Embodied Ecology: A Relational Vision

One core principle lies at the heart of embodied ecology: We are relational earthbodies, fundamentally intertwined with the more-than-human-world. Almost every thinker I’ve discussed on this blog speaks that same truth in their own voice. Let’s listen to a few.

Charles Eisenstein talks about interbeing: “my being partakes of your being and that of all beings. … our very existence is relational” (2013). Philip Shepherd writes that “ the body knows … that it belongs to the world, expresses the world, is held by the world and shares in all that happens to the world” (2017). According to Glen Mazis we are earthbodies, “where flesh is not mine, but of the planet’s of which I am part”, (2002), while David Abram affirms that we’re “corporeally embedded” in a “living landscape” (1996).

Seagull flying over waves

© Author

Philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin concluded that we need “a new conception of the living body” as “a vastly larger system” than that proposed by medical science (1997). Gregory Bateson said something similar: “the mind … is not limited by the skin” . He adds, that “there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem” (1972). Merleau-Ponty, arguably the father of embodied thought, expressed it beautifully:

“As I contemplate the blue of the sky … I abandon myself to it and plunge into this mystery, it ‘thinks itself within me,’ I am the sky itself as it is drawn together and unified, and as it begins to exist for itself;“ (1962).

Neuroscientists have come to the same conclusion. Francisco Varela and his colleagues conclude that: “organism and environment enfold into each other and unfold from one another in the fundamental circularity that is life itself” (Varela et al., 1991).

How is it then, that our culture has got so confused? We still listen the story of separation told by Descartes and Plato. For Mazis it’s “diabolic logic: me versus you; us versus them… It rationally divides and opposes that which is one.” (2002). Eisenstein names the illusion more prosaically: “You are a separate individual among other separate individuals in a universe that is separate from you as well” (2013).

We have to wake up from this illusion of separation, but how? At least part of this process of healing is to become more aware of our embodiment. Paul Linden suggests that “spending time learning to sense the body with fullness and immediacy would move people toward sensing themselves as part of the web of life”. Could this enable us “to feel part of a living planet and take responsibility for the ways humans affect the global environment?” (1994).

I can quote from many others who have come to a similar conclusion. Shepherd, for example, identifies how practices that bring you back to the body “carry you beyond the wound of separation” (2017). This emerging field is sometimes called ‘ecosomatics’, which Nala Walla defines as “The art of sensing the ‘inner body’ as a way to connect to the greater social and planetary (Gaiac) bodies” (2009).

Ecosomatics is a more refined expression of what I once called Sacred Ecology: “a deep knowing of the sacredness of the Earth that is more than just an intellectual awareness of the facts & figures about species decimation & habitat loss. It is a feeling of unity with the Earth that we have in our gut” (1996). My current project is to explore the kind of practices Linden, Shepherd, Walla and others propose: These are embodied pathways of connection that can awaken us from the dualistic dream that is destroying the World.

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8 Responses to Embodied Ecology: A Relational Vision

  1. I’m aware that most of those I’ve referenced are men, which is very misleading. Joanna Macy and Starhawk have both made a significant contribution this discussion; do you know of other women thinkers I’ve missed? Some strands of Ecofeminism are also important: http://thegreenfuse.org/ecofem.htm

    • Stephanie says:

      I have been reading about Embodied Ecology on your site recently and am excited because I feel inside a lot of what you express. You seem to give words to the personal somatic and creative experiences I am having in Nature. Right now, I am exploring dance improvisation and somatic/felt senses within the various biomes of North America. I live remotely in each biome for one month and explore: improvisation, creative expression, inner felt sense, nature’s expressed qualities, story of place and how all of this is a co-emerging process in direct relation to the landscape.

      Your words of “sacred ecology”, “ecosomatics” , “embodied pathways” and “embodied ecology” all touch home for me.

      Thank you for this post. In terms of “relational vision” I have found that when improvising in Nature every movement I do, every gesture, every stillness, even every feeling that emerges from my body is in direct relation to the landscape: the soil, the sky, a shadow cast on a leaf, the sound of the wind or a seed hidden underground. Through the process of dance improvisation I realized that there is no such thing as a solo. In nature, it is always a duet…at least a duet. The embodiment of this feeling of continuous relationality revealed a creative process that was co-emerging. An animate communication back and forth.

      It also began to effect everyday actions, feelings, and other moments of life (walking, speaking, listening). Of course, it is not easy to feel this relationality all of the time. The insight re-asserts itself most strongly when I am living and dancing in Nature. It is something I try to follow and embody.

      Thank you for your post, your research and your therapeutic work.

      • Administrator says:

        Hi Stephanie,
        Wonderful feedback – thank-you! Your practice sounds fascinating and is especially interesting for me right now as I’m looking at how dance can function as an embodied process of connection. You speak very eloquently of how that happens in nature: “The embodiment of this feeling of continuous relationality revealed a creative process that was co-emerging”. I’d love to hear more about this. I’m especially curious about how your practice is having a positive impact on your everyday actions. I’m keen to hear more!

  2. Charlene Spretnak
    Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World. Topsham, ME: Green Horizon Books (2011).

  3. Administrator says:

    Thanks Brigitte! I heard of of Charlene’s work but I’m not very familiar with it. I’ll check this out.

  4. zoe says:

    Lynne Margulis made some key contributions to the biological understanding of how this works ..

  5. Pingback: Charles Eisenstein interview | Bodymind Place

  6. Pingback: How to Save the World: Embodied Ecology | Bodymind Place

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