A Recipe for Relatedness

“What is it that you are carrying as a gift for your people?”

I have heard this question three times now, asked of me upon return from sacred wilderness journeys into the heart of Mystery. It is said to be the most important question of all that is asked of us.

And each time I have returned from that encounter with (im)mortality, I have been examined closely for hints or clues that I mustered the courage and vulnerability to allow such a revelation to be made. Is she sincere? Or is she just playing around? Does she still think the whole world is only about her private joys and sorrows?

“Who is returning?” they ask.

They want to know. They all want to know. The guides leading my wilderness quest for visionary experience become a mouthpiece for the cosmos: WHO IS RETURNING? What of me has changed or deepened, after taking pains to place myself in plain sight of Mystery, and cry out for help…? They all want to know what became of wailing from the depths of my being, from the edges of my knowing, honesty demanding that I admit: I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING HERE.

While my people need help.

And I don’t know how to help my people.

And we are lost. We are so lost.

“What were you surprised by?” they continue.

Sometimes, this wily community of Earth beings tries to trip me up. This particular question wraps immense arms around my life in the late 20th and early 21st century of the so-called Common Era. The “Common Era” can sound a little off-key to the observer who notices the rising tides of “we’ve never seen this before!” in our most uncommon era of historically unprecedented change.

For example, a November 2013 report from the (conservative) International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5°C increase in the global baseline temperature by 2035. [i] Somewhere else we may find the opinion that human extinction will occur at 3.5 to 4.0°C above baseline temperature, and a certainty that human life has never existed on a planet that has been so hot.[ii] The entire web of human life support will surely unravel in such conditions, they assert …20 years from now???

What could be my gift to 2016 in relation to so ominous a 2035?

North SF Bay oil refinery by Joshua Halpern

image by Joshua Halpern ecocourageous.com

“What still lies in the Mystery?” they ask.

Waves of anxiety churn through my body, recoiling against hot steel bands that tighten around my chest and send a geyser boiling into my mind, racing at full speed.

Four drops of Bach Rescue Remedy flower essence
30 minutes of yoga asana
Quickly followed by 30 minutes of meditation (performed as slowly as possible)
Sealed with the dedication of any accumulated merit to the benefit of all beings, everywhere in the entire universe.

Yield: An ounce more steadiness. An ounce more presence.

My nervous system calmed, the spacious present moment transforms the cool, detached report of “near-term human extinction” from an intrusive shard splintering my consciousness into a wonderful blessing: the blessing of surrendering to grief. It’s wonderful not because it feels good, but because surrendering to grief and letting it destroy my illusions makes me stronger, more grounded, more steady. This strength is NOT to be confused with feelings of competence or control, as grief makes it clear that “control” isn’t really on the menu.

Perhaps the harder thing to face is that no one really knows what will happen with a 3.5°C increase or in 2035.

Am I only a human vessel of grief, that dread harbinger of change, that sinister sibling of gratitude?

“What is it that you are carrying as a gift for your people?”

It is in my utter helplessness, that I find strength.

As so often I have been shown on my journeys into the wilderness of Soul, I am not the master of this planet or the creatures in it. I do not have the power to determine how things will turn out. The grieving it requires to understand this helps to uncoil the hot steel bands from my around my chest, releasing the impossible tension wrought by illusory mastery and control, and loosing the flow of life energy. I am freed to live, to be more present, to continue to face new layers of my helplessness, which reveals what my actual, true agency is. I can have an effect, but only through the quality of my belonging to the much, much greater whole.

“What is the first action you will undertake to begin the incorporation of the vision or insights you have received?” they finally ask, mildly satisfied that I am sincere about my questing.

I choose to turn toward the suffering, rather than away from it, caring for my well-being as foundational to my capacity to tend to the well-being of all others to whom I owe my service in the creation of life-affirming culture in an era of destruction. To this path of grief and gratitude I am called. And I hope to meet you there.

[i] Viz. pp. 23-4 of the Executive Summary of the World Energy Outlook 2013 published by the IEA. Though I am baffled that “long-term” is considered to be a span of 20 to 22 years. For industrialized humans to think of a mere two decades as long-term seems a little out of touch, especially in light of the proposal to name an entire geological epoch – a designation which typically spans 3 million years – after the human being, the somewhat contested appellation “Anthropocene.”

[ii] What These Climate Scientists Said About Earth’s Future Will Terrify You

Forging the real imaginal, Part III


This is the third in a series of blogs exploring, comparing and contrasting the writings and ideas set forth by the iconoclastic pioneer of archetypal psychology, James Hillman, with those of Bill Plotkin, a visionary leader in the endeavors of depth ecopsychology. The intention of the series is to deepen understanding of how the human being might contact and embody the imaginal realms whose formless forms connect each to all, breathing life into the communal dreaming of the Earth. The reader is assumed to at least have some familiarity with the general body of ideas, if not these particular thinkers. Click this category link to see all posts in the series.

Following on the theme of our last post concerning psychologies of structure versus psychologies of perspective, we venture into considerations of what sort of cosmology is enacted in the process of basing consciousness upon ego versus soul.[i]

Whether one might approach the challenges of psychology and psychospiritual development from the confines of a limiting schematic predicated on predictability and chronological sequences, or whether one is willing to navigate a life in flux, replete with mystery, paradox and dimensions beyond the quotidian, partly depends upon the meaning-making inherent in one’s worldview. The cultural historian and geologian Thomas Berry emphasizes that the cosmos is not a univocal phenomenon, but an analogous one. By this he means that the universe does not have a single meaning, nor does it render itself intelligible to a univocal approach. Being analogous, the universe is not a static and unchanging phenomenon; rather, it is fluid, changeable, interactive and responsive, and it invites us to understand by way of metaphorical language and comparisons.

