How we see ourselves in relation to the rest of nature

 

This is a big topic, and yet also very simple.

We are – in a very literal sense – part of nature. We are a local and temporary expression of the processes of this living planet. We are local and temporary expressions of the dynamics of this universe.

We are, equally obviously, animals. We share ancestors with all other animals and everything living. We are relatives, and if we look at it from the bigger picture, we are close relatives.

When we look at specifics, we also find how we are animals and share a huge amount with other animals and living beings. Other animals, and especially those closer to us, obviously have emotions much as we do. They even have cognitive processes not dissimilar to our own. They have personalities. They suffer. They want to stay alive. They have culture.

There is an immense beauty in this. To the extent we take this in, it can bring a profound sense of belonging. It can even give a deep sense of meaning and encourage us to live in a way that takes all life into account.

After all, we are part of the same living systems and processes. Our own health and well-being, as individuals and civilization, is intimately connected with and dependent on the health and well-being of this larger living whole.

I find it slightly bizarre that some still insist that we are categorically different from other animals, and perceive and live as if we are somehow separate from Earth.

I understand that it comes from a wish to see humans as special and different, maybe so we can feel better about ourselves, or from a wish to use this fantasy as an excuse to exploit nature and other species.

It’s also possible that just like a teenager often will distance themselves from their parents so they can gain some autonomy and discover who they are as individuals, humanity has needed to distance themselves from nature for the same reason.

And yet, the effect of the view of separation is terrible. It gives us a sense of disconnection, separation, and existential loneliness. The power-over orientation embedded in it causes a huge amount of suffering for the other species and destruction of the ecosystems we depend on for our own life.

Equally seriously, we treat ourselves as we treat other species and the Earth. We are often disconnected from our bodies, sensuality, instincts, and anything we consider “animal” – and that leads us to either deny it or over-indulge in it, and inevitably both.

The benefits from this fantasy of separation are hollow victories. And the damage to ourselves, other species, and Earth is severe.

Of course, I understand why some consciously hold a view of separation, and many – perhaps all of us – hold it somewhere in our system. It comes from centuries and millennia of views of separation in western society. It has a long tradition. It’s held deeply in our systems, and it takes some effort to make it conscious, shift into a more realistic view, and allow this conditioning to soften and perhaps fall away.

How can we support this shift in ourselves?

We can expose ourselves to the insights of others who have explored this, for instance through deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, big history, the Universe Story, or similar approaches.

We can identify views of separation in ourselves and examine each one. Is it true? What happens when I perceive and live as if it’s true? What do I get out of holding onto it? What am I afraid would happen if I didn’t operate from it? What’s more true for me? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can explore how our mind creates the experience of separation, how sensations and thoughts combine to create this fantasy of separation, and what’s associated with it. (Living Inquiries.)

We can explore how we imagine we – as individuals and humanity – may look to other species, ecosystems, and Earth as a whole, and imagine what advice they may have for us. (For instance, Big Mind process.)

We can engage in the Practices to Reconnect developed by Joanna Macy and others.

We can engage in Earth-centered rituals and spiritual practices.

We can discover what we really are – capacity for the world as it appears to us – and find the oneness of the world as it appears to us.

Another important shift is to recognize that all of this is part of the processes of Earth and the universe. We are the universe and Earth locally and temporarily taking itself as separate from itself. This sense of separation is not inherently wrong, it’s part of life exploring itself.

I usually start out with this as the context, and this time chose to start from a more conventional or human view and include this at the end.

Adyashanti: To be bestows infinite worth upon you

 

You don’t have to be someone to be of infinite worth. To be bestows infinite worth upon you.

– Adyashanti, The Inherent Meaning in Being

This can sound like a well-meaning platitude, but it’s far more than that.

One the one hand, the idea of value comes from culture and what’s seen as having value varies between culture and over time. Assigning value to something has a function, and it can be helpful to examine how we assign value and if there is another way of doing it that makes more sense.

At an ordinary human level, we all agree that babies have infinite worth. Growing up, many of us are taught that our value comes through our actions and that erodes our sense of having infinite value just by being. This is a means of control and it creates a lot of suffering and judgment of ourselves and others.

