“Anatta: Literally ‘not-self’. The teaching that there is nothing that we can call a fixed self.” Jim Pym, You Don’t Have to Sit On the Floor

“Buddhism is often accused of being a religion so aborbed in the impersonal and the eternal that it overlooks the importance of individual and temporal things. According to its teachings, all things that have form are subject to change and void of any enduring “self,” but this does not imply that such things are unimportant.” Alan Watts

“It may only be a certain nagging sense that the world you live in does not fit. The job you hold, the education you recieve, the institutions that claim authority over you ( the government, the corporations, the courts, the welfare system), all these may seem to have been crudely designed for everybody in general, but for no body in person – least of all you.” Theodore Roszak, Person/Planet

“And still, you know, with an instinctive conviction, that there is an essential you behind all the world’s imposed identities, a you that needs a meaning of your own making, a personal emblem to hold in the face of grief and before the advance of death.” TR

“To give a face to the faceless, a voice to the voiceless – and to each person the one face, the one voice that is uniquely theirs… that is the meaning of personhood.” TR

In Buddhism there is the idea of anatta or no-self. That really the self is just a composition of various elements, converging and diverging in a series of rebirths. Science seems to confirm this; “I” am just a product of a highly developed neurological system, evolved in order to give coherence to the psychological experience of being an organism, itself constituted from various cells, genes, molecules and atoms in a state of flux or “rebirths”.

According to this explanation self is an experience that appears when I awaken and disappears when I go to sleep. If this is the case then “I” do not exist when the brain rests, and perhaps it is a different “I” that wakes up than the one going to sleep the night before. Perhaps “I” am a different “I” every moment time passes. The brain is not static, all cells and molecules within it are in a constant state of flux and nor is its sense of self.

And yet, there it remains; a strong, persistent sense of self. Despite changing over time, despite interruptions in the flow of consciousness called sleep, there is a strong sense of continuity, that, despite being different ages and with different personal qualities, the “I” ten years ago is the same “I” that is experience by this brain now.

Science says I am an impersonal package of impersonal neurons and synapses evolved to ensure the survival of the whole organism and the species of which I am a part. They may well be right, and I don’t deny there is truth to that. But really, let’s be serious, this is not how I experience myself, and no matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise there’s that persistent feeling that “I” am there and “I” am very real and undeniable.

And with a scientific view we might say that this is fine, it’s way we have evolved, it’s how the organism survives and ensures the survival of its species. But even such a reductionist explanation still doesn’t quite do it justice, not the way I live it every day of my life. I feel it needs more honouring than that (and perhaps that’s just another survival trait?).

From an impersonal “soup” we call the Universe, a person can emerge, consciousness can take on a personal form! Not like it is imposed from somewhere “outside” or “beyond” but that personality is latent in the physical laws of the Universe. “I” existed as sleeping potential in the very fabric of the Universe, but without form or presence. And then an impersonal egg and sperm came together and began a journey that would lead to personhood through a miracle of biology and neurology, with millions of years of evolution preceding this moment. And this has happened not just once but many times over. Millions of persons. Billions of persons. Individual persons, not just masses of people.

Amazing that each human face and each human voice is so distinctive as to not be confused with anybody else… most of the time. Imagine over 6 Billion people with a face and a voice that is uniquely theirs! And that’s only now, imagine all the unique humans there have been and the unique humans there will be! Even animals transmit some sort of instinctive self, if my Cocker Spaniel is in a room of similar Cocker Spaniels I’ll still know which one is “her”. It is imprinted in me. Something that happens with people we don’t know as well, though seem to know so well…

You hear a voice on the radio, you see a face on the TV and instantly you have a sense of recognition. Sometimes you may not remember the name or why they are famous but instantly you know it is that person and no one else. Looking at a DVD cover right now I see a woman’s face, I don’t recognise her. I see a name -Kate Beckinsale- and instant recognition comes to me, it is her, much much younger but you see it is the same “person”. And turning over to the back I see another picture of her with another man poring over a map or something and I recognise him instantly; Art Malik. I see only his face looking down, can’t see much of a profile but I know it is him. Why can’t I mistake him for anyone else if he and I are just impersonal bundles of neurons and synapses amongst billions?

Impossible! Isn’t it? And what if it isn’t impossible, what if it is true? Doesn’t that make it even more of a miracle that “I” am here communicating with “you”?

