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Macey, Joanna 1991 World as Lover World as Self,
Parallax Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0-938077-27-9
NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.
Extract of: Faith, Power, and Ecology from World as
Lover World as Self
Yesterday morning at this time I was standing for about an hour in the sweet, gentle, English drizzle. I was in a large meadow with about forty men and women; three of them held toddlers. We stood in a circle and at the center of the circle were two ancient, sacred standing stones. We had come there at the close of a five-day workshop on ecology, and our band included activists from all over the island-social workers, civil servants, artisans, teachers, homemakers-drawn together by a common concern for the fate of our planet.
In the presence of those stones, thousands of years old, we seemed to find ourselves in two dimensions of time simultaneously. One was vast and immeasurable. As we tried to reach back to the ancient Earth wisdom of the culture that erected the stones, we sensed the long, long journey of the unfolding of life on this planet. At the same time, given the focus of the workshop, we were acutely aware of this particular historical moment when forces our culture has unleashed seem to be destroying our world.
Among us were Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans. Yet, despite the differing belief systems to which we belonged, the prayers and affirmations that spontaneously arose in that circle expressed a common faith and fueled a common hope. They bespoke a shared commitment to engage in actions and changes in lifestyle on behalf of our Earth and its beings. They expressed a bonding to this Earth, where we go beyond feeling sorry for the Earth or scared for ourselves, to experience relationship-relationship that can be spiritually as well as physically sustaining, a relationship that can empower.
Fresh from that experience, it seems fitting to address the issue of faith and ecology. Faith is an elusive and questionable commodity in these days of a dying culture. Where do you find it? If you've lost a faith, can you invent one? Which faith to choose? Some of us have retained a faith in a just creator God or in a lawful, benevolent order to the universe. But some of us find it hard, even obscene, to believe in an abiding providence in a world of such absurdity as ours where, in the face of unimaginable suffering, most of our wealth and wits are devoted to preparing a final holocaust. And we don't need nuclear bombs for our holocaust, it is going on right now in the demolition of the great rainforests and in the toxic contamination of our seas, soil, and air. Faith, in a world like this? The very notion can appear distasteful, especially when we frequently see faith used as an excuse for denial and inaction. "God won't let it happen.' Or even, as we hear in some circles today, "It may be God's will," a fearful assertion indeed when it refers to nuclear war itself, seen as the final just and holy battle to exterminate the wicked. The radical uncertainties of our time breed distortions of faith, where fundamentalist beliefs foster selfrighteousness and deep divisions, turning patriotism into xenophobia, inciting fear and hatred of dissenters, and feeding the engines of war. If we are allergic to faith, it is with some reason.
Another option opens, however, that can lead to a more profound and authentic form of faith. We can turn from the search for personal salvation or some metaphysical haven and look instead to our actual experience. When we simply attend to what we see, feel, and know is happening to our world, we find authenticity. Going down into a darkness where there appears to be no faith, we can make three important discoveries. I see them as redeeming discoveries that can ground us in our ecology and serve as our faith; and I believe that our survival depends on our making them. These three are: (1) the discovery of what we know and feel, (2) the discovery of what we are, and (3) the discovery of what can happen through us or, as one might express it, grace.
To discover what we know and feel is not as easy as it sounds, because a great deal of effort in contemporary society is devoted to keeping us from being honest. Entire industries are focused on maintaining the illusion that we are happy, or on the verge of being happy as soon as we buy this toothpaste or that deodorant or that political candidate. It is not in the self-perceived interests of the state, the multinational corporations, or the media that serve them both, that we should stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are.
None of us, in our hearts, is free of sorrow for the suffering of other beings. None of us is indifferent to the dangers that threaten our planet's people, or free of fear for the generations to come. Yet when we are enjoined to "keep smiling,' 'be sociable,' and "keep a stiff upper lip,' it is not easy to give credence to this anguish.
Suppression of our natural responses to actual or impending disaster is part of the disease of our time, ... It divorces our mental calculations from our intuitive, emotional, and biological imbeddedness in the matrix of life. ... we are afraid that we might break apart or get stuck in despair if we open our eyes to the dangers. "Don't talk to me about acid rain, or the arms race. There is nothing I can do about it I have a family to support, a job to keep. if I were to take it all in and allow myself to think about it and to feel it, I wouldn't be able to function.'
The first discovery, opening to what we know and feel, takes courage. Like Gandhi's satyagraha, it involves "truth-force." People are not going to find their truth-force or inner authority in listening to th eexperts, but in listening to themselves, for everyone is in his or her an expert on what it is like to live on an endangered planet.
Acknowledging the depths and reaches of our own inner experience, we come to the second discovery: the discovery of what we are. We are experiencers of compassion. Buddhism has a term for that kind of being-it is bodhisattva. The bodhisattva is the Buddhist model for heroic behavior. Knowing there is no such thing as private salvation, she or he does not hold aloof from this suffering world or try to escape from it. It is a question rather of returning again and again to work on behalf of all beings, because the bodhisattva knows there is no healing or transformation without connection.