So why not recover the sense of infinite value of each human being? This can easily co-exist with accountability, responsibility for our own life and so on. Seeing the infinite value in each of us, independent of personal characteristics and roles, provides a sense of basic worth that allows for a more healthy life and a more healthy society.

In our western culture, we see nature as a commodity and having value from the value it has to us – and this is often limited to short-term commercial value. This leads to destruction of ecosystems, eradication of whole species, and systematic abuse of non-human beings. Not valuing all life threatens all life, including our own.

Why wouldn’t all life have infinite value? Why not see all life as having infinite value? This would lead to a more careful approach in how we relate to and make use of nature and non-human beings. We would be far more concerned about their welfare. It doesn’t mean we can’t eat or live or grow food but we would do it with more concern for the lives we are impacting and we would look for ways to make up for it and support a more thriving Earth.

When we take a big picture and deep time view, we see that the universe has unfolded from energy to matter to suns to solar systems to this living planet and all that’s currently part of this living planet. We are all expressions of the universe exploring itself and bringing itself into consciousness. We are all expressions of this living planet and ways for it to bring itself into consciousness. As this, we and all life has infinite worth just by being as we are.

In a more immediate sense, independent of assigning value to anything, we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. This human self, all other beings, and everything happens within and as what I am. In this oneness, ideas of value is not needed in order to live with reverence for life.

How can we explore this in our own life? How can we deepen into this and live more from it? In a sense, this whole website is about just this. We can identify and examine beliefs. We can explore how our minds creates its experience of value and lack of it, and see through it. We can engage in Practices to Reconnect. We can use heart-centered practices to find a more loving relationship with ourselves, others, and all life. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can discover that this human self, others, and the world happen within and as what we are. And we can explore how to live from that in our life.

How do we find peace?

 

There are many ways to find peace. Here are some approaches I have found helpful.

We can create a certain life. A life that feels right, nurturing, and meaningful. A life where we have nurturing relationships. Meaningful work and activities. A life aligned with our values and what’s important to us. A part of this is to heal and mend – as far as possible – any challenging relationships.

We can invite in healing. We can invite in healing for parts of us not in peace. We can invite in healing for trauma and emotional issues.

We can reorient. We can learn to befriend our experience as it is, including the experience of lack of peace (!). In this process, we also learn to befriend (more of) the world as it is.

We can find ourselves (more) as our human wholeness. As we find ourselves as the wholeness of who we are as a human being, there is a sense of groundedness and peace even as life and thoughts and emotions goes on. This is an ongoing process, perhaps including body-centered mindfulness and projection work, and the peace is of a different kind.

We can explore our need for peace. If we feel a neediness around peace, what’s going on? Do we have stressful beliefs about living without peace? Do we have identities rubbing up against the reality of sometimes lack of peace? Is there a trauma or emotional issue telling us we need peace? Examining this and find some resolution for whatever may be behind a need for peace can, in itself, help us find more peace.

It’s stressful to feel we need peace and fight with a world that doesn’t always give us the conditions we may think we need for peace. And it is, perhaps ironically, more peaceful to find peace with life as it is.

We can live with (more) integrity. Living with integrity gives us a sense of peace, even when life is challenging. Living with integrity means to clarify and follow what’s important to us, and to live with some sincerity and honesty – especially towards ourselves.

We can follow our own inner guidance. Following our inner guidance – in smaller and bigger things – connects us with an inner quiet and peace, even when life is stormy. We can learn to follow our inner guidance through experience. And it’s also helpful to notice when we connect with our inner guidance and don’t follow it, and examine what fears and stressful beliefs in us made it difficult for us to follow it.

We can connect with the larger whole. This larger whole comes in three related forms. One is the larger whole of who we are as a human being (mentioned above). Another is the larger whole of the Earth and the universe. We can connect with this through Earth-centered practices, the Universe Story, and more. The third is what we are.

We can explore and get to know what we are. What we are is what our experience happens within and as. As we learn to find ourselves as that, there is a different kind of peace. The peace of being like the sky that clouds, storms, clear weather and anything else passes through.

