Entries tagged with “eco-philosophy”.


Our world is becoming more and more urban. Over 50% of the world now lives in cities, and the trend will continue. In Australia the proportion of urban dwellers is an extraordinary 90%. In China they are building massive new cities of huge size, seemingly overnight. The human migration to the cities is simply overwhelming (both us and the world), with almost all the stuff we buy, consume, or do, having its root in the material world. So along with the human migration, we have an extraordinary migration of nature (in the form of embedded soil, water, forests and dead animals) to the city where they are transformed into waste products.

As well as being homo citicus, there are figures showing that we spend more and more time inside – inside our cars, inside our workplaces, and inside our homes. Some figures show we spend 90-95% of our time inside, often in toxic and artificial places. Are we all suffering from something akin to ‘cabin fever’ due to our addiction to being inside all the time? Are we becoming fearful of being outside?

While city dwellers sometimes seek solace and renewal in natural places, this often involves driving for hours to get some quiet in a national park or a forest somewhere, and then battling the traffic to return to roar of the city.

I believe that we need to establish a new relationship with the earth around us, and in particular a relationship with the place where we live (and also the places we affect), whether this is in the city or the country. So how does an increasingly urban population do this? How does one connect to nature when we live in places where humans, and human artefacts, are so dominant, where nature is a long forgotten backdrop to our lives?

Is it possible to connect to nature in cities? The answer is yes, but it requires developing an awareness that above the cities is the sky (blackened by pollution), the sun is always shining (through the haze), and the air we breathe envelopes (and poisons) us. And yes, there are birds, animals and plants to become aware of, even though they are generally domesticated.

It’s time to slow down. We need to get out(side) more! And walk in the forests (or parks) along beaches (or local streams), and also on our local streets among our neighbours. And listen and connect to each other and the land (or footpaths), and reconnect to our places, whether in the city or the country.

But I still believe that being in wild places more often will be better for our souls.

Last week I had the wonderful experience of visiting an eco-camp in Far North Queensland, and seeing marine turtles labouring up the beach to lay their eggs. I also saw many hatchlings making their journey out of the sand in the dunes, and, as they have done for time immemorial, traverse the sand to the ocean, where their life becomes a precarious existence.

As a said, a wonderful experience, but there were aspects of this trip that concerned me greatly.

The first was how data was being collected on the turtles. I found this process deeply disturbing. First there was the tagging of the turtle fins, often done immediately after the turtle had finished laying her eggs. The turtle was ungracefully turned on its back, and a device was used to implant a metal tag into her front fins. The turtle “screamed”. This was an expression, I thought, of both pain and defiance. After millions of years of existence, the turtle has to endure this mutilation of her fins, and the indignity of being placed on her back. The scientific method simply does not treat the creatures it studies as worthy of respect – these creatures have survived very well with out the need for scientific studies. It is not as if we need further data to understand the lifestyle of turtles, and we are well aware of the current risks posed to turtles by fishing and development. Do the researchers need approval from someone to inflict pain and suffering on other creatures?

The second major concern was the inability of the other members of the group to just be with the turtles when we came across them on the beach. Imagine this scene: full moon rising, brilliant stars, other planets glowing, pulsing rhythmic waves caressing sand, and an ancient creature coming ashore. Can we witness and be present to this mysterious and magical event? No, incessant photo taking, mostly with flashes, and seeing all this through the lens of a camera. The objectifying sense of sight so common in our society is exaggerated through the taking of photos – just think about the common photographic words – “shoot”, “capture” etc.

Is it any wonder we can’t see the mystery in the world around us when we see everything through the distancing and objectifying sense of sight? And when we treat other creatures as entertainment, there for us to look at?

There is another way of encountering wildlife. And this is to bring our full awareness and all our senses (and love) to this mysterious and magical other, to notice the small things: how turtle breathes, the shape of her head, how she moves, how she is, being fully a turtle. This leads us to recover a sense of wonder and awe.

Here in Australia we are about to experience the Spring Equinox (23rd September 2008) when the Sun travels exactly over the Equator, and rises exactly due east and sets exactly due west. For many people this event will go unnoticed.

Even those who are aware of the Equinox, will not see any particular significance associated with this day, due in part to the stripping of all meaning and intelligence from the world around us by scientific rationalism and modernity.

In many cultures around the world, Spring starts on the Spring Equinox, but in Australia we celebrate Spring on the first day of September – so much for aligning with the seasons!

You don’t have to be a pagan to celebrate equinox! You may just want to feel the way in which the intelligence of the cosmos creates different seasons, and how we can feel different energies at this time of year, both inside your body and in the outside world.

So here is how I describe the Spring Equinox: It is a time when the darkness and cool grip of Winter give way to warmth and the birth of new light. The Spring Equinox represents the re-emergence of our souls after the descent of Winter, and enables us to set new visions, to feel the spark of new life, and develop new enthusiasms.

On the Equinox, the Earth and Sun are in perfect balance and harmony. So, it is a time of great harmony between the elements of light and dark – and a time when we can create some harmony in our lives. So, get some friends together, join hands, sing and dance together, and welcome the power of this celestial event. Send love to all beings, and the planet, so a new healing energy can come into play in the world.

In Kangaroo Valley, where I live, a group of us have organised a whole day celebrating the Equinox, and we have attracted over 60 adults and 20 children. For a small community this is really impressive.

The great summons of our time is to find our way home to our true nature in the living body of the Earth. Joanna Macy.

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?

