I invite you to perform a small experiment with me.
Take a moment to become as aware as you can of yourself, your body, the words in front of you, your immediate surroundings. Now imagine that, instead of perceiving in the normal way a number of discrete objects – hands, display device screen or paper and so forth, you are seeing at the subatomic level. All around “you” is a field of tiny points of light, particles of matter/energy moving around, colliding, transforming, winking in and out of existence. As you remain still, a small point of observation, notice that here is one continuous interplay of energies; there are no boundaries between different objects, no “empty space” or “solid matter”. Stay in this place for a few minutes and allow this view of the way things are to come as close to a personal experience as possible. Then gently allow yourself to return to the everyday mode of perceiving. It may help to reach out and touch a few objects, or to get up and walk around a little to reorient yourself.
If successful, this experiment should have allowed you to taste two very different things. Firstly, the interrelatedness of everything (including your own body), and secondly your own essential aloneness and separateness as the observer of this interrelatedness.
The human being possesses a dual nature, being in one aspect a part of the material world and in another aspect a spirit, capable of detached observation and the exercise of will. This basic truth is expressed by one of the levels of symbolism of the Christian cross: the vertical axis representing spirit, the horizontal our (and Christ’s) sharing in the flesh and the world. The two worlds we inhabit – the physical and the spiritual – each have a “game rule” which, once identified and acknowledged, can give purpose and direction to our struggle to live and understand correctly. Should we ignore, or confuse, them then we do so at our peril, as our history and present situation bear witness.
The game rule for the physical universe can be found in the book of nature, as interpreted through the commentaries of ecology. From an evolutional viewpoint it did appear that nature was indeed “red in tooth and claw”, that its law was that “of the jungle”, of “dog eat dog”. The perspective of ecology, however, has illuminated systems within systems of balance and overall harmony, a planetary organism whose motif is the circle. The end products of any natural cycle become the material for another cycle. There are no loose ends.
The game rule for the spiritual life of a human being is admirably explained, among many other places, in Aldous Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy“, an especially useful source since it does not belong within any specific “religious tradition”, but draws inspiration from all the major religions to illustrate that which is common to, and lies behind and within, them all. It consists in a striving away from separateness and an ascent to a (re)union with the ground of being, the lived experience of which our experiment a few minutes ago is but a pale imitation. The arrow can serve as a fine motif for this aspiration and process.
It seems to me that if we review our behaviour as a race, what becomes clear is that there has been a radical confusion between circling and striving when deciding on an appropriate way to conduct ourselves in each of the two realms we inhabit. It is within the spiritual arena that we tend to circle round and round the same tiny enclosure of our separate selfhood, saving our unswerving linear striving for the outer material world, with the goal of “As Much As Possible”. Unfortunately “As Much As Possible” is both a logical absurdity and a planetary tragedy perhaps approaching its final act.
If “green spirituality” has any meaning, then I believe it relates directly to everything I am suggesting here. In just the same way that a human being cannot be a human being without both the physical and the spiritual aspects of their nature so, I believe, there can be no real greenness without spirituality, and no true spirituality without greenness. The need to manage our physical existence on this planet in a manner which the planet can sustain – by ensuring that the outputs from all our cycles can be incorporated as materials for other natural ones – must follow from our developing a sense of relatedness to all that is. The need, I might even say the hunger, which exists in each person and which arises from our essential isolation from the source of our being, must be assuaged through striving within the spiritual, not the material realm, where it cannot be satisfied. In the physical realm this hunger only leads to insatiability or exhaustion, and we can see plenty of evidence of both around us.
Thus we need to remain aware of our dual nature. We need to remember the game rule for each realm: the circle of physical nature; the arrow of spiritual ascent out of selfishness and separation into reunion with a greater system of consciousness. As above, so below. At the present time, as a race, we are isolated and in conflict on both levels. We are damaging ourselves, each other, our surroundings, both physically and spiritually. We have the potential to reverse this tendency, and the responsibility to begin with ourselves.
Meanwhile, I invite you to perform a small experiment with me …
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