Social Ecology and Spiritual Ecology have common goals: Finding and solving the root causes of our environmental problem. However there have been a rift between them and for the past twenty-five years I have been curious as to why. What would an integration look like and how could it take place?
In retrospect I wasn’t clear as to what I needed to do. Did I need to integrate these two schools or injecting a cohesive analysis of spirituality into the philosophy of social ecology. At the end it turned out to be contemplation on spiritual sensibility within social ecology. This essay is about exploring what contemplation means in reference to hierarchy.
If you want to get right to the heart of the essay skip the next part in italic which are stories of how I got to my theories.
In 1988 I went back to college focused on archetypal studies, transpersonal psychology, spirituality, etc. A couple of years into these courses an unexpected esoteric experience at a meditation center threw me into an altered state of consciousness. Getting myself home from meditation center was an ordeal and trying to understand what had happened took decades. A lot of people didn’t know how to talk to me never mind sitting down to give me a good theory as what had happened to me nor to help me get an inner knowledge.
At best I met a woman who had a moment of recognition as in, “Oh, you went out the more secure world of reality and came back! And the people who helped you get there did know how to welcome you back!?” She was both amazed and furious. I remember her posture and facial gesture and her tone of voice vividly but I don’t think I’ll recognize her if I saw her today. It felt like a load off shoulder. Load of frustration, sadness, and loneliness. I relax into state of lightness even if for a short time. There was no outwardly affection such as a hug. She asked for a ridiculously small amount of money for the one session I saw her. This was in late 1991 and back then I thought of her as a kinder soul and a good therapist but now I also see her shamanic potential. In writing this essay I have come to recognize a shaman as a kinder soul who is fearless and travels to where others won’t.
For graduate studies I had planned to take Transpersonal Psychology route in Colorado and but I changed my mind and went back to Vermont to study Social Ecology at Goddard College. I decided to be practical and change the world! I wanted to use sustainable community agriculture to empower communities. Use liberating technology and education to empower people. Memories of a class I took at Goddard about ten years earlier when I first heard about the philosophy of Social Ecology were coming back. The next summer I was at Goddard for a month long program where I learned about dialectical naturalism from Murray Bookchin and others. Bookchin was a Jewish-American guy from Brooklyn who had moved to Vermont (much like Bernie Sanders but elder by 20 years). I believe in the core of his theory however from one perspective I was more aligned with Dan Chodorkoff, who co-founded the Institute for Social Ecology with Murray in 1974.
In one of the lectures I heard Murray say that believing in not having an ideology was an ideology in itself. That through me for a loop and for months I struggled with it. I wanted to choose a better ideology than the one I apparently had chosen without knowing which was non. I couldn’t argue against the fact that I had chosen ‘no ideology’ as an ideology. Still I kept gravitating towards openness and I wrote about it to my adviser, Dan Chodorokoff. Around October of that year Dan wrote me back.
”…you have recognized that your ideology is openness. This is an important insight. I too, though I have a clearly (I hope) articulate set of beliefs, have rejected the concept of ideology. That is because an ideology is, by definition, a closed system of belief. Instead I have embraced the concept of philosophy of life. This is not, for me, simply a semantic distinction. Rather than be locked into a system of thought, a philosophical orientation allows one to develop a core set of principles around which one can orient ideology, in other words to stand for a set of values, yet retain the openness to continually re-evaluate those beliefs in relation to new experiences and ideas. I find this a much more valuable approach than on which is purely ideological,“ Dan wrote. In this essay, I use the term “social ecology” in reference to Murray Bookchin with a Chodorkoffian twist.
My curiosity with the “Emergence and disillusion of Hierarchy” began a year before the book with that subtitle written by Bookchin was published. The title of it is, Ecology of Freedom. Back in `81 is small classroom lecture I heard social ecology in simple ways. The professor said that social ecology was more like the way Native Americans lived with the land and with others before the industrial revolution and before their new neighbors moved in. He wrote on the white board:
|Current System||Conservationists||Preservationist||Social Ecology|
|Use as much natural resources as you want, as quickly.||Keep some for other generations to use.||Don’t interact with the natural areas. Leave it be.||Interact with others and ‘first’ nature without dominating.|
A burning question during and for year after graduate school was how to integrated the theory of social ecology or dialectical naturalism with spirituality. The path on this journey wasn’t always clear and in fact it looked quite impassable at times. Spiritual ecology books didn’t do it for me for I didn’t come across a teacher in that field who could draw me in. An unexpected light on the path came in May 2015. I was free writing for a blog and this question showed up: Are you willing to contemplate the roles of hierarchy in your life? Also I notice that I had Social Spiritual Ecology. Initially I thought maybe it’ll be the name for a new field. It’s either not or time will tell, no matter. What mattered was the question and it had it’s impact on me.
