Social Ecology and Spiritual Ecology have common goals: Finding and solving the root causes of our environmental problems. However there was a rift between them the last time I checked and for years I had questions such as, but why and what would it take for them to come together and cooperate on their common goals? What would an integration process be like and how could it take place? Finally it came a time that I felt the need to be more active in answering my questions.
In retrospect I wasn’t clear what I needed to do. Did I need to integrate these two schools, find a new school, injecting a cohesive analysis of spirituality into the philosophy of Social Ecology or what? (Yes, the latter is a mouth full and may sound arrogant to most people but that was the best way I could put it at the time and it was part of a process.) It didn’t turn out the above but something a little different and that is, exploring contemplation in reference to hierarchy.
Social Ecology is a developmental evolutionary step in line of Hegel’s philosophy which from that line of thinking, Carl Marx brought forth Dialectic Materialism. They were both in Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1960’s in the United States Murray Bookchin took this line of western philosophical thinking and through a “developmental evolutionary process” began to “ecologized the dielectic”. Simply put, he realized; What’s the point of having workers as equals and owners in the factories when they’re digging up the earth in massive scales to get raw material to use in those factories. Not only the sense of “domination” over “nature” didn’t set well with him, he saw it as the root of our ecological and social ills.
In getting active in the environmental crisis in his region, New England, and seeing how other activists concentrated on single issues, such as reducing acid rain, or dealing with nuclear waste from reactors, he saw the bigger picture. The environmental problems were all related and were created through our social behavior and social problems. He also saw that the root cause of these problems was in the “emergence of hierarchy” in “natural evolution”. In his book, The Ecology of Freedom; Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy, he wrote, “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, …”
The solution Bookchin offered was: Empowered communities that make decisions for themselves and intelligent communication between communities which can create a network or community of communities. Most important to have consensus decision making rather than majority vote in the community meetings. Another words find an alternative not only to the system of domination and obedience but also find a better alternative to majority votes win and get their way as in the current system of democracy here in the United States and many other parts of the world. [For a different overview, than mine, check Wikipedia under Social Ecology (Bookchin) or his books.]
Spiritual Sensibility - In social ecology circles I found very little discussion or in depth analysis of what spirituality means. In a couple of paragraphs above Bookchin makes a reference to body mind and spirit which means he believed we are more than a body and mind. He is saying that we have a spirit. He held the theory that we have a spirit.
Spirituality is a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum there is a person, who simply gravitates towards the thesis that as a human being uou (she or he) has a spirit, leaves the discussion at that and goes about the career and family obligations, as I assume Bookchin might have been. Once in a while they might go to a temple, a church or a mosque with family to see others and socialize. Who knows uou might get some “spiritual value” out of going to the physical place of worship. On the other end of the spectrum there is a devotee who spends lots of time studying the relationship between body, mind and the spirit in meditation and considers that going to the temple within is more important than going to a physical brick and mortar structure no matter how magnificently it was designed and built.
Spiritual Ecology - I can relate with Bookchin’s theory on “emergence and dissolution of hierarchy” and I can relate to people who know, more or less, where they are on the spectrum of spirituality whether they want to talk about it or not. But when it comes to Spiritual Ecology movement I’m at a loss. It’s a vague concept to me and there isn’t one source of reference. As far as I know the first book which had Spiritual Ecology in its title was published in the early 1970s. More recent books with the same title have been written by folks from different backgrounds such as an Anthropology Professor, Sufi Teachers, etc. Their books have subtitles such as; A Quiet Revolution or Cry of the Earth. Deep Ecology is the title of a book which I assume is part of the same or similar movement as Spiritual Ecology.
My lack of interest in Spiritual Ecology is sensible, to me. But if my thoughts on this movement might be disrespectful to you please forgive me.
“Spiritual Ecology”, from Wikipedia 2019, “ 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.” As my notes remind me in 2017 it came in Wikipedia that “Contributors in the field of Spiritual Ecology contend there are spiritual elements at the root of environmental issues.” In 2018 it changed to, “Proponents of Spiritual Ecology assert a need for contemporary conservation work to include spiritual elements and for contemporary religion and spirituality to include awareness of and engagement in ecological issues.”
If I try to make comments it’ll mostly be critiquing the Spiritual Ecology movement and seeing it’s weakness more than the strength it might have. Therefor I won’t go further into my critique other than this. The use of the term “spiritual elements” in the above definition is loose for it’s not well defined. Spiritual elements can come from anywhere on the spectrum of spirituality. Most people believe that the general notion behind the word and concept of spirituality is the “goodness” implied. But is this general goodness of spirituality a logical and cohesive notion. No.