How can individual unique persons be so “mass produced” in such an unconscious and impersonal Universe? The mind boggles! The mind gropes for some plausible fantasy to explain this; a “superbeing” “out there,” or manifest destiny, or a ghost in the machine, or, or, or…

It’s a miracle of nature, an implausible reality, to distill many millions, billions, trillions of impersonal elements; like cells, atoms, subatomic particles, through long long processes of evolution to finally arrive at personhood! The machine is the ghost! There I am. And there you are!

Miracles, each of us.

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“This, in essence, is the hypothesis that Lovelock and his close collaborator Lynn Margulis were to call “Gaia.” The idea significantly modifies the central Darwinian paradigm of modern biology. Competition – natural selection at the species level – becomes much less important than the overall integration of living things within a symbiotic global network. The basic unit of evolutionary survival becomes the biomass as a whole, which may select species for their capacity to enhance the liveability of the planet.” Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

There can be said to be three interpretations of Gaia; scientific, theistic and philosophical. The science, which I have described briefly, is basically about looking at the Earth physiologically, as a body, and the practical implications of that. But I’m not a scientist, so although I take an interest I can only explain it up to a point. Theistic Gaia is the view that the Earth is sentient, and is literally seen as a single living being. Not something I believe in, but the image is interesting and certainly useful in a poetic sense.

What really interests me is a Gaian-based philosophy. This stands somewhere between science and theism, using scientific ideas and mythological images as a model that we use to view the world and as an ethical guide.

For a while we have had a view of evolution as something competitive and the Earth as an arena in which this biological struggle is played out. Although science is not meant as a tool to give us meaning or ethics, anything that gives us a view of the world, whether myth or science, also gives us a sense of meaning and ethics. Sometimes it is obvious though mostly it is subtle.

The view of competitive evolution has become a tool to legitimise a “dog eat dog” or “every man for himself” attitude. In this view the Earth is a resource and the world is seen as a hierarchy of power where the strongest preys on the weakest. And to some extent this is true, if you see the relationship between some species, and individual organisms of the same species, you will see there is a competitive, even violent, relationship. However, in the same way the classical view of physics breaks down in quantum mechanics, the localised competition of species breaks down in the broader ecological view. Each species fulfills a role in the bigger ecological system; any competition is just one aspect of a cooperative network.

Can the body’s major organs compete with each other? Can the heart win or lose against the lungs? Of course not, they are major organs and are completely and utterly interdependent with one another. However, minor organs or biological features can compete. A species of fish whose ancestors got trapped in a cave system lost their eyes because there was no need for them. The digits and claws of whale ancestors have eventually receded to be replaced by more useful flippers. The long grasping digits on the feet of our tree climbing ancestors have been reduced to small stumps on the end of our feet. But these minor “competitive” adaptations are relative compared to what is going on in the whole body.

We can use this analogy to look at the Earth. It too has major organs, species or certain groups of species that cannot be replaced. For instance, I remember in a biology class being taken out by my teacher with the class and being asked “Can plants live without animals or can animals live without plants?” No one answered plants, and yet that was the answer. Most plants, because they get energy directly from the sun, are self-sufficient, so if the animal kingdom inexplicably disappeared many photosynthesisers would be able to survive. Not so with animals.

There is, what I consider, to be a myth about humanity as the “dominant species”. We might have become very powerful and intelligent but that’s a very superficial dominance. Let’s put it this way, prey do not depend on predators but predators depend on prey, the foundation of a building does not depend on the upper floors but the upper floors depend on the foundation. This echoes a fairly Taoist principle and gives a different spin on Jesus’ “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

We owe our existence to the almost omnipresent microbial lifeforms, like bacteria, that were the first life-forms to exist and surely will be the last ones to exist. When Gaia was young this was, and still is, the basic components, “major organs” or major organisms, that sustain her existence. Without them nothing larger, like humans, could exist.  So it really does turn the concept of dominance on its head. We owe our existence to life-forms that are smaller, simpler and far less intelligent than us, which is humbling really.

We are left with an image that humanity is an interesting but unimportant contribution to the Earth’s evolution. We are left with the principles of respect, humility and cooperation. A good starting point for how we might conceive a Gaia-based philosophy. But this philosophy isn’t just for individuals to choose, as one philosophy amongst so many to pick and choose from; it is the context of all other philosophies. In a sense all organisms are gaian by default. All organisms derive their evolution from a long history where biological traits are developed within an ecological context. To defy this context is to upset the balance and threaten your own existence. Only humans need to make a mental effort to align with gaian-based principles.

