Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Humans Don't Desire Like Bettongs Desire

One of the most fascinating sessions I attended at the Parliament of the World’s Religions was called “Enabling Response: Contributions of the Ecological Humanities toward an Environmental Culture.” Freya Mathews, Associate Professor in the Philosophy Program at Melbourne’s La Trobe University and author of several books, including one I particularly admire, The Ecological Self, talked about the problem environmentalists run into when they try to persuade people to rein in their desires for the sake of a sustainable planet.

“We have to want what the biosphere needs us to want,” Mathews said. Unfortunately, humans have the capacity to want in much bigger, more creative ways than their biology demands. Unlike the bettong, for example, a small Australian mammal also known as the rat kangaroo, “which only wants to eat truffles,” humans have very complicated desires, desires that are fed by fantasy, ego, envy, and many other enticements. “Can we imagine a synergy between humans and nature?” Mathews queried.

In my book, The World Is a Waiting Lover, I unfold an arc of desire from raw, potent physical attraction to the longing to transcend and become intimately united with the great mystery of being. The force I explore is the archetypal Beloved, the inner flame of passion that allures us all our lives to connect with the people, ideas, and acts that will bring out our higher self. This path can be a joyful one and very rewarding, but it is basically solitary.

We all have an inner Beloved, but how can we get those Beloveds together on behalf of the Earth?

Mathews discussed the need for activities that would create meaning for people through what she calls onto-poetics (ontos is the Greek word for being), since “the language of the world is the language of poetics and symbol.” Examples would be festivals, pilgrimages, invocations expressed in language that plumbs below the surface and stirs what a colleague of mine calls the indigenous-mind.

The outcome of such practices? “We are sure to be ravished,” Mathews concluded.