Reprint: Spiritual Narcissism/Spiritual Ecology Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughn Lee

October 11, 2013 - 7:33 pm Comments Off on Reprint: Spiritual Narcissism/Spiritual Ecology Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughn Lee

Matthew Fox & Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee:

Spiritual Narcissism / Spiritual Ecology

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Matthew Fox:Today we are discussing ecology and spirituality. Now who can deny that it doesn’t matter what your particular tradition is, or if you’re an atheist, if your backyard is burning up and you can’t plant food anymore, and the waters are rising? We’re all in trouble. And it can finally bring religions together and get over their narcissism.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I hope so. Mysticism, as you know, has always held this common thread underneath religion – the union of inner experience. Part of the reason I edited the book Spiritual Ecology was to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I felt that, although it was present, it wasn’t voiced enough.
MF: Absolutely. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with the archetype of the cosmic Christ — to awaken at least Christians that crucifixion is not something that happened 2,000 years ago, it’s happening with the killing of the rainforests and the whales and the polar bears and everything else today.

LV-L: It’s happening to the Earth.

MF: To me, that not only can energize spiritual warriors to get work done today, but it also can reinvent our faith traditions themselves, which I think fall into narcissism as distinct from mysticism.

LV-L: I have a concern that somehow people who have a spiritual awakening or awareness are somehow too focused on their own individual inner spiritual journey, and to me this is a travesty of real spiritual awakening or spiritual awareness, which has to do with the whole, and this whole includes the Earth.

MF: I couldn’t agree more. If your breakthrough does not lead to transpersonal service, to compassion, to justice, including eco-justice, then I doubt its authenticity. And Jesus said it very simply, that by their fruits you’ll know them. And we can be so taken by our spiritual experiences that we don’t realize this about energizing you to serve.

LV-L: In Sufism they actually say after the station of oneness comes the state of servant-hood, that one is then in service. Sufis are known as servants.
MF: Or as Jack Kornfield put it, after ecstasy comes the laundry.

LV-L: Somehow we have become so focused on our own human journey that we’ve forgotten that this human journey is part of the Earth’s journey. There used to be, I’m sure you’re aware of this, a deeper understanding that our soul is part of the world’s soul, the anima mundi, and we’ve lost that connection. We’ve lost that understanding that our spiritual light is part of the light of the world. And we have to regain that.

MF: Right. And how the Earth story itself is part of the cosmic story.

LV-L: It’s all one. It’s all one living, breathing, inter-related, interdependent spiritual organism as much as a physical organism, and I think we have, for some extraordinary reason, forgotten that.
MF: I think there are a lot of reasons, and one of them is the anthropocentrism and the narcissism of the modern consciousness. But I also think part of it too is the beating up of matter over the centuries by theologically influential thinkers. That kind of separation, that kind of dualism is so destructive because then you think the body is secondary, and then Mother Earth is secondary, and everything else. To put things in context, we wouldn’t have our imaginations and our breath and our food and our existence without matter. Matter is not an obstacle to spirit.

LV-L: I think the early rejection of all of the Earth-based spirituality by the Christian church has left a very sad vacuum that we’re now, in a way, seeing the result of.
MF: Paying the price for. And I think it goes back, actually, to the 4th century. If you’re going to run an empire – as the church more or less inherited the empire in the 4th century, it behooves you to split matter from spirit, and also to talk about original sin, and get people confused about their own inner nobility and empowerment, and divinity, really. I think that it has served political interests and cultural power trips to split people that way.

LV-L: Well, the male domination of nature kind of took the high ground, and now we have to, in a very few years, try to redress this balance and reclaim the sacred nature of creation. And what is central to me is to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I don’t see how we can address this physical devastation of creation, this ecocide, unless we look at its spiritual roots and reconnect ourselves to the sacred nature that is the world around us.
MF: And within us. And that’s what makes deep ecology different from ecology.

Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The mystics teach simple things, but those  simple things change people’s worlds. How can we re-energize that  mystical perspective so we can bring it into this global arena that is  calling out to us? I mean, the Earth is calling. That’s why I called  this book Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth because the Earth is crying, the soul of the Earth is crying. We need to respond from our own soul as well as with our hands.
Matthew Fox: And, of course, Einstein said it’s from intuition and feeling that we  get values, not from the intellect. He says the intellect gives us  methods; it does not give us values. And I think when you look back at  it, this is how various traditions of monastic learning also included  the heart in some way or other.

LV-L: When you say including the heart, I would suggest something even more  radical. How can we bring our love for the Earth into the center of this  concern with the well-being of the Earth? In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh  recently said real change will only happen when we fall in love with our  planet. As a mystic, I believe in the primacy of love, and we have  this love for the Earth. It is so generous. It has given us life. It has  given us breath. It has given us water. And we have treated it so badly  in response. I feel that this mystical center of divine love is really  the power behind the planet, because it is really what gives life to us  all. I mean, it’s a really radical thought to bring that essential  quality into the ecological debate. And although we have this  physical responsibility, how can we bring this love that belongs also to  our sense of the sacred? How can we learn once again to live in love  with the Earth in the way we live, in our daily activities so that  everything becomes imbued with this sense of the sacred? One can  educate the mind, but also we somehow have been stripped of the power of  love, which is, as a mystic, the greatest power in creation.
MF: In our traditions, certainly the Jewish tradition but also Aquinas, it  is said too that the mind resides in the heart. We don’t have to, how  should I say, pit one against the other. That real heart knowledge –  when you’re really in love with something, you want to learn more about  it.

