This paper offers an experiential, as well as academic, inquiry into the processes of modern industrial development in the context of Nepal. Seeking to contextualise Western epistemology as one particular worldview among many, it examines the pervasive effects of the intensified commodification of Nature under such programmes as REDD+ and the “Green Economy.” Exploring emerging alternatives such as Rights of Nature, permaculture, and a renewed validation of a resilient culture of sufficiency, this paper offers an alternative understanding of development as the unfolding of human potential in relationship with the ecological world. Through these multi-scale, self-organising alternatives, the possibility of re-inhabiting the innate abundance of living well in place emerges.
In part 1 of this essay, I explored how the language of ritual and myth has embedded people in relationship with themselves and the world around them throughout much of human history. Part 2 examines how an emerging holistic science worldview can lead us towards that same relationship through more modern language and symbols.
Walking the Holomovement: Quantum Theory and the Implicate Order
“The path of an individual particle is the result of the wave processes of the whole.”
The ritual process described briefly above – the journey through Separation, Liminality, and Return – can be understood as a reflection of the dynamics of a deeper order of reality encompassing both mind (human consciousness) and matter. The discovery and formulation of quantum theory during the past century has uncovered a level of reality in fundamental contradiction to previously held assumptions and explanations of a mechanistic world. The concepts of discontinuity, non-locality, and contingency explored in quantum theory paint an image of a much more fluid, context-dependent, interpenetrating universe in which matter can no longer be understood as existing completely independent of the mind of the observer.
Indeed, as David Bohm has formulated in his theory of the Implicate Order, what we observe as discrete particles may be just an expression of a dynamic unfolding-enfolding movement of background energy. From this understanding, the perceptible and apparently objective universe is but a temporary unfolding of cosmic energy, soon to be enfolded back into this ‘cosmic sea’ through a dynamic and recurrent process much like that of ripples in the open ocean of Earth occasionally converging into a large wave as if from nothing (Bohm). The explicate order of reality, what appears to be stable and discrete from other phenomena, is an expression of the dynamic dance of more subtle levels of reality manifesting over and over at such speed and frequency that particular regions of space appear to have a stable and continuous existence.
As particles can no longer be understood to be discrete, independently-existing entities separate from the background field of the universe, each particle becomes, like the footstep of the pilgrim, “an expression of the entire universe” (Peat). Indeed, the Buddhist sutra associated with the 88 Temple Pilgrimage and the mantra which I intoned at each temple along the way, reads:
“…even the five aggregates are empty of inherent nature. Form is empty, emptiness is form, Emptiness is not other than form, form is also not other than emptiness. Likewise, sensation, discrimination, conditioning, and awareness are empty. In this way, Sariputra, all things are emptiness…”
The Buddhist conception of ‘emptiness’ alluded to in the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom above describes not a void in the western notion of emptiness, but an all-pervading unity in which no phenomenon has inherent existence independent of the whole. At more and more subtle insights into this truth, even the whole itself is found to lack inherent existence. Perhaps similarly, Bohm’s Implicate Order may involve an indefinite number of increasingly more subtle orders out of which the multi-dimensional Implicate Order now glimpsed is only a further unfolding, each successive order an interpenetrating unfolding and enfolding of ‘above’ and ‘below.’
Thus we see the mirror paths of quantum particles unfolding out of an unexpressed liminal state into actuality, and ritual “passengers” enfolding back into the “ambiguous and indeterminate” state of liminality described by Turner in the rites of the Ndembu. This same continual and reciprocal movement from known to unknown, unexpressed to expressed, differentiated to undifferentiated is found in the relationship between conscious and unconscious mind, as well as the eternal movement of the Tao:
Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.
When the Universe Smiles: Synchronicity and the Creative Ordering of the Cosmos
“Tao can be anything… I call it synchronicity.”
If the underlying order of reality has a fundamentally creative and unified source, how do we experience this in our everyday post-modern lives? In rationalising and mechanising our world, we have forgotten or destroyed the potent symbols of myth and ritual which previously embedded us in a living cosmos. While my own personal experience shows that we can still follow those forgotten paths into wholeness – and increasingly people are re-treading these paths to make sense of a confused world – we must also ensoul the symbols and language we do have, that of science.
