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Entries tagged with “eco-psychology”.


flannelbeeLately I have been wondering about sensuality, intimacy, desire and eros, and how these words can apply not only to our relationships to each other, but also to nature, land and place.

Terry Tempest Williams, author and environmental activist, writes of an “erotics of place”. Unfortunately, her phrase has been misunderstood, not surprisingly, in our over-sexualised culture. Terry writes that “erotic longing is the foundation of connection. Eros develops from the realisation that we are incomplete and fragmented – that our mask of wholeness that we present to the world is an illusion.”

Terry believes that there is a key distinction between the erotic and the pornographic. The erotic is based on genuine connection to, sharing with, and acceptance of another’s whole being, in intimate ways. Pornography involves domination, control, and the perception of another as a mechanism for satisfying desires. She calls pornography as “sensation without feeling”. From this perspective our current relationship with nature, land and place can only be described as pornographic, as we (mis)use the body of the earth, pollute it, gouge it and destroy it.

We hunger for deep connection, for communion, with each other and the land that supports us. This hunger arises from heart-felt desire. And desire is the pathway into our passion and the fulsome embrace of our unique journey in connection with our souls, each other, and the earth.

Joanna Macy, Buddhist scholar and deep ecologist, says this: “For when we see the world as lover, every being can become – if you have a clever, appreciative eye – an expression of that ongoing, erotic impulse”

How do we fall in love, make love, with the world? How do we develop an “appreciative eye”? We need to see the erotic impulse at the very heart of the earth, at our existence. Gravity, for example, is not only a force that keeps us on earth, but iis also the erotic impulse at the heart of the universe, the energetic attraction between heavenly bodies, including us, that keeps everything in right relation.

Maybe you could go to the beach and feel how the land body embraces the pulsing sea. Or sit beside a river and feel into the way the land holds the flow of river with understanding. Watch a flower blossom as it yearns for intimate connection with the sun. We can be like bees and pollinate the world with our love, and our desire for connection and intimacy.

Since our bodies don’t lie, we must allow our bodies to be heard, in all their sensuous richness. In engaging with an erotics of place, we must pierce the heart by bypassing our head, our discursive and analytical mind, and allowing the world to enter us through our senses.

I’ll finish with some more words from Terry Tempest Williams: “We need to feel the the magnetic pull of our bodies toward something stronger, more vital than ourselves. Arousal becomes a dance with longing. We form a secret partnership with possibility.”

Freya Mathews has written that every aspect of a culture takes on the colour of its basic attitude to reality.

So what is “our basic attitude to reality”? And is it time we brought our attitudes fully into our awareness so we can consider whether they remain appropriate to the current world situation? Are there alternatives that would assist us in the task of building a more life-enhancing and life-sustaining culture?

Our modern world-view draws a distinct boundary between humans (as subject or master) and world (as object or slave), and treats the world as non-living matter ready to be exploited for the sole benefit of humans. As a result we have created a lonely, meaningless world devoid of spirit and living presences. How we all long for a world of meaning and connection!

Earth wisdom teachers such as indigenous elders, eco-philosophers, eco-psychologists and holistic scientists, can provide us with an array of considered alternatives. They show us how we can tune into our own inner nature, as well as outer nature, and by doing so reveal to us deeper, richer and more varied ways of experiencing our selves and our world. It is a radical re-orientation to reality.

A day I spent with Uncle Max Harrison (Dulumunm), a Yuin Elder and teacher, revealed a radically different attitude to the world, one that is both respectful and very, very, slow. To walk a few hundred metres with Uncle Max can take hours as he teaches the way of nature, seeking out signs and listening for the voice of nature and/or spirits. He said that we need an attitude that allows nature to re-arrange us, in radical contrast to the modern way of re-arranging nature without listening to place, or respecting the voice of non-human others.

The alternative attitude being proposed by all these earth wisdom teachers is a world that is animated (all things are alive), radically ensouled, communicative and purposeful.

What a radically different world we would live in if our attitude to reality changed like this. It would challenge many foundational aspects of our culture, including the scientific interrogation of our world, our exploitative economics, our consumer lifestyle, our religions, our politics, and even the way we relate to others.

So, if you want to be truly radical, try going outside and really be in the world, just as it is. Imagine for a moment that the world is alive, and speaks, and all we need to do is stop, be quiet, listen and wait. and feel what comes. See the clouds, the sky, a tree, not as a spectator, but a participant. Feel the wind on your body. Take off your shoes and feel your feet connected with earth. Quietly sense and feel into your body (not your head). There might be a message in there. It might surprise you.

I recently spent a whole day, from sunrise to sunset, alone in a cave in a very secluded location in the Blue Mountains, NSW to try to re-connect to self and nature, and to the deeper mysteries at the heart of existence.

For most of our human existence, we have had a profound and reciprocal alliance with nature. We are now living with the consequences of breaking the covenant we once had with the living cosmos. So, I was called to spend a whole day alone to start to re-weave a deeper connection with myself and the living Earth.

So how did I go about reweaving myself back into the natural order? How did I compose my mind in such a way that I could be fully receptive to what was going on around me, and as well as  inside me at deeper (psychic) levels, so that resonances, and hopefully understandings, could occur between self and nature?

I am not sure that I was able to fully release myself from the shackles of a cultural norm that is ever and always distracted, is overly rational and objective, views nature as a dispirited and meaningless place, values abstractions over reality, and can’t conceive of nature as communicative other. But I suppose the most important aspect is that I tried!

On arriving at my cave, I simply took time to arrive, sit and be still. I dropped into my amazing sensory body, and particularly by allowing sight to just be one of many senses.  I let thoughts and distractions fade away.  I grounded myself in the eroded yellow sandstone of my cave floor, relishing the soft, sensuous qualities of this material.  I explored my cave, found footprints, which turned out to be lyrebird. I established my special place in the cave, with objects brought from home and local objects. I meditated. I danced. I cried. I slept. I felt deeply into my instinctual and intuitive body. I called to the world to let me know my purpose, my particular way of healing self and world. I sought to experience and resonate with the intelligence, beauty and subjective nature of my cave and locale.

Words lack the immediacy and depth of the senses, so my subjective experiences are difficult (or impossible) to convey. And to convey the voice of nature is impossible – it is not a human voice, but rather a poetic, mythical and richly textured one.

Freya Mathews shines some light on the voice of nature in her book Reinhabiting Reality.  She says: ” … the world must speak, if it speaks at all, in the poetic language of particulars … when one asks the world a metaphysical question, it often turns the beam of one’s enquiry back onto oneself, to highlight the wounded core out of which the question comes. You want to know about the nature of reality? it seems to say. Well, here, look at this. Before I can give you answers you’ll have to refine your questions. Let’s look at the secrets in the heart of the one who asks.”

The understandings from my day in the cave remain in a deep place of unknowing. For the moment, the secrets in my heart are being explored. Can I rest down into that place?

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.

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?