In that question we have the word contemplate which comes from Latin with Greek origin. There is a prefix, a suffix, and a temple in the middle. A sacred place. As I sat with the question during the following weeks and months I was sitting with questions such as; How do we recognize a sacred space? What’s the appropriate way to enter it? The more I sat with these questions the less heat my passion had to defend Bookchin’s theory. I still believed in and admired that field of study for it opened doors for those of us who recognized it for what it was and is, ecologizing the dialectic.
Contemplation on the roles of hierarchy became a new point of reference, or reverence if you will, and a new synthesis. It has proven to be dynamic for it unfolded it’s layers one by one in due time and I imagine that it’ll continue to do so. I used to struggle with the lack of coherent analysis of spiritual in social ecology but I’m longer concern with that issue. No need for defense, offense, arguing for or against any ideology. This synthesis brought simplicity to my life. All I needed to do in order to begin a discussion was to pose a question: Are you willing to contemplate on the role hierarchy plays in your life? I’m good with any answer. Yes, no, maybe or a simple nod as in a consent to contemplate. Or someone might ask me to elaborate on what I mean by hierarchy and contemplation. Either way, a discussion has started.
Rather than walk into the pool from the shallow side let me dive right into the deeper end of the pool, even though I don’t know “how deep” it is! I wonder if the philosophy of social ecology has been waiting to integrate this synthesis? In the least it is worthy of exploring by individuals associated with social ecology because social ecology’s ever evolving philosophy, it’s developmental evolutionary process and its constant drive to enter dialectical thinking was partly responsible for this question to show up.
Are you willing to enter sacred space? An individual associated with social ecology may ask for my definition of sacred space. My answer is; Are you willing to explore what a sacred space is in your own terms? To which he or she (uou) might answer; Not only am I willing, I have been to sacred space. And to which I’ll ask for a description of that experience. uOu may answer; It’s an inner sacred experience. It’s my inner secret. To which I say; Thank you. I appreciate that you don’t want to make that public. However there is an urgent need to share your experience with the sacred within your local intentional community, your libertarian municipal or your local tribe. We have shared our personal sacred stories in tribal settings all over the world for millenniums before the onset of hierarchical mindset and for many year after.
The first theory brought forth by this synthesis is: Lose of our tribal ability to hear someone’s experience with the sacred and the lose and/or degradation of individuals who knew how to draw those vision from sacred space into the day to day life has let us down the path to where we are today.
The second theory is built on Bookchin’s theory. He believe that we didn’t have the system of hierarchy, at some point in human history it emerged and we’re now disillusioned by hierarchy. I think what helped hierarchy to emerge is our negative traits such as greed. Further; Yes we are disillusioned by hierarchy but we can’t get rid of hierarchy because we can’t get rid of negative human traits such as greed. The very thought of getting rid of hierarchy has the elements of greed in it. What we can do is, lessen the impact of greed on the society and first nature.
We can do that with the help of the members of our community/tribe including the shamans. For example, we knew we had biological survival instincts but tribal culture and rituals helped us to lessen the impact of our negative traits on our ecology. We found ways not to allow the act of recreation turn into lust. We had found ways of honoring the need to provide, protect, and discipline our young but not to turn it into destructive anger. We did these through developing positive rituals and culture. We focused on developing tribal philosophy rather than developing personal philosophy as we are doing today.
With the emergence of patriarchy and hierarchy our way of life began to change and since the emergence of Industrial Age our lives have really changed. Humans tribal performance of rituals are now global performances rather than small and communal. The lead actors on global stages become sensations and wealth comes their way yet sense of loneliness is not uncommon. The loss of private communal rituals has had significant negative impact on human behavior and relations.
The organic societies (preliterate societies) with far less technological and scientific achievements seem to have governed better than democratic and socialist governments today. They feed, sheltered, provided work, entertainment and law and order for all people. I live in North America, Oregon and I’m thinking about Native American tribes who lived here before the European settlers took over and rapidly changed the culture and the landscape through their ingrained hierarchical and patriarchal mindset. I am not an expert on Native American Studies but it’s easy to find out that 200 years ago the native tribes and sovereign nations in North America had governing systems and autonomous local governments.
I have no intention of putting certain Native American tribes on the pedestal and I certainly won’t use the label which was used so that taking the land from them or massacre of this race could be justified. The important fact and often ignored fact is this; Native Americans didn’t have problems of homelessness, unemployment, child hunger and loneliness as we now have in 2017 in Oregon and other parts of the United States of America (I don’t even want to mention the refugee crisis and other problems in the rest of the world for I’ll get side tracked). Native Americans were able to govern society better than we are today on this very same land. This is not to undermine the effort of hundreds of thousands of people in local, state and federal governments, NGOs and private citizens who are trying to improve the lifestyle of the less fortunate or even ordinary citizens.
