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?