Are people part of the flora and fauna?

What makes human people special? In this context, what makes us stand out from the rest of nature? Why don’t we see ourselves as part of the rest of life on earth? This came up for me recently, as i listened to an Australian Aboriginal lady explain that her people should be thought of that way; that they were part of the flora and fauna of the land, in terms familiar to deep ecology. What was kind of shocking here was the fact that such an argument was once used by early colonists of this country to justify dispossession and settlement. It was allied with the idea of Terra Nullius; there is no real society here, recognisable to European standards, so we can simply take the land. Those black fellas are part of the land – so, no barrier to our possession of it. They literally branded Aboriginal societies as part of the flora and fauna, but meant something very different, and much more horrible, by the same sentiment.

  GB at PinnaclesThe author at The Pinnacles, Western Australia. Standing amongst the rocks, not independent of them.

A similar conundrum faces us when we align the feminine with nature; or with the darkness, or the deep waters of emotion. It’s not that the analogy is wrong – it’s the negative associations commonly held with the imagery that leads to problems. It’s easy to see why the feminine and nature are so easily aligned – we are birthed out of both, the womb of our mother and the matrix of the universe, physical matter itself. Likewise with the easy metaphorical association between the feminine and darkness; the mysterious ways of the world, the intuitive mind that women seem so often more comfortable with, compared to the ‘daylight’ or rational consciousness that has just as often been associated with the masculine spirit, and men in general.

 

Shark Bay beachThe sea, here at a beach in Shark Bay, WA. That sense of oceanic awareness, which Freud resisted and Jung identified with …  the great eternal feminine, the Tao of universal flow

If we were more comfortable with the darkness, with mystery, with the earth as our greater body, we could embrace these associations. We are suspicious of them because they are so often used to denigrate – to assume mastery over them, to remove ourselves from identification with them, to be independent and to feel powerful. It’s an illusion, just as the intuitive sense of them probably is too. Ultimately, matter and intuition could be thought of as masculine, abstract thought and logic as feminine, in a different social order. The moon has been considered masculine in Aboriginal and Mesopotamian cultures, which throws the whole European system out of order; in ancient Sumer, Nanna was the Moon God, a great bull looking over the herds of feminine stars. Symbols are flexible, no matter how true they seem to us. They are part of our consciousness, part of our mythology, so we accept them, just as we accept scientific thinking and the mundane materialism of commercial life in the 21st century.

 

Karijini GorgesThe spectacular gorges of Karijini NP, Pilbara region of WA. A sense of timeless pervades the landscape here, where rocks have been weathered for millions of years

I’d love to be thought of as part of the flora and fauna. I don’t want to assume mastery over the world and differentiate myself from it as part of some patriarchal fantasy of ‘civilisation.’ I’m just as comfortable with the feminine, nature, mystery and darkness as with the masculine, mind, a sense of certainty or logic and light – and i know that these systems of thought are all fluid, as sure as my sense of self and society and just as contingent upon history and environment as any other way of thinking. But i don’t want that to be an invitation to be defined as passive, as part of the land to be used and abused, as a walkover for free market assumptions that reduce everything to what they are worth at the current exchange rate, either. I stand with that Aboriginal lady – and support the positive connotations of her stance, just as i resist the way it can be turned upon her – and upon us. People of the earth, unite.

 

Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

Lubok_of_Resurrection

Easter is a ceremonial celebration of life. The Resurrection of Jesus signals the soul’s victory over death; we rise to the heavens once we depart this world, the myth tells us, so long as we align our earthly lives with that divine realm while we are here. This is a religious model built on an ancient pattern; in nature, we see life burst forth from death all the time. Spring in the northern hemisphere is a concrete signal of this. Out of the depths of winter, finally the new sun hits the world, warming up the frosty ground, shaking buds to life on what looked last week like withered branches, even calling cute lambs from the wombs of woolly ewes in the fields. The seasonal cycles continue, from birth to growth to death and back again, drawing new life out of the great mystery, the darkness is the womb or matrix of the universe, the life behind life out of which all is born and to which all returns.

You can see why reincarnation is such a popular idea; it is just another version of the same universal paradigm, applied to the human soul. And when we pay attention to who we are within, we do find we are part of a wider nature without, the physical world of all beings, to whom we are related and to whom we owe our loyalty. Deepening our attention to this cycle and to our place in it can help us to get more in touch with our own innate sense of an ecological spirituality; a sense of the sacred in nature and in ourselves.

Easter_Bunny

The idea of Jesus and/or the Easter Bunny is a way of trying to link these mortal lives of ours to that Sacred Mystery, in one way or the other. For Christians, the religious model works to bring the divine into life, using the myth of Jesus to help us see the glory of God, in our hearts and in the world. In the secular world, the Easter Bunny brings magical gifts of abundance from an invisible realm, beyond the rational world. And this brings us to the problem of the sacred in the consumer capitalist world of commercialism. Commercialism consolidates the commitment to materialism that is part of a capitalist society, so that our intuitions of a better world, with higher values and more widespread compassion, are too easily consigned to the shelf of dusty ideas, past their use-by date or too ‘unrealistic’ to take seriously.

