Miriam Darlington discovers a creative road map for humanity’s recovery. Ecomysticism: The Profound Experience of Nature as Spiritual Guide by Carl von Essen, MD Bear & Company, 2010 ISBN: 9781591431183
As we stray from Nature, Carl von Essen reminds us that it is as if our lifeblood thins, and we become spiritual wraiths. If, on the other hand, we can make contact with the visceral, sensual experiences offered by the natural world, we can strengthen our ancient spiritual connection to the Earth.
Rationality cannot be our sole guide in the task of restoring our environment. A spiritual reawakening is needed. We must fall in love with the natural world, with as much honour, passion and tenderness as we would with another human being.
Von Essen speaks as a physician, and argues that both evolutionary biology and psychology show that not only our genome but our very psyche is connected with all of life and that our spiritual, emotional and instinctive perceptions of wild Nature have roots that go very deep. This innate affinity will be, he says, what saves us from the cataclysm this technological age has triggered. But first, we must renew our spiritual bond with the organism – the Earth – that supports us.
Ecomysticism bridges the artificial divide between science and art. The author does not claim to be able to offer solutions to all the problems presented by the current environmental crisis, but reaches into our collective past, present and future to demonstrate why our spiritual relationship with Nature must be nurtured in order to “bring us back to our senses”.
He starts this journey by guiding us through the intense experiences of some of the most cherished and visionary Nature writers in the English language, from Emerson and Thoreau to Blake and Wordsworth, demonstrating that to be truly sustainable, human life must be dependent on a spiritual and emotional connection to Gaia.
He is right that a moment of majesty in Nature can give us sudden clarity, moving us to better protect and preserve the Earth. An owl swooping on moth-like wings, a single flower illuminated by sunlight, an experience alone in a wild place; we find ourselves jolted into a profound state of expanded awareness where the interconnectedness of all life is unforgettably apparent.
The increasing urbanisation of the world’s population may have caused huge sections of humanity to lose their orientation, leaving their senses withered, but von Essen says the forgotten contact with Nature can be regained. All we need to do is, periodically, immerse ourselves in the wild and in the experience of seeing, smelling and touching our fellow animal, mineral and plant beings. “The deep pleasure and harmonic vibration”, says von Essen, “comes from piercing the veil of artificial form and seeing the essential reality of things.”
This is what poets, farmers, philosophers and scientists have been doing for millennia. Such feelings evoke a love of Nature that can bring us to restore and cherish what has been damaged or destroyed.
What I found myself hoping for, three-quarters of my way through this absorbing read, was a realistic ethical framework to help us move forward, and I was not disappointed. One solution, von Essen suggests, is to “start them young”. Children possess immense receptive, natural creativity and imagination which, coupled with their innate sense of justice may hold the key.
Von Essen does not shy away from what we are up against. Nor does he blame: he simply models the change. Stating that the materialistic treatment of the biosphere has gone on long enough, he shows that already many communities across the world have rallied and in practical ways have translated the reopening of the gates of our love affair with Nature into sustainable solutions.
“Our collective head and heart need to be united to achieve an ethic for our relationship with the biosphere,” he says. And whilst environmental imagination and Nature writing can energise our thoughts, it is the intense contact of a total immersion in the wild that will most encourage our spiritual reunion with Gaia.
Von Essen ends with a message of optimism, stating that the battle ahead is wholly compatible with our spiritual selves because deep inside, that deep-rooted feeling for our nourishing wilderness that we all share remains intact. Let us act to save it now, von Essen says, for when night comes it may well be too late.