This philosophy is something that has to be built into the structure of society itself, a structure that operates with respect, humility and cooperation to the home it depends on for its existence. We cannot go on thinking and acting the way we do, seeing Earth as a resource to be used and abused in service of commercial consumerist philosophy, and other humans and other nations to be viewed as opponents to be beaten in some never-ending economical and fashion-driven race. This cannot work anymore, there needs to be a reform in human civilisation and I think we are waking up to realise it now.

“Like all political activists busy with their mission, environmentalists often work from poor and short-sighted ideas about human motivation; they overlook the unreason, the perversity, the sick desire that lie at the core of the psyche. Their strategy is to shock and shame.” Theodore Roszak

 

“Every political movement has its psychological dimension. Persuading people to alter their behavior always involves probing motivations and debating values; political activism begins with asking what makes people tick. What do they want and fear and care about? How do we get and hold their attention? How much can people take- and in what order of priority? Have we overloaded them with anxiety or guilt? How do we make credible the threats we perceive? Movements that fail to think carefully about this may fail to persuade.” Theodore Roszak

 

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Ancient Disney wisdom (th´nk ye  Meeery Popp’ns!)

 

You know how it goes, “We’re polluting and overpopulating the planet, killing species, killing each other, we’re destroying habitats, and we’re using up all of the resources. If we don’t stop this madness and change our ways we will all die and leave the planet in a poorer state than it is.”

 

And for some reason some people have difficulty accepting this… some sugar perhaps?

 

At the root of the problems, Ecopsychology tells us, is a global insanity, insidiously working through human society (ok, insidiously is my word for it). Except we can’t put it that way, because insane people, when you tell them they’re insane, ignore it, deny it or lose their last vestiges of reality, spiraling into more insanity.  What’s really a problem is that this is leveled at not just one person, or one group, but the whole of human civilization! I’d hate to be the person that’s trying to convince all of that to become more environmental and stop itself destroying itself. Oh wait, I’m… well, at least I’m not alone… I think.

 

How do you get an insane person to accept the fact they’re insane and need to do something about it? How do you get a whole species to do the same?! My head hurts.

 

The good news is that the environmental meme is getting everywhere, even through films. Once upon a time environmentalism was about stoned hippies and maverick scientists, but now we have a politician (Al Gore) on the silver screen presenting a funny cartoon frog to show how bad a situation we are in.

 

Unfortunately, because he’s a politician, his presenting the message hinders the message just as much as it helps the message. Does anyone really trust a politician? Do politicians trust other politicians? The criticisms I see about “climate change” on wordpress are usually always followed by “Al Gore,” making me think that people can’t make the difference between “climate change” and “Al Gore,” and why they’re criticizing.

 

But we are presented some credibility from Hollywood. One of their pantheon’s star deities, Leonardo DiCaprio, has also created a film to get the message across. This time creating a film that has more people presenting the problem, of different cultures, different nations, different ethnicities, different professions, different genders giving us a cozy “us” to make the message more sympathetic. And instead of saying “We’re un poco loco” (insane), he just said “We have to change the way we think,” which is a far easier pill to swallow. Suffice to say, I have seen less criticism of him than of Al Gore, simply because he’s not a politician but a handsome*, rich and famous cinematic hero to be adored and worshipped, along with anything he says.

 

So the “insane” populace of our planet is waking up, acknowledging the problems we have and even that we’re the root. You can see the environmental meme getting everywhere, adverts, films etc. It’s becoming quite an acceptable concept in general. A few days ago I even saw it in a very unlikely place; a film with Vin Diesel, Babylon A.D., where I wasn’t sure if it was about violence with a little bit of story, or a story with violence. Either way the meme “Save the planet” is there, at beginning and end. At the end Vin Diesels character says “Save the planet, one baby at a time. What a bitch.”

 

One baby at a time? One life at a time? One individual at a time? My head’s hurting again. Does anyone know any Ecopsychologist that could help me with global anxiety? Oh wait… that’d be me… Still, some of those babies will be the children of Leo Di admirers, so maybe it won’t be too hard to convince future generations.

 

So how do I break the news to you lovely gorgeous people that we could all be doomed because of our stupidity? Well I can start with complementing you, flattering your egos a bit, like a patronizing salesman. What a great big…. car you have. What a beautiful set of… kitchen implements you have. And whilst I polish your ego for you, species die, people kill each other, the fabric of civilization is tearing itself apart, and we have to do something NOW. We can’t waste time making sure egos are comfortable.

