Archive for August, 2008

I have just been listening to a wonderful exchange of views between Bill Plotkin and David Abram. It’s quite long at over 80 minutes, but well worth taking the time to have a listen.

The topic of the discussion is how to generate a profound shift in our culture, in our consciousness. David talks about this great shift as requiring a shift in our perceptions. He says that we don’t see the earthly world around us with any clarity, we don’t hear the voices of the land, and we don’t notice the rest of the world with anything like a realistic apprehension. So, he says, we need to build our perceptual abilities so we can gain the needed clarity to learn what the world is really about, and to learn what our place is in the world, and to live appropriately.

It seems clear that we forget that we have animal bodies, with animal senses, that co-evolved with the world around us, and that we are immersed in a word of others: animal beings, conscious presences, and elemental forces. It is interesting to reflect on the way “animal” is a derisory comment in our modern society, especially when applied to humans: You animal! They were just animals! But our animality is just a fact of life, and we should take the time to celebrate our animal bodies, by, at the very least, getting outside.

Bill says this shift requires a redefinition of what it means to be human. He talks about how our modern western societies have become locked into a patho-adolescent way of being, engendered by our consumerist culture and our schooling, and how we desperately need to grow up. But it is so easy to sell more things to immature people! So we need to develop new models of what it means to be fully and authentically human. We could all benefit from a careful reading of Bill’s nature-based model of human development.

Bill talks about the way in which a conversation between two people can shape each other in interesting ways. Similarly, David asks, could a conversation between a place, animals, plants, water, and winds, shape and inform our bodies, nervous systems, our very styles of experience? Only if we humans consider the world around us as being alive, being able to communicate to us, and if we develop the skills to enter the conversation, can this idea resonate with us. But we have become locked into a human centred way of being, without being affected by non-human “others”. Of course indigenous people around the world have understood that the world does speak, and not just metaphorically, but as experienced reality. Listen to the words of Bill Neidjie, a Aboriginal Elder who has returned to the earth:

I feel it with my body, with my blood. Feeling all these trees, all this country. When the wind blows you can feel it. Same for country … You feel it. You can look, but feeling … that make you.

So can we shake ourselves free from our (perhaps unconscious) assumptions that the world does not speak, does not have a presence? Can we become receptive to the voices and presences of the world around us, and our places? Can we awaken to the awe and mystery at the heart of the world around us? Can we feel this presence deep in our bones, deep in our hearts? Can we celebrate our nature?

So much so-called spiritual writing is about transcendence. But what are the writers trying to get us to transcend? Listen to this piece from well known “new-age” writer, Eckhart Tolle from his book New Earth: “Space consciousness represents not only freedom from ego, but also from dependency on the things of this world, from materialism and materiality.” Well, guess what Mr Tolle, this material world gave birth to us, dreamt us into existence if you like, supports us through our lives, and when we finally die, takes us back into the earth (when we become energy and food for other creatures). Why is there so much distaste for the lovely messiness of this world, and a desire for the abstract purity of “space consciousness”?

Now, I for one, don’t want to escape from this materiality, even if I could! In fact, I want to embrace if fully, and give thanks to it, and honour the material dimension of our lives. As I said in my last post, 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.

Don’t confuse materialism and materiality. Materialism, is often the word used, perhaps incorrectly, for consumerism, our insatiable appetite for things. Materiality is the dimension in which we live, now (and this really is the Power of Now). We don’t live in space! We live on, or perhaps more appropriately, in the earth. We are not disembodied beings. And our “sensible” material bodies are brought into relation to the world around us through our eyes, ears, noses, skin, and tongues, as it has done for much of human history.

Listen to another view of earth and materiality, this time from David Abram who is a cultural ecologist, philosopher, and performance artist, the creative director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics and the author of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. David says: “If humankind seems to have forgotten its thorough dependence upon the earthly community of beings, it can only be because we’ve forgotten (or dismissed as irrelevant) the sensory dimension of our lives”. And also this: “Sensory experience … is the way our body binds its life to the other lives that surround it, the way the earth couples itself to our thoughts and our dreams.”

So, we need to acknowledge the aliveness of the world around us, and not see it as a trap for our spiritual journey. We are part of the body of the earth, not a spiritual being trapped inside a base material body. We do not need to aspire to a transcendent, abstract god (or spirit), living above us in an ethereal realm. What we really need, especially in this time of change, is to attune to the (multi-voiced and multi-faceted) spirits of the place where we are currently living – the earth, our locale, our place. We need, as David Abram says: “Practices that draw human groups into ever deeper accord with the exuberant nature that surrounds them, enabling community to thrive in reciprocity with a flourishing terrain.”

So stop, and listen: the earth is calling you. Can you hear the whispers on the wind? Can you feel the energy of the sun? Can you (will you) connect with the gaze of another animal, knowing that his or her eyes function just like yours?