Ecosophy: Deep Ecology

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“Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected, because deep ecological awareness, ultimately, is spiritual awareness.”

-Fritjov Capra

Deep ecology is a branch of “ecosophy” coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1973  that sees all of nature, including humans, as an interconnected web. This system of environmental ethics differentiates itself from traditional environmentalism, which it sees as too anthropomorphic. The deep ecology movement philosophy parallels the shifts in scientific thinking from Newtonian, in which the human observer is removed from the object of observation, to quantum in which the observer cannot be separated from the experiment.

Deep ecologists assert that if humans expand the self to include all living things, our relationship to the environment becomes psychological: “If we have deep ecological awareness of being part of the web of life, then we will, as opposed to should, be inclined to care for all living nature.” Fritjov Capra, a systems theorist and physicist, is a proponent of deep ecology and authored the 1975 book The Tao of Physics that discusses the connection between modern physics and eastern mysticism. The ecological dilemmas we face, looking from a deep ecological perspective, can be solved only with a shift in human consciousness in which our relationship to nature becomes one of unity rather than of separateness. The fight against global warming is not only a political battle, it is a spiritual one.


-For links to articles on deep ecology and interviews with the Arne Naess, click here.

Journal of Ecosophy

Overview of Deep Ecology

-Fritjov Capra Video: “The Systems View of Life.”

-Link to article: “The World Affirming Vision of Non-Duality: Vedanta Contribution to Deep Ecology.”

Video: “Stephen Harding: Gaia Theory and Deep Ecology”

Arne Naess Obituary, NYTimes 2009

-Quotes about deep ecology

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Silence as Yoga

I recently read, and would highly recommend, Silence as Yogaby Swami Paramananda. One of the themes that spoke to me the most was  how the practice of silence can lead to much more productive and fruitful action.  Out of silence emerges creative thought, focused energy, calm resolve. Often, when meditating, it feels frightening to let go of the mental noise, as though we cannot be productive without constantly adding to our mental list of tasks that need to be completed. Our energy becomes scattered as we try to hold everything in at once.

When the mind focuses on trying to hold on to worries and the other million things we have to do, we are unconsciously hiding a deeper emotional issue. Underlying stress and anxiety is a fear of letting go, a fear of surrender, ultimately, a fear of death. We are terrified that if we let go, everything will come apart and we will die. Anxiety and stress are coping mechanisms for fear of death.

Then, when we strip away another layer, we find another hidden assumption, and the root of our ego. The feeling that if we let go, everything will fall apart is akin to thinking that we are God. It is an illusion to imagine that through our minds we have real control over ourselves, our lives, and especially the entire world. This does not imply powerlessness or weakness at all. In fact, only once we recognize this can we connect to our true power. Many spiritual paths and religions assert the paradox that one must die to live. As Paramananda says, creativity, focus and energy comes out of silence. It may seem impossible that action and energy comes from silence.  Our ego, the surface level where our fear and anxiety resides, must be moved away so that the deeper levels can emerge and the reality of Tat Tvam Asi (I am That) can be realized.

“If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.” -Chuang Tzu

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The Wisdom of Nature Part One-Biomimicry

According to the Biomimicry Institute,

“Biomimicry is the science and art of emulating Nature’s best biological ideas to solve human problems. Non-toxic adhesives inspired by geckos, energy efficient buildings inspired by termite mounds, and resistance-free antibiotics inspired by red seaweed are examples.”

This TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk is fascinating. The presenter, Janine Benyus, provides insight into how nature’s incredible mechanisms can help solve design problems. Benyus is passionate about how humans can learn from organisms that preserve the environment that sustains them-one of the necessary ingredients for bringing balance to our relationship to the planet.

Biomimicry is related to the views of the environmental movement called technogaianism. Unlike traditional environmentalists that may argue that technology has ruined the environment, technogaianists believe that alternative technology can help propel the sustainability movement forward.

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The Eye of Wisdom

Shiva-Notice his Third Eye

“O Nobly Born, remember the pure open sky of your own true nature. Return to it. Trust it. It is home.” -Buddha

Where is the orientation of  awareness? Many of us experience the mind as centered in the head; the central focus of our awareness is our thoughts. Using the practice of meditation, the orientation of our awareness can become boundless and vast, like the sky mentioned in the Buddha quote above.

In the Upanishads, the human being is thought to have 10 gates that open to experience. 9 of these gates open us to the external world: eyes, ears, mouth, etc. The 10th gate, however, opens to inner experience and is known as the 3rd eye or the “Eye of Wisdom.”