Take for example the term “the Big Bang” used to describe the theoretical origin point of the universe in modern scientific understanding. It conveys with the simplest image “what happened in the beginning,” even though the term is not a univocal descriptor. Or as Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry explain the formation of stars in The Universe Story, “To say that the quantum tendencies of the hydrogen are influenced by the density waves passing through the cloud, and that this shock wave initiates the cloud’s implosion, is to describe an event using the univocal language of physics. An equivalently valid if metaphorical expression might be to say that the hydrogen listens to voices of the galaxy and responds by creating stars.”[ii]

The primary aim of all modern scientific language is univocality, or pinning down only one, unambiguous meaning for each term, which highlights a particular impotence to accurately describe the universe since our descriptions both reflect and enact our cosmology. As Swimme and Berry point out, their analogical description of the formation of stars reflects the interactive nature of the process, that both the gravity wave and the cloud of hydrogen participate in star formation. Univocal definitions tend to animate passive and mechanomorphic ideas, whereas Berry asserts that “analogy is the key to all human communion with the nonhuman, whether the divine or the natural world. The divine has ways of speaking that are not human ways. So too do natural phenomena have ways of speaking that are not human language. The effort to reduce all wisdom to univocal language is a primary error or failure of our times.” [iii]

As well is the effort to reduce human psychology to the literalizing motives and narrative of the ego which typically denies the agency of the other within—soul—and the others without—the anima mundi or soul of the world. Interacting with the universe as an analogous phenomenon supports the notion of a psychology of perspective, particularly as regards the perception of an archetypal dimension of the cosmos.

The conversation between ego and soul could be said to be mediated by archetype, a queer concept which itself eludes univocal definition. Bill Plotkin offers that archetypes are the “universal patterns of human behavior and character found in all cultures and in myths, dreams, art and literature.”[iv] Through his extensive researches of those areas of life, as well as clinical observations, Carl Jung came “to view archetypes as innate symbolic forms and psychological dispositions that unconsciously structure and impel human behavior and experience at both the personal and the collective level.”[v] James Hillman notes that “[t]hey tend to be metaphors rather than things” and we are “more inclined to describe them in images. …Archetypes throw us into an imaginative style of discourse.” In an important way, they are beyond description and “are the axiomatic, self-evident images to which psychic life and our theories about it ever return.”[vi] Since an archetype itself cannot be seen directly, it can only be recognized through repeated encounters with concrete manifestations.

According to Hillman, we may recognize an archetype by its behavior, its images (such as figures of myth) as well as its style of consciousness, taking for example the archetype of the Sage. Typically the Sage moves without haste or urgency, for she relaxes her rational, logical faculties and allows intuitive and imaginal knowing to present a holistic picture in which she is a participant of the cosmos, rather than an omnipotent orchestrator of its movement. She can see deeply into the future by rooting in the eternal present moment, sensing the continuity of past, present and future; she knows that cause and effect form a unity and that effects can affect their cause. The Sage thus listens carefully to the whole, rather than trying to extract specific information in an attempt to predict and control circumstances. She rests in the wisdom of letting go of personal preferences and cooperates with the flow of the phenomenal world. Popular images of the Sage are found in the Chinese Lao Tzu, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, the Oracle in the film The Matrix, and Caine in the TV series Kung Fu.

To engage the world through the lens of archetype is to journey beyond the confines of prescriptive schemata for analyzing and organizing our experiences of life, and to tumble into a world which is forever becoming, unfolding, mysteriously revealing different and even contradictory facets to the beholder. “Even sober operational definitions in the language of science and logic are no less metaphorical than an image which presents the archetypes as root ideas, psychic organs, figures of myth, typical styles of existence, or dominant fantasies that govern consciousness,” writes Hillman.[vii] Recalling Bill Plotkin’s attempt to map a general trajectory of psychospiritual development with the Soulcentric Developmental Wheel, mentioned in the previous post of this series, we briefly consider how models of the psyche may enact an analogous universe faithful to a psychology of perspective.

To reflect and enact a psychology of perspective, one must be careful not to use models of the psyche to create armoring against the mysterious ebb and flow of soul whose movements are far beyond the ken of the ego. Much as Hillman depicts the dance of puer and senex—the new and the old, innovation and structure, respectively—any soul-centered developmental model must fully integrate the puer, which arrives in the form of the unexpected, the sudden flash of insight, a disruption to the pattern-so-far, a bifurcation point. In this view, a model of the psyche may provide signposts or reflection points, a means to insight into movements of soul, but it is not to be taken as a straightforward road map depicting a series of hurdles to be cleared along the way to a finish line.  If we are navigating by and through archetype, then fluidity is required, for an analogous universe is rendered most intelligible through attention to qualitative rather than quantitative differences. In an analogous universe, our participation with its qualities brings us closer to the “real thing” precisely because it is not a univocal cosmos which is static, dead and unchanging, but evolving in a process of becoming and self-disclosure.

Perhaps this is why the artist is so revered in this lineage of depth psychology as the necessary ingredient for cultural transformation and healing—the subject of a later post in this series.

[i] For the definition of soul for the purposes of this series, viz. Part I. For an explanation of a psychology of structure and of perspective, viz. Part II.

[ii] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 43.

[iii] Thomas Berry, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker, The Sacred Universe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 145.

[iv] Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2013), 14

[v] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche (New York: Viking, 2006), 57.

[vi] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 23.

[vii] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 23.

Forging the real imaginal, Part II

This is the second in a series of blogs exploring, comparing and contrasting the writings and ideas set forth by the iconoclastic pioneer of archetypal psychology, James Hillman, with those of Bill Plotkin, a visionary leader in the endeavors of depth ecopsychology. The intention of the series is to deepen understanding of how the human being might contact and embody the imaginal realms whose formless forms connect each to all, breathing life into the communal dreaming of the Earth. The reader is assumed to at least have some familiarity with the general body of ideas, if not these particular thinkers. This link will take you to the first post of the series.

