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Sustainable Retreat : A Guided Shift Into Green Gestalten

Review by David Sparenberg

05 October, 2012

THE NEW SCIENCE & SPIRITUALITY READER edited by Ervin Laszlo & Kingsley L. Dennis, A Worldshift Book from Inner Traditions, 2012, 180pp, $14.95

Look folks—we, the human species and the entirety of Earth and Earth’s dwindling diversity, are in trouble. This is serious, even dire trouble, and denial, no mater how often repeated or how insistently reinforced, does not reduce the magnitude of the trouble that is real and which we are.

To say such is not to descend into fear mongering. Rather it is an appeal to rise together, at least to the level of the seriousness, and do all—let’s agree to emphasize all—that we can, in solidarity for the Earth and a safer, saner and perhaps even dignified human and biotic future.

Certainly I am not the first, nor assuredly will I be the last, to focus attention onto the crisis driven problematic of our planetary condition. This slim book of twenty-eight short essays (or perhaps shared meditations) is yet another sounding of the alarm bell that tolls for each and all, and calls out for awakening and movement in unison; for a coming together, to face reality and to face one another physically as well as spiritually, creatively, imaginatively, maturely, responsibly, as and throughout a network of response.

In the mix of contributors there are some who have become the old guard of New Age elitist thinking. But there are also others who are newer voices, with fresher perspectives, less centered in self but seeking to democratize self and apply radical transformation in dialectic processes of healing. Favoring the better honesty of this latter group, I shall extrapolate from five essays. In doing so, I am guided by a profound principle set forth by Gaia theorist James Lovelock, being that we no longer work on sustainability as a mish-mash of controlled governance, which but amounts to semiotic and cosmetic same-old-same-old, but shift quickly and with globalizing dedication into “sustainable retreat.”

As we move along together, I ask that you keep this principle, as our guiding star, in view. With this focus, the fulsome quotations will follow. And I request as well that the attentive reader observe how my selections are readily connectable to form a program or map of exploration, forging new paradigms and, if I may say so, even venturing to go where no generation has gone before.

No. 13 Hiroshi Tasaka: Three Strategies to Promote Fusion of Science and Spirituality

“What is the most important thing that will happen in the twenty-first century? The fusion of science and spirituality. That will happen. Why will this happen? Because this world in which we live, changes, develops, progresses and evolves according to a certain law: the law of the interpenetration of the dialectic.

So I would like to propose three ‘strategies’ to promote the fusion of science and spirituality.”

The First Strategy: For Natural Science
Teaching Modern Science in the Religious Community

“When we learn the latest findings in the forefront of modern science, the so-called ‘sense of wonder’ comes to mind.... And this sense of wonder is indispensible for a religious mind and spirituality. Therefore, teaching the latest science is one of the best ways for people to grain a religious mind and spirituality in today’s world.”

The Second Strategy: For Human Science
Deepening Modern Psychology through the Wisdom of Traditional Religions and Spirituality

“The most important question for the science of psychology in the twenty-first century is, Who am I? To answer this profound question, we need to explore the depths of our minds, especially the world of the subconscious...and the world of the collective subconscious.

...We need to deepen modern psychology through the vast wisdom of traditional religious and spirituality.... Then, one important question arises in the mind, Where can we find and observe the world of the collective subconscious?”

The Third Strategy: For Social Science
Creating a New Economic Principle...

“Modern capitalism has been based on a monetary economy, which refers to the economic activities of people motivated by acquiring money.

But the Internet revolution...has been reviving an old economic principle called gift economy or a voluntary economy ‘motivated by satisfying the mind,’ for instance, and by affection and compassion for other people.

So if we combine the Internet revolution, modern economic science and the wisdom of compassion...we will be able to create ‘compassion capitalism’ in the twenty-first century.”