Imagine a child growing up in one of Oregon’s Native American tribes about 250 years ago. uOu was in an environment where the belief of having a spirit or the thesis of having a soul was questioned, examined and researched and at the same time daily food gathering and other chores were maintained depending on individual’s skill set, interest and physical capability. There were also individuals in the tribe who researched the relation between their spirit and the physical world on daily bases. I’ll call individuals with this level of commitment to spirituality, shamans, regardless of their location on the globe. Another title for people who have interest in spiritual research in our age could be Spiritual Researcher.
People around the world sought guidance from shamans. The tribe held cultural events which included rituals and storytelling about their relation to the sacred and everyone was welcomed. These local cultural events gave a sense of belonging even to people who weren’t that interested in spirituality. Some didn’t even question the spirit world and simply accepted it but if they wanted to act in one of the rituals they did, for no reason other than entertainment. Or simply sat in the audience and observed. Maybe a person got teary eyes from hearing a sad tail and it was just what uou needed on that day or on another event laugh out loud at a joyful and/or comical scene. Their spiritual views and practices were integrated with the way they governed their community.
Just as the concept of owning the land was foreign to them perhaps secularism was a foreign concept or more like a non-existent therefore meaningless concept to them. Yet these local governments were able to take care of their people well. Today the well intentioned billionaires and bureaucrats can’t figure out how to deal with “homeless” epidemic or feed the children who go hungry in one of the richest countries in the world with a non secular democratic governing system, free press and massive natural resources.
Liberal and conservative folks have heard about the flaws in our present day democracy and even in the free press but they may be puzzled, especially liberals, by hearing flaws in secularism. Questioning secularism doesn’t mean that I’m thinking about bring back the old church and its hierarchy. My point is this; Secularism doesn’t seem to be helping Americans to govern themselves as it helped a couple of million European settlers in small pockets of land in the east coast of US, some 240 years ago, to free themselves from the authoritarian British religious regime. (I wonder if there are liberal folks who have blind faith in secularism? How ironic if it’s true.) I don’t have a manifesto to show the way to a better way of governing society however I recommend examining theories below.
Our environmental and social problems are due to our diminishing ability to form face-to-face and local communities with a healthy governing structure. In other word, lose of well functioning tribes (I’ll make the connection later if needed). This loss of community is due to our diminishing ability to share our sacred stories within a safe and small circle of people in our local community or our tribe. These two diminishing abilities are rooted in the emergence of hierarchy in human consciousness. What caused that emergence is our personal and transpersonal tendencies to gravitate towards greed and other negative traits.
Greed in us under twisted spiritual practices could go so far that in ancient Egypt, Pharaohs would bury their jewelry and gold with them in the pyramids or tombs for the after life events. Hierarchy or the system of command and obedience can get so ingrained in human consciousness that Pharaoh’s guards were pretty much always sealed in the tomb with the pharaoh’s dead body so they can be with him in after life. One example of similar behavior at present is in North Korea without an apparent spiritual element. Obedience is rooted to the extent that the country does not have checks and balances in place to question authoritarian actions nevermind disobey once higher ranking member.
Philosophical theories such as Essentialism and Existentialism come from individual thinking and making decisions, not from a community or tribe’s decision making process, for all it’s members. Because of this emphasis on individualism these philosophical theories lack cohesiveness. When a philosophical theory is build on the foundation or the mindset that hierarchy has always been with us and it is part of life then individualism flourished and personal freedom becomes more important than ecological freedom.
They are philosophical theories based on a foundation that is missing an important element or understanding much like using the wrong or weak kind of mortar to hold the bricks together in the foundation of a house. They don’t see the crucial necessity that I see; Needing to be an individual yet an integral part of a local tribe.
Bookchin said, “…our consciousness must be neither poetry nor science, but a transcendence of both…”. Maybe we had this transcendence, that Murray mentions here, long ago with the help of the shaman in the tribe in a private meeting or at the height of a community ritual. I’ll get to that later in the story of Shaman on a House Call but first let me tell you the story of The Emergence of the Pseudo Shaman or Fake Shaman.
A long long time ago a man in a tribe who wasn’t a shaman wanted to have the reverence that a shaman received. It’s possible that this person was a woman but based on overwhelming historical evidence of patriarchy my character is a man. The time period is somewhere around 15 to 25,000 years ago and the location could be China, Africa, Mesopotamia or else where.
This guy’s main objective was to get gifts and recognition. To keep this essay short and as simple as possible let us jump ahead in the story to the part where he managed to be recognized as a shaman. I’m sure you have heard of people with intense desire to get a job that they have no real experience in nor have they been groomed to do it. And you may have witnessed how they can manipulate the people to give him the job he wanted.
Also in order to keep the essay from being too long I’ll talk about one of our several negative traits to show how it can cause turmoil for our soul and for our community. Greed is the trait I’ll be working with but as you know there are other negative traits such as anger, lust, egoism or narcissism and finally, a constant sense of attachment to the world of matter regardless of soul’s needs. I find that I need to remind myself and the reader about our more positive traits such as kindness, ability to face our fears, love and compassion.