James Hillman sets forth a psychology of perspective, situating the base of consciousness in the soul, which for Hillman is exemplified by multiple viewpoints. The multiplicity of the mysterious phenomenon of soul requires us to track it by theme, by mood, by a varying cast of shadow and light emanating from someplace outside of quotidian time, penetrating the world in numinous, paradoxical rhyme. Hillman’s psychology of perspective bears a sharp contrast to a more commonplace psychology of structure, which organizes itself around the concept of the ego. The ego can be described as that small complex in the psyche which possesses the capacity for self-reflection, constellating a sense of individual identity. Accordingly, a psychology of structure locates the foundation of consciousness in the ego. Where soul speaks in symbol, metaphor and poetic voice, ego tends to organize experience in terms of a single narrative focused upon itself as the heroic actor bound by ordinary space and time. As Hillman explains,

The ‘relativization of the ego,’ that work and that goal of the fantasy of individuation, is made possible, however, from the beginning if we shift our conception of the base of consciousness from ego to anima archetype, from I to soul. Then one realizes from the very beginning (a priori and by definition) that the ego and all its developmental fantasies were never, even at the start, the fundament of consciousness, because consciousness refers to a process more to do with images than will, with reflection rather than control, with reflective insight into, rather than manipulation of, objective reality. We would no longer be equating consciousness with one phase of it, the developmental period of youth and its questing heroic mythology.[i]

Hillman’s critique of egoic developmental fantasies points to the “structure” proposed by psychologies of structure, which seek to pour the profoundly paradoxical contents of intrapsychic and interpsychic realities into categorizing, normalizing frameworks which are thought to promote the health, growth and maturation of the individual’s egoic sense of self. In this view, psychologies which emerge from an ego-centered psychic reality are inadequate to address the human condition.

Bill Plotkin’s nature-based model and practice perhaps problematizes Hillman’s critique of the concept of a developmental trajectory by suggesting that it is possible to track the development of ego and simultaneously serve the multiplicity of soul. Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul proposes a developmental model, which he calls the Soulcentric Developmental Wheel that serves as a navigational device for the ego’s heroic journey towards maturation. But does this automatically mean that the Wheel embodies a psychology of structure, as previously defined?

Soulcentric Developmental Wheel, Nature and the Human Soul

Soulcentric Developmental Wheel, from “Nature and the Human Soul”

One clue which might suggest that Plotkin’s Wheel is rooted in perspective rather than structure is found in the Wheel’s orientation to the passage of time versus the process of maturation. The Wheel is not chronologically oriented, as Plotkin explains: “[T]he stages of life portrayed here are essentially independent of chronological age, biological development, cognitive ability, and social role” and maturation is seen as following on the completion of specific psychological and spiritual responsibilities which emerge in each of the Wheel’s stages.[ii]

Another clue that the Wheel is not confined to egoic notions of structure is in the author’s orientation to “progress” through developmental stages. We never fully leave behind previous stages of development, and rather experience a shift in our “psychospiritual center of gravity,” which “identifies the hub of a person’s life, what her day-to-day existence revolves around.”[iii] Though there are always responsibilities or tasks remaining to fulfill from previous stages, and sustained access to the capacities cultivated in those stages, primary foci emerge along the arc of maturation. For example, a person in psychological if not chronological late adolescence is drawn to the mysteries of psyche and nature, while someone in middle childhood is oriented to family and nature. Plotkin proposes that there is archetypal patterning in human development and that it is useful not only to ego development, but ultimately to cultivating a deep, reflective relationship with soul and with the greater-than-human community of life.

While the very concept of completing specific “tasks” in order to progress on life’s journey seems rather ego-oriented, the ends which these tasks or responsibilities serve are far from selfish. Plotkin envisions a maturation process rooted in the capacity to belong to the world in particular, archetypal ways throughout one’s psychospiritual development, where “the journey is soul-defined rather than self-defined, and service focused rather than conquest obsessed.”[iv] For example, the responsibility of middle childhood is to cultivate the gift of wonder through discovering the natural world and learning cultural ways, while the responsibility of early adulthood is to learn how to embody soul in culture, and give soul’s gifts of visionary action and generative inspiration.

The completion of these developmental tasks does not necessarily involve a heroic inflation of the ego or building an island of individuation, but rather recognizes that service to the community of life is what makes possible a wholeness inclusive of the ego, or a personal sense of self. The Soulcentric Developmental Wheel thus seems to take seriously Hillman’s idea that ego ought become “nothing more grandiose than a trusty janitor of the planetary houses, a servant of soul-making.”[v] While ego is fundamentally relativized in Plotkin’s schematic, it is not negated but rather respected as the means by which the human soul may enter the world at all and given a fitting role to play amidst the cast of characters animating psyche.

[i] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 32.

[ii] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 3.

[iii] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 64.

[iv] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 56.

[v] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: HarperCollins, 1989, 32.

Queering Ecopsychology

The field of ecopsychology has lately undergone a post-normative reassessment with some creative results.[i] Drawing some discussion points from a special issue of the European Journal of Ecopsychology, Vol. 3 (2012), following is an exploration of the notion of “queering ecopsychology.”

Here I will define the verb “to queer” as to challenge the very idea of normal, to attempt to uncover various assumptions about human nature, particularly notions of sexuality. We can use a queer lens to begin to see and to question a great many assumptions which might affect the approach to ecopsychology.[ii] Before proceeding, let us note that great care must be taken with critical theory to prevent our questioning stance from proceeding from a set of answers—as when we ask questions as if we already know the answers. I would call such a stance more “cynical” than “critical” and representative of yet another normative proposal, another imposition of concepts upon reality which continues to block our capacity for intimacy, for surprise and awe and wonder. Furthermore, so much of critical theory generates a deeply disenchanted world in which only the human ego is thought to possess consciousness. It seems to reflect a worldview in which humans alone “produce worlds” with their ideas, as if there were no deeper drama at play than the conscious, human one! As such, it appears to be territory ripe for creative re-engagement from an ecological perspective.

Among the more obvious examples from the existing exploratory literature of queering ecopsychology is the questioning of the Darwinist and neo-Darwinist idea that we’re dominated by the urge to “survive and reproduce.” That we humans and all lifeforms are driven by this supposedly primary natural law has been ingrained in the culture as the objective, scientific truth, whereas Bruce Bagehmil has researched and published on homosexuality amongst nonhuman fauna and advocates an alternative idea of “biological exuberance,” which includes all the choices made in the natural world which do not reflect heterosexual reproductive drives.[iii]

wild iris

Wild iris

Our assumptions filter our experience of the world to a fascinating degree, and create narratives which do not account for actual phenomena, and exclude other beings and other ways of being. As Goethe exhorts us, “Everything in the realm of fact is already theory…. Let us not seek something behind the phenomena—they themselves are the theory.” In his article “From queer spaces to queerer ecologies,” Gordon Ingram asks, “Could a queer ecologies framework free us further from anthropomorphic biases in acknowledging other species?”[iv] I would go beyond an acknowledgment of other species, as if the planet were only about the human, and wonder if a “queering” view might help free us to actually converse with the consciousness of the nonhuman and form deep, reciprocal relationships with these other beings? That these others have a language and are able to communicate is something which can only be experienced outside of the prevailing scientific worldview which casts all nonhuman as insentient and unfeeling. To effectively challenge the anthropocentric notion of “normal communication” or “normal (human) consciousness” might admit the radical otherness of our planetmates so that we can learn what it is they need, how they may flourish, how we can co-exist in Earth community and not deny others their existence.

