat guano: in Asia, bat guano is highly valued fertilizer. In the big picture, it helps feed people.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.