Back to the story of our pseudo shaman who by now was much older and at the top of his game. Time death was nearing and he wanted to pass the torch or rather the greed mindset to the next generation. The new boss, either his eldest son or the greediest son, improved on the skills having more domination over the people and the people were programmed further to be more obedient than their parents. He passed on this new improved way of life to his son who was more like a warrior than a shaman. This warrior pseudo shaman took over the neighboring tribe because he lusted after a young woman in that tribe and a kind of food they made. He made a promise to this tribe that not only he won’t ask for anything else but he’d also protected them from any other such attacks by other imaginary warrior tribes. Further they should treat him as family and give him their loyalty. He passed on the power to two of his sons. The son by the woman from the new tribe became the hierarch of that tribe and a son from his first wife became the hierarch of his original tribe.
Eventually the son from his original tribe attacked the second tribe, killed his half brother and became the hierarch of both tribes. But the people of the second tribe rebelled and killed him. Wars between these two tribes continued and the domination/obedience programing was passed on the generations after. As decades and centuries passed and this system or mindset moved to the neighboring tribes and beyond. People forgot how it all started. They were busy to organize to defend their tribe. By the fifth or sixth generations most people thought that hierarchical system was around forever and couldn’t imagine other way life. Through the millenniums greed grew more and more and the system of hierarchy was more and more established around the world to where we now have the 1% of extremely wealthy in the U.S. and around the world.
Greed is a “deadly sin” as we are told by several hierarchical religious establishments. I agree. It’s so powerful and deadly that some of the people within these religions don’t realize that they’re even more susceptible to greed once they have built and believe in a hierarchical establishment which helps greed grow. Some of the people at the top of these religious hierarchies (and some at the top of other hierarchies such as business or government who are in line with these religious hierarchies) believe that global warming is a hoax. That’s how deadly greed is.
How did greed create hierarchy? My short answer is; Some people wanted stuff more than others and they did what it took including manipulating others by either trick, or guilt trip to get what they wanted. They also wanted things to be done their way and they wanted others to obey them and they got angry and used force if people didn’t show obedience. They became the dominators and the system of domination and obedience or hierarchy was established.
If greed created the hierarchical mentality and this mindset or core value has created today’s 1% extremely wealthy, global warming and other problems then does it make sense to try to eliminate the system of command and obedience and greed? Within the conventional reasoning and the way I posed the question the answer seem to be a simple yes. But it’s not that simple because it’s not logical to believe we can get rid of greed. Greed has dug itself deep into our minds and consciousness. Hierarchical ideals were created by people with greed for the people with greed to thrive. Therefore greed benefits from having hierarchical mindset in place and hierarchical mindset remains as long as there is greed and we can’t get rid of greed. But we can face our negative traits such as greed within our own psyche with the help of our community or a true shaman.
Greed is a powerful trickster and it’s so ingrained in human consciousness that even trying to eliminate greed could very well cause a person to enter a greedy state of mind. Greed has created our problems but to focus on eliminating greed and hierarchy is not the way to solve our problems. In fact it’s impossible to get rid of greed because the more we try to get rid of greed and hierarchy the more they’ll grip to power and control. Greed is the reason hierarchical mindset is in place and as soon as it sees threats it’ll ramp up its domination through fear, attachment, lust, anger, violence, egoism and whatever weakness or addiction a person might have to keep us in line.
I have heard from general public who don’t have that much of an interest in philosophy, religion or politics but do go to church or temple once in awhile that our environmental problems are caused by greed. Obviously I don’t disagree but this is what I don’t hear enough; We have a hierarchical mentality in place that allows for greed to thrive. From some of the people who are interested in philosophy and politics and understand the emergence of hierarchy is at the root of our problems I get a sense that they want to eliminate not only authoritarian states but any form of hierarchy. I have to admit that not only I used to want to be part of creating non-hierarchical community to replace hierarchical systems but I also wanted hierarchy to go away. But after the synthesis presented in the paper started to unfold I remembered that if something is detrimental to our survival and we think about getting rid of it by just cutting it off it may grow back and that act of cutting off may have negative side effects. A quick fix may not be the right fix and the act of cutting is has domination mentality over what we want to cut out. To become aware of how detrimental hierarchy is and what has caused is a good idea.
If we just believe in the thesis of “emergence and dissolution of hierarchy” and the thesis that hierarchy was developed through greed yet we can’t get rid of greed or hierarchy anytime soon, then what? If there is no magical wand to remove greed from the face of earth and with the logic above we can’t remove it then what do we do? The conventional logic finds itself at the end of a dead end road. Thank God we don’t have to rely on conventional reasoning alone for ever evolving dialectical reasoning and/or mystical state of consciousness are also available to us. We may realize that we can’t eliminate hierarchy and we’ll just have to live with it the best we can yet not lose the hope that we are doomed and have the intention of replacing it with something better at the right time. (A dialectical reasoning becomes a conventional reason once a convention of people come to realize or understand it as a valid reason. I don’t know if others have also come up with this theory and have even proven it which is another topic.)