Another example of a queer perspective on ecopsychology comes from Deborah Anapol, who proposes the gender queering of Mother Earth.[v] Some ancient peoples think of a MotherFather Earth, without any gendered distinction, for example, Australian Aboriginal peoples and the Dagara of West Africa. Anapol suggests the possibility that the rise of “male supremacist” thinking in European culture coincided with the gendering of the Earth as “female,” thus enabling its desecration, as might not have happened to an image of “Father Earth” in that same culture.[vi] She asks, “Did eliminating Father Earth from our [European] collective consciousness create a vacuum for humans to rush in, to ‘husband’ the earth – which in the consciousness of the time equated to ownership, control, and domination?” It’s an interesting idea and one which does have implications for ecopsychology and how we approach the Earth, and what sort of archetypal forms are available for our relationships, particularly considering the European lineages within modern psychology and ecology.

We can find a broader movement around ecosexuality, which changes the metaphor from Earth as Mother to Earth as Lover. I wouldn’t malign the idea of Earth as a parent, but parents have needs, too! To see the totality of Earth being, rather than just its parent aspect, might be part of the maturation process of the industrialized human. The human relationship with the Earth is not a one-way proposition, particularly these days with our extractive technologies which have reduced our intimacy with the needs of the Earth, obscuring the fact that we have to give in order to receive. In truth, a deeper understanding would be that we have to be able to receive, in order to give, and that speaks to gratitude, to moving beyond simply “taking” something without regard for the input of the other, and attending to the deep relationality which makes our lives possible. Some authors suggest that the heteronormative presumptions around biological imperatives underpin the perception of a rapidly renewing, infinitely exploitable Earth—that it will just keep producing and producing, no matter what pressures we put on living systems.

Now I would like to broaden the queer lens a bit and play with this word “queer” as a sort of anti-concept. It’s an anti-concept in that “queer” really resists being mapped out in neat, dissecting quadrants; it’s slippery with language.[vii] “Queer” in this sense means resisting the dominant paradigm—and the dominant paradigm is ALL about rigid categories and ideological frameworks for interpreting and understanding. Here I would suggest that “queer” resists comparison with the so-called “normal,” it resists confining the human spirit to a set of categories and pushes us towards a radical freedom of self-discovery, which actually provides for the greater disclosure of the “others” we encounter.

It’s a curious fact that to be present to another, we have to first be very present to ourselvesto listen deeply and to bear witness to another is an active engagement. Presence requires us to not create stories about others to represent or animate hidden or disowned pieces of ourselves, but to rather hear the actual story of the other being in front of us. It’s quite as one spiritual teacher phrased it: once you understand how another person makes sense of his or her own life and experience, you will fall in love with them—and I would extend that avenue of falling in love to nonhuman persons, as well.

We seem to be living in a time in which relationality is direly needed as the capacity for presence and attention to our relationships, across the spectrum. The curious, open questioning stance of a queer ecology, a queer ecopsychology could offer so much towards this. As a mountain once said to me, “To belong is to include.” To belong is to include. It is a wonderful riddle, and one which points towards a living recognition of our fundamental interdependence, not just for our survival, but to blossom, to thrive, to celebrate the beauty of Earth.

[i] Refer Mortimer-Sandilands, C. & Erickson, B. (eds.) (2010). Queer ecologies: Sex, nature, politics, desire. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press

Gaard, G. (2004). “Toward a queer ecofeminism”, in S. Stein (ed). New perspectives on environmental justice: Gender, sexuality, and activism (pp. 21–44). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press,

Eco Homo? Queering Bodies, Queering Sustainability – an hour-long film of a “textual choreographic conversation dance” between Cate Sandilands and Michael Morris: http://vimeo.com/45655772,

Ecosexuality: Reorientations/Reterritorializations, a blog maintained by Michael Morris at http://ecosexuality.wordpress.com/

[ii] Will Keepin’s definition: “Ecopsychology refers to a variety of endeavors—theoretical, applied, and clinical—that bring together the methods and understandings of ecology and psychology to address the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual roots of the ecological crisis.“

[iii] Bagemihl, B. (1999). Biological exuberance: Animal homosexuality and natural diversity. Boston: St. Martin’s Press.

[iv] Ingram, G. B., “From queer spaces to queerer ecologies,” in the European Journal of Ecopsychology, Vol. 3 (2012), p. 59. Note: “Anthropomorphism” refers to the act of projecting human qualities onto the nonhuman, and while that is certainly something to be vigilant against, this is not to say that humans share nothing in common with the nonhuman, including sentience.

[v] Anapol, D., “Gender queering Mother Earth,” in the European Journal of Ecopsychology, Vol. 3 (2012), pp. 104-8.

[vi] Riane Eisler weaves together a narrative account of the rise of patriarchy in Europe in her work in cultural history, The chalice and the blade: Our history, our future (2nd ed.). New York: HarperCollins, 1995. Carolyn Merchant gives another account in The death of nature. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980.

[vii] Thank you to Barry Perlman for these perspectives shared in his talk with Jessica Lanyadoo “Queer Talk on Client Work” at the July 2013 Queer Astrology Conference at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco.

Forging the real imaginal, Part I

This is the first in a series of blogs exploring, comparing and contrasting the writings and ideas set forth by the iconoclastic pioneer of archetypal psychology, James Hillman, with those of Bill Plotkin, a visionary leader in the endeavor of depth ecopsychology. The intention of the series is to deepen understanding of how the human being might contact and embody the imaginal realms whose formless forms connect each to all, breathing life into the communal dreaming of the Earth. The reader is assumed to at least have some familiarity with the general body of ideas, if not these particular thinkers.