Each of these is an ongoing process and exploration. It’s not a place we arrive at for good and don’t have to pay attention to again.

The kind of peace we find in each of these ways is somewhat different. In a sense, they complement each other.

As for how to find these types of peace, there are many approaches and I’ll mention a few here.

To heal, I have found parts (subpersonality) work, inquiry, heart-centered practices, TRE, Vortex Healing and more to be helpful. To reorient, I have found ho’oponopno, tonglen, and all-inclusive gratitude practice to be helpful. To find myself as my human wholeness, I have found body-centered mindfulness (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema) and projection work (inquiry, shadow work) helpful. To explore any neediness around peace, I have found inquiry to be helpful. To live more with integrity, it’s helpful to explore what in me (usually a fear, stressful belief, trauma) takes me away from living with integrity in any specific situation. To follow my inner guidance, it’s helpful to practice in smaller situations and likewise explore what in me (fears etc.) takes me away from it. To connect with the larger whole of the Earth and Universe, it’s helpful to use the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), Universe Story, and similar approaches. To explore what we are, I have found Headless experiments, Living Inquiries, and the Big Mind process to be helpful.

Photo: Flowers from Zürich ca. 2013.

Finding healing: three basic ways

 

In my experience, I can find healing in three ways.

I can find healing for the issue itself, whether it’s physical, emotional, a relationship, or something else. This is the conventional approach and obviously an important one.

I can change my relationship to it. From seeing it as a problem and an enemy, I can befriend it and what it triggers in me. This, in itself, changes a great deal and is often experienced as a great relief.

I can find that which is already whole beyond the issue. This may be my wholeness as a human being, which is always here and goes far beyond any issues. It can be being part of the wholeness of the Earth or the Universe or all life. It can be being what I am, that which any experience happens within and as.

How do I go about finding these forms of healing?

Since the first is the conventional approach, the world is full of advice and opportunities for this one. I have written about my own experiences in healing from CFS and Lyme, and also in finding healing emotionally and for parts of me (using inquiry, heart-centered approaches, TRE, Vortex Healing, and other approaches).

I can change my relationship to anything that seems problematic through, for instance, inquiry or heart-centered practices. Inquiry for me is often The Work, Living Inquiries, Big Mind process, parts/subpersonality work, and dialogue with a part or actual person. Heart-centered approaches may be ho’oponopno, tonglen, prayer, gratitude explorations, or whatever else works for us.

Finding what’s already whole depends on what level of wholeness we wish to explore. In periods when I have done meditation and yoga daily, I have found an amazing sense of my wholeness as a mind-body whole. I have also found it, slightly differently, through receiving and giving Breema and especially when I have been immersed in the atmosphere through an intensive or when I gave daily sessions. The connection with (or as) the wholeness of the Earth and Universe can come through being in nature or any number of practices, for instance, the Practices to Reconnect. Finding myself as that which already allows and is any experience can happen through meditation, inquiry, heart-centered practices, and many other ways.

And really, it all depends on grace.

Getting to the point where we are able to have issues and discomfort is grace. It required this amazing universe and Earth and us as temporary parts of it. That’s an amazing grace if there ever was one.

Getting to get to the point where we are interested in finding healing, in any of these forms, is grace.

Having a glimpse of the possibility of these forms of healing is grace.

Inviting it in, through intention and exploration, is grace.

When it happens, it’s grace.

What we call grace is really just the universe or life coming together a certain way locally. Sometimes, we may see just some things (the ones our mind tells us are good) as grace. Sometimes, we may see everything as grace (because it is).

Note: In the “finding wholeness beyond the issue” section, I lumped together things I normally would keep in separate categories. Finding mind-body wholeness is quite different from finding the Earth/Universe wholeness, and those are again quite different from finding what I am, that which allows and is any experience. But that’s OK. In this context, and especially in a brief article like this, it seemed OK to group them together. And it’s a reminder that this should really be a book rather than just a set of brief articles.

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Shifting center of gravity into more universal identities

 

In some ways, any challenging life situation is an invitation to release identification with more superficial identities (roles, work, gender, preferences etc.) and shift the center of gravity into more universal ones.