Many spiritual traditions mention the third eye including Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Kabbalah. Some researchers associate the Third Eye with the Pineal gland, the endocrine gland that produces melatonin and is thought to produce Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) which naturally occurs in the brain and be associated with near death experiences, dreaming, and visions. Many South American Shamanic practices use a DMT-based plant brew as a religious sacrament.

Although the Third Eye is centered in the forehead, its object of perception is not centered in the mind. It is rather the seat of our being, the place from which we can return to the Sky-Home that Buddha mentions. When we begin to cultivate this inner awareness, the possibilities are limitless. We  start to encounter vast realms of spiritual depth and beauty, and worlds are opened as our Third Eye opens.

It may seem that we could become lost in the ‘inner world’ and lose touch with the outer. However, the more open, clear and “sky-like’ our awareness becomes, the more centered we become in the moment and in each tiny event that occurs in our body, mind, heart and surrounding world. We experience a profound sense of freedom, where all that is inside of us can move and flow, unrestricted. Everything we feel and think has the full space to be experienced, yet enough space to be released and not become stuck.

Open Sky Meditation

  • Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and your body relaxed.
  • Start by noticing your breath. As you become more relaxed, take deeper breaths. Do not force it, only notice it gently.
  • Notice how your breath is like wind.
  • As you breathe, bring your awareness to your feet. Imagine that your breath is breathing into your feet. Repeat and breathe into each part of your body up to the top of your head. Your awareness will feel expanded to the extremities of your body.
  • Imagine that your awareness is not limited to your body. Gently let it expand in each direction, open, free and clear.
  • If thoughts or emotions come up, let them. Accept each one and imagine that they are clouds floating in the sky of your awareness.
  • If the vastness feels overwhelming and fear arises, watch it mindfully, always finding compassion for yourself.
  • Allow yourself to trust the feeling of spaciousness, knowing that you will not be lost.
  • Gently return your awareness to your breath and then the rest of your body and slowly open your eyes.

With practice, you will begin to feel more at home in this open space. You may find clarity, light, love and a greater acceptance for yourself to fully be.

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The Origin of Change

Swami Vivekananda

“The Vedanta recognizes no sin it only recognizes error. And the greatest error, says the Vedanta, is to say that you are weak, that you are a sinner, a miserable creature, and that you have no power and you cannot do this and that.” -Swami Vivekananda

Many people struggle with trying to change-habits, addictions, and unwanted thoughts or behaviors. Also, sometimes we feel stuck, unable to experience novelty, excitement or passion. We push ourselves, make resolutions, maybe give up and feel hopeless that we cannot change. In the quote above, Vivekananda affirms our power to act, to change, and to do anything. But where does this power come from? Another quote elucidates this conundrum:

“The will is not free – it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect – but there is something behind the will which is free.” -Swami Vivekananda

Thus when we use our will and force to act, we ultimately are thwarted by other forces- biology, chemistry, physics, social pressure, cultural context, etc. The power to act and the freedom to change arise from a deeper place. How can we reach that place? Vedanta teaches that “Many are the names of God and infinite the forms through which He may be approached.” And, take heart, Vivekananda assures us that “A tremendous stream is flowing toward the ocean, carrying us all along with it; and though like straws and scraps of paper we float at times aimlessly about, in the long run we are sure to join the Ocean of Life and Bliss.”

Download the Upanishads for free here. Translation by Swami

Paramananda, a Vivekananda disciple and the man who founded the Ashrama where I grew up.

Swami Paramananda

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Can the iPad Solve Information Overload?

“Information is not knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

A great post on Openculture discusses the rampant growth of information in the modern world:

” this new informational age is cursed with a new problem: 50 million hits. It has become virtually impossible for a person to assess the quality, relevance, and usefulness of more information than she can process in a lifetime. And this is a problem that will only get worse as information continues to proliferate.”

The author goes on to describe how technologies have emerged to address this issue, such as social networking and location aware applications.

He argues that one company is very aware of the ’50 million hits’ problem: Apple. And the iPad, more than any other device so far, can potentially address it with its enhanced levels of accessibility.

“The collapsing of symbolic complexity into the simplicity of touch enables participation by new groups of people — even relative technophobes — and this mirrors the increased accessibility offered by Gutenberg’s revolution while lowering the barrier characteristic of most recent technologies.”