James Hillman is a brilliant, self-contradicting controversialist who champions the multiplicity of psyche with a nearly religious zeal. He has inspired multitudes of psychologists, therapists, artists, educators and others to revivify and explore the power of the imagination in surrender to both the pleasures and the terrors of the unknown and unexplored regions of soul. Bill Plotkin’s work to initiate the modern, Western ego into the mysteries of the underworld of soul is clearly influenced by Hillman’s ideas and intuitions, and yet there are distinctions between them which are often revealed in very different styles and aims of communication. Where Hillman might unleash linguistic whiplashing to break apart our everyday notions of a personal sense of self, Plotkin might seek to bring the unknown into sharper focus and into conversation with the personal sense of self. Both try to render the erotic in the terms of logos, but Hillman is more florid and abstract, speaking with the reader as if from archetype to archetype, while Plotkin frequently employs personalizing stories to ground his theoretical observations in the everyday and connect with the ego for a more subtle undermining of its perspectives. Both are strong advocates for the imagination, for a return of soul to the world, for the embrace of human psychospiritual suffering as a means of growth, healing and wholeness. [1]

James Hillman is notoriously unsystematic in his theorizing, as Glen Slater explains in his introduction to the collection of essays Senex & Puer, “James Hillman undoes. …Though his approach is not systematic—he doesn’t build models of the mind—his reflections are pointed and precise, sharply illuminating whatever terrain he traverses…”.[2] As grounded in this-world and its demanding realities as he seems to be, Hillman is perhaps more focused on the present moment and how we shall make meaning of it, how we shall locate ourselves in the reflective moment between actor and action, abandoning all hope of “progress” or “cure” or “correcting” anything at all. While this seems like a rather bizarre stance at first blush, perhaps part of Hillman’s point is that it is ego which wants “progress,” has the perception of an “illness,” and a prejudice concerning what needs to be “corrected.” The ego’s preconceived notions of one’s total psyche could completely interfere with the revelations of soul.

To bring forth soul via the mythic imagination generates meaning and the possibility of an internalizing or embodying experience of one’s visions, longings and sufferings such that for Hillman, the poet always precedes the analyst in the therapeutic context. Allowing the soul its own prerogatives is paramount, and hemming it in with too much structure or pathologizing blocks the way to any kind of relief from unnecessary suffering, which would be faithful to the multivalent depths of psyche. Hillman demands that we be with what is, and what is is always in flux. In fact, any student of Hillman will likely be able to find passages in his work which contradict or complicate the above characterization. So it is with the multiplicity of beings within us, and our subsequent actions; psyche is not a creature for systematization.

Bill Plotkin is not so satisfied with this approach. “I’m a mapmaker, a model designer,” he confessed in a recent interview with Terry Patten. For the last thirty years Plotkin has “been thinking about ways to talk about human development that I hadn’t found elsewhere in the Western traditions [to] help me get oriented about who we are as human beings and where we’re going and where we’ve been, for that matter….”[3] In 2008, Plotkin presented the fruits of his decades of exploration in Nature and the Human Soul, a nature-based model of psychospiritual development which proposes a role for the greater-than-human world in human growth and maturation processes. He then elaborated an ecopsychological model of the human mind in the 2013 book Wild Mind. Plotkin does so with the hope of contributing to “the global effort to create a viable human-Earth partnership”[4] by providing frameworks for reflection and action which facilitate the reclamation and embodiment of “our original wholeness, our indigenous human nature granted to us by nature itself.”[5]

As much as Hillman would implore us to surrender to soul’s mysterious invitations, he often leaves a bit too much to the imagination for the average reader in a population starved for meaning and lacking in elders or mentors to provide reliable avenues of exploration. Paradoxically, form and structure can provide access to the wild and the untamable within each human, even if those forms cannot wholly contain or ultimately describe what is revealed. Though Hillman might find it odious to apply values of “utility” or “practicability” to his theories (as that might place too much emphasis on ego and detract from soul), he might agree that accessibility is necessary for any kind of world-healing transformation of the human species to have a chance in the face of our foundering technological adolescence. While Hillman rails against the idea of “cure” as a goal of psychotherapy, he doesn’t propose that we leap into a pit of absolute relativism. His is a radical vision of the unique psychic circumstances of each person and each culture, and a radical trust in the health that each can access from within, rather helpfully pointing us towards the multivalence of experience, referring to the many layers of meaning within in any one experience or any one person. Even as he asks us to open up to the conflicting images and impulses within the individual and within humanity as a collective, Hillman also “advises that an image comes with a moral claim,” as images compel us to self-knowledge, offering an entryway into the guarded treasury of the unconscious.[6]

But how do we participate with the image, which Carl Jung proposed is the primary data of the unconscious, arising spontaneously of its own accord? “The psyche consists essentially of images…a ‘picturing’ of vital activities,”[7] though note that “it is not we who personify [the images]; they have a personal nature from the very beginning.”[8] Accordingly, Hillman places imagination before perception, fantasy prior to reality: “Man is primarily an imagemaker and our psychic substance consists of images; our being is imaginal being, an existence in imagination. We are indeed such stuff as dreams are made on.”[9]

To engage with image on the image’s own terms is a primary concern of Hillman, who sees the slippery slope from interacting with imagery to imposing control upon imagery, subverting it to the ends of our conscious sense of self. The power of the imaginal is thus sabotaged, waylaid or perverted, preventing genuine discourse between conscious and unconscious, suppressing the many others within. We are too easily able to cast shadows upon the shadows within ourselves.

However, models or maps of the psyche could simply provide a way for soul to bite into us, rather than necessarily constraining the coevolutionary potential of ego and soul in an egocentric conceptual straitjacket. In regard to his nature-based model of optimum psychospiritual development, Plotkin stresses that he has tried to design a model, rather than put forth a theory, explaining, “my primary design objective was to fashion a useful language, a way of talking about optimum human development, especially concerning the relationship between the ego and the soul. My goal has been to create a means of systematically articulating and discussing all the possibilities of soul-infused maturation, as opposed to championing a single theory or path. In appraising the merit of any model, the primary question to ask is not whether it’s true but whether it’s a valuable tool of description, discussion and action.”[10] Regardless of our maps of psyche, the territory remains fresh and in some sense unknowable except through experience, and recognition of this participatory facet of our human beingness requires the cultivation of a deep sensitivity, an empathic humility.