– from a previous post

This is a part of healing and awakening, and – to some extent- sustainability and creating a society that works better for all, including future generations and ecosystems.

We all have a mix of different identities. Some set us apart and some are more universal. Some are conscious and some are less so. Some have strong identifications and some not so much. And they come from culture, family, and personal experience (sometimes reactivity).

Life tends to challenge the identities that set us apart, and the more strongly we are identified with them the more stressful and dramatic we may experience those challenges. For instance, we may be identified with being young but we inevitably get older. We may be identified with being healthy, strong, and active, but get sick. We are identified with a political orientation but realize something else makes more sense. And so on. The identities that set us apart typically have to do with roles we play in life, whether it’s relationships, work, age, gender, or different political, religious, or other orientations.

There is nothing wrong with these identities. They all serve a function. We couldn’t live without them. But when life challenges them, as it tends to do, it is painful to have invested them with too much energy.

And that’s an invitation to notice and question these identities, and perhaps shift our center of gravity into more universal identities. These more universal identities include being human, part of life, part of the Universe, being awareness, that which all happens within and as, and so on.

As usual with these type of things, we cannot consciously shift the center of gravity into more universal ones. Any shift requires a ripening that largely operates outside of our conscious awareness and largely comes from influences far outside of us as individuals. And yet, we can invite it to happen through various practices or explorations.

We can identify and question identities through inquiry (Living Inquiry, The Work). We can engage in practices that come from and help us shift into more universal orientations such as heart centered practices (ho’o, jesus prayer, all-inclusive gratitude practice). We can help more universal identities come alive for us through Epic of Evolution type experiences and practices (Practices to Reconnect). We can do energy work that tends to, over time, shift identifications into more universal ones (yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Vortex Healing etc.). And there is a great number of other approaches that similarly helps us shift our center of gravity to more universal identities.

Note: When I say “influences far outside of us as individuals” I mean influences from the past and from the wider social and ecological wholes. Anything that happens has innumerable causes, and these stretch back to beginning of time and out to the furthest reaches of the universe. And that includes any ripening that happens in us and any shifts in identifications.

My larger body

 

Some statements are often seen as poetic or romantic, but in this case, it’s a literal reality.

My larger body is nature and society. My larger body is this planet. My larger body is this solar system and universe.

My existence as a human being depends 100% on this larger body for its existence and survival. The only boundaries between this human self and the larger whole is imagined, and invested with reality only by our minds.

This is very real from a ordinary material and scientific point of view.

And going beyond that, as what I am – what all experience happens within and as – it’s all what I am.

It may seem a romantic or hippyish notion, but it has very real consequences for how we live our lives.

If I see myself as a human being mostly separate from the larger whole, I’ll act accordingly. I’ll act as if the health and well being the larger social and ecological systems matters little for my own health and well being. I’ll tend to act from a short term and narrow perspective. I’ll tend to act in a way that’s – intentionally or not – harmful for the larger whole. And we create our societies, social systems, and worlviews to reflect this. We’ll use economic models that assume that the health and well being of the larger whole doesn’t really matter. We’ll create transportation systems, production systems, food systems, water systems, energy systems, and more that reflect this world view. And we’ll reap the consequences individually and collective. That’s what we see today with a growing awareness of the consequences of toxins in our air, land, and water, diminishing ecosystems, and climate change.

If I see the larger social and ecological systems as my larger body, my view and actions will be different. I’ll act from a longer term and larger perspective. I’ll seek solutions that benefits myself as well as the whole. And we’ll collective use worldviews and systems that reflect this reality and this desire to support life at all levels.

If I see the solar systema and universe as my larger body, I’ll tend to experience a deep and profound sense of belonging and meaning. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into conscious awareness.

Of course, this has to be a lived reality for us. It may become a living reality through natural adult maturation and development. It may happen if we live in a society or group where this is a mainstream view. And it can happen through education and experiences such as the Practices to Reconnect by Joanna Macy.

I am aware that I am using the word “reality” here and it’s not really that. It’s a perception. An experience. A worldview. But “reality” works as a shorthand even if it’s not that precise.

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