This article first appeared in Network News, Issue 43, Summer 2006 and is reprinted here due to its continued relevance to the world situation today.
Questions and comments have come to us from the global family about the planetary emergency depicted in both James Lovelock’s new book, The Revenge of Gaia, and Al Gore’s recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth. As a frequent writer for both our online magazine and Network News, we asked our long-time friend and mentor David Spangler if he would be willing to tackle this challenging topic and share his perspective…..
James Lovelock’s new book, The Revenge of Gaia, is not published in the United States yet, so I have not had a chance to read it. But I have read advance reviews as well as Lovelock’s own summary article in the online edition of The Independent. I haven’t seen his supporting data, but I have a reasonable idea what the book is about and the nature of his argument that we may have as little as forty years left before global warming passes a tipping point and the climate becomes, in his imagery, ‘a hell on earth’. Certainly this book plus, in the United States, Al Gore’s recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth (not to mention a host of other environmental warnings), sounds a clarion call that we are in a ‘planetary emergency’, as the former Vice-President puts it.
How does one respond to this information, particularly if one is on the kind of spiritual path represented by Findhorn? Part of the Findhorn mystique is that through its demonstration and work it holds a key to humanity’s cocreative reintegration with Nature with consequent benefits to the wellbeing of the world. Is this true? Is this key sufficient for a planetary emergency?
From a spiritual view we need to redefine the nature of this planetary emergency. Global warming is certainly a threat to our lives and civilisation as Lovelock portrays it. But so is nuclear war, so are pandemics, so is economic collapse, so is the sickening of the oceans. We are threatened in so many different ways because of our inability to form harmonious and holistic relationships with each other and with our world.
In my language, the planetary emergency is an incarnational problem: we fundamentally don’t know or have lost the knowledge of how to be in this world in a holistic way with the land itself, with other life forms, and even with each other. We don’t know — or have forgotten — how to connect and engage so that our own wholeness, from the ‘God within’ to the strengths and virtues of our personalities, can be coherently present in the world. This is what I mean when I say we don’t know how to incarnate. We live as fragments of ourselves and the consequence is an increasingly fragmenting world, of which global warming and environmental abuse is one result.
The Findhorn story has always been about recollecting and merging these fragments back into wholeness, whether through cooperation with the spiritual intelligences within nature or through community or through a personal practice of inner attunement and balance. Findhorn came into being to deal with precisely this deeper, incarnational issue which at root is, I believe, the true nature of our planetary emergency. Lovelock and Gore present a specific kind of global threat, but the fact of being globally threatened in one way or another has been our lot since at least the middle of the last century. Nor has the way of dealing with this threat fundamentally changed: we need to transform ourselves to be in this world in a more connected, holistic, caring, and co-creative way. This is true whether we’re talking about eliminating war, poverty, hunger or fear, or preparing ourselves for a pandemic or for global warming.
So how do we respond? What is the incarnational way, the Findhorn way?
It is three-fold.
The First Response
First, we ground ourselves in physical reality and in our human capacities as fully, as knowledgeably, and holistically as we can. This is what founders Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean had to do when they lost their jobs at the Cluny Hill Hotel and moved to the Findhorn Bay Caravan Park. They had to accept the reality of their situation. They had to change. They couldn’t retreat into themselves and wish things were different or hope for the best. They evaluated their situation, realised they needed more food than they could afford, and began a garden. They did this even though the conditions of soil and wind were unfavourable and even though they knew little about gardening, especially in the north of Scotland. They educated themselves as best they could and they set about making the changes in their lives they needed to make. It wasn’t what they wanted, but they connected to the land and the place where they were and to their own capacities both physically and spiritually and sought to create a demonstration of wholeness. The result grew into the Findhorn Foundation Community, which has been an inspiration for change and wholeness for thousands around the world.
We cannot run away from the idea of global warming and its consequences. In a manner of speaking, it’s like our new caravan park, a vision of a bleak future. Peter, Eileen, and Dorothy could not deny what had happened to them, nor could they give in to despair. Both are disempowering responses. Denial and despair are not options for us either, for the same reason. We need to engage with this idea in creative ways, educating ourselves about it, just as Peter sought to educate himself in growing a garden on sand dunes. This is not easily done. Global warming, like other faces of our larger planetary emergency, has become a football to be kicked around by different vested interests; it has become a political issue where the intent is to prove one’s own side right and the other side wrong in a struggle for power. In such a context, clear, uncontested, unbiased information is difficult to come by. Is Lovelock truly correct in all his pronouncements? Is Gore? Are they wholly free of biases themselves? There are scientists, reputable climatologists, who look at the hard science and physical data and disagree, not because they are lackeys for conservative political interests or economically powerful corporations but because there are anomalies in the data. They also disagree with the reliance on computer modelling, which in the end is only as good as the assumptions and information that went into the model in the beginning.
As non-scientists — perhaps even as scientists — getting and understanding good data and a clear, unbiased picture is not easy in today’s world, but we owe it to ourselves to try.
Then, like Peter, Eileen, and Dorothy, we need to ‘tend our garden’. In this case, we can take advantage of the richness of resources of information in books and on the internet dealing with how we can contribute to ecological wholeness. We can determine what we can do in our individual lives, and not just about global warming. What do we do about war, poverty, hunger, disease? How can we make an effort in our political and economic lives to make changes in these areas? How can we be agents of incarnation and wholeness right where we are, fostering better communication and connectedness?