In any case, even through conventional reasoning we can arrive to my next point which is, there is this other field called spirituality which has been addressing greed and other negative traits for millenniums. Maybe we ought to study that field closely with a fresh perspective!? Sifting through millenniums of hierarchical manipulation of shamanic roles and spirituality is not a simple task to be done in one afternoon. Before I talk more about spirituality let’s stay with the philosophy of social ecology for a bit.
“By hierarchy, I mean the cultural, traditional and psychological systems of obedience and command, … I refer to the domination of the young by the old, of women by men, … of countryside by town, and in a more subtle psychological sense, of body by mind, of spirit by a shallow instrumental rationality, …” Bookchin wrote in 1982 introduction to The Ecology of Freedom – The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy.
There are individuals around the globe who have been forming non-hierarchical models for communal living and working. Tribal philosophy is slowly brewing in small ways in different parts of the world but the personal philosophy is all too prevalent, consuming ego and continues to develop.
As I mentioned earlier by hierarchy I, too, mean the idea and systems of command and obedience. Up until recently the believe that hierarchy had always been with humanity and it exists in the natural world or “first nature” was universal. It was believed that when a lion who runs after a deer and kills it for sustenance is in fact showing his superiority in animal “kingdom”. Does this lion think of itself as the “king of the jungle” or that “I have dominion over the deer” or are we the ones who have been thinking in those terms?
For over fifty years now a thesis has been brewing which says that hierarchy is a manmade concept or rather a human made concept. In organic societies some 15, or 25,000 years ago (or much more recent in certain small pockets around the world ) humans didn’t have any notion of command and obedience in their thoughts, words or actions. In interacting with each other and with their environment we didn’t consider ourselves above or below each other and not necessarily equal. We were part of our environment and we had our roles to play according to gender, age, interest and skills. Obviously I happen to agree with this thesis and through the years I have met people who agree or at least gravitate towards agreeing with it once I explain it. I have also met folks who immediately disagree. They believe hierarchy is part of ”nature” and has always been part of our consciousness.
As I mentioned earlier, argue for or against ideas including my own in not my intention. However since I can’t say that greed has been eliminated from my psyche I could fall into defense or offense in ideological terms as an automatic reflex. If that happens I hope/pray that there is enough awareness so I can snap out of it sooner than later. One of the things which has helped me recently is to ask myself; How am I contemplating on the roles of hierarchy in my life?
The word hierarchy has it’s roots in Greek. In Persian, my first language, there isn’t one word for hierarchy or one word for the system of command and obedience. If we look up hierarchy in a Persian we’ll get سلسله مراتب which are two words and to translate them back to English word by word we’ll have, chain of status or range of status and one of the examples the dictionary gives is, “..as in the military.” When I wrote an article in Persian on Social Ecology and dialectical naturalism I translated not the word hierarchy but the words command and obedience فرمانداری و فرمانبرداری. Both these word start with the verb Farmon فرمان which means to command. If I translated them back into English the first word literally mean one who gives a command and one who accepts or obeys the command given. In Persian the word Farmon is often used politely and with softness and reverence. It doesn’t have the harshness of the word command in English. You might have seen in some old movies that the Middle Eastern character comes to the British officer or hierarch and says something which might have been translated into English in this way; Your wish is your command to me. Or “Your wish is my command”. Well the British and the white race didn’t understand that character and uos language which is a whole other story.
The word hierarchy came from hierarkhēs, meaning ‘sacred ruler’. This word came into Middle English via Old French and medieval Latin and the earliest sense of it in English was ‘system of orders of angels and heavenly beings’. The first question for me is not how the original meaning in Greek changed to the way it arrived into English. I’m interested to know how did the word ruler and the idea behind it come into Greek language and how did the phrase ‘sacred ruler’ began to form in human mind and psyche? Was there a word for ‘sacred person’, such as shaman, before the idea of a ruler began to form in human mind and consciousness? Was a ‘sacred ruler’ a lay person who wanted to be considered ‘sacred person’ in ancient Greek and did what uou could to get that status, including force and manipulation? Much like in story of The Emergence of Pseudo Shaman.
In reading social ecology I came across phrases like ‘new sensibility’ which made me pause and think. I have looked into my own sensibility, the sensibility of the places I was employed at and the culture I lived in. This phrase also made me think about the kind of sensibility to choose if in fact I’m free to choose a new sensibility. When I was sixteen I was sensitivity about poverty and hunger along with violence and dictatorship. I couldn’t relate to the established religion that I was born into or the religion which surrounded my childhood, Islam, or religion which surrounded my adulthood, Christianity. At sixteen I became fearless of the God I was to respect and fear and even denied “His” existence or authority. As years passed I became sensitive about other things such as about global warming, the homeless and loneliness epidemics. A new sensibility towards spirituality is obvious in this paper.
