The Spiral Staircase is the title of a book I cherish by Karen Armstrong. I like it because it portrays her winding career path, her failures, and the recurring themes in a vocational path. A nun at an early age, Armstrong left the church, studied at Oxford, tried teaching, then television, then became a religion writer. Ultimately, she writes to educate, to open our minds to the underpinnings of the great religions, an endeavor that in itself can evoke a religious response in writer and perhaps reader.
This fracking business in Colorado brings me right back to some initial motivations in my own life. A lover of nature and its creatures from early life, I studied journalism hoping to cover and be an advocate for the environment, but an interview with Greenpeace didn’t pan out, and I landed a job in a trade association serving mental health professionals. I became interested in reading transpersonal psychology, somatic psychology, Buddhist psychology. I took up yoga and was intrigued by its ability to calm my flighty and restless temperament as well as to help manage grief.
I thought periodically of becoming a therapist, and I studied Hakomi body-oriented psychotherapy and yoga therapy. I learned about ayurveda and its ability to balance humans in body, psyche, and spirit. Working at a holistic center with a progressive psychiatrist, I learned how Western docs are learning to use integrative approaches to mental health.
But with fracking coming into my backyard, all of this exploration into finding our wholeness and engagement with life fades into the background. The very natural foods and herbs that balance us, the cosmologies of India and China that inform practices of healing, are affronted by this myth of industrial progress and the destruction of the environment.
When I worked for a magazine on psychology and spirituality years ago, I met the cultural historian, environmentalist, and priest Thomas Berry in a small group of people in a quiet hotel room. It was his birthday, and mine was three days later. A gentle man with a sweet spirit, he made a strong impression on me, and somehow the nearness of our birthdays and the profound sense of presence I felt in him infused my meeting with him with a sense of destiny.
This assault on the earth in the form of fracking sent me to his videos on YouTube and to his books. His words now reach into my heart and mind and act as a balm, as a divining rod, and as a guide to my own steps at this time.
The Dream of the Earth reveals the wisdom of an elder schooled in world spiritual traditions including his own Catholicism. Informed by the cosmologies and spiritual teachings of India, China, and various indigenous peoples, he proposed a “story” for this current era in which man’s ways have potential for destruction of the earth. His suggestion of moving beyond a vision of industrial progress to a “biocracy” in which we move “to the participation of the larger life community in our human decision-making processes” makes so much sense. Says Berry, “We must now understand that our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire natural world about us.”
We all know this on some level, that if we continue to pollute as we have that we will not survive. Doesn’t this move to a biocracy not make intuitive sense to those of us who love the earth and its creatures?
Here is Berry again:
The four great components of the earth—the landsphere, the watersphere, the airsphere, and the lifesphere—are being decisively and permanently altered in their composition and their functioning by the more recent sphere, the mindsphere, altered, that is, in a deleterious, irreversible manner.
Here we need to realize that the ultimate custody of the earth belongs to the earth. The issues we are considering are fundamentally earth issues that need to be dealt with in some direct manner by the earth itself. As humans we need to recognize the limitations in our capacity to deal with these comprehensive issues of the earth’s functioning. So long as we are under the illusion that we know best what is good for the earth and ourselves, then we will continue our present course, with its devastating consequences on the entire earth community.
Our best procedure might be to consider that we need not a human answer to an earth problem, but an earth answer to an earth problem. The earth will solve its problems, and possibly our own, if we will let the earth function in its own ways. We need only listen to what the earth is telling us.
My own journey through the human psyche and body takes me back to the body of the earth and to the community of human beings. A bit wiser and a bit stronger and more connected to my own community, I want to challenge this idea that we need to blast this gas and oil out of the earth with all haste and utter abandon. It won’t be easy to change our course, but we have to do it.