The Second Response
The second response is spiritual and, for lack of a better word, energetic. The Findhorn garden grew and prospered under the most adverse conditions because Peter, Eileen, and Dorothy took a holistic approach that incorporated the transpersonal and non-physical side of life as well as the physical. The key here is not privileging one or the other but finding a partnership between them, a holism that embraces both equally. So they sought their own deeper wholeness and sacredness as manifested through the ‘God within’ and, through its inspiration and empowerment, connected to the spiritual intelligences within nature, the devas, and, subsequently through their friend Robert Ogilvie Crombie or ROC, with the nature spirits. Cooperation between these two levels of life and between humanity and nature became the byword, and the miracle of the Findhorn garden was the result.
We live in a materialistic society that is overly focused on the outer, physical world. The need is not to become less focused on the physical but equally focused on the resources and possibilities of the non-physical, which in this instance can mean the transformative power of love and imagination, the healing and loving presence of the God within all things, and alliances with specific sentient beings, such as angels and devas of nature, who are as concerned with the fate of our world as we are.
What we need to avoid is the privileging of the transpersonal and the non-physical as better or more true or real than the personal and the physical, or the idea that nonphysical beings can wave a wand and make miracles happen. The devas have said that they can help us transform ecological damage but they cannot do it without our help and commitment. After all, pollution and global warming are physical problems to which we, as physical beings, have contributed, and it is we as physical beings who must rectify the situation. The devas or angels are not going to do it for us. That is not the Findhorn perspective. But they can add their resources to ours in ways that allow something new to emerge and in ways that enhance healing and transformation.
Just as importantly as learning to acknowledge and work with a wider ecology of life than just what our physical senses can reveal, we are each part of a profoundly connected energy world embracing all life. The changes I make in my own energy can have a significant impact on that world. Part of the challenge we face is the inertia of humanity when it comes to change. One way I can contribute is by giving up my fear of change and not broadcasting that fear into the collective consciousness of humanity. I can generate an energy of confidence, creativity, and openness instead. I can embrace the challenge of the future, the way Peter, Eileen, and Dorothy embraced the challenge of the caravan park and the windy beach, and be open to inspiration. That positive energy, that willingness to change, will become part of our collective awareness and make it that much easier for someone else who hears about global warming or any other part of our planetary emergency to reject fear and to respond with inspiration, strength, hope, and imagination.
There is no question in my mind that we as incarnate humans must meet and resolve this planetary emergency ourselves, just as Peter and Dorothy had to till the soil and plant the seeds; but there is also no question that we cannot do it alone but need the energy that comes from the cooperation and alliance with the non-physical domains and denizens of the earth. Or put another way, to create or restore wholeness, we need to come from wholeness. In this instance, it is the wholeness of the earth as an ecology that embraces both physical and non-physical consciousness and life.
The Third Response
Finally, there is the third response. If the first two are an acceptance of the physical reality that faces us and its challenges and opportunities (for the two go hand in hand) and an opening to a larger ecology of cooperation and energy that includes spiritual resources and allies, then this response is one of reaching out. If the first two are a vertical axis connecting heaven and earth, then the third is the horizontal axis through which we connect with each other. It is the axis of community and mutual support. The Findhorn Foundation is not just a garden or a spiritual centre, it is a community. This is an important part of its demonstration.
In this sense community also represents the gathering of the physical and non-physical, the material and spiritual, the personal and transpersonal, the human and the non-human elements together into a dynamic whole. It is an application of the incarnational principle of connectedness and relationship.
In viewing our planetary emergency, it’s not that we haven’t paid attention to physical reality and it’s not that we haven’t had inspiration and revelations from spiritual realms; it’s that we fail in our capacity for connection and community. We are mired in ‘us’ and ‘them’. Even as important a warning as Lovelock’s book becomes a weapon to use in the fight of us against them. How do we stop this cycle of adversarial thinking? How do we foster a culture of connectedness to complement our incredible technologies of connection and communication?
What can we do to change the energies of violence, misunderstanding, mistrust, suspicion, fear, anger, and the like in ourselves and between us and the people we meet and work with each day? How might we be of greater service in our communities in order to nurture those communities?
After all, if civilization as we know it were to collapse for any number of reasons — war, disease, lack of resources, or environmental change — it’s the strength and connectedness of our community life that will give us the greatest possibility of survival and new life.
Global warming is a threat. How much of a threat depends on who you listen to. But rather than argue if it means the end of civilization in forty years or not, or how right or wrong Lovelock may be, perhaps we can take it as yet another indicator that we are and have been for some time in a planetary emergency possessing multiple elements.
Some of us by virtue of where we live and who we are have been able to avoid the direct impacts of this emergency. We have not known war, poverty, drought, flooding, the lack of clean water or the lack of food, or the prevalence of disease. We have been insulated by our technology and our wealth. But that doesn’t mean the emergency has not been all around us or that millions of people are not already suffering and dying from it.
I see this as a crisis of incarnation (or our lack of it, incarnation not being the same as simple embodiment). But whatever we call it, it is an emergency that increasingly threatens to overwhelm the boundaries we in the First World have erected to keep ourselves safe and prosperous. Any part of this emergency has the potential to destroy civilization as we know it, not just the global warming. It is this larger emergency that Findhorn came into being to address, along with many other equally inspirational spiritual efforts. Because a new threat has been added to the list is no reason now to throw up our hands and despair. The work remains in essence what it has always been; to love, to connect, to serve, to care, and to stand for and create wholeness in every way we can.
David Spangler writes and teaches to promote an incarnational spirituality. For more information on his work or classes, please visit the Lorian Association at www.Lorian.org
Photographs courtesy of Barbara Coates