It could even be that part of the wild animal nature of the human being is its capacity to create form and structure as well as novelty, so free as we seem to be to discover and obscure, uncover and bury facets of psyche, forever defining, refining, and rebirthing self and other in the imaginal womb of Earth. Through his inspiring storytelling, Plotkin has shared much of his own soul-centered journey to the heart of the mystery of being, which has revealed to him over time that he is a weaver of cocoons, a dreamer of impossible dreams for his people. A mapmaker as cocoon weaver sounds fitting, as novelty seems predicated on structure. Entering into any given model or map or conceptual idea of what is human, what is psyche appears to prefigure a future dissolution, as maps must themselves be transformed by experience and interaction with environments both internal and external, reflecting the characteristic flux and change of the infinite wonder of our universe.


[1] By “soul,” Hillman means “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things rather than a thing itself. …[soul] refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. …[B]y soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” (A Blue Fire, pp. 20-1.) For Plotkin, “The Soul is a person’s unique purpose or identity, a mythopoetic identity, something much deeper than personality or socio-vocational role, an identity revealed and expressed through symbol and metaphor, image and dream, archetype and myth.” (Wild Mind, p. 13.) Plotkin elaborates, “By soul, I mean a thing’s ultimate place in the world. I use the word thing to embrace the fact that every thing has a particular place in the world and therefore has a soul—all creatures, objects, events, and relationships. …By place, I mean not a geographical location but the role, function, station, or status a thing has in relation to other things. …A thing’s ‘ultimate place’ is its place in the great scheme of things, its quintessential place in the world or the universe…[which] corresponds to the set of” innumerable “relationships that this thing has with all other things in the world.” With the term ultimate place, “we are calling attention to the very core or heart of a thing’s identity, its decisive meaning or significance, its raison d’etre. …The human soul is a person’s ultimate place in the more-than-human world.” (Nature and the Human Soul, pp. 30-1).

[2] James Hillman, ed. Glen Slater, Senex & Puer (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2013), vii.

[3] Terry Patten interview with Bill Plotkin on Beyond Awakening 3/23/14, http://beyondawakeningseries.com/people/bill_plotkin.php

[4] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 2.

[5] Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2013), 2

[6] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 50.

[7] C.G. Jung, Collected Works Vol. 8, para. 618

[8] C.G. Jung, Collected Works Vol. 13, para. 299, 62

[9] James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: HarperCollins, 1975), 23.

[10] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 56

California drought: interview with Brock Dolman

The deep drought in California has hardly been broken by the recent welcome rains, though the frogs in my backyard are happily proclaiming new life for at least a short season.

American Bullfrog


Frogsong recorded near the Navarro River, March 12, 2014

As Brock Dolman of the WATER Institute in northern California indicates in a recent interview with Movement Generation, drought is a disaster more difficult to recognize in typical human experience:

The Cali Drought, Part 2

“That’s the thing about drought,” Dolman says, “it’s a progressive, chronic disaster. A wild fire comes through and you clean up, or a tornado, or a big flood. They’re episodic and acute. But a drought is long, slow, chronic, it just goes on and on, assuming it’s an intense, multi-year drought.”

As California seems to be headed into a multi-year drought, 2014 may look bleak, but Dolman suggests that 2015 could be a year of great contraction, should reservoirs be definitively drained by lack of replenishment this year.

The entire interview with Movement Generation is well worth the read not only for an important contextualization of the latest facts and figures, but also for a longer-term perspective on the role of water in the state of California, as well as its role in human civilization.

For example, Dolman points out the drought’s effects on threatened salmon species and the dairy and sheep ranchers of the North Coast, and the thorny politics which can emerge during such times of scarcity, when environmental protections are seen as less important than shorter-term human needs.

Will this drought remind the U.S. West Coast that industrial society is a very new experiment and that its metrics of success are quite dubious in terms of longevity? Rarely does it seem to occur to industrialized humans to adapt to current conditions and modify habits, desires, patterns and so forth, in response to environmental pressures, rather dumping the onus on other species and habitats to adapt to the human idea of functional. And as resources become increasingly scarce, those humans most marginalized are expected to bear the largest burden within a socioeconomic system which is already a model of maldistribution. If California is actually looking at a 100-year drought as a normal phase of its climate regime, as suggested by one study mentioned in this interview, passing the buck to other species and the socioeconomically marginalized may no longer be an option, if it ever truly was.

What we fail to notice

The Anthropocene. “Sufficient evidence has emerged of stratigraphically significant change (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the Anthropocene—currently a vivid yet informal metaphor of global environmental change—as a new geological epoch to be considered for formalization by international discussion.” [1]

Geological timeline

Geological timeline as of 2014 CE

Combining the Greek anthropo– (“human”) with –cene (“new”), the Anthropocene is a popularized term meant to recognize a new geological epoch emerging at the termination of the present Cenozoic Era.  Upon first encountering this term during graduate studies in integral ecology, I couldn’t contain my mirth. Naming a geological epoch after our own species? Is this a serious proposal? Perhaps my amusement covered for a deeper sense of despair that the industrialized human would ever awaken to the significance of the rupture in its belonging to a community of life. The consequences of the loss of a planet and a cosmos endowed with inherent meaning and purpose may now only render a nauseating sense of disorientation, armored sarcasm, apathy, or conversely, a toxic nostalgia for the “simpler times” of older authoritarian structures of purpose and meaning, yet the impact of this dark night of the human soul will not be limited to simple psychological compromise formations or to the human sphere alone.

Jason deCaires Taylor:  Anthropocene

Jason deCaires Taylor, underwater sculpture, Anthropocene (2011), MUSA collection, Cancun, Mexico

The phrasing itself seems symbolic of the inflated sense of self-importance which trivializes or renders invisible the needs of the nonhuman world, as well as those humans who are also treated as “resources” or “collateral damage.” I can’t help but see in “Anthropocene” the grandiosity that has led to our present environmental calamity, an arrogance which contributes to the degradation of the Earth’s life support systems and the needless suffering of many lifeforms, including humans.