Spiritual elements can come from different branches and different trees. In reality one tree of spirituality may have attractive looking branches but might have become susceptible to a disease in the root system by lust, greed, violence and anger. We have heard of various financial and sexual scandals in religious institutions. Another tree might have average or even dull looking branches but have very strong roots in love and kindness that comes from the soul rather than the body.
Bookchin’s idea of building and strengthening community has appealed to me on the intellectual level for years because it makes sense. There is logic behind building communities or local physical tribes. For one it’s a cohesive solution for producing food and clean energy locally, instead of buying it from far away. If relationships are cultivated well within a community the closeness of people to work together for their basic needs will bring a well rounded sense empathy which is the essence of the teaching of Daniel Chodrokoff, the co-founder of the Institute for Social Ecology. But in discussing the subject of spirituality with Dan, Social Ecology’s view on spirituality is that it’s private. He didn’t say it in those words but that’s what I understood. And in a way I agree.
Having a tribe for spiritual seekers means seeking to learn and develop a better understanding of body, mind and soul connection within the community from people we know and have learned to trust. But why haven’t I been able to find my local physical tribe since I have been looking for the past 30 plus years? (Not only in the U.S. where I have been residing starting over 40 years, not in Iran, where I was born and raised and in my 40s I moved there for a year and a half to see if I can find a community and start a CSA there but also in Europe and India.) Why did I end up learning about spirituality from people who lived far away from me? Why did I have to travel/fly a distance to gain knowledge and experience?
I struggled with these issues for years, decades, then a question showed up. It was May of 2015. One day I took out a pen and paper and literally out of frustration, about a bunch of issues from my employment to ecological crises, and I wanted to write a blog or something. I felt the need to move the pen across the page without thinking about what I was going to write. I was simply too frustrated to think. When I stopped and read a question I had written I knew it was a big deal for me. A keystone of my work in fields I studied in undergraduate and graduate schools.
This question brought simplicity to my life. All I need to do in order to begin a discourse is to pose it: Are you willing to contemplate on the role hierarchy plays in your life?
I’m good with any answer. Yes, no, maybe, a simple nod or someone might ask me to elaborate on the concepts of hierarchy and/or contemplation and others may explore that for themselves.
Are we willing to contemplate on the role of hierarchy?
Hierarchy and the implication that it can very well be a system of command an obedience has been on my mind for decades and I can write an introductory essay about it in a later chapter or you can read Bookchin. What looked new to me when this question showed up was the word contemplate and learning it’s etymology, even though I have been familiar with the different theories and practices of meditation for years.
The word contemplate comes from Latin, Templum or a place of observation. Another way of looking at the word contemplate is that by taking out the prefix, con, and suffix, ate, we’ll see the word temple in the middle. As soon as I saw that middle part of the word, separate from the rest, I thought of sacred space and later a questions came up; How do we know a place is sacred?
The original question itself began to feel like a sacred gift. A comparison to a physical gift would be, receiving a surprise gift in a box wrapped in paper. Oh nice, a gift! Then comes the unwrapping, opening the box and seeing the actual gift which is matryoshka doll set. Very nice! Not knowing there is another doll inside but eventually finding the second doll inside the first and so on. There were questions inside the questions such as; How do we enter that space?
For weeks during the first half of 2017 I wrote daily to reach what I believe to be a grand discovery and capture it in words! Then something happened that made everything I had been thinking dissolve into the mystic realm and a feeling hit me, or rather, a “knowing” hit me that my intellectual pursuit of past three decades felt pointless. The journey was a full circle. At the end I was back where I started. Yet I was changed. To write about that is a whole other essay.
What happened, in a few words, was that I saw these words said by Kabir, a few centuries ago in India; Wordless is everything. This chapter that you’re reading which was intended to be in a potential book with a working title of Ecology of Sanity is reduced by a dozen pages or so. There was a thesis, antithesis and synthesis which had its sequence of development and they all made perfect sense for weeks and months before I saw those three words by kabir. I had written the story-line of how the synthesis was shaped, etc.
In reading the text by Kabir a year and a half later I realized how I had been fixed on those three words which in retrospect it was appropriate but “Wordless is everything” was part of a sentence which gives meaning of a different picture which I may or may not be able to explain in another essay. What is left is of that writing is the title of this chapter, Biography of a Synthesis, which I’m just too attached to let it go plus an impression the synthesis left behind which I’ll give it my best shot to express here.
I wonder if the philosophy of social ecology has been yearning for the main question in this chapter and to ingest it into its frame of reference! The question, “Are you willing to contemplated on the role of hierarchy?” is worth considering by the students of social ecology, or at least by the new students. Because social ecology’s ever evolving philosophy, it’s developmental evolutionary process and its constant drive to enter dialectical mode of thinking was partly responsible for the question to reveal itself.
I ask all students of Social Ecology this:
Are you willing to enter sacred space?
Some folks may ask for my definition of sacred space.