Sustainable Retreat? A retreat from the Cartesian dichotomy. A retreat from soulless (non-sentient) materialism. A retreat from exploitative capitalism and social rewarding of crimes against humanity (war profiteering) and crimes against creation (planetary reductionism and war based plunder). But let us not be carelessly naive and carry forward a questioning of the possible compatibility of compassion and the capitalistic ethos of self-betterment through each against the other competition.

No. 20 Beth Green: Reclaiming Science and Spirituality from the Ego

“Whichever metaphor we choose to explore, science or spirituality, whichever path we choose to alleviate suffering, the material or spiritual, whether as a physicist or mystic, an environmentalist or intuitive counselor, we face the same question: How does self-interest derail both wonder and the desire to help? How have our initial impulses been hijacked by the ego, and what can we do about it?

Ego is the awareness of individual existence. It is natural and part of the human condition, yet in its immature forms, it compels us toward behaviors that are self-serving and shortsighted.

The ego creates agendas that are not only for our personal self-aggrandizement, but also for our personal and collective domination of other beings, other species, and life itself. It is well known that science has been used to manipulate, dominate and create profit through the application of science to weaponry and the creation of vehicles that damage the environment. And spirituality is being used in the same way, even in its New Age form.

There is nothing wrong with asking science or spirituality to improve our lives, but only from a place of wonder and service to the whole, and that is anathema to the ego, which is...me-based. How do we free ourselves from the domination of the ego so that once more science and spirituality are a sacred trust, committed to wonder, inquiry, and co-creation with the universe of which we are a part?

...Once we looked up at the stars and felt uplifted by belonging to the infinite. That is the deepest joy of any human being, to be part of something greater than ourselves.... And when we feel the power of that belonging, the ego cannot dominate, and it must evolve.”

Sustainable Retreat? Retreat from the mirror—the looking glass prison—and angst of narcissism.
Retreat from reality-reduced (Marcuse’s one-dimensional identity) and fantasy-inflated Ego-bound self to outreaching and embracing Eco-self. From insatiable extravagance (in the sense of Binswanger’s introducing the term into existential psychoanalysis) as self-serving consumerism and self-annihilating total war, to becoming a part of the circle without center, being centered wherever presence and healing happen. This is to say, within the dynamics of dialogic encounters.

No. 24 Jagdish Gandhi: Changing Direction

“The world is going through a crisis. Although most governments have pledged themselves to help develop a peaceful, sustainable, and socially just world, still we seem to be going in the opposite direction. Climate scientists have been warning that we are about to cross the tipping point, yet deforestation and environmental degradation continue unchecked. It is almost as if humankind has been gripped by a collective death wish.

Though this is a time of great danger, fortunately it is also a time of great opportunity. Today we have the knowledge and resources to create a peaceful and vibrant world.

It is not longer a cliche to say that humanity stands at a crossroads. We have two paths to the future. If we continue on the present path we shall destroy our civilization within decades, but if we can visualize the alternative, sustainable model of development, we shall bring about perhaps the most golden of all ages in human history. For this we need to give up the present model of profits at any cost and replace it with one where the holistic approach seeks to create a win-win sustainable solution to problems by eliminating the underlying causes.

We urgently need to change direction. We must transform our consumer society into a regenerating society where the focus is not on having more but on being more. There is no third option: societies and species that are not environmentally sustainable become extinct. Our fate is in our hands, and the choices we make will determine our future.”

Sustainable retreat? Here, as much as any, is an appropriate place to fully quote James Lovelock’s prognosis that sustainable development is no longer tenable but that sustainable retreat is necessary, inasmuch as a solution is still possible that does not exclude us as a species.

James Lovelock, from The Revenge of Gaia: “We are the species equivalent of that schizoid pair, Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll; we have the capacity for disastrous destruction but also the potential to found a magnificent civilization.... Hyde led us to use technology badly; we misused energy and overpopulated the Earth, but we will not sustain civilization by abandoning technology. We have instead to use it wisely, as Dr. Jekyll would do, with the health of the Earth, not the health of people, in mind. This is why it is much too late for sustainable development; what we need is a sustainable retreat.”

