Somatic Environmentalism

When I was younger spirituality seemed to be the main focus and interest for young people, but now when I look at that generation in their teens there seems this huge concern for climate and what’s going to be happening to the world that they are growing into. Spirituality seems to be put to the side of it and I want to know is there is any relationship is there

Well first of all what you are saying is true. The momentousness of the changes that are going on in the biosphere is overwhelming.  It’s actually not just a climate crisis. It is also a soil crisis, an insect crisis and more. This is all making it very difficult for any intelligent and informed person to prioritise anything else: other than responding to that.

I think there is a pressure there that may be especially strong in young people because in a temporal sense they feel like they have more to lose, more of a life to lose. So I think that’s obviously what is going to happen and should happen: that  young people should be looking at that reality and prioritising their relationship to it. However that reality is nothing less than an environmental catastrophe.

Nevertheless, human beings are still spiritual beings. We still have spiritual needs. If those  needs are not met it’s much more difficult to respond to crisis. Especially one of such massive proportions. If we are not spirtually grounded that response will be deeply flavoured by anxiety, fear  and grief. It is not that these qualities shouldn’t be present. It’s natural that people should feel those things.  If those feelings are not contextualised in something deeper then it will be very difficult to respond fruitfully.

Human beings for generations, thousands of years, have been trying to find out how human beings can live in harmony together, and nobody has found out. I think the reason why nobody has found out is because the looking for the answer has been taking place in a very narrow domain or spectrum of human experience.  The spiritual has been almost completely eliminated.

Most religions are not an exception to this as they are expressions of mind trying to solve deep existential longings. We can see from both the diversity and similarity of these so called solutions how unlikely they are. How they are products of mind. One religuious story makes claims about Yahweh. Another about Elohim, A third about Allah. Even if they don’t all point in excatly the same direction, i think they are all responses to the same longings and uncertainties.

These longings arise from our spiritual nature. The religions that respond to them may have a genuine spiritual foundation, but we can see by comparison of their ideological superstructures that they have been developed by mind. Religions and their stories and beliefs are not going to help us deal with this potentially fatal ecological catastrophe. Being out of touch with our spiritual nature means we are not facing it with all our resources. We need more than just the ingenuity of mind.

I think there is a very deep need for our external behavioural and technological response to have a spiritual grounding: to have a grounding in what human beings actually are. We need to take into account what human beings need in order to be happy. I think there is a huge blind spot in the collective understanding of human beings and their needs. That blind spot is expressed in not knowing what we really need to be happy.

Most of us know now we don’t need more cars, houses, clothes, land.  Of course some idiots still think that that’s the case, or still act as if that’s the case. However many people in the so called developed world realise that that’s not the case: that that’s not what makes you happy.  Also all the research tells us that what actually makes us happy is friendships, community. Yet this hasn’t really been factored into our understanding of human nature.

It’s very easy for that to be reduced to our biological vulnerability, that that is why we need each other. Now that is true, but there is more to it than that. That more arises from our spiritual nature: which, technically speaking, is consciousness. I don’t mean the consciousness of the conscious mind. I mean something deeper, broader and more powerful that contextualises and generates the conscious mind.

This is our spirituality. Contrary to what most spiritual teachers preach our spiritual nature actually carries our deepest need: the need to give, to love, to support. Our biology creates very potent needs to drink, to sleep, to breathe, to fuck. All of these things are powerful but our deepest need is to love and this is a spiritual need.  This is coming from the nature of consciousness as love.  It needs to express itself and if that’s ignored and people are given all the food, shelter, protection, safety they need, they are not yet happy.

Our deepest need is the need to love: not in a clinging, romantic, sexual way but in a deeper way directly from the nature of consciousness itself.  I’ve heard you say that we need to respond to this crisis not from fear but from love. I would completely agree but that doesn’t mean love in a romantic, sexual even familial sense that we love our families, children, parents, lovers. I mean love in a much deeper sense. The love that is actually our fundamental nature, our spiritual nature.

If that love is not able to express itself you are not going to be satisfied. You are not going to be happy. It does not need to express itself sexually or romantically, it needs to express itself simply by giving. That’s basically how you do it, how you express it.  Of course people are doing this all the time. When you help somebody across the road,  when you tell them where to go when they ask a question,  when you help a stranger : that’s all an expression of this love.

Without a clear understanding of and ability to express that need to love it’s very difficult for anybody to be really effective in their response to this crisis. Their efforts will be diluted and distorted by the fear element and the anxiety element. Any kind of emotional instability clouds your judgement and makes it much more difficult to act in a coherent, effective way.

What has precipitaed this crisis is heightened individuality: everybody living almost completely for themselves. Getting what they want without considering what everybody, everything, needs. In doing so we have been raping the planet. The opposite of individuality would be a sense of wholeness.

James Lovelock came up with the  idea that the earth is a living, self regulating  system that is now responding to human beings.   So what I think is absolutely essential for the effectiveness of human responsiveness to this situation is that we become able to act from a sense of the wholeness: rather than just from our own fear, anger or disappointment. Those feelings mirrored and amplified in millions of people acting from a disturbed place is not going to be enough.

Of course you will be, you need to be, disturbed by this situation. If not, you won’t act. The disturbances we experience take place in more superficial aspects of our being: our biology, our psychology. However there is a part of you that can not be disturbed by anything external. That part is your spiritual nature. Disturbances in your mind and body do not, can not create disturbances in spirit. There is only one thing that can create spiritual disturbance, and that is an inability to love, to give: an inability to express the love that you most deeply are.