 

Okay, maybe I’m not painting a pretty picture. I may not be giving you enough “sugar” with your “medicine.” I’m not Mary Poppins. But there’s enough consciousness about global issues that I can be a bit risqué, I can ride the wave of environmental popularity and point out the shocking truth without ruffling too many egos. If your ego can’t take what I’m saying, you probably would have switched off at the beginning of this blog, so it’s not like I’m forcing it down anyone’s throat on my own blog! This is my thoughts and feelings, my opinions, and I’m just expressing myself here. The real convincing can only be done by you.

 

That’s why I don’t agree with extreme environmentalism; you know the idiots who go round evangelically pushing their ideas on people, jeopardizing any chance that other, more sensible, environmentalists have of making environmentalism credible to the wider world. Then there are environmental terrorists. Need I say more?

 

Environmentalists are stuck between a rock and a hard place (or the Devil and the deep blue sea).  On one hand there is a desperate urgency to the world’s problems that we don’t have the luxury to be gentile and politically correct, we need to act NOW. On the other hand, we have to carefully go through the sticky slimy web of human society’s various degrees of skepticism, cynicism, arrogance, ignorance, insanity, lethargy, idiocy, prejudice, misguided enthusiasm, half-hearted commitment and Machiavellian deception, which cannot be bypassed. They need to be faced and resolved one by one, step by step, individual by individual. By which time NOW may be too late…

 

Aspirin!

 

So, you, individual**, yes I’m talking to YOU. Let’s not beat around the bush any longer, this world’s in a rubbish state, caused by humans and only resolvable by each and every human on this planet. That’ll be us; me writing this, you reading this and even everyone else not present here. I’ll do my part, you do your part, we’ll collaborate where we can, spread the meme and hope the rest of the world gets it. If that doesn’t work, maybe there’s a good pro-environmentalist film showing at a cinema to go and see.

 

So, Mr Roszak, have I passed my test?

*Any criticism is spurred only by jealousy. I have no problem here, I’ve been told that I look like Leo. I can’t see it, but who am I to argue? lol.

 

**okay, there’ll be several individuals reading this, probably. Thank God for mass media.

Psychosynthesis Egg of Being or egg diagram

Psychosynthesis Egg of Being or "egg diagram"

“I suggest, to begin, that Ecopsychology is best thought of as a project, in the sense of a large multifaceted undertaking. This makes room for a great number of perspectives and interests and rules out the idea that Ecopsychology will ever resemble a traditional discipline.” Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology

 

 

“Nature is always trying to reestablish harmony, and within the psyche the principle of synthesis is dominant. Irreconcilable opposites do not exist. The task of therapy is to aid the individual in transforming the personality, and integrating apparent contradictions.” Roberto Assagioli, The Golden Mean of Roberto Assagioli

 

“In one of his letters Freud said, “I am interested only in the basement of the human being.” Psychosynthesis is interested in the whole building. We try to build an elevator which will allow a person access to every level of his personality. After all, a building with only a basement is very limited. We want to open up the terrace where you can sun-bathe or look at the stars. Our concern is the synthesis of all areas of the personality. That means Psychosynthesis is holistic, global and inclusive. It is not against psychoanalysis or even behavior modification but it insists that the needs for meaning, for higher values, for a spiritual life, are as real as biological or social needs.” Roberto Assagioli, The Golden Mean of Roberto Assagioli

 

“Growth is hard, regression is easy.” Ken Wilber

 

Ecopsychology is not defined by any one person, by any one discipline, by any one method. Put simply, it is a bridge between ecology and psychology and whatever comes after this is up to a psychologist’s or ecologist’s own “perspectives and interests”. The Earth Sanctuary, where I live and work, is made up of people who have experience with Psychosynthesis (among other things). It is through this, and other experiences, that we hope to approach Ecopsychology.

 

What can Psychosynthesis do for Ecopsychology? The principle of synthesis for a start. Although Psychosynthesis is perhaps not very different from some other schools of psychological thought (its inclusive nature in fact incorporates many ideas and practices into it) it tends to talk about synthesis, mainly the synthesis of the personality, where we find ourselves having to adapt our personality to suit our situations. Psychosynthesis takes the resulting “subpersonalities,” as it calls them (a similar concept in Gestalt Therapy talks of “creative adjustments”), and through recognising and integrating them they might be reconciled with the whole of the personality. One such subpersonality or creative adjustment may be the suppression of an ecological identity or ego. Many urban people are so submerged in a human environment that they have lost an ecological perspective which has usually been a natural and healthy part of human existence. If we are to live harmoniously with the planet then one psychological work is to reintegrate this wider, more-than-human, perspective as a part of us by seeing ourselves as a part of the more-than-human world.