And again: “The time has come when all of us must plan a retreat from the unsustainable place that we have now reached through the inappropriate use of technology; far better to withdraw now while we still have the energy and the time.”

So questions remain outstanding and must continue as such, although I would draw attention above to contributor Gandhi’s phrase “environmentally sustainable,” as I believe the more beneficial analysis leading into creative and coordinated rebalancing action derives from an ecosophy that; having digested the Gestalt premise; treats fully of the context of that within which humanity as community-in-participation is attained. This may well require a de-politicizing of the true state of the Earth and creating a re-Earthing medicine way culture shift, an eco-shamanism and green sanity, that grows from the bottom up.

The final contributor’s portion of THE NEW SCIENCE and SPIRITUALITY READER is entitled Spirituality as a Basis for the Coming Worldshift. From pages referred to also as Round Seven, I drawn upon two concluding essays, first by Duane Elgin, then from Joanna Macy.

No.27: Duane Elgin: Learning to Live in a Living Universe

“Science now regards our universe as (1) almost entirely invisible (96 percent of the known universe composed of invisible energy and matter), (2) completely unified and able to communicate with itself instantaneously in ways that transcend the limits of the speed of light, (3) sustained by the flow-through of an unimaginably vast amount of energy, and (4) having freedom at its deepest quantum levels, while not proving the universe is alive, these and other attributes from science do point strongly in that direction.”

Question: “What difference does it make if the universe is dead or alive at its foundations? ...The following sections cover just a few of the reasons why aliveness makes a profound difference.

Consumerism or Simplicity? : “Materialism is a rational response to living in a dead universe... However, if we view the foundations of the universe as being intensely alive, then it makes sense to minimize the material clutter and needless busy-ness and develop the areas where we feel most alive—nurturing relationships, caring communities, creative expressions, time in nature, and service to others.”

Indifference or Welcoming? : “If we regard the universe as dead at its foundations, then feelings of existential anxiety, dread and fear are understandable.... However, if we live in a living universe, then feelings of subtle connection, curiosity and gratitude are understandable. We see ourselves as participants in a cosmic garden of life that has developed over billions of years. A living-universe perspective invites us to shift from indifference, fear and cynicism to curiosity, love and awe.”

Biological or Bio-cosmic? : “Seeing ourselves as part of the unbroken fabric of creation awakens our sense of connection with, and compassion for, the totality of life. We recognize our bodies as precious, biodegradable vehicles for acquiring ever deepening experiences of aliveness.”

Separate or Interconnected? : “...If we are all swimming in the same ocean of subtle aliveness then it makes sense that we would each have a direct experience of communion with, and concern for, the well-being of others. If we share the same matrix of existence, then the rest of life is already touching both me and you and co-creating the field of aliveness within which we exist.”

Pull Apart or Pull Together? : “Where a dead-universe perspective generates alienation, environmental destruction, and despair, a living-universe perspective generates feelings of communion, stewardship and the promise of a higher pathway for humanity. Although the idea of a living universe has ancient roots in human experience, it is now radically new as the frontiers of modern science...”

Sustainable Retreat? First, in reply to the question it should be recalled that Duane Elgin authored the pioneering work VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY. Behind this appreciation I would highlight the use of significant words and phrases: curiosity, subtle connection, gratitude, love, communion, awe and radical. These are powerful, threshold-crossing, terms seeking out liberation in a new context. They root backward into shamanic and tribal origins, while yet projecting forward toward a global village and eco-shamanic culture. A culture where the shamanic mythos and ethos combine as initiatory guidance and inter-dimensional healing, quite evolved beyond the politics of ecocide and genocide; beyond the bottomless pit of criminal indifference and ethnic cleansing and the Goya-like colossus of stockpiled arsenals nightmare-awaiting Nuclear Winter. In my reading, Duane Elgin’s lead words are as if spiritual footprints pointing out pathways away from the illusions of gross materialism and manipulative assumptions of dead matter, and pathways pointing toward some possibilities of enlightenment; indeed toward a re-genesis of reverence and wonderment before the subtle mysteries and astonishment-discoveries of quantum science, new cosmology and creation spirituality.