The love that you most deeply are is the fundamental aspect of human nature. It’s not secondary, it’s not peripheral. It’s the core of our nature as consciousness. It came before biology. It came before the mind. It is immune to all of their vulnerabilities and needs.  It’s not actually disturbed by them because its prior to all of that, it’s more fundamental than our biology. I think it’s very very important that people get in touch with that so they can act from a coherent, fearless place in response to what they are feeling on a more superficial biological and social level .

So practically how do we do that.  How do we do that as individuals? 

We have to get in touch with the presence of consciousness as the ground of our experience and as the deeper ground of our being.  We can do that in  two domains: the domain of action and movement, and the domain of stillness. Then we need to externalise it into the domain of relationship. To get in touch with the wholeness, with the love that we most deeply are we need to become very intimate with our own presence. Intimate enough with our own presence for that intimacy to reveal our nature clearly.

All of those momentary, easily gratified, easily fulfilled biological, psychological and social needs do not constitute the totality of what we are. Actually there is something much bigger than those kind of needs which is our spiritual nature.  It also has its need, but it is a very simple fundamental need. It is the need to give, whereas our biological needs are all a need to get.  So we have to go from being only getters to givers.

But our biological neediness is still going to function

Yes those needs are still going to function. As long as we identify completely with our biology, which includes our social nature, then it’s all about getting and we are trying to save the planet so we can get more life. That’s why we are doing it. We are doing it to get. This won’t work. This is what has caused the problem in the first place.

People want to give to their children, but that’s still coming from biology. What’s the big deal about your children, what about the children of the animals, the insects?

So, the shift that we need is a shift away from being a relentless consumer. Valuing yourself and your life according to your ability and opportunity to consume is at the root of the problem. Consumption has become the compass of happiness, but it’s broken. It’s not working. This is why the GDP of every country has to increase every year. This is done by increasing consumption.  Production has to increase so that consumption can increase.

You have to stop being a comsumer internally. It is not enough to just stop buying. If you feel inadequate, lacking, empty you will consume somehow. And you will feel empty, lacking, inadequate as long as you are out of touch with your spiritual nature, with the love that you most deeply are. To no longer be a compulsive consumer you have to be in touch with the presence of consciousness.

Because the presence of consciousness resides in all of us

Yes we are momentary expressions of the presence of consciousness: all of us.

So it is about shifting focus and tuning in? 

It’s certainly not about becoming something, someone different. It’s not even about learning anything in the sense of accumulating external information or data. It’s about becoming intimate enough with who and what you already are to see more deeply than the superficial social, psychological and  biological elements to which we’ve reduced ourselves. We need to be able to go down deeper than the particularities of our psychology and biology and recognise that which is universal.

The spiritual in me is in no way different than the spiritual in you, except in geographical location. That means a different nervous system, but not a different spirit. A different conscious mind, but not a different consciousness. Spirit, consciousness is not a thing. It can not be quantified, divided, broken. It is a seamless singularity expressing itself not only in each of us human beings, but also in the whole of existence.

The possibility of becoming grounded in the presence of consciousness is open to anybody whose life gives them the space to be quietly with themselves a lot.  Not everybody has that, but rather than Facebooking, watching TV, going to movies:  just hang out quietly, attentively with yourself.  If you need to move, move; if you need to be in stillness be in stillness.  If you need to do it with other people do it with other people. People like to do those things together.

Are there specific practices that will get you more directly in touch with that?  

Well historically speaking perhaps the most significant are yoga and meditation, but also other conscious movement forms like Tai Chi and Chi Gong can work. Any moving practice could be adapted to become a lens into our nature, as a way of becoming intimate with our nature.  Meditation is very often presented as a self help technique. You are encouraged to become more mindful, more present: but to what?  You are being asked to pay attention to your psychology. This is not enough.

To get in touch with your spiritual nature you need a practice that has no other, external goal. It can’t be designed to make you fitter, healthier, more fexible, more focussed, more calm, more insightful. Maybe it can be adapted, but all external goals and intentions need to be stripped away so that your nature can reveal and express itself. When that happens of course you do become more calm, more focussed, more compassionate, more insightful. These things can’t be your goal. Your goal has to simple be to become as intimate with your own nature as possible. This you do simply by becoming as intimate with your own presence as possible. This you do simply by becoming as intimate with your own body as possible. That is somatic spirituality.

You don’t need profound insights into the nature of reality. You don’t need to meet God. You just need the opportunity to become intimate with your own presence. Of course that is going to calm your mind, clarify your understanding and give you an insight into the nature of reality, but that shouldn’t be the purpose. Those limited intentions should not be the purpose because those things can be achieved without getting in touch with the presence of consciousness directly. If you don’t make that direct contact regularly enough you are not going to be released from the consumerist momentum that is inevitably generated by reducing yourself to a biological phenomenon.

Are there any practices that do that

Any somatic practice that has no external goal could do it. For it to work it has to offer deep and sustained intimacy with physical sensation. Not just specific and particular phsyical sensations, but sensation itself. It is in the heart of sensation that we are presented directly with the presence of consciousness. This journey must be made unhindered by any belief system, any conceptual ideology. The  mind can not take you there, but it has to, and it will, come with you. There must be no external authority. The authority comes from the sensations being generated by the body: from the intelligence of consciousness by way of the intelligence of the body. This makes it somatic spirituality.

(Interview with Olivia Crooks February 2019)