I’ll answer by asking; Are you willing to explore what sacred space is in your own terms?
To which uou might answer; Not only am I willing, I have been to sacred space.
To which I’ll request the story of that experience.
uOu may tell me that it’s an inner sacred experience and why would I share it with a stranger?
This answer would be ideal and what I’d like to hear with genuine gratitude.
We, meaning humans, have shared our personal sacred stories in private tribal settings and in rituals all over the planet for millenniums and because of those ceremonies and rituals communities and tribes were held together. Shaman on a House Call is a short story which draws a picture in support of this theorem.
Imagine a preliterate society, or rather, an organic society long ago anywhere in the world. 1000 years ago in Australia, 10,000 years ago in the Middle East or 15,000 years ago in Africa or Europe. Or imagine a Native American tribe in New York about 500 years ago or in Ohio 300 years ago. The story I’m about to tell could take place in any of these tribes for the core of the story or the archetypal theme and characters are the same. The differences are names, physical features, language, clothing, diet and a couple of other external reflection of human experience but the main events in the story could have taken place in any organic society anywhere in the world.
Since I live in the state of Oregon in the United States, I’ll imagine a Native American tribe living not far from where I live, less than 200 years ago. The main character in this story and his apprentice are male. There are and have been female shamans around the world but since I, the storyteller, am a guy and don’t want to pretend to know all about women therefore I’ll go with the male version of a shaman in my story. Shaman is the word commonly used as an epithet or the title of a person whose main focus in life is to understand the relation between body, mind, and spirit and takes an active role in guiding uos(his or her) community in spiritual and moral matters. Once we gain even a glimpse of inner knowledge and understand that this outer world is not all there is we begin a journey, sometimes not even grasping that we have begun a new journey. Some of the people who help us on this journey are healers. Shamans have also been called healers.
This story begins with a family at their dwelling. Their son, Som, who is 19 years old is acting abnormally. He seems to be having visions and hallucinations or what nowadays is considered and diagnosed as psychotic behavior. It’s obvious that the Shaman’s help is needed and they send for him. By the time Shaman arrives the family and neighbors have surrounded Som. The Shaman takes control, calms the young man down with words, songs, touch and looking into his eyes and eventually they sit on the floor and gradually go into a trans.
Som is now on the inner journey with support and more certainty for the Shaman is able to guide him within. At a certain point Som is on his own and the Shaman comes out of trans and asks one of the parents to get some berries from a bush miles away. For a short moment this parent is shockingly surprised as he looks at Som then at the Shaman who’s looking back at him waiting for him to get going, then again looks at Som’s condition. He shifts gears, prepares for the journey and takes off on foot. Som goes through some hot and cold spells and by the next morning the berries arrive. Som’s father was on his own journey through the night to get the berries and bring them back as fast as he could. The berry tea is brewed which has a strong aroma and the Shaman goes back into semi trans and feeds the tea with the father’s help to a semi conscious Som. Later Som gains consciousness and is back in the same reality he had left a day or so earlier but not quite the same person. He has had a vision that not only has changed him but will influence the decision making and governing process of the tribe in the coming years.
For the next few days after the vision he goes over to the Shaman’s place and begins to receive guidance as how to integrated his vision into day to day life. The parents bring the Shaman gifts as a token of their appreciation and give reverence. The Shaman doesn’t accept their gifts but humbly accepts the reverence.
A community event with ceremonies and rituals had already been planned. The Shaman has only a couple of weeks to find a way to integrate Som’s vision into the event. He can’t orchestrate it in time. He knew the vision and Som himself needed to be honored not only for the well being of the individual but also for the well being of the community as a whole.
During the rituals the Shaman suddenly gets up and walks over to Som’s parents and requests for some of the berries the father had collected and a tool. They were taken back by the request. They’d never seen the Shaman use that tool and the value of the tool was much less than the gifts they had offered earlier and they needed this tool the next morning. It was an integral part of their livelihood which also contributed to the sustainability of their natural environment. The Shaman knew all that. There was a delay in their response and the Shaman walked away before they could say yes or no. Another family overheard the Shaman’s request and they immediately send someone to get that tool for the Shaman.
After the community event and rituals everyone went home and in the middle of the night Som had another hallucination, or a “psychotic episode” but more severe and out of control than the first. The Shaman had an intuition this might happen and was sitting in contemplative state when a messenger showed up and asked for home visit. The Shaman could have stayed at his place and gone into trans to help Som. He would have given the brewed tea with the berries to the messenger with special instructions. But he could see the karma between Som and his parents and the inner shift that needed to take place for Som to continue in the inner journey. This shift began to take place earlier during the community rituals but wasn’t completed so he had to go over in person.