LV-L: Also the heart and the mind in the heart see the oneness in things.  Sufis say when the eye of the heart is open—the Sufis talk about the eye  of the heart—then in each atom there are a million secrets. And we see  the unity in life, in everything that we are part of. We need to reclaim  that unity, that oneness, because life is dying and it’s dying because  we split spirit and matter, we separated ourselves from creation. The  analytic mind tries to split everything up into smaller and smaller  pieces. We need to return to this oneness, this awareness of the  interdependence of all of life, this web of life, which our ancestors  knew and revered so deeply. Somehow we have lost connection with  this spiritual dimension of creation, and to me that is the root of our  present ecological imbalance because we don’t respect or revere  creation as our ancestors and indigenous peoples have always done. And  somehow, as you say, the mystics have held this thread in the West, but  a thread is no longer enough. It needs to be a revolution, a revolution  of the heart, a revolution of consciousness that sees the oneness that  is within and all around us. I suppose the challenge is, how do we give  this back to humanity, this forgotten treasure, this secret, this deep  awareness of the real nature of creation, that it is not dead matter? I  always say the world is not a problem to be solved, it’s a living being  to be related to, and it is calling to us. It needs our attention, not  just of our minds, but also of our hearts. It is our own awakened  consciousness that can heal the Earth.

Matthew Fox: Another   dimension, I think, including when it comes to the love, is grief. We   don’t deal well with grief in our culture, and that’s one reason I  think  anger gets battered all over the walls. We don’t deal with anger  in a  constructive way very often. I do a lot of grief  ceremonies – we  need practices and rituals. When grief builds up, when  you can’t deal  with grief, not only does anger build up, but also the  joy and love get  clouded over, and people feel disempowered. So I think  grief work is a  part. What can I say? Who cannot be grieving  today about what’s  happening to the Earth? You’d have to be extremely  busy covering up your  grief and putting a lot of energy there.

Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I think we do. We’re a culture of mass distractions. We try to avoid at all costs seeing the real fruits of our actions. I   would say the most important practice is to listen. Thich Nhat Hanh   said to heal the Earth, listen to its cry because the Earth is crying,   but we don’t know how to listen. We’ve forgotten this feminine wisdom of  deep listening. If there is deep ecology, there is deep listening. We   have to relearn this feminine wisdom of listening to the Earth. It is  so  old, it is so wise, it has been through many crises before, and we  need  to cooperate. Thomas Berry said we are only talking to   ourselves; we are not talking to the rivers; we are not listening to the   winds and stars; we have broken the great conversation. By breaking  that conversation we have shattered the universe. And we have to learn  again how to listen to the Earth, and how to open that ear of the heart.   We have been told this great lie that we are separate from the Earth,   that it is something out there. It is not out there, we are part of the   Earth. We are made of stardust. We need to feel the grief  within  our own self for the Earth and learn to listen to the Earth,  learn to  hear it, learn to re-attune ourselves, just like the shamans  did of old,  just like the wise people who listened to the wind, who  listened to the  rivers, who felt the heartbeat of creation. And it  might not sound very  practical but it has a deep, deep wisdom within  it, and I think we need  all the help we can get at the moment.
MF: Absolutely. And that’s where the world’s spiritual traditions, if they   get out of their anthropocentric, reptilian brain dimension of wanting   to conquer each other and be number one or something gets shaken down,   and as you say, bring this feminine dimension back, the receptivity and   contemplation and silence.

LV-L: And not to rush for a quick fix, because I don’t think we can quickly   fix this environmental crisis. It has been building up for centuries.
MF: I do think that the patriarchal mindset feeds the reptilian brain excessively, whereas, I think the real way to treat the reptilian brain  is to learn to meditate and be still, because reptiles like to lie low  and in the sun… We have to make room for that mammal brain, which is  half as old as the reptilian brain in us, which is the brain of  compassion and the brain of kinship and family, and also of getting   along with the rest of nature.

LV-L: This is what Chief Oren Lyons said (in the book), when he spoke about  our original  instructions in the Native American tradition. He said one  of the  original instructions is we have to get along together. And  it’s very  simple, but once you realize we are one living community and  we can only  survive as one living community, it’s very fundamental.  It’s not  sophisticated, but we seem to have forgotten it, that we are  part of  this living, interdependent, interwoven organism that is all  around us  and that we are part of. I think we have a duty, any  of us who  have an awareness of this, to bring this into the forefront,  to claim  it; not to allow this dark side of our civilization to devour  all the  light. That’s why when you spoke about religious narcissism,  and I spoke  about my concern that spiritually awakened people are just  using their  own light for their own inner spiritual journey or their  own image of  spiritual progress, we have to make a relationship between  our light and  the world which is hungry for this light.

And there used  to be always  this relationship between the light of the individual  soul and the light  of the world’s soul, and somehow we need to  reconnect with this Earth  on a very deep, foundational, spiritual  basis. We are part of one  spiritual journey, one life journey, one  evolution, and our soul and the  soul of the world are not separate, and  we have to reclaim this  connection. And somehow, as you say,  human spirituality and  religion became narcissistic, and that was never  the intention because  Christ’s love was for the world; the Buddha’s  peace was for the world.  The message is always for the whole.
MF: I think today a lot of young people are being caught up in the vocation   of re-sacralizing the Earth, but doing it through everything from the way we eat and farm to the way we do business and politics.

LV-L: It’s   the attitude that we bring to it. It’s always the attitude. If we come   in the deepest sense, with an attitude of prayer or even just respect   and reverence for each other, for the Earth, for what is around us,  then  the healing can begin, and the forces of darkness will recede. But  we  will wait and see.
Matthew Fox was described by Thomas Berry as possibly the “most creative, comprehensive & challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America”.  Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee is a Sufi mystic & successor of Irina Tweedie who brought the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Indian Sufi Order to the West. This exchange of views was sponsored by Bioneers.  Publ. here 10.9.2013.

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