Entries tagged with “ecological imagination”.


oceansunrise01bcompMany things happen at the edge. At the edge of our awareness. At the edge of our thinking. The edge is a place where things can be a bit fuzzy. In ecological terms ecotones, the edge of two ecosystems, is often a place of species richness, of variety.

To feel into my edge, to concretely connect to nature, (as opposed to talking about it) I woke early to experience the sunrise on a Sydney beach. The seashore is an elemental meeting place of earth and water. It is a place of shifting patterns, and a place to meditate on some of the meanings of the interaction of different forms, of fuzzy edges, of loose boundaries. Where do I begin, where does the other begin? Do I have hard or permeable boundaries? When do I choose to let others in?

The seashore fascinates me. It is the place where ancestral beginnings tug on my memories, with recurrent rhythms of tides and surf. And the vastness of the ocean overwhelms the sense of my own importance, reinstalls my sense that I am just one part in this great cosmos. The horizon, as a place where sky and ocean meet, beckons as a doorway of possibility.

I see the Sun rise out of the depths of the ocean to greet the world once again. New beginnings. New dreams being created. I watch the Sun peek over the horizon, as it starts to colour the sky. I am excited. I am filled with awe. I am captured by this moment. What a simple ritual to connect more deeply to the rhythms of this earth, and this particular place.

I am reminded of what a Huichol shaman Matsuwa said in the book  Shamanic Voices by Joan Halifax:

“we have forgotten our life source, the sun, and the sacred sea, the blessed land, the sky, and all things of nature.” He warned us, “you are not getting (your) love up to the sun, out to the ocean, and into the earth.  When you do. . . (it) brings life force into you.”

The sparkles on the face of the ocean capture my attention, as does all the ways in which the watery domain expresses itself – froth, bubbles, movement. All separate, but all part of the whole. Each drop has its own existence, but only for a while, and when it forms a wave its existence is as part of the greater whole.

My body hears the drumming of the waves, the way in which the ocean scrapes its watery fingers across the sand. This place is full of great compositions of art, music, drama and life.

The edge here is magnificent – the edge of solidity, the edge of watery. I stand between both, on the edge.

storm-cloudsI feel that one of the main reasons for the current confluence of crises we face today is our collective forgetting about our rightful place in the world and a forgetting of how we should live our lives.

So, a really big question for today: How do we find meaning and purpose in these troubled times?

Michael Meade from Mosaic, a mythologist and storyteller, has a rather different view of the crisis. He says:

Change, so greatly desired, is not easily accomplished. Genuine change requires that one’s whole life be altered mind and body, spirit and soul. Such transformations require accepting some element of loss as well as finding a new way to proceed. Usually, the missing ingredient when it comes to making changes is the soul. Since the soul prefers the depths of knowledge, as well as the deeper feelings, life usually has to grow darker and times become harder for soul to enter and meaningful change to begin.

Life seems to be growing darker, and the times seem to be getting harder. Are we ready for genuine change? Or are we just trying to get back to “normal”? I have to say that normal wasn’t so good: for most of the people of the earth, the earth itself, or other creatures! We don’t want to get back to normal; we need to imagine a new way of living, a way of living based on new rhythms, new principles, and a new way of relating (to ourselves, each other, and the earth).

What are we prepared to lose? Or are we all clinging to our securities (or insecurities), which holds us back from a new world emerging?

Perhaps the way “out” of the crisis, is to go deep “inside” it, to see what wisdom we can uncover? In the words of Michael Meade:

Soul would lead us down, past the “bottom line” into the real depths of life. Soul would make us go deeper in order to make us wiser. Secretly, our souls seek wisdom and wisdom is a darker knowledge found in dark places and in dark times.

So I propose a stimulus package for our imaginations! We desperately need more imaginative power than has been shown by business and political leaders, who are really proposing more of the same tired old way. By accessing our inner wisdom, our dreams and our imaginations, perhaps we can re-vision a world that is markedly different from the past, and a long way from “normal”. Perhaps we can all find our own path, not one that has been well worn by others, but the path that is uniquely ours to make.

I am sure that you can imagine a better future world that what is being presented to us at the moment. Do you want to share that with us?

When asked how to get Western society to understand the indigenous worldview, Melissa Nelson, professor in American Indian studies at San Francisco University, responded in Sacred Fire magazine:

“I’m interested in the eco-psychology movement because it’s critical of the more didactic approach of the environmental movement that says, “You must change! You’re ruining the environment! Be guilty and adopt these better ways, or else we’re all going to die!” We know that this approach does not work. It does not work for anything.”

Melissa also says that the most appropriate way to get others to understand a different worldview must be through an invitation. And an invitation, of course, is not manipulative, nor based in fear, since you can always decline the invite.

So, in this spirit, I would like to invite you (in a non-didactic way) to journey with me in 2009 to a different way of being through a radical re-imagining of the world, and a radical re-imagining of ourselves. This requires a deep imaginative capacity, so lacking in our literalised and fact-filled world.

While we mostly understand the world around us (and I suspect also other people) in strictly utilitarian ways, my approach to a new way of being is to imagine myself as one colourful thread in the rich tapestry of life on this planet. I try and see the earth, each other, and the many and varied forms of nature, with soft eyes, with compassion, with kindness, and most importantly with love. I also believe that mystery is at the heart of nature and ourselves. To get closer to that mystery, sometimes even just catching a quick glimpse, takes a lifetime of practice.

This “getting-to-know” others, especially non-human others, and the space created between, requires skills that are not associated with the intellect, or our educated, objective, rational, analytical minds. They are contained within the realm of soul – the symbolic, the mythical, the poetic, the not-knowing, and the imaginal.

Perhaps we can best arrive at this “getting-to-know” place through non-intellectual ways: ritual, meditation, dance, art, wild encounters, a bodily felt sense, intuitions, and especially through our dreams. Perhaps by accessing these other ways, we can more fully participate in the dream of the earth, and the dream of our souls.

So, this year, I would like to invite you to explore other ways of knowing, as well as exploring the deep inter-relatedness of nature-self-others. And I hope we can have some fun on the way!

I will leave you with a short (haiku-like) poem I wrote:

Nature resides deep
Hidden from view, mostly
Whose eyes watch, from where?

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.