Eileen Crist has published a wonderfully provocative essay outlining the discourse surrounding the term Anthropocene, which highlights some of the problematic sides of conflating the human being with the Earth process itself. While Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker’s assertion that human beings have become a geological force on the planet Earth today [2] seems reasonable, humans are not the only geological force at work. A misconception of the capacity for human management of the living planet can only deepen the trouble which the drive for human domination has brought and carry us further away from the potentials of cooperation and partnership both among species and within our own.

On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature by Eileen Crist, published in Environmental Humanities, vol. 3, 2013, pp. 129 – 147

Highlights of this essay include a romp through the triumphalist narrative of “progress” and its incontestability, i.e., the mythic perception of the fall of humanity from harmony into disharmony with the natural world is excluded from consideration; the sanitization of language which tends to arise in brutal social hierarchies and which is indicative of a “human supremacy complex”; an illustration of the effects of divorcing emotional capacities from the intellectual capacities, such that amassing (or creating) facts can supersede any ethical reflections on moral responsibility; and not only a deconstruction of the Anthropocene discourse but also a constructive proposal for a human presence which is integral to the wild Earth rather than alienated from or at odds with its interdependence with all life. Fortunate it is that humility is not about negation, as the playbook of patriarchy might have it, but rather about full participation and belonging.

Jason deCaires Taylor:  The Banker

Jason deCaires Taylor, underwater sculpture, The Banker (2011), MUSA collection, Cancun, Mexico


[1] Jan Zalasiewicz, et al. “Are we now living in the Anthropocene,” GSA Today 18(2) (2008): 7.

[2] Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Journey of the Universe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 102.



I usually would be asleep by 8.p.m. nightly. I had to be at work by 5:30 a.m. every morning so I made sure to get my sleep. Anyway, one night I was awoken by a bunch of dogs barking loudly….At this time I realized that I had no control of myself, all I could move were my eyes.

Then I see the tall one rise up at the foot of the bed. Suddenly there’s lots of little ones everywhere. They’re fuzzy and indistinct, and they move very fast. I can’t move or speak, but I’m awake and I can see and hear and feel. I want to scream and run, but the sound doesn’t come out and my body doesn’t move….

Alien abduction stories replete with accounts of medical experimentation on humans
conjure images of our common experiences with other animals…

tranquilized tiger

Photo of tranquilized tiger by Maurice Hornocker, in Peter Matthiessen, Tigers in the Snow (NY: North Point Press, 2000), 21.

their terror and bemusement and anger perhaps communicated to us thus
appearing in our psyches
as unfamiliar kin with superior technology
and psychic means of manipulation

I felt a pain in my side, and I got very, very tired. I wanted to run, to move, but I had to lay down and rest. I felt so strange. Suddenly, I see those tall creatures on two legs who have many-layered skins, and bark and make clicking noises, standing over me.

Some are excited and I smell their fear, while others are warm and friendly and I feel love from them. They are saying to not be afraid. I can see them, but I can’t get away. I can’t move. They hold something shiny over me, and I feel something go into my skin…

The tiger speaks in an alien tongue
a presence in a jungle
in a faraway land
in a dream
in a cage
made by the Anthropocene

The Imaginal Wisdom of the Human Heart

For several years, I have been considering the human heart from many perspectives: its physicality, its function as a center for the emotions and feelings, its relationship to the phenomena of love and justice, and in a more esoteric light: an imagination of the heart as a receptacle for or the vessel of the imagination or what may be called the imaginal realm of our existence.

In the following, I will present a view on the relationships between the heart, the soul and the imagination; sketch out a few of the qualities of image, the imagination and the soul, specifically how the ego may meaningfully interact with these; and offer some thoughts on the nature of wisdom and the heart.

Some may recognize the ideas of James Hillman, the founder of archetypal psychology, in this presentation and I am taking a rather psychological approach to the topic.

I want to be careful to say that the heart alone is not responsible for full engagement with the imagination. Full engagement with the imagination requires other faculties of knowing, as well—the intellect, somatic and kinesthetic awareness, intuition, and so on. But I am going to claim a special relationship between heart and imagination, and say that the heart is the seat of the soul, and the soul is a gateway to the imagination.

Of course, this is a poetic move away from literalism and an invitation to consider subtler realms beyond positivism’s purview. It’s an invitation to enter into a more playful or flexible relationship with the cosmos, and with oneself.

Why would we need to become more playful or flexible in order to enter into the realm of the imagination? I contend it is because images do not, possibly cannot, mean only one thing, or have only one interpretation. Following James Hillman and my own direct experience, I accord autonomy to the imagery issuing from the psyche or the soul, which is why I can learn something from a properly respectful engagement with it. Images have their own meaning independent of how I, the ego, may choose to interpret them, or try to fit them into some pre-existing framework of understanding. The image points to a reality far beyond the everyday, more ordinary world of the narrating ego, and if we accept, as Carl Jung proposes, that image is the primary data of the psyche, we must recognize that this has far-reaching implications. If the image is autonomous of the ego, if the soul has its own deep intelligence apart from the experiencing ego, then images cannot have only one interpretation—that is, the one that the ego may assign to it. To try to fix a single meaning to any image is an act of literalization—and to literalize something is to try to concretize it into a solid unit of meaning, a one-way street where the ego determines ultimate meaning. To authentically engage with the imagination, I must respect its autonomy and not treat it as a pet possession. To authentically engage with the imagination, I must be willing to listen deeply.

Similarly, the soul itself, which I envision as a gateway to the imaginal realm, is experienced as not-me, as something mysteriously Other and possessed of its own autonomy beyond my ego identity or sense of selfhood. As Hillman contends, the soul is not a substance, it’s not a thing, but perhaps better thought of as a viewpoint or a perspective. I like to say that soul is quicksilver shapen, such a mysterious phenomenon, being as a gateway to infinity, an eternal becoming, always a “not yet” and simultaneous “already is.” Maybe this is owing the multifaceted nature of image—its dynamic nature—opening, opening, and opening on itself—flowing in its existence, its depths never fully disclosed, its interior inexhaustible.

Owing this quality of “Otherness,” we receive images from the soul, and I find this so fascinating. I, the ego, cannot say that “I” create the raw image material and therefore I know exactly what it means. Image seems to appear spontaneously, as in dreams, and if I can respect the image, it can teach me something quite new and generate new possibilities for my living, for my being—because it is expressing an intelligence, a deep intelligence, as if it were another being, an imaginal being, reaching out to communicate with me.