Another phrase by Bookchin which has helped me develop as a person and has beckoned me for years to examine the role of hierarchy within my own psyche and in my relationships, is the phrase “subtle psychological sense” – in the paragraph I quoted him earlier. However, right along with this phrase he gives a rare glimpse into his spiritual belief. Since one of the cornerstones of spirituality is the believe or the thesis that we have a spirit then if someone makes a statement which indicates that uou agrees with that thesis then can we not speculate that uou is stating a spiritual belief, as light as it may be?
(Bookchin may have not given my desired comprehensive analysis of spirituality but I can’t ignore his contributions as unpopular as they have been. For example, in 1964 he published an essay called Ecology and Revolutionary Thought where he warned that in 200 years the planet might face climate global warming because of the greenhouse effect. He wasn’t a scientist but he could see it coming far ahead of everyone else. According to Dan Chodorkoff, “He (Bookchin) was ridiculed for this prediction.” Not even 50 years after that essay global warming was nothing to be ridiculed as our consumption grew larger than imaginable even by a progressive thinker.)
Spirituality is a spectrum, a continuum. At one end of this continuum are individuals who simply believe that we have a spirit or we are more than body and mind and they leave it at that. Which is fine, not everyone has to have the same interest and questions. There are people in this group who will spend hours exploring the smallest cell in the body. Others in this group will explore the creative potentials of the mind. But they spend very little time to explore a thesis they believe in; Having a spirit. Certain questions my cross their mind, such as; Why do we have a spirit? Where did it come from? What will happen to the spirit when the body ceases to function – when we die? But they are far more interested in other questions in life. Joseph Campbell said that mythology began to take form when the first human asked what happened to uos friend when one minute this person was sitting next to uou and the next minute there wasn’t any movements, not even the breath going in and out or the sound of palpation on the chest. That’s when we began to think what is it that keeps us going other than biology. It was a mystery.
On the other end of the spectrum of spirituality there are individuals who invest much more time to understand what that mystery is. There has been spiritual evolution as well as intellectual one in human history. Seeking, finding, and following spiritual guidance which can lead a person to dissolve consciousness or their soul into the source of love or “Ocean of Love” is all that matters to them. The founders of world’s major religions and mystics whom no major religion was formed after them, such as Rumi, reached such goals. What the prophets also had in common was compassion, love, and kindness. But when their words became holy books to follow within the domination and obedience mindset, religions were formed and history is filled with religious wars. Oxymoronic is another word I learned from Bookchin which oddly bring me a smile at the same time! Amusement is needed in life but it’s not joke that war is quite the opposite of love and kindness. It appears that a definition of religion is, spirituality gone hierarchical.
Writers and speakers in the spiritual ecology movement who are also concern about the environmental state of the planet, have variety of backgrounds from professor of Anthropology to Suffi teachers. They have written books with topics such as; Spiritual Ecology and Ecotheology, The Dream of the Earth, Mystery Teaching from the Living Earth, Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution, Spiritual Ecology: Cry of the Earth, Deep Ecology, and many other books.
I understand the need for spiritual solutions which nurtures our soul and nurture our relation to the earth but with the way my brain works spiritual ecology is too vague for me to explain so here is how someone wrote about it in Wikipidea; “Spiritual Ecology is an emerging field in religion, conservation, and academia recognizing that there is a spiritual facet to all issues related to conservation, environmentalism, and earth stewardship. Contributors in the field of Spiritual Ecology contend there are spiritual elements at the root of environmental issues.”
Even if I had the desire to argue against spiritual ecology I couldn’t find anything in the description above to disagree with. Yet I haven’t come across analysis within spiritual ecology which grabs my attention. Defending the Earth, published in 1991 is a discussion between Bookchin and David Forman which I was told that it’s a fight between social ecology and spiritual ecology. But they both have the desire to solve the ecological crises! Why would they fight? I don’t think I even cracked that book open. I remember being at a couple of lectures by Bookchin at Goddard College in 1992 and I knew how passionate and angry he could get. Another reason for not being interested in that book was that I already knew his critique of spiritual ecology and deep ecology. He thought that they had the tendency to put nature or rather the first nature on the pedestal above people which to him was a hierarchical mindset.
“Hierarchy is not merely a social condition; it is also a state of consciousness, a sensibility toward phenomena at every level of personal a social experience.” From The Ecology of Freedom. “Early preliterate societies (“organic” societies, as I call them) existed in a fairly integrated and unified form based on kinship ties, age groups, and a sexual division of labor. Their high sense of internal unity and their egalitarian outlook extended not only to each other but to their relationship with nature. People in preliterate cultures viewed themselves not as the “lords of creation” but as part of the natural world. They were neither above nature nor below it but within it.” Not only this paragraph made sense and grabbed my attention I have read it many times and spent much time pondering it’s message.
