Rebecca Solnit has written that the compassion emphasizes emotional generosity and the ability to respond to others. Imagination identifies what it takes to be able to extend yourself that way in the first place, to let another person (I would add another species) in.

Cleary we need a world with more compassion, for ourselves, other humans, and the species with whom we share this world. (It is of course hard to have compassion for the world and others if we don’t have compassion for ourselves.) What would it take for us to extend ourselves in this way? What does it take to imagine the earth in a hundred years from now? How can we extend our imaginations to look through the stuff we buy (and throw away) to see the impacts of each purchase and how it impacts on the world around us in destructive ways? Modern society tries to hide and ignore these impacts, so we need look deeply into these things. This takes a radical imagination.

Unfortunately, our current understanding of what it means to be human is based on a highly individualised, self enclosed and self referential ego, an ego that drives us away from connection and relationship, away from compassion for others. We currently privilege rational, abstract and heroic ways of being; ways of being that are controlling and dominating. We need to develop alternate ways of knowing, based on feelings, emotions and intuition, if we are to extend ourselves in the first place. This way of knowing is metaphoric and symbolic, and creates a new way of thinking and feeling.

So, the big question is: How do we extend our identities to include the world around us, and other species? That is, how do we create an ecological imagination in a distracted world? Can we develop the capacity to re-imagine our selves and the world in radically different ways and treat the world as alive and full of meaning, as deserving of both moral and ethical consideration?

We need to see the denial of our own embodiment, animality and inclusion in the natural order as a major reason why we distance ourselves from nature. As Val Plumwood said, “The resulting delusions of being ecologically invulnerable, beyond animality and ‘outside nature’ leads to the failure to understand our ecological identities and dependencies on nature.”

What is the first step on this journey of re-imagining the world? Here is where our empathetic imaginations are needed. As well as a bit of resistance and defiance! We need, as Val Plumwood has said, the ability to “resist and challenge the assumptions underlying our control and consumption extravaganza we so naively identify with the good, civilised life and move to a sustainable form of human culture.”

This requires homo reflectus rather than homo sapiens. We need to get of our minds and into our bodies, extend our identities, listen to nature with empathy, and reflect on our predicament. I would like to offer you this practice for your imagination. Let me know how it goes.