No.28 Joanna Macy: Spiritual Practice for This Time of Crisis

“At this turning in humanity’s journey, science and spirituality converge, and we glimpse new possibilities for a life-sustaining civilization. But the going is rough. One megadisaster follows another. Economic, political and ecological systems spin out of control in what David Korten aptly calls the great unraveling.

The greatest gift we can give our world is our presence, awake and attentive. What can help us do that? Here, drawn from ancient religious and Earth wisdom traditions, are a handful of practices I have learned to count on.”

Breathe: “Our friend the breath is always with us. When we pay attention to its flow, it merges mind with body and connects inner world with outer world.”

Come from Gratitude: “With gratitude we affirm our birthright to be here in Earth, endowed with self-reflexive consciousness, the power to choose. To be here in solidarity with each other. To be a living, intrinsic, blessed part of this living Earth.

As we adapt this practice to our lives...we make two discoveries. The first is that gratitude is not dependent on external circumstances. The second is that gratitude is a revolutionary act. Helping us realize how much we already have it helps to free us from the grip of the consumer society.”

Respect Your Pain for the World: “We are in grief. With all that is being inflicted on the natural world and the social fabric of our lives together there’s fear too, anger as well. These responses are natural and healthy. If we disown them, we cripple our vitality and intelligence.

‘There is no consciousness without pain,’ said Carl Gustav Jung. Our pain for the world releases us from the illusion of separation. It has a key role to play in birthing the collective consciousness that may be the only resolution to the global crisis of our time.”

Engage the Power of Benevolence : “Metta, or loving kindness is a Buddhist meditation-in-action that many today are finding wonderfully efficacious. It is good for dispelling fear and ill will as well as for generating care and understanding.

The practice functions not as a vague, diaphanous feeling, but as a series of fairly precise person-by-person intentions.”

Inhabit Larger Fields of Time: “We...can broaden the temporal context of our lives. To help us do that cosmology and evolutionary sciences now offer vast vistas into the past. As to connecting with the future, ten thousand generations are now brought within our reach by nuclear wastes. The consequences of our actions (our karma) play out on a geological time scale.

Our moral imagination is the essential tool for opening us up to the depths and breadths of time to which we belong. Extend it both backward and forward. Open your mind’s eye to the immense journey of life on our planet by meditating on your hand. ‘See’ its evolutionary development, one life-form to another, from its origins as a fin in primordial seas. Behold in it also the countless generations of human hands whose tasks and skills shaped our world.

Invite the future ones into your awareness.”

First—Amen! And it is important to recognize that Joanna Macy co-created the Council of All Beings with John Seed; with which for years they traveled the planet together giving that ritual in Earth solidarity to others; important to acknowledge as well that Joanna Macy walks the talk and with her personal assistant, Anne Symens-Bucher, continues sharing her ecosophy as the Work That Reconnects. So then, the recurring question.

Sustainable Retreat? To publically embrace emotions now socially denied. To continue to break through the John Wayne syndrome and overcome what Robert J. Lifton calls “numbing.” Retreating from the global addiction to violence and the aesthetic normalization of a collective death-wish. To move into the experience of the struggle for Earth being as existentially intimate and practical as one’s own hand. To retreat more compassionately from the politics of betrayal into a holistic politics of experience. But enough! This review is intended as a process and from this place forward I pass the summons to continuum along to you, the readers, to bring to bear personal and interpersonal reflections and responses, and to introduce into private and public life your shared priorities for sustainable retreat as Sustainable Green Gestalten.

David Sparenberg is a world citizen, environmental & peace advocate & activist, actor, poet-playwright, storyteller, teacher and author.



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