DCF 1.0

Ecological spirituality is not against materialism; in fact it is a new kind of materialism; but one that takes our bodies and the physical aspect of life on earth far too seriously to side with the slide into lazy consumption, which is promoted as the good life by the propaganda machine of global corporate marketeers. Ecological spirituality requires taking seriously what goes into our bodies, what ‘resources’ – aka other forms of life – are used to fuel our lifestyles; in other words, how we work with the earth rather than assume a false order of mastery over it and its other peoples and creatures. Without this dimension of care, spirituality is merely another version of escapism. We need to underscore this at times of seasonal celebrations such as Easter because as White Fellas – or those who were not born out of the ancestry of their land, such as in Australia or North America – we have a duty to try and better understand our ‘country’ and its original peoples. In any case, now that ecological crisis is finally becoming apparent to all but the most hardened ideologues, loyalty to the earth must be paramount in our relationship with what we hold sacred. And to hold the earth itself sacred is not only a real aspect of most religious perspectives, it is a vital and living part of the Australian Aboriginal way of life. And this is something we can learn, both from wisdom traditions and from attention to our own inner knowing.

One of the ways to deal with our current set of dilemmas is to be even more inventive with technology; in fact, we already know how to scale fossil fuels out of the equation with renewable energy sources, we just lack the political will and vision. But another way is to recalibrate our relationship with the rest of nature; to reconsider the way we think about the earth, so that it is not merely a resource but a place we hold sacred. One of the keys to making this shift real is to recall our own deep affinity with nature – and one of the best ways to see that this can be a real source of deep satisfaction; of a materialism beyond consumption; of an ecological spirituality – is to consider the Aboriginal inhabitants of this ‘country.’

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

Aboriginal Australians consider their ‘country’ to be not only the place with which they identify; it is an enlivened spiritual cosmos, filled with other parts of nature that have just as much right to live and flourish as humanity does. The way to live right with this kind of natural environment is to build relations with it. To consider the river as a really alive, flowing source of replenishment, for people and for life itself; to consider the eagle as brother, the kangaroo as kin, the sky as part of the web of life. And to be responsible for part of this, via a totemic system, so that I may need to protect the Bilby Dreaming of our particular ‘country’ while you may be responsible for the Native Grass Dreaming. The system works by organising everything and everyone into a nested series of cares, where we all share empathy and compassion for all of life, together as parts of the pattern.

So; what can we rediscover about the hope held out by an Easter festival in contemporary terms, when we stand outside of conventional Christianity, on an ancient land, with secular freedoms? We can consider Easter’s iconic imagery of the Resurrection, which is in turn a version of a much more ancient idea; that we can transform who we are in real terms, in the body, with a kind of rebirth out of ritual. When we think of the mythic story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we can’t help but recall the Mystery Schools of the Greeks, who likewise spent time in dim caverns, spending their symbolic dark days and nights of the soul being inspired by personal experience that went beyond the limits of the personal, so that they could be transformed in their everyday lives in alignment with a greater vision of what is possible.

Eleusis_(15986825818)

Eleusis, a site of the Greek Mysteries, dedicated to the goddess Demeter; the grains on the left of the carving represent new life out of the earth, a physical and spiritual symbol at the same time.

If ever there was a time we needed to tap back into this deep stream of European and Levantine wisdom, this was it. We can re-find inner riches in ecological spirituality, which also link us to the rest of nature, to the other creatures and even to the landscape itself, all of which now requires protection from the worst ravages of the human race. White Fella Dreaming subscribes to all of this, as a counter-culture to the dominant paradigm and its damages, in the hopes of transforming modern society to a more sustainable set of practices; and we need to do this within ourselves, at the same time as we activate it in everyday life and in the wider community of the planet. And we have inner resources, our own links to early practices like this, and existing wisdom traditions of this land to learn from.

Thanks for reading. And have a regenerating and transformative Easter.

*This is a short version of my Easter Sunday service given at the Unitarian Church in East Melbourne, Australia, April 5th.

Images: 1. “Lubok of Resurrection” by Anonymous – Музей народной графики. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg#/media/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg. 2. “Easter Bunny” by Littlerockphoto – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG#/media/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG. 3. “Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details” by User:Franconia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg#/media/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg. 4. By Arapaima [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Sketch trying to illustrate the Arnhem Land North Coast Indigenous Australians cosmogony, as described by David Gulpilil in the australian movie “Ten canoes” made by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr (sketch derived from a painting by Johnny Bulunbulun, a Ganallingu artist working in Maningrida). 5. By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany (Eleusis) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.