Reviews of Gaian Methodologies Resources
Gaian methodologies resources span the breadth and depth of the planet and human experience. The book reviews that follow offer views into three different dimensions of Gaian methodologies:
Nancy Turner is an ethnobotanist working primarily in Northwest North America (British Columbia). Her book The Earth’s Blanket is a synthesis of her own observations, experiences and ideas that have been substantially informed by indigenous practices, beliefs, traditions, and stories. Turner is both imparting ethnobotanical and people-earth relationship information to the reader as well as investigating for her own personal needs ideas about how we impact the earth and each other. Her goal is to look at the treatment of the earth around us from different perspectives, to reorient herself and the readers so that we can find alternative ways of looking at the world. Her hope is that this reorientation will help us change the way we look at the Earth, presumably so that we stop harming the environment and start discovering (or re-discovering) more sustainable habits.
The title of the book is taken from the journal of James Teit, a Scottish ethnographer who explored and studied aboriginal people in the Interior of British Columbia in the late 1800s and early 1900s (p. 19). Turner cites an entry in Teit’s journal as follows (p. 20): Flowers, plants & grass especially the latter are the covering or blanket of the earth. If too much is plucked or ruthlessly destroyed [the] earth [is] sorry and weeps.
This quote from Teit’s journal, combined with the understanding that aboriginal stories traditionally conveyed both knowledge and ethics, lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Turner first describes the geologic, botanical, and cultural landscape of the area and discusses the loss of the old ways, reflections of days when people may have been materially poorer but were socially wealthier. Having set the stage, she then uses a rich collection of traditional stories and customs with a botanical (ethnobotanical) theme to examine the relationships between humans and their environment. Through these stories she can easily illustrate alternative ways of viewing the human relationship with the environment, particularly in caring for the world as an intimate part of one’s life, family, and social history.
Turner notes in her preface that she is an outsider to the cultures from which she collects these stories, traditions, and knowledge. She was not raised in these traditions and therefore will never be able to completely internalize the lessons and obtain the deep understanding had by the people who relate the stories. Her research, therefore, strives to relate as accurately as possible the stories, the understanding and knowledge contained in the stories as related by the storyteller, and to then interpret this for herself on a personal level and also in terms that can be generalized for others’ use. —AdC
Gaian methodologies include multisensory, interdisciplinary inquiry at the intersection of multiple “scapes,” including the bodyscape, landscape, lightscape, etc. (Parajuli, 2007). Jon Kabat-Zinn in Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, explores mindfulness and meditation as doorways into several of these ‘scapes. In Part 3, in particular, he explores “The Sensory World” through Mary Oliver’s poem “Your One Wild and Precious Life,” the whole-body and extended senses of those persons who have lost access to one or more senses, the elision of senses, and mystery and the spell of the sensuous (referring to Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous). He then explores methods of inquiry into seeing and being seen, hearing and the soundscape, the airscape, the touchscape and being in touch with the skin (including proprioception), the smellscape, tastescape, mindscape, and nowscape (pp. 185-242). In Part 4 Kabat-Zinn offers formal practices for tasting mindfulness (pp. 243-312). Part Five relates these practices to mind-body medical research (pp. 313-402). Part Six involves practices to arrive fully into mindfulness, including attaining place (pp. Pp. 425-428) and overcoming resistance, including the resistance to being and staying present, even the fear of death. In “Healing the Body Politic,” Part Seven offers expansions on how mindfulness can heal larger scalars of imbalance, including cultivating democracy, treating war depression, and addressing larger global events (pp. 499-580). He concludes his explorations with Part 8: “Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do,” including reflections on awe and wisdom, how humans fit into nature, unfurling sensitivities with eleven-dimensions curled in primordial potentiality as three or four are available to us, and an invitation to perspective shifts that will allow our species to, indeed, “come to our senses” (pp. 581-609). —MH
Quotations from Coming to Our Senses...
- MEDITATION: “If you happen to stumble upon somebody who is meditating, you know instantly that you have come instantly into the orbit of something unusual and remarkable…might very well be moved in some way by a palpable feeling of an emanating presence…inexplicably drawn to linger, to gaze upon such a gathering with great curiosity and interest, sharing in the energy field of the silence. It is intrinsically attractive and harmonizing. The feeling of an effortless alert attention behind such sitting in silence without moving is itself overpowering, as it the sense of intentionality embodied in such an assembly.” (p. 79).
- SEEING AND PRESENCE: “The challenge for us is to see that such a display offered up by the world that we inhabit is in fact everywhere. Yet this particular field, resting as it does on the slope of a gentle and uneven hill, with two outcroppings of fieldstone adding to its unevenness, has a special catalytic effect on me, especially when seen from below. Gazing upon it, I am somehow changed, recalibrated, more finely tuned to both inner and outer landscapes.” (p. 193)…"In walking these paths there is less and less separation between me and the view when I give myself over to attending, when I allow myself to come to and live within my senses. Subject (seer) and object (what is seen) unite in the moment of seeing. Otherwise it would not be seeing. One moment I am separate from a conventional scene…the next moment there is no scene, no description, only being here, only seeing, only drinking in through the eyes and other senses so pure they already know how to drink in whatever is presented, without any direction at all, without any thought at all. In such moments there is only walking or only standing, or only sitting, or for that matter, only lying in the field, only feeling the air." (p. 195).