Som came back from his trip quicker than the first time and the parents offered the Shaman the tool in humiliation. But the Shaman who had no need for the tool in the first place had already been offered by the other family. The karmic connections between Som and parents were completed and Som continued his apprenticeship with the Shaman and grew up to be a shaman himself.
Today we also have shamans and guides but hardly enough. We have psychiatrist and of course people who have inner vision of various degrees. However their natural hallucinations are called psychoses and treated as mental illnesses with labels such as schizophrenia. Joseph Campbell was one of the critiques of the modern way of dealing with natural hallucinations and visions. He called these inner experiences, Hero’s Journey. He even described their stages from the initial “call” to the “return home.” He also said that the psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight with the help of the right guide.
In the story above the Shaman became a signpost in the inner world that Som recognized as the place to return to, Home and home. And not get lost into an in-between place we now call psychoses. The recovery and integration back into the day to day life was very important. The Shaman helped Som to describe his vision and the gifts the vision had to offer to the tribe.
Nowadays young people don’t have an intelligent way of returning home from such inner journeys. Sometimes they get locked up in jail because they end up doing or saying the wrong thing in the wrong place. Or they end up in mental hospitals. But sometimes they wonder the streets as “homeless”. Often they end up getting prescription for a variety of drugs for profit of a few. Some psychiatrist and drug company may allow the greed element to take over. (Greed is in all of us to one extent or another.) At the same time some of the intelligent therapists, restricted by “ethics codes” dictated by a central headquarters of a hierarchical establishment, can lose their licence to practice if they use methods of healing which are too “alternative”.
The story of the Shaman on a House Call has two important points. First, people have inner experiences in one way or another and for some folks it’s intense as they’re taken far beyond common reality. They see and gain a certain knowledge which is difficult to put into words. Joseph Campbell calls them experiences and knowledge that “no tongue can soil”. In other words, no matter how hard they’d try to explain it with words and language the glory of that experience can not be described. One of the ways that Rumi put it is this: If I try to talk about it, the intellect will vanish — When I try to write about it the pen breaks.
ور بگویم عقل هارا بر کند — ور نویسم پس قلم ها بشکند
The second point of the story is that after someone has had such an experience or “psychotic crack up” and comes back with a vision then if the people, preferably the tribe members, take the time to listen to uos story and vision they may get unexpected gifts or insights. They will most likely feel better by giving appropriate reverence to this person. Not necessary giving authoritarian power or have unrealistic expectations, but a simple reverence for the well being of that individual and the community.
What happens if excessive reverence is given? What happens when authority to rule the tribe has given to the shaman? My next story Emergence of Pseudo Shaman will tell a story in that regard.
Long ago in a tribe, ten or thirty thousand depending which location on the planet, a young man wanted to become a shaman mainly he wanted to get attention, respect and stuff people gave the shaman as a gift. We assume Mo had early signs of greed. Even though he was an excellent runner and hunter and had been honored for his extraordinary abilities he wanted more attention.
In the same tribe another young man, Joe, had a natural inclination to become a shaman and had a strong vision early on in his life. The elder Shaman took Joe under his wings after Joe’s first crack up and the vision that came through. Mo befriended Joe and learned a few things about the Shaman’s ways but the learning was on superficial level for he couldn’t go into the trance to receive inner knowledge. In their 40s the elder Shaman got sick and was dying. Mo decided that it was time to eliminate Joe and took him on a hunting expedition because he pretended that Joe’s help was needed for the next hunt and caused Joe’s death in a so called accident.
Soon after the elder Shaman died Mo became the Shaman. Subtle psychological changes began to occur in the way the tribe was being managed and the role of shaman was also changing due to Mo manipulating people and the governing process. He trained young hunters in his ways and little by little he became more authoritarian and made rules and punished people who didn’t follow his rules.
As it was the tradition, every six months his tribe and a neighboring tribe 15 km or 10 miles away met and traded goods. One year Mo and his warriors raided the neighboring tribe and simply took the goods instead of trading. Eventually he began to rule that tribe as well as his own tribe. He and a handful of the warriors took second wives from that tribe.
After Mo died one of the higher ranking hunters became the ruler. At first he tried to be the shaman as well but eventually he let someone Joe had began to train many years before to do the shaman’s work. He was content with being the patriarch and the boss of the tribe and to continue nurturing patriarchy. He eventually took over one more nearby tribe before he died. His position as the tribe’s boss and ruler was passed on to his son who further nurtured patriarchy.
This form of hierarchy was established through greed, lust for more sexual encounter with other women and the desire to have power over others. Simple analyse show that violence and anger had something to do with development of hierarchy and patriarchy as well, i.e. Mo killing Joe or raiding neighboring tribe. Greed, anger, lust are all part of human experience. These are human traits and if they’re left unchecked they’ll bring social problems such as patriarchy, hierarchy and matriarchy.