This need for respecting the somewhat bewildering otherness of the soul and its imagery spills into wisdom…and I also claim the heart as the seat of wisdom.

In thinking about what “wisdom” means to me and how it may be defined, I conjured at least three varieties:

There is the wisdom born upon the emotions; there is the wisdom of experience, which relies upon memory, memory itself being an imaginative engagement; and there is the wisdom which issues from a stance of not-knowing, perhaps best illustrated by the idea of the innocent sage and exemplified by the fabled Chinese master, Lao Tzu. Whereas I see the connection of these three varieties of wisdom to the heart, I want to focus on this last one, because it so evokes for me the multivalent nature of our reality and its capacity to shatter our fixed notions of good and bad, right and wrong, all the easy value judgments that we can make as individuals and as whole societies.

Perhaps because of the heart’s acquaintance with the imagination and its images of multitudinous meanings, it can make room for multiple outcomes, or the unexpected positive consequence of what may have seemed like a bad turn. The heart eschews linear “if-then” statements of a goal-oriented stance and embraces the more complex realm of possibilities which emerges when one orients by an intention. Goals are important of course, and it’s not a matter of living either by a more linear goal or by setting an intention, like living a prayer—but to carry an intention is like accepting the Universe’s invitation to play, to co-create, to resist the temptation to a conqueror’s stance and to rather work with the circumstances that arise and in this way, not relinquish one’s power—that is, one’s ability to cause or prevent change which arises from the fact of communion—through too narrow a vision.

The Heart seems to me to lend a capacity to open to the whole, to cooperate with the whole, to be curious about life and consider its mystery to be just as important as its clarity. The English poet John Keats referred to this as “Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” (12/21/1817). To me “negative capability” speaks to a quality of open attention, of awareness of the limitations of one’s view and thus being willing to listen for and to the intelligence of the other, whether that other be a person, a rock, the ocean or the cosmos itself. Perhaps it could be said that the heart dissolves the perception of linearity with its assumption of known quantities into the acceptance of nonlinearity, where there is no simple proportional relation between cause and effect, where even effects can affect their cause. Because there is no absolute boundary between you and me, the flow of influence is not unidirectional, and I am ultimately not situated out of reach of your impact upon me.

And this is critical to the imaginal wisdom of the human heart: our radical relatedness to all which could be deemed “other” or “not-me.” As the appearance of image, the sudden intrusion of soul upon our ordinary lives with its beckoning to something greater, asks of us to learn how to relate with our own depths, so we may be educated by soul and by imagination in how to seek a right relation with the other autonomous beings surrounding us and begging for our audience.

The Intersubjectivity of Existence

My love for you is not one of possession.
You are not the Object
Of my Love
Of my Passion
I Love You, which means All of You
And All Our Relations
For my love, as my offering to you,
Should be received as a gift
Not as a burden under which to labor
Not as an unwelcome message of obligation
But one of participation
In a right relation
To the most mysterious Heart of Creation

The Ecology of Justice: Transforming the victim/perpetrator paradigm

Presenting a talk given at the at the fourth Cosmology of Love conference at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco on April 14, 2012.

A transcript of the talk follows, though it may diverge slightly from the video because of on-the-fly editing due to time constraints.

ABSTRACT: The cosmos is profoundly and fundamentally relational and the beauty of justice can perhaps be described in the symmetry of reciprocity, its loops and curves seeking to connect all beings and strike a dynamic balance. Balance does not reflect a static state, and so it is with reciprocity, the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. Reciprocity is a process requiring our attention, our presence, our care and tending.

That we are all different from each other is a given. Where or how we intersect is quite another matter. Could our notions of and practice of justice reflect whether we perceive our differences as alienation or as an opportunity for communion?  The unified field is broken—can we see only its dividing aspect and not its relational aspect?

Together we will explore a perspective on justice akin to philosopher Cornel West’s view that “justice is what love looks like in public.”

the ecology of justice: transforming the victim/perpetrator paradigm

We find ourselves in a universe which expresses itself in differentiated consciousness, bringing with it the divide we locate between self and other.

And yet differentiation is simultaneously a division and a connection. The cosmos is profoundly and fundamentally relational and I find the beauty of justice described in the symmetry of reciprocity, its loops and curves seeking to connect all beings and strike a dynamic balance.  Dynamic because balance does not reflect a static state.

And so it is with reciprocity, the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. Reciprocity is a process requiring our attention, our presence, our care and tending.

That we are all different from each other is a given. Where or how we intersect is quite another matter. Could our notions of and practice of justice reflect whether we perceive our differences as alienation or as an opportunity for communion?  The unified field is broken—can we see only its dividing aspect and not its relational aspect? What is our imagination of relationship itself?

Philosopher Cornel West offers us the perspective that “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  And does not justice live at the heart of a society, the great integrator able to hold the multiplicity within the unity at that precious intersection where our diverse experiences meet?

How can we practice a justice which is restorative of our relationships, which honors both diversity and unity?  In answer to this question, I’ve made a study of restorative justice models, environmental ethics and a healing modality called family or systemic constellations; therefore, my stance is informed by a systemic view of the human being, and close attention to the relational aspects of our existence. Restorative justice can be defined as “a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future.” Environmental ethics is “the discipline in philosophy that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents.” And I believe that the modality of systemic constellations has the potential of uniting these two, because it reveals the hidden architecture of relationships and provides a means of communication through relational fields.

It’s funny—one uses the word “justice” and most people get the image of “vengeance.” Retribution.  But vengeance and scapegoating are not on my agenda. I believe that justice fundamentally requires connection. As with most things, I view justice not as a static state to be achieved, but as a dynamic process which is ever occurring. Life is a verb, not a noun—and I admit that I am still developing a language adequate to its faithful rendition.

So, with this in mind…How can we practice a justice which is restorative of our relationships?  The first place to start could be with curiosity…. Not-knowing…. The wisdom of not-knowing frees us from limiting prejudices, from casting the world in simple roles of “good” and “bad,” that blessed accursed binary which has carried the human species this far in our evolution. What is your capacity for holding paradox?

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