Towards an Embodied Ecology
According to Lakoff and Johnson (1999) our reasoning and our understanding are embodied. Our early embodied experience - primarily the first six months of life, but possibly later - determines how we reason and understand the world.
A different early embodied experience - for example that described in the 'Continuum Effect' - will impact on how we reason and understand the world.
Or 'It's not what you know, it's the way that you know it.'
Our experience of 'being-in-the-World' isn't constant, and depends on how we experience our embodiment. Sometimes we are very 'in-the-World' and more fully embodied. This 'grounded being-in-the-World' occurs during most good sex and some spiritual experiences. At most other times we are more or less alienated from our embodiment.
'Alienated being-in-the-World' make us less caring, less environmentally aware, less open and more fearful.
'Grounded being-in-the-World' allow us to be more caring, more environmentally aware, more open and more loving.
Sex, yoga, meditation, physical activity, art etc. change the quality of our 'being-in-the-World', making it more grounded and less alienated.
Threats, stress, violence and (usually, though not always) discomfort encourage withdrawal from full, grounded 'being-in-the-World' and lead to alienation from the body, matter and the world.
Consumerism and eating disorders are two classic cases of the symptoms of this 'alienated being-in-the-World'. It probably has a negative effect on heath, self-esteem, happiness, psychological health and spiritual growth.
In states of high 'grounded being-in-the-World' we experience increase in alpha wave activity and endorphin production, a reduction in stress, break-down of 'body armour' and an increased sense of connection with the world simply because we are more in the world.
Such 'grounded being-in-the-World' may bring the feeling that 'you' (small ego-self) are part of All/That That Is. This is the ecstatic and awesome experience of what Otto called the numinous.
Building a Stronger Ego Structure
I suspect one aspect of the 'Continuum Effect' is to build a stronger ego structure, which may mean a different way of relating to the world. A stronger ego structure will generally lead to a secure sense of self, which paradoxically allows one to reach beyond the ego boundary. A strong ego allows openness: The more secure I am of who I am, the more open I am to who you are and less fearful of connection.
Spiritual experience often occurs through connection with what is 'other'. This is easier for those with a strong ego structure.
Those who are fearful, aggressive and rely on an ideology of 'Power Over' will have weak ego structure.
What do we mean by 'the ego'? The ego is actually a metaphor that refers to a set of ways of understanding and relating to the world. It is an embodied understanding.
Embodied knowledge and Ecology
So embodied knowledge is key to our ecological understanding. If we have a well-grounded, fully embodied self, we will have a full sensual connection with the more-than-human world. This allows us to be fully connected to that world and to be fully empathetic with it.
When we have an embodied way of being-in-the-world, the subject/object distinction breaks down. The notion of a 'body' shifts dramatically from an enclosed 'inside this skin' understanding to a more fluid, open understanding of body/self as integrated within the world, as a single point of awareness within a vast matrix of being.
Western civilisation creates a disembodied self. We feel alienated from our own bodies and from the world. Sensuality is bracketed - It's not an integrated part of our everyday existence, but some kind of 'naughty treat'.
A fully embodied sensuality breaks down the apparent division between body/self and the 'other'. When we fully open to our direct sensory experience - the feel of the wind as it caresses the skin or the feel of the ground under our feet as we walk upon it - our awareness shifts. We can become aware that 'I' am 'that'.
Maybe this is a personal experience, not widely shared, but a simple example makes the point. I remember standing in a strong wind - a wind so powerful that I can lean into it. If I allow myself to fully feel that wind, I 'loose myself'. My awareness shifts, and the wind flow though my body/self, becoming part of me. I 'become' the wind.
That kind of connection is quite mystical, but can also become an everyday experience with practice and openness. It's probably not an appropriate mode of awareness all the time, but it's essential our psychological and spiritual well being that we open into it regularly. (It's related to what I've called 'Goddess Consciousness' elsewhere - see "Goddess Consciousness: Dimensions of Sex, Ecology & the Sacred").
A key reason why Westerners find that Eastern techniques of 'Enlightenment' don't 'stick' is our embodied way of being-in-the-world. Without a grounded embodiment we quite easily loose the full awareness of connection that 'Enlightenment' brings. (See John Wellwood's work on the Western experience of Enlightenment.)
Paganism, Deep Ecology practice and many other techniques allow us to overcome the disembodied self and open out to a more sensual connected way of being-in-the-world. A magical culture is instinctively in tune with the earth underfoot and the air that swirls around us. Instead of a strict boundary between myself & the rest of the world, we can embrace a shifting awareness across a kaleidoscope of being.
Can ritual influence our embodied experience sufficiently to alter our
ego structure? I think there is evidence that it can influence
how we reason at an embodied level, and it seems plausible that it can,
over time, influence our ego structure.
If you would like to be kept in formed of progress on this project, please contact me, Adrian Harris, at adrian @thegreenfuse.org
Last updated: 17-01-2005
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