I’d like to speak about participatory epistemology and place, ways of knowing the place we’re in, whatever place we’re in.
Like many of the stories I have been hearing of your childhood experiences of place, when I was a child, I built huts of pine boughs, played fox and rabbit in the brush, and wandered winding forest paths. I learned about making home, finding safety, venturing into the unknown, to return again and again to home. And I knew, without needing to learn it, without even knowing its name, that earth was my home.
On my first awareness of social injustice, hearing of a child my age bitten by a rat in her home, I sought solace beneath a maple tree as I questioned and sobbed. And I learned the poignant power of listening presence, the tree’s presence to me and mine to the tree.
Such lush pleasures as mud squishing between my toes as I gathered chestnuts, with their prickly shells and silken inner surface, kept awake my sensory delight.
Thunder crashing and water roaring down hillsides taught me humility and the vulnerability and vitality of living at an edge.
Losing myself in intricate frost patterns and falling into starlit night skies, I learned the wonderment of flights onto imaginal landscapes.
And one day, I, and the world around me, dissolved into golden streams of light. We shimmered in its warm splendor, and I learned, or was reminded, of union.
And then I turned five…. I went to school and learned to write my name, to place myself in penciled symbols on a page. I learned to name things, play kickball with friends, and to care who jumped highest and got better grades in more inked symbols on a page.
I was moving away from home in the wild encompassing world, to navigate the terrain of human culture. And, to varying degrees, I carried what I had loved and learned along with me. as a quiet ember, pulsing through the rhythms of my days. …And, much later, when I found I had a say in what I learned and how, it guided my studies.
As with many emergent theories you are exploring, I see the world, this place we are in, and knowledge about it, as participant in a burgeoning, intricate web of life unfolding, responding, co-creating, dying and being born in each moment. And while I find theories endlessly compelling, …for me, it’s the experience of them that breathes a vital air upon those embers, allowing entry into what cognition cannot, on its own, hold.
As David Abram has expressed it, “Our intelligence struggles to think its way out of the mirrored labyrinth, (while) the exit is to be found …(in) dropping the spell of inner speech to listen into the wordless silence. …By frequenting that depth, again and again, …our ears begin to remember the many voices that inhabit that silence, the swooping songs and purring rhythms, and antler-smooth movements.” “What is perception ,” he writes, “if not the experience of this gregarious, communicative power of things.”
Practices familiar to many of you–including movement, dance, artistic expression, contemplative practice, yoga, ceremony, and sensory awareness–enable us to frequent that depth and so to embody the patterns, gestures, and dynamic movements of a living earth.
Holotropic breathwork opens thresholds into the experience of becoming other species and life forms, or at least a perception of that becoming.
Goethe, in the early 19th century, developed scientific method he called delicate empiricism, a phenomenological approach to knowing the living nature of a being, in the progressive articulation of leaves on a stem and vertebrae of a spine and the stages of a blossom’s unfolding. …giving rise to an echo of that motion within oneself and, in some precious moments, to an encounter of it in wholeness.
With renewed connections to place, Western assumptions about what consciousness may be, where it is located, who or what has consciousness, and in what ways, have been breaking open. Stanislov Grof refers to consciousness as “a primary attribute of existence.” Scholars, including David Abram, Theodore Roszak, and Linda Hogan, speak of a terrestrial intelligence, an ecological unconscious, a human psyche immersed in the psyche of the earth that gave us birth. And like the moment before the Big Bang and what lies waiting in a seed, some see consciousness as both evolving and something that was always there.
Thomas Berry suggests that humans may be building the capacity of consciousness to perceive the dynamic nature and history of anything in the moment we attend to it. Such awareness could help bridge a perceptual gap in our relationship to time that has kept us from taking urgent action on behalf of an ailing earth.
Restoring that intimate bond between humans and earth has been a central concern of ecopsychologists, who suggest that, as we expand the boundaries of our sense of identity into ever widening circles, we will increasingly long to care for the collective wellbeing, as we do our own and that of our beloveds, because we will know earth and its inhabitants as ourselves.
Cultivating honoring presence, they suggest, can allay the impact of the hierarchies, antipathies, numbing, and utilitarian ethical codes that have had too much power to define us. And as we more fully sense the responsiveness of the world around us, we will feel more alive, and we will know, from whatever place we are in, that we are not alone.
I’ve been drawn to storytelling for its non-adversarial accessibility in reweaving our stories back into those of the landscape. And my stories have been informed by the work of deep ecologists like Joanna Macy and John Seed who offer stories for reawakening our genetic memory of our evolutionary history, a history which flows through us now. As Brian Swimme has said it, “Hydrogen gas transformed itself into mountains, butterflies, the music of Bach, and you and me………every being has 14 billion years of radiance within.”
We humans, and not only humans, have been telling our stories in a feast of voices and expressions. Just as a landscape thrives in diversity and speaks a unique vision from each place, we need the particular vision each of you brings to understanding our place and discovering more life-sustaining ways of living into it.
We have wandered far from home, by some combination of necessity, error, and design. The life and work of each of you is helping us find our way back.