- TRULY SEEING: [an extension of a quote that Pramod Parajuli offered to our class in Fall 2009]:“We see what we want to see, not what is actually before our eyes. We look but we may not apprehend or comprehend. We may have to tune our seeing just as we tune an instrument, to increase its sensitivity, its range, its clarity, its empathy….if we wish to experience life fully, and take hold of it fully, we will need to train ourselves to see through or behind the appearances of things. We will need to cultivate intimacy with the stream of our thinking…” (p. 196).
- BEING SEEN: “Some ancient native traditions believe that the world feels our seeing, and sees us right back, even the trees and the bushes, even the rocks. And certainly, if you have ever spent a night alone in the rain forest or the woods, you will know that the quality of your seeing and of your being are felt and known by more than the human world. You will sense that you are definitely being seen and known as you really are…you are an intimate part of this animate and sensuous world.” (p. 200).
- SOUNDSCAPE AND IMMERSION: “In this moment, the immersion is so complete that there is no longer any immersion. Sound is everywhere, the knowing is everywhere, within the envelope of the body and without, for there is no longer a boundary of any sort. There is only sound, only hearing, only silent knowing within an infinite soundscape, only this, just this…” (p. 207).
- TOUCHSCAPE: “The skin is a sensory world unto itself. It is never devoid of sensation, even when it doesn’t seem to be touching anything. For it is always touching something by virtue of being an interface. It has its own sensory tone at all times. It is always in touch. The question is, are we? Can we be in touch with our own skin?” (p. 222)
- EATING/TASTESCAPE: “I have eaten one raisin [mindfully] with a lot of people over the years, and so have become somewhat identified in people’s minds with raisins, enough to sometimes feel like protesting, ’It’s not about the raisin.’ The raisin is merely an occasion to explore the tastescape and our relationship to the whole domain of eating, which we usually engage in with considerable automaticity and often stunningly little awareness of what or how we are eating, how fast we are eating, what our food actually tastes like, and when our body is telling us it is time to stop. And beyond eating, of course, the raisin is also an occasion for us to investigate the nature of our own mind and body. For that matter, what we experience with the raisin can and does often reveal important elements of our relationship with the entire world.” (p. 232).
- NOWSCAPE: “Each moment of now is what we could call a branch point. We do not know what will happen next. The present moment is pregnant with possibility and potential. When we are mindful now, no matter what we are doing or saying or working on or are experiencing, the next moment is influenced by the presence of our mind, and is thus different from how it would have been had we not been paying attention, had we been caught up in some whirlpool or other within the mind or body or the outer landscape. So, if we wish to take care of the future that, when we get there, will also be now, the only way we can do that is to take care of this future of all past moments and efforts, namely, the present.” (p. 240).
- MYSTERY: “Reverence arises when faced with the incomprehensible. And by incomprehensible, I don’t mean that something cannot be understood. I mean that whatever it is that we are attending to can be understood in many different ways. And yet, when all is said and done and we have come to the end of our thoughts, no matter how brilliant, imaginative, and informed, all our logic no matter how grounded in reason, all our studies, there is a residue of feeling that goes beyond thought altogether, as when transported by some marvelous strains of music, or when struck by the artistry of a great painting. A feeling of awe arises that transcends mere explanation. The actuality—whatever it is—hovers in the mystery of its very phenomenological presence in relationship to our senses, including the non-conceptual, apprehending, knowing mind…. We don’t have words for such numinous and luminous feelings, and often forget how prevalent they are in our experience….” (pp. 583-584).
Andrea Olsen is a dancer. It is clear she has studied the body, inside and out. It is clear that she understands the body as part of nature and as our way, as humans, of experiencing Earth. She introduces her book, Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide (2002) as a guide to “whole-body” learning and implores the reader to come to know the body as “familiar” and as “the vessel through which you experience the earth” (p. xx). Olsen recognizes she is treading new ground, bringing a dancer’s sensibilities to science, reminding us “that every field of study begins and ends in mystery” (p. xviii).
Olsen defines her terms—body is all inclusive of what it means to be human, body, mind, soul, psyche, physical, emotional, intuitive, etc. Body refers to the “whole being” (p. 3). Earth refers to Gaia, our world, and is also an inclusive term meaning the whole planet. “Body is an aspect of earth”, is also part of the definition (p. 3). For example, she tells us that our bones are our “mineral” body, similar to the composition of marble (p. 95). Place is defined as “a particular part of the earth that we know through direct experience in the body” (p. 3). Olsen regards place as something palpable, she writes that, “perception of place merges the exterior landscape with powerful interior responses” (p. 226). This idea of connection between the interior and exterior is woven throughout the book, giving the reader a holistic sense of body in relationship with earth. Olsen reminds us with scientific facts that the body is made up of the same elements as earth, of how we are mostly water, attuned to magnetic fields, of how we are embodied examples of the united macrocosm and microcosm.
Olsen believes in a correlation with how we treat our bodies and how we treat the earth. She writes, “Our attitudes toward our bodies have everything to do with the health of the earth” (p.8). She speaks of patterns and systems such as alignment, referring not only to our internal postural alignment (i.e. knees over toes, shoulders over hips) but says, “alignment is relationship, to self and to the environment” (p.20). Olsen also makes an important statement regarding the role of art and creativity in our relationship of body and earth. She considers art as integrative, as bringing wholeness. She speaks of creative process as an “ecotone, the dynamic edge zone of ecosystems that offers the richness of two overlapping habitats, creativity is a place of great potential” (p. 208). Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide (Olsen, 2002) is a rich work—rich in imagery, rich in biological facts, rich in connections, rich also in the holistic way the information is presented. The book is an integrated creative exercise in experiencing the body on earth and in place, recognizing the influences of the past and the possibilities of the future, and giving guidelines to creating a dynamic and healthy relationship.