[Here's the text of a short talk I was asked to give at an awareness raising event roughly targeted to "spiritual progressives" (for lack of a better term or to differentiate from right-wing fundamentalists) in Tucson, AZ on April 12. The event was inspired by Naomi Klein's recent book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate."]
Let me first set the background for the rest of what I'd like to say today. The issue of concern is global warming. Climate change is a symptom of global warming, but it's the rate of warming that is on track to end life as we've come to know and love it here on Earth. So, we could be like most progressives today, and settle for slapping a few Band-Aids on symptoms, or we can become as radical as the situation calls for and go straight to the root of the problem.
Disconnection is fatal. When we remove ourselves, or are forcibly removed from the system that supports our lives and the mutually supportive relationships that are required for a fulfilling life, we begin to whither and die. It becomes impossible to even come close to fulfilling our potential. More money, more goods, and more pharmaceuticals can only cover this up for so long.
From this disconnection springs our personal, social, and environmental pathologies. It's not just global warming, although it's the biggee, and global warming isn't just greenhouse gas emissions (from industry, transportation, energy, and agriculture) but deforestation, sprawl, extractivism, topsoil loss, and other life-threatening issues. These pathologies are grounded in the Enlightenment story that not only are we separate from the natural world, but that nature is out to get us, and if we don't subdue and subjugate her (and the gender of this story is very telling in and of itself) we have no hope of achieving progress or prosperity. Just as damaging is the idea that spirit, mind, and body are separate and have no impact on each other. Add hierarchies of domination to this unnatural mess and we end up with the aggression, greed, and exploitation that surround us and inevitably lead to conquest and empire.
The first thing we must remember is that the human soul has its home in Earth's soul. The number one commonality we all share is that we come from Earth, as Alan Watts said, "like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here." The mystical and numinous are an integral part of who we are, and have much to inform what we know and who we can become.
We must remember, rebuild, and strengthen those relationships to a living world that we have become disconnected from because people won't fight to save what they don't love. Research also shows that experiencing our connection leads to generosity, contributes to both ethical and critical thinking, and the awe that comes from connection enhances concern for the other.
I've started referring to the work I do in applied ecopsychology and systems science as Paradigm Shift Coaching. It's much more than the traditional counseling or therapy for healing and well-being that focuses on trying to make people feel sane about living in an insane world, or the life coaching that tries to make people better at doing the things that aren't making them happy, that turn out to be deadening to the spirit, and are actually destroying our life support system.
- Advertisement -
We can no longer deny or ignore the need for the deep systemic change that can create paradigm shift. We must reorganize our relationships in a manner that works the same way that natural systems principles have evolved life as we know it--mutual support and reciprocity, no waste, no greed, and increasing diversity.
So, I'd guess that all of that resonates with most of you here today. But pragmatically speaking, what's actually needed to bring this shift about? Well, critical mass. And what's needed to build critical mass? Multi-issue coalitions. For these coalitions to be effective, they must have a common goal, which is a sustainable future, and a set of shared values that support the transition to a sustainable future. These values are provided by the internationally vetted Earth Charter--respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, non-violence and peace. And in order to facilitate this shift we must start deploying organizational and communication processes and tools that are explicitly non-hierarchical. Fortunately, we have all of these things. What's been missing is a coherent and cohesive framework to hold them all together.
The reason sustainability is the big-tent issue is because it is actually the overarching goal of the various progressive movements. Without sustainability there will never be justice, and without justice there will never be peace. There will be no economy on a dead planet, and only a very feeble one in an environment that isn't vibrant and resilient. When sustainability is defined in an ecologically sound manner, emergent attributes are... well, first and foremost, ecological integrity, but equally important, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy.
When I talk about reconnecting to nature to build healthy relationships, I'm talking about the relationships that exist between us, to our communities, as well as to the rest of the living world. All of these relationships must be brought into holistic integration, and we have over four dozen senses that are available to help in this endeavor. We currently focus the majority of our attention on only two of our non-physical senses--rationality and language--to the detriment of the other senses and to life itself. Applied ecopsychology and the Natural Systems Thinking Process provide an easy to learn experiential way to reconnect these senses and remember how and why to trust them.
Life is a self-organizing network of mutually supportive relationships that support the web of life, and our senses---our attraction relationships---connect us to the living world from which we emerged to inform us of when we have maximum support in the moment. But whenever we can't find natural fulfillment, we end up settling for substitutes, which become addictive because they can never fulfill. This is the root of probably all addictions, whether to drugs, abusive relationships, or to the materialism of Western industrial civilization.
Unfortunately, we have also allowed the dogma of religion to substitute for personally experienced spirituality; we have forgotten that it is highly rational to experience spirituality; and we have allowed rationality to convince us that spirituality is unnecessary. The practice that I call Rational Spirituality is the explicit re-integration of these important aspects of being human and developing our full potential while also embracing all of our other emotional expressions.
Along with everything else that must be done to stop the system responsible for global warming, spirituality must be brought to the climate justice movement, because it is fundamentally a moral and ethical issue. Do we continue to deny that all life and the web of life is sacred, that preserving our life giving and support system--Tierra Madre--is a core responsibility toward future generations, and can we understand and accept that aggression, exploitation and greed are not central tenets of human nature but natural reactions to untenable situations.
Empire is not necessary. Industrialism is not necessary. Economic growth is not necessary. But neither is it necessary to return to the cave in order to transition into a sustainable future. Money is only a motivator when intrinsic rewards have been withheld or removed. Humans are naturally inquisitive, innovative, and intelligent. It's what we do. We could also start building things to last and be easily repairable, and we could remember and start benefiting from the healthy community relationships that emerge from sharing.
We have the choice of withdrawing our legitimacy from the dominant story; then we can use our inherent power to create and implement a new story that not only leads to improving quality of life, but of fully unleashing our creativity and potential.