Environmentalism has become very shallow in these “end-of-the-world” days when the garments of nature and culture are unravelling, and wearing thin. (In earlier times, these garments used to support us on our journey into, through, and out of life.)

These days we are bombarded with behavioural requests: turn off your lights, turn off the standby! These simple minded and crude attempts at being green hardly assist us to work towards healing the chasm that exists between nature and humanity.

Rarely are feelings of intimacy with nature evoked or explored. The imaginative space of wonder in nature seem to have been lost in favour of small behavioural changes, resulting in a loss of the rich history of nature as mysterious, numinous and as a guide to personal revelation. How can we heal nature when we no longer have nature in our hearts? How can we dream our lives and souls into their full existence when the dream of the earth is denied?

We are living through an impoverished story of our place in the world, mainly through the stories of reductionist scientific rationalism, and technocratic dreams of control and mastery. We have become entranced with wires, wheels and widgets. We have removed the heart and aliveness of matter and nature, and reduced it to a backdrop and resource for the everyday world of business and busy-ness. In this reduced story, humanity seems to have no idea of its how to find a grander purpose and meaning beyond the artificially constructed consumerist drive, and its narcissistic tendencies.

What we need more than anything else are stories that situate humanity as part of nature, as caretakers for a planet under siege. We need stories of being in relationship with an alive and purposeful nature. Stories that tap the roots of our deep imagination so we can re-imagine ourselves ecologically, where nature is revered for its role in supporting our very existence.

Where are these stories? Have they been lost forever? Will you share your story with us?

At this time on earth, we seem to be rushing mindlessly into the abyss. We are now experiencing (or, through denial, failing to experience) symptoms of our discordant and indulgent lifestyles (symptoms such as global warming, species extinctions, extreme poverty, war, terror, mass starvation – should I go on?).

While many may view these symptoms as problems to be solved, there is an alternative view of of symptoms as indicating something to be experienced and felt on a much deeper level. I would like to expound an alternative idea of these symptoms, influenced by the thinking of Robert Romanyshyn.

Rather than our typically modern approach of wanting to evaluate and diagnose the symptoms in order to “cure” them (and cure them quickly), our task, I believe, is to treat the symptoms as a call to listen and give voice to what would otherwise remain silenced, to challenge us in remembering what we have forgotten.

Perhaps the symptoms are revealing that our societies need to listen deeply to what is, at core, an ethical and moral problem (dare I say “spiritual”?), and not a technical problem. That is, it is the way we live on, and our attitudes to, this earth, (our one and only home) and our failure to imagine an alternative to mass industrial society and consumer culture that is the root cause of the symptoms.

While there is much talk of sustainabilty these days, there is little talk of what it means to be human, in an authentic way, in these perilous times. While the end of the world may indeed be nigh, that does not mean we can escape the injunction to live an authentic life, even up to the end. And remember, the end is also a new beginning. So, in a sense, the world does not come to an end.

We need to make visible the pathology of the current age by challenging current dominant values, such as: rationalism; disembodiement; privileging of certain ways of knowing;domination of women, nature and other animals; belief in infinite progress; industrialism; individual privacy; hyper-seperation from the earth; scientism; and many others. We need to challenge the concept of the earth as inanimate, as resource for our use, rather than the knowing the earth as alive with intentionality, meaning and purpose.

It is our industrial way of life, and our industrial way of thinking, that needs to be challenged.

This post takes a quick look at how environmental problems are constructed and viewed, and whether the conventional approach to changing society is up to the task.

Typically environmental problems are constructed through a scientific, technology and policy lens. Such a lens minimises the need for societal wide transformation and adopts a minimalist, incremental and shallow approach, mainly through policy and advocacy (legislative change) or populist campaigns (turn off or change the lights campaigns). It fails to argue for a radical transformation in societal governance, institutions and culture. This approach adopts the mainstream values of dominant society, which are a rationalist, detached and scientific view, often failing to recognise the social, cultural and psychological dimensions of issues.

The shadow side of the rationalist approach is that it reinforces the dominant culture instead of challenging it. We have backgrounded alternative ways of being in the world, based on engagement, connectedness, emotion, relationship and nurturance. It is no accident that these backgrounded values, emanating as they are from the feminine, are hidden or denied by patriarchal approaches. We need to address the anthropocentrism (human-centredness) of western ethics and practice, and the dualisms (mind-body, nature-culture) that create fault-lines and hierarchies in our society.

If the detached observer view of the world dominates, it creates a lens, both literal and metaphorical, through which the world is viewed. This view is one devoid of sensory engagement, or in other words a disembodied one. This is a way of thinking that has taken leave of its senses (literally and figuratively) through the denial of a bodily way of knowing the world (through both the senses and a felt sense). It results in a consciousness that creates a body fit only for amusement (since it does not have a role in knowing the world), a body insatiable in its demand for pleasure, distractions and stimulations. Are our overly rationalistic approaches giving rise to lifestyles (and bodies) that are inherently dangerous to the earth? How can people think of themselves as green, when they have little or no sensory engagement with nature, and the world around them?

What we really need is for people to love and be in the world, and not treat the world as a “resource” for our trivial needs and wants. The world is NOT a resource; it is NOT there to be used (how do you feel when you are used?). It is home for other lives that should have moral and ethical standing. Other lives that have been forgotten, minimised, and trivialised.

Can we work towards a transformation of our (ego) consciousness from one that seeks domination and control, to one based on an engaged planetary consciousness, in awe of the mystery and magic of the universe? We desperately need people to see the world and all other beings with loving eyes.