The sutras, or scriptures, tell us that we are all bodhisattvas, and our fundamental interconnections are portrayed in the beautiful image of the jeweled net of Indra. It is similar to the holographic model of the universe we find emerging from contemporary science. In the cosmic canopy of Indra's Net, each of us, each jewel at each node of the net, reflects all the others and reflects the others reflecting back. That is what we find when we listen to the sounds of the Earth crying within us-that the tears that arise are not ours alone ... We find we are interwoven threads in the intricate tapestry of life, its deep ecology.
What happens for us then is what every major religion has sought to offer-a shift in identification, a shift from the isolated "I' to a new, vaster sense of what we are. This is understandable not only as a spiritual experience, but also, in scientific tenus, as an evolutionary development. As living forms evolve on this planet, we move not only in the direction of diversification, but toward integration as well. Indeed, these two movements complement and enhance each other. Open systems self-organize and integrate by virtue of their differentiation, and, vice-versa, they differentiate by virtue of their interactions. As we evolved we progressively shed our shells, our armor, our separate encasements; we grew soft, sensitive, vulnerable protuberances, like eyes, lips, and fingertips, to better connect and receive information, to better know and interweave our knowings. If we are all bodhisattvas, it is because that thrust to connect, that capacity to integrate with and through each other, is our true nature.
BEING ACTED THROUGH
That leads us to the third discovery we can make in our ecological Pilgrim's Progress: the discovery of what can happen through us. If we are the rocks dancing, then that which evolved us from those rocks carries us forward now and sustains us in our work for the continuance of life.
Whether tending a garden or cooking in a soup kitchen, there is the sense sometimes of being sustained by something beyond one's own individual power, a sense of being acted "through." It is close to the religious concept of grace, but distinct from the traditional Western understanding of grace, as it does not require belief in God or a supernatural agency. One simply finds oneself empowered to act on behalf of other beings-or on behalf of the larger whole-and the empowerment itself seems to come "through' that or those for whose sake one acts. This phenomenon, when approached from the perspective of ecology, can be understood as synergy. This is an important point because it leads us to reconceptualize our very notion of what power is.
From the ecological perspective, all open systems-be they cells or organisms, cedars or swamp are seen to be self-organizing. They don't require any external or superior agency to regulate them, any more than your liver or your apple tree needs to be told how to function. In other words, order is implicit in life; it is integral to life processes. This contrasts with the hierarchical worldview our culture held for centuries, where mind is set above nature and where order is assumed to be something imposed from above on otherwise random, material stuff. We have tended to define power in the same way, seeing it as imposed from above. So we have equated power with domination, with one thing exerting its will over another. It becomes a zero-sum, or win-lose, game, where to be powerful means to resist the demands or influences of another, and strong defenses are necessary to maintain one's advantage.
In falling into this way of thinking, we lost sight of the fact that this is not the way nature works. Living systems evolve in complexity, flexibility, and intelligence through interaction with each other. These interactions require openness and vulnerability in order to process the flow-through of energy and information. They bring into play new responses and new possibilities not previously present, increasing the capacity to effect change. This interdependent release of fresh potential is called synergy. It is like grace, because it brings an increase of power beyond one's own capacity as a separate entity.
THE POWER TO CONNECT
I see the operation of this kind of grace or synergy everywhere I go. There are countless such innovative grassroots actions; they do not make headlines, but taken all together, they amount to an unprecedented, silent explosion of people who are quietly putting the interests of the planet ahead of their personal profit or pleasure. ... As they do this, they expand our understanding of patriotism, demonstrating that love for one's country does not have to exclude the other beings of our planet.
These people show us what can happen through us when we break free of the old hierarchical notions of power. They show that grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.
ROOTS OF POWER
What can we do to nourish these efforts and strengthen the bodhisattva in ourselves? Two ways that I know are community and practice.
The liberation struggles in Latin America and the Philippines have demonstrated the efficacy of spiritually-based communities for nonviolent action. These tough networks of trust arise on the neighborhood level, as people strive together to understand, in their own terms and for their own situation, what they need to do to live without fear and injustice. These groups need be neither residential nor elite, just ordinary people meeting regularly in a discipline of honest searching and mutual commitment.
In our own society, too, such communities have been arising in the form of local support and action groups. Here neighbors or coworkers, parents or professionals organize and meet regularly to support each other in action-be it in responding to the poisons leaching from a nearby dump or to the need for a peace curriculum in the local school. Those of us who participate in such "base communities" know that they enhance both personal integrity and our belief in what is possible.
Spiritual exercises for cultivating reverence for life arise now out of many traditions and are welcomed by people regardless of their religious affiliation. I have found adaptations from Buddhist practices particularly helpful because they are grounded in the recognition of the dependent co-arising or deep ecology of all things. Similarly, Native American prayers and ritual forms, evoking our innate capacity to know and live our Earth, are increasingly adapted and included in gatherings for work and worship.
This is a prayer from the Laguna Pueblo people:
I add my breath to your breath
that our days may be long on the Earth,
That the days of our people may be long,
that we shall be as one person,
that we may finish our road together.