David Forman in Confessions of an Eco-Warrior asked, “Why Wilderness?” Then he gives a list of reasons to which he answers, “no” to all of them. Followed by an acceptable answer, “Because wilderness is. Because it’s the real world, the flow of life, the process of evolution, the repository of that three and a half billion years of shared travel.” I love poetry and poetic gestures. I’ll go as far as saying that without poetry, without Hafez I wouldn’t be alive today.
“Cry of the Earth”, “A Quiet Revolution”, “Wilderness is” and other phrases like these can stir emotions but we need to do better to figure our way out of global warming. “The new consciousness and sensibility cannot be poetic alone;” from The Ecology of Freedom. “They must also be scientific. Indeed, there is a level at which our consciousness must be neither poetry nor science, but a transcendence of both into a new realm of theory and practice, an artfulness that combines fancy with reason, imagination with logic, vision with technique.” These couple of sentences have push the boundaries of my imagination.
A Shaman on a House Call is a story that could be told within a Native American tribe in Oregon 200 or 500 years ago or in early organic societies long ago in Africa, China or Middle East. One day a family noticed their teenage son, by the name of Soam, is acting abnormally and appears that he’s having visions and hallucinations or what we now call psychotic behavior. They send for the Shaman. By the time Shaman arrives the family members and neighbors are surrounding Soam and are starting to hold him down by force. The Shaman asks everyone to move away and looks into the his eyes as they sit down and both go into a trans –They’re working beyond the material level but not beyond astral and causal levels.
Soam is now being guided by the Shaman on the inner journey. The Shaman comes out of trans and ask one of the parents to get some berries from a tree miles away. For a short moment this parent looks at Soams then back at the Shaman mesmerized. Then shifts gears, quickly prepares for the journey and takes off on foot. Soam goes through some hot and cold spells and by the next day the berries arrive, a tea is prepared which has a strong aroma and soon Soam comes back to the reality he had left earlier. He is quite changed by the visions he has had. For the next few days he goes over to the Shaman’s place and is helped to integrated that experience into day to day life. The parents bring the shaman gifts as token of their appreciation and give reverence. The shaman doesn’t accept their gifts yet accepts the reverence in a humble way.
A community ritual was coming up in a couple of weeks and the Shaman was contemplating on integrating Soam vision into the rituals. The message and messenger of that vision needed to be honored but on the other hand more time and integration was needed. During the rituals the Shaman suddenly felt the need for some items, a simple handmade tool and the berries. uOu quietly finds uos way over to Soam’s parents and requests those items. They are taken back by the request for even though the value of the tool is much less than the gifts they had offered earlier they needed it the next morning and in the back of their mind they were thinking that they needed the barriers in case. They delay a response since they figure they’ll need the tool much more than the Shaman for practical reasons and they’re not being pressured. Another family overheard the Shaman’s gentle request and they immediately and quietly send someone to bring these items which they also had at home.
After the community event and rituals everyone goes home and in the middle of the night Soam goes into another hallucination or a “psychotic episode” but more severe and out of control shakes than the first. The Shaman had an intuition this might happen and was in the middle of contemplative work for integrating Soam’s vision when uou was called for help. uOu could have stayed home and gone into trans to help Soam return from the inner journey and if uou had the berries would have simple given them back with some special instructions which was different that the first time the tea was prepared. uOu could see the karma between Soam and his parents and the needed shift to take place for him to continue in the inner journey with more ease and since the karmic shift didn’t take place a few hours earlier during the community ritual uou walks over to where Soam and his parents are. Soam comes back quicker this time and the parents humbly offer the Shaman the tool or rather they offer it in humiliation they feel. But the Shaman who had no material need for the tool in the first place had already received it from the other family. Soam grows up to become a shaman in his tribe.
What if we had an “…artfulness that combines fancy with reason, imagination with logic, vision with technique.” What if we had a consciousness which was “neither poetry nor science, but a transcendence of both into a new realm of theory and practice”?
Today we don’t have enough shamans and guides for our inner journeys. Yes we do have therapists and the hallucinations or inner journeys are mostly called psychoses or mental illness such as schizophrenia. “Hero’s Journey” is what Joseph Campbell called the inner journeys and described the stages of these journeys from the initial “call” to the “return home”. He also said, “The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” In the story above this Shaman became a signpost in the inner world that Soam recognized as the place to return to; Home. And not get lost into a place we now call psychoses. The recovery and integration back into the day to day life was very important. The Shaman helped Soam by guiding him to describe the visions he has had on the inner journey and what gifts did the journey had to offer to the tribe. And the elder shaman helped Soam as how to offer it to the tribe.