While quantum physics has begun to shed light on the fundamentally subjective and interpenetrating nature of matter at the quantum level – where observed particles are neither separable from the mind of the observer nor their quantum potential separate from the quantum potential of the entire universe – modern psychology has begun to uncover the objective nature of mind hidden deep in the collective unconscious and expressible in the language of myth and ritual journey. Jung’s concept of synchronicity, variously defined as “meaningful coincidence” or an “acausal connecting principle” of the universe, can be understood as the physical manifestations in the outer world of inner processes of the mind. In the indeterminate world described by quantum theory, non-local and discontinuous phenomena are known to occur, opening the possibility for seemingly random coincidences experienced in the world to have an underlying ‘acausal connection.’ When experienced as a significantly meaningful event by a subjective mind, synchronicities may indeed be the coming into consciousness (from the objective layer of collective unconscious) of a universal creativity (manifested in the material world from an underlying subjective layer of matter).
Perhaps the crucial element of Jung’s theory is the formative role of meaning in the physical manifestation of a synchronicity. As a subjective experience, meaning can have no outer manifestation in a purely materialist world. However, the work of Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli has demonstrated the possibility of “an order of unfolding and enfolding that is common to both mind and matter,” thus providing a basis for an intrinsic meaning to manifest in the world (Peat). Indeed, the ritual process described by Turner and catalogued in the manifold myths of the world by Campbell and Shaw, must be understood as expressions and experiences of connecting with the latent meaning of the universe. My own lived experience of pilgrimage was full of meaning unfolding in unexpected ways, most dramatically exemplified in the meeting of a Zen teacher high in the mountains of Shikoku who had trained as a Zen monk in the same tiny prefecture of Japan in which I had just lived for two years and who had also lived in the US and spoke serviceable English (an extreme rarity in Shikoku). This meeting early in my pilgrimage significantly changed the quality and course of my journey, and the relationship that we immediately established and later evolved after the walk provided the spiritual foundation and context in which my transformation was inexorably embedded.
As Peat has interpreted synchronicity, it is the physical manifestation of an underlying “creative ordering” of the universe, “something that lies beyond mathematics, language, and thought.” Understood as the manifestation of a transformative process moving from the unconscious to the conscious mind, this very accurately describes my direct experience of inhabiting an inherently meaningful cosmos, a feeling which gradually unfolded over the course of the 800 mile walk but which was most powerfully felt in the period following the pilgrimage – the ritual stage of Return or Completion. As Peat says, “a mind that remains flexible and sensitive will be in a constant process of creative change…synchronicity will appear very naturally.”
Even in reflecting upon this transformative experience now, memories flood back and the feeling arises of drinking deeply of the sea of cosmic potential, the universe enfolded in every drop and unfolded in every sip.
The Constant Renewal of Truth
Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.” For the soul walks upon all paths…the soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”
– Kahlil Gibran
In many respects, the last mile to Okuboji (Large Hollow Temple) – temple 88 – was the same as the first mile from temple 1. A thick humidity lay over the morning fields, cicadas droning in the trees, the fecund odour of late summer a constant background sensation. There was a profound difference, though, between this experience at temple 88 and that of walking through the first temple gate. Somewhere along the journey, my understanding and experience of reality had shifted. As is characteristic of all aspects of this particular pilgrimage, the transformation was subtle, quiet, sinking into the ground of my being like the first gentle rain of spring absorbing into the parched and thirsty earth. Walking through the gate of temple 1, I had a destination to attain; returning to this same temple seven weeks later to complete the circle, I was that destination in every step.
Whether through the language and symbols of physics and psychology or the symbols and experience of pilgrimage and ritual process, it is when we unfix reality from the confines of our thinking mind that we open ourselves to a more subtle ground of reality, where the inexpressible is lived out in infinitely diverse forms of expression, experienced as our own personal truths flowing from a universal source. Sectarian conflict, ecological exploitation, the rapacious commodification of humans and earth – these patterns are but reflections of a fundamental disconnection from the living cosmos and its unified multiplicity. There are many paths on the journey into wholeness, and we as communities and individuals must uncover the one hidden in our current paths of fragmentation.
In this period of great uncertainty and global transition, there is a desperate need to re-interpret the truths handed down to us, to allow the voice of the universe to renew itself through us and us through it. Whether we dance and play to the tune of a new science, or an ancient pilgrimage, it is our collective responsibility to allow each tone its place in the cosmic orchestra. And in the absence of many instruments we once knew well, let us learn to play those missing melodies in whatever way moves us most.
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Shaw, M., 2011. A Branch from the Lightning Tree. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press.
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Turner, V., 1995. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Tzu, C., 1981. Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. Translated from Chinese by A.C. Graham. London: Mandala.
Tzu, L., 1961. Tao Teh Ching. Translated from Chinese by John C. H. Wu. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Finishing the taught portion of the MA Economics in Transition at Schumacher College in April, I am taking the next month to make my way to Nepal where I’ll be engaged in dissertation inquiry for several months. Slow travel – meeting the world as it comes one step at a time, observing the gradual change in cultures as I move East. I’ve been walking on the Camino de Santiago for the past week, and thought I would share one of my final essays at Schumacher … delving into the nature of pilgrimage and the fundamental ambiguity of a creatively unfolding universe. Walk with me, if you like…
We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are drunk on this life of God.
We are both the pain and its cure.
We are the fresh, cool water and the jug that pours.
Summer in Shikoku can be brutally hot and humid, typhoons often rolling in off the Pacific Ocean bringing rains that last for days on end. The relentless heat and thick atmosphere of fecundity can make sitting, let alone walking, an arduous and uncomfortable affair. Summer also brings forth the ripening rice and a stillness dense with the cycles of life and death. It is the perfect time for a walking pilgrimage.
In the summer of 2009, I walked nearly 900 miles around this rural island of Japan, following an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage route known as the hachiju hakkasho meguri, or the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. This route circumambulates the coast of Shikoku, connecting some 88 sacred places said to have been visited by the Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi in the 8th century. Shikoku, meaning “four lands”, consists of four prefectures, each with its own distinct history and subculture. Crossing through these four regions, the pilgrim is also said to pass through four spiritual stages: Awakening Faith, Spiritual Discipline, Enlightenment, and Nirvana.
As I discovered, the pilgrim’s journey is always one step at a time. Each footstep, the unfolding of the entire journey; the next step always into a radical uncertainty where the quantum potential of the universe lies latent and as yet unexpressed. This path can be understood as a metaphorical representation of an unfolding-enfolding order of reality, a continuous movement from an undifferentiated wholeness into the light of expression and back. Treading the world into existence, each footstep on the pilgrim’s path seeks a return to that creative source where mind and matter are but reflections of each other, manifestations of the same underlying patterns. And in his acceptance of a fundamental uncertainty, the pilgrim’s reality becomes unfixed and the possibility of embodying a living wholeness emerges.
This essay will explore, through personal reflection and the metaphor of pilgrimage, a dynamic journey into the experience of wholeness, elucidated through a diverse range of perspectives and traditions; and demonstrate how this very diversity is itself a direct expression of a fundamentally creative and dynamic order of reality, a universal “multiplicity in unity” in the words of Henri Bortoft and C.G. Jung. Following the contours of the land and the pilgrim’s way, we will walk the ground of the seemingly disparate disciplines of physics, psychology, mythology, anthropology, and spirituality. While each offers a distinct universe of thought and symbol, these various traditions arrive at a common insight into the continuous dance between the knowable and the unknowable, the latent and the manifest, the unfolding and enfolding orders of reality. In our overly structured and rational world, the journey through a radical uncertainty followed by the pilgrim, the ritual passenger, and the quantum particle all offer a path to experiencing and re-inhabiting a unified wholeness.
The Great Mystery: Ritual, Myth, and the Collective Unconscious
“Only an unparalleled impoverishment of symbolism could enable us to rediscover the gods as psychic factors, that is, as archetypes of the unconscious…”
For most of our existence, humans have inhabited an ensouled, animate world in which a living consciousness pervades the universe. Pre-modern cultures across the world evolved a reciprocal and participatory relationship with the living cosmos, themselves but a small thread in the larger fabric of Life. Finding particular expression in the unique cultures of each land, from the Greek Anima Mundi to the Native American Great Spirit to the Chinese Tao, the pre-modern experience of reality was infused with a deep connection to the flowing current of Life.
Myth and ritual have been used nearly universally to express what is by its nature directly inexpressible – the unmanifest ground of being, the creative wellspring of Life from which all the perceptible world has sprung forth. A wide variety of practices to express and make sense of the world co-evolved within the various cultural and physical landscapes of the globe: in the divination practices of the I Ching and the ritual journey through Separation, Liminality, and Return common to many tribal people, we find recurring mythic symbols and motifs used to embed a people in their place. More recently, these archetypal forms have been examined by modern psychology, shining light on the potentially objective ground of Mind, the collective unconscious.
In following the footsteps of many pilgrims before me, I undertook a ritual journey to re-embed myself in the unfolding web of life; retracing an ancient path, both physical and spiritual, I passed through a state of undifferentiated liminality and back into an ensouled cosmos. While my journey into wholeness was through pilgrimage, modern societies’ lack of mythic or ritual connection to a living earth is both expressed through and an expression of the mechanistic and materialist worldview that has come to dominate. Given our “impoverishment of symbolism” to connect and embed us in the larger community of life, what language and conceptual tools do we have to regain this connection? If the emerging science of wholeness can offer a language and set of symbols more congruent with the current scientific paradigm, through which we can walk the same archetypal journey into a living unity, humanity has an opportunity to return to right relationship with our dynamic source of being.
Into the Belly of the Whale: Thresholds, Liminality, and ‘Unfixing’ Reality
“It’s an extraordinary, indigenous idea that to find an authentic centre we have to wonder lonely beaches and sleep under hedges, longing for something we know is lost.”
At the start, my backpack weighed 25 kilos, possibly more. I was prepared to live rough for several months and had brought the basic equipment I thought I might need. Seven weeks later, my backpack was a small fraction of that size, my mind a great deal freer as well. As with all ritual “passengers” undertaking a journey of initiation, I entered the pilgrimage with a fixed and rather static perspective and status in the world. I came from a world of control and separation where reality was taught to be composed of ‘building blocks’, the cogs of the world machine. Even as a rather inquisitive thinker exploring the teachings and practices of Zen, I was still the product of a Western education system preaching a mechanistic view of the world, a willing subject to the ‘tyranny of reason.’
However, in crossing the threshold into the “belly of the whale” (in the words of Joseph Campbell), travelling through a state of liminality and symbolic death, I completely unfixed my sense of reality in order to emerge again in the presence of a completely new and creative experience of the world. My experience of this pilgrimage into the unknown can also be understood as the journey of modern science, a reflection of the same fundamental journey explored by the Taoist masters of China, the Ndembu tribe of Zambia, the patients of C.G. Jung, and countless other cultures and traditions throughout history.
The realisation of personal truth often requires such a journey, a movement through. The ritual process, as evolved over countless centuries and in many cultural contexts, is both a metaphorical representation of life’s coming-into-being out of chaos, and a formative unfolding into that deeper ground of being, the “dancing ground of radical uncertainty” in the words of mythologist Martin Shaw. In the ritual process of many traditions, the journey of the spiritual pilgrim, and the actualisation of quantum particles out of the underlying quantum potential of the universe, it is the movement through a fundamental uncertainty – an ontological liminality – that allows for a creative wholeness to express itself in the form of the particular. Every expression of this “creative ordering” must by its nature be unique, though always a reflection of the underlying patterns and symmetries of the universe.
The language of myth and ritual process has shed new light on my own personal experience of walking the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The stage of Departure or Separation is the crossing of the threshold into radical uncertainty, where one symbolically undergoes a process of “self-annihilation.” Through the passage from a fixed position within society, and indeed a fixed understanding of the nature of reality, into a completely undifferentiated and thus unknown position, the pilgrim and the ritual “passenger” pierce the veil of the manifested world and (temporarily) enfold back into a state of latent potential in which the creative essence of the universe can again unfold through them.
We find this ritual process embodied by both the humble pilgrim and the heavenly king. In the Ndembu tribe of Africa, for example, the chief-to-be must pass through a state of liminality before assuming his new rank within the tribe. Moving to a small hut beyond the village walls, he undergoes a ritual separation and debasement, both physically and symbolically existing outside the normal social structure of the village before triumphantly returning as a transformed chief (studied by Victor Turner). Similarly, in donning the symbolically white coat of the pilgrim – the cloak of the dead – I walked away from much of what I knew of myself, my habits and conditioned behaviours, my previous relationships and social identity. And only in letting go of all that I had once been, emptying myself of accumulated patterns and assumptions, did I make space for more subtle truths to speak through me. In other words, my understanding and experience of reality transformed from one of fixed and static truth to a living, dynamic, creative relationship with an inexpressible force.
Pt. 2 will explore the links between this understanding of ritual and pilgrimage with new scientific understandings of the underlying order of the cosmos – quantum theory and Jungian psychology to be specific.
This is part 3 of a 3-part essay exploring the nature of gifts and the transformative potential of entering into a gift relationship with the ecological world.
Living in harmony with Gaia, acknowledging her primordial gift to all of life, is to keep the spirit of the Gaia gift alive and so pass it on to other members of the community of life. What is necessary is a collective realization of our inherent dependence on the other members of this community for our survival and the continued flourishing of the entire system. Fortunatey, this process can begin at the level of the individual human – the process Arne Naess has termed self-realization (Naess 1987).
Inherent in the functioning of gift societies (in the human domain) and larger-scale gift systems (in the ecological domain) is the truth that what benefits one ultimately benefits all. For humans, this involves a process of identification with something outside of our self (the gift I give to you will ultimately come back to me, albeit in a different form). It is through this process of broadening and deepening our identification with others that the boundaries of our self expand. Naess (1987: 82) introduces the concept of the ecological self as the broadest and deepest level of self, or the self which identifies with the entire human and more-than-human world. Through the cultivation of our ecological self, we learn to live harmoniously with all of Gaia and relate to it just as we normally relate to our limited self (ego). From this perspective, we care for all of creation just as much out of self-love as any sense of altruism (Naess 1987: 93).
Yet how do we cultivate such an expanded sense of self when our everyday experience of the world clearly reinforces the more limited self? At dinner time, my hunger isn’t satiated when the robin outside my window finds a worm or my neighbor has a slice of pizza.
In fact, one way to strengthen our identification with others is simply to give. Anyone who has lovingly cooked a meal for friends and felt full simply in watching their satisfaction knows the power of giving to heighten our experience of identification. Just in participating more openly in the natural gift relationships all around us, we can begin to expand our boundaries and experience reality as a wider self.
The simple act of perception – seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting – offers another gateway into deepening our relationship with the sensuous world around us. Perception offers us the most direct way of participating with the world and fully experiencing ourselves as part of something larger than our own ego. The phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty (1962 cited in Abram 1996) described the reciprocal nature of perception by drawing attention to the fact that my hand can only feel something because it is itself something which can be felt. Similarly, my eyes have the capacity to see because they are themselves visible to other seeing entities. In this way, perception becomes a mode of exchange in which we might enter into a gift relationship with the earth – seeing and being seen, touching and being touched, walking lightly so that we may be lightly walked upon.
As David Abram exclaims, ‘We can perceive things at all only because we ourselves are entirely a part of the sensible world that we perceive! We might as well say that we are organs of this world, flesh of its flesh, and that the world is perceiving itself through us’ (1996: 68).
The humble act of receiving the natural world as a gift becomes a powerful and transformative experience. When walking through the garden just after sunrise some mornings, I am greeted by the joyful singing of a robin welcoming the day. Open to the reciprocal nature of perception, I become aware that it is not possible to hear this robin without both influencing her song and being influenced by it. Thus perceiving and receiving the robin’s song as a gift, I am instantly filled with joy. I enter into a gift relationship with the robin as I realize that something outside of my narrow self is the source of this joy – yet as my experience of self expands to include this relationship with the robin, the source of joy is no longer outside my self, but deep within. It is the dynamic act of receiving that allows for this deepening and widening experience of self.
Whether the gift of life or the gift of song, my experience is deepened and enriched in the opening to this latent gift relationship between my self and my environment. The process of entering into a deep relationship with nature facilitates and is facilitated by participation in gift exchange. A genuine giving-receiving relationship with others can lead to the profound expansion of the boundaries of the self, and thus a dynamic shift in our mode of being in the world; this self-expansion, or realization of the ecological self, is the ultimate expression of our gift relationship with Gaia.
The Gift Economy: From scarcity to abundance, from ownership to relationship
It has been acknowledged by spiritual leaders such as Satish Kumar and Ariyarantne (1999), scientists like Johan Rockstrom (2009), and economists from E.F. Schumacher to Herman Daly and Tim Jackson (2009), that the economy is just a subset of the larger earth system. Yet awareness and recognition of the fundamental dependence of economies – indeed all of life – on the Gaia Gift has been disturbingly absent from mainstream politics and socio-economic policies. As the economic impacts of resource scarcity and environmental degradation are felt more explicitly in industrialized countries, more widespread recognition of this basic fact will no doubt emerge.
Similarly, many economists and even politicians are beginning to develop a more nuanced understanding of human wellbeing, one that incorporates our social, ecological and spiritual needs as well as our material ones (Jackson 2009; Ariyarantne 1999). However, in a society dominated by market exchange and driven by the logic of infinite economic growth, the potential for these other facets of wellbeing to be met are inherently limited. The necessary expansion of the global market to feed economic growth has only been possible through increased conversion of the natural world into commodities and human relationships into professional services (Eisenstein 2010). This conversion necessarily involves the transformation of gift relationships (and other forms of mutual exchange) into market relationships. According to Eisenstein, ‘Community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own’ (2010).
In societies characterized by economic decay, ecological degradation, as well as ‘social recession’ (Jackson 2009: 86), different forms of exchange and interaction are needed to provide what market exchange is inherently incapable of – connection to the ecological world and genuine participation in the life of society. We have seen how gift exchange is associated with the natural increase in characteristics such as group identity, community cohesion, and expansion of the self – all movements from the narrow individual to the wider whole. Market or commodity exchange, on the other hand, is everywhere associated with privatization, accumulation of profit, and competition – movements in the opposite direction from group to individual.
What is evidently