 

One exercise in Psychosynthesis is to draw your personal life history from present to past, to get a sense of your development through your life, seeing it as a coherent process rather than just a string of random events. This same exercise may be done with how humans have appeared in the universe. In one book I have, called Thinking Like a Mountain, there are a few meditations that try to facilitate just this, guiding us through various images that link us back into the natural processes of cosmic and ecological evolution. After all, humans belong in this universe because its laws and evolution make us possible. James Lovelock also did his own synthesis on the Earth’s evolution, but more as a scientific exercise than a meditation, in The Ages of Gaia. These can help us to gain a perspective on the history of things and help us re-identify ourselves as a part of this history, synthesising our presence within the greater whole. With the current atmosphere of globalisation, human history is undergoing its own process of global synthesis, where we can look back and see the various stages we have gone through as a coherent process; from our evolution in and dispersal from Africa, and subsequent diversification, to our current reconnection across the globe. Psychosynthesis has tools to help us see that cosmic, ecological, human and personal evolutions are part of a coherent, synthesised, process.

 

In Ecopsychology there is a concept called the ecological unconscious, described as “the living record of cosmic evolution, tracing back to distant initial conditions in the history of time.” (Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth). The structure of it has been determined by the nature of our universe as well as the psychological evolution of our species and beyond to the start of life. The previous ideas about identifying with ecological and cosmic evolution can help us reconnect with the ecological unconscious within us. But we have to be careful that this reconnection to the “bigger picture” doesn’t mean regressing or becoming a mere product in its unfolding. We can, instead, be a positive contributing factor in our personal lives and as a species.

The ecological unconscious is something new to Psychosynthesis, its model of the human psyche, called the Egg of Being, describes several “types” or “aspects” of the unconscious but nothing explicitly ecological. So where does the ecological unconscious fit into the Egg of Being? At first, because of its description as something related to the deep evolutionary past of life and the universe, I thought that it could be in the lowest part of the lower unconscious (1) which can represent the individual psyche’s unconscious past or the physical body. Unfortunately this is still not a very whole picture, it still leaves the middle (present/emotional-intellectual) unconscious and especially the upper (future/spiritual/transpersonal) unconscious as somehow not related to what the ecological unconscious represents. Our choice then remains to either regress when connecting with the ecological unconscious or to detach from it when pursuing “higher” evolution. In either case it fragments the psyche, “dissecting” the Egg of Being.

Since the ecological unconscious is a developing model, there is room to look at in various ways as people define it as it best works for them. The Egg of Being model is quite versatile in that it doesn’t just have to represent an individual but also can be used to look at the psychological dynamics of various things, such as human groups. We can also use the Egg to look at the ecological unconscious and give it not only a deep aspect but also a higher aspect of spiritual or transpersonal evolution. This is made possible because the nature of the universe includes this potential within it, not as something imposed on it from “out there” in some spiritual dimension separate from our universe. Therefore humans represent a part of the unfolding potential of the universe, emerging within the living Earth just as a flower might, and also within the human psyche the ecological unconscious can be seen to somehow be “omnipresent” providing it with its structure and evolutionary potential.  The whole process of the psyche is embedded in the ecological unconscious. To put it into other terms, personal and human evolution of the past, present and future, are all a part of the universe’s own evolution. Our physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual evolution are contained within the greater picture of the universe’s evolutionary processes especially that of the living Earth’s, though it is by no means diminished for being so.

Psychology shouldn’t just be about therapy and healing, it should also be about how we open up to and develop our “higher” potential. Many people have worked with this in mind when working with Ecopsychology, sometimes calling it Transpersonal Ecopsychology or Econoetics, which you can find on the internet. Psychosynthesis can be one contribution to this, facilitating every level of our evolution and integrating that into the wider ecological evolution of our planet of which we are a part.

Further refence to Econoetics can be found as a three part series, which is part of some work done between myself and the author:

EcoNoetics- Part I http://earthsanctuary.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/673/

EcoNoetics- Part II http://earthsanctuary.wordpress.com/2008/12/08/econoetics-part-ii/

EcoNoetics- Part III http://earthsanctuary.wordpress.com/2008/12/08/econoetics-part-iii/