Nowadays young people don’t have a way to return home from such journeys and they get locked up in jails and if they’re lucky in mental hospitals and some wonder the streets as “homeless”. In some countries the therapists in these mental hospitals are educated and trained by an industry which may not have greed in check. Selling prescribed drugs for profit may have become priority and and they don’t even know it. Allowing greed to work them in conscious or subconscious levels more than their commitment to spiritual evolution. At the same time some of these therapists restricted by “ethics codes” dictated by a hierarchical central headquarter can lose their jobs and livelihood if they practice methods which are too “alternative”.
The story of the Shaman on a House Call has two important points. First, some people have inner experiences which goes beyond the physical boundaries and the mind’s limits of comprehension. They experience, as Joseph Campbell put it, “that which no tongue can soil”.
Rumi آدمی مخفی است در زیر زبان این زبان پرده است بر درگاه جان – مولوی
The second point of the story is, after someone comes through such an experience if the people, preferably the tribe members, simply take time to listen to uos story and vision they may get unexpected gifts or insights. They may also feel the need to give appropriate reverence to this person, not necessary giving authoritarian power or have expectations, but a simple reverence for the health of the whole community.
Sant Kirpal Singh (1894-1974) considered spirituality to be a science. “Science of Spirituality” is the way He put it in one of His talks. He said, and I’m paraphrasing; If we want to have a good understand of chemistry after we read the books we need to go to a chemistry lab and experiment with theories. Similarly if we want to gain a better understand of spirituality we need to go to its lab, the human body. “Close your eyes, go within and see for yourself.”
The field of spirituality which studies the relation between body, mind and spirit is ignored by majority of people as a viable scientific field. Yet it’s a field of science in which extensive research has been done for millenniums. It helps us to examine our inner makeup and find answers for questions such as; How did greed appear in human consciousness? How can I keep greed in check within? The correct practice of spirituality for each individual can help uou to have a glance at why we do the things we do which can’t be seen through other fields of science.
The answer to some of our questions don’t always come through conventional logic but through an awareness and through getting a glimpse of the larger picture of reality. If someone gets a glimpse of wholeness of our reality it’s not that simple for that person to explain what uou has seen or rather, have become aware of. In the story above we don’t know what the Shaman saw when uou was in trans. We know that uou came out of it and ask for berries from a tree located miles away. Maybe the shaman simply saw an image that if one of Soam’s parents goes on a day journey to get the berries uou will have a better appreciation of what Soam was going through on the inner journey and at the same time those berries were the right medicine to manipulate the brain’s chemistry for the final stage of return home and readjust to his physical environment.
The theories of spirituality can be studied in the laboratory within the human body with the right Master of the field. Spiritual teachers who only see part of the picture could help the seekers progress in the inner path but they can also lead the disciples in circles or even cause physical and psychological explosions in that lab. The shamans or whatever in different cultures they are called have the most important role in helping folks on the inner journey and can be in that role without the domination and obedience model of hierarchy.
If we want to go on a journey, for example through a dense part of Amazon jungles for the first time, and we have asked an experienced person to guide us then we better make sure this guide is trustworthy and once we begin the journey it makes sense to listen to uou and not take a path or detours which appear more attractive. There maybe narrow and dangerous part of the path coming right around the corner. We can’t simply take this guide words as recommendation but as matter of fact statements that we have to follow to it’s very details. It’s not about having obedience or have a blind faith in this person for the rest of our lives. It was uos job to tell about the dangers ahead and our job to listen for the duration of that journey.
Similarly if we want to go on an inner journey and through an inner labyrinth to see a more clear picture of reality it’s best if we find someone who has gone down that path and we trust this person. But unlike a journey through Amazon the spiritual journey is lifelong and we need to listen to our Shaman or Guru every day. There are thousands of verses of beautiful poetry by Rumi in praise of his Guru, Shams of Tabriz, who showered grace on him and showed him the path to a field beyond.
جز قصه شمس الحق تبریز نگویید از ماه نگویید که خورشید پرستیم
My Guru once said; Spirituality begins where the mind and intellect are finished. And His Guru said; Spirituality begins when all the desires of the disciple are finished. He was a disciple of Kirpal who said; Spirituality is a science, go to the lab and experiment. Rumi said; Language is a veil that hides the seat of the soul. So many different ways of addressing spirituality yet they are all speaking of the truth.
Spirituality is a path that one takes in order to leave duality and arrive at a place beyond. Rumi said, “Beyond the ideas of rightdoing and wrong doing there is field. I’ll meet you there.” For Saints like him spirituality is the path which leads one to a place where not only the body can’t travel to, the mind can’t go there either. That’s one reason that field cannot be fully described by the mind, intellect, and rationality. How could one get on a path that the mind can’t be clear as to where it leads to? The soul knows. When the soul develops enough love and faith in seeking what it needs we’ll have a chance to get on the path Home –then we’ll need to deal with the challenges of that path.
We have not been able to stop global warming through spirituality alone. We might have slowed it down a little through through social innovations along with technological advancements but the temperature may not be coming down fast enough. A new synthesis is needed; Are you willing to contemplate the roles of hierarchy in your life?