The ability  for the least technically adept person to literally hold the information in their hands can help solve the information overload. It changes the relationship between information and humans. Gutenberg’s revolution, the author reminds us, changed our relationship to information and ushered in the second information age. The iPad, he argues, may be the catalyst for the third. This may seem like a strong statement, but no one saw the ipod or the iphone coming. Will Apple’s new device change everything? I don’t know, but I do know that I would love to pre-order one.

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Embodied Cognition

Chronesthesia, the mental ability to travel in time, to relive past experiences and imagine future experiences, supposedly sets humans apart from animals. But a new study, also mentioned this week in the New York Times, finds that this ‘mind travel’ is actually intertwined with physical experience. For example: researchers found that subjects holding hot coffee were more likely to judge someone as “warm” then when holding a cold beverage, and heavy items were judged as more important than lighter ones. Similarly, the New York Times author writes about how researchers tied a subject’s memory of social acceptance to a warmer room temperature. The physical context affected the judgments of the research subjects; hence the article’s phrase “embodied cognition.”

One of the philosophical impacts of this, though not novel, is that perception of reality is partly determined by the context of the subject. The mind is embedded within a physical environment. Abstraction itself becomes more complex in a world without the mind-body duality. This idea, in my life, has affected how I view psychology and more specifically in my work, how I view mental illness.

The mind-in-environment approach is one of the reasons I was drawn to social work practice. Standard psychological assessment looks at the client as though in a vacuum. Many social workers, on the contrary, utilize an idea called Bio-Ecological Systems Theory when assessing a client.  There are five levels taken into account:

  1. Microsystem: Immediate environments
  2. Mesosystem: The connections between immediate environments
  3. Exosystem: External environmental settings
  4. Macrosystem: The wider cultural context 
  5. Chronosystem: The evolving patterns changes and events over the life course.

The individual is affected by a complex array of influences, and cannot be isolated. This approach dramatically changes how a practitioner views mental illness. Rather than looking at something as ‘all in the mind,’ we must take a more holistic approach and include body, environment, culture, time, etc. Cause and effect, responsibility and identity become more difficult to pin down in a world where everything is part of an interconnected web. This may be hard to grasp in the American psyche, where the individual is expected to ‘pull himself up by his bootstraps.’ Such a complex web can be daunting, but it also means that the world is resting on many shoulders and not just our own.

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Laughter Yoga

As a 7-year-old in the midst of spiritually serious adults, I was lucky to have a partner in crime. My best friend and I were two of about five children whose parents were regulars at the ashram where I grew up. At Kirtan every Saturday night, I certainly loved singing along and shaking my wooden instrument to the sitar and tabla rhythm. Without fail, one monk would start his slow, steady 12 minute chant. Mysteriously no one ever joined in, so I was forced to sit silently, restlessly. An older woman, sitting on the brown couch would start waving her hands, rolling her eyes back in an ecstasy that had overtaken her. To me, she looked absurd, even insane, but most of all hilarious. God forbid I would look at my friend or we would die laughing. I spent all of those 12 minutes avoiding my friend’s eyes, with my head in my knees,  shaking with silent laughter.  I miss the days when your entire being feels like it’s ripping apart at the seams from uncontrollable laughter.

Luckily, 15 years later, I found Laughter Yoga. At 5:30 every Wednesday at YogaLaff NYC you can laugh your ass off for free with a motley crew of strangers. Various exercises involving eye contact and gestures are meant to open you up and start the laughter going. At first you feel ridiculous, and the uncomfortable amount of eye contact clues you in that you’re not the only one. The exercises begin to add loud “HO HO, HA HA HA” as you nervously walk around the room to perform them. It seems forced, silly, and you think, “well, this is what I get for free in New York City.” But then the uncomfortableness, combined with the absurdity and fake laughing can only be expressed through, well, actually laughing, and the fun begins. The natural contagion of laughter adds to this, and everyone is laughing, and by the end you feel a strange intimacy with all the participants. I felt opened up and de-stressed.  Laughter yoga proponents cite its health benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Releases endorphins
  • Lowers cortisol levels
  • Stimulates dopamine production
  • Increases lung capacity
  • Is a form of aerobic exercise
  • Strengthens the immune system

After my first class, I chatted with two other newbies. One wore a suit and the other business casual, and we all lauded the experience and agreed that it surprised us. “I just realized,” the smartly-dressed woman remarked, “that I almost never laugh during the day….maybe 1 or 2 times at the most.” Sadly, she is probably not alone. Laughter is not only therapeutic- it connects us to a deep joy that many of us can recall from childhood. I strongly believe that we all can find this again because I have tasted it many times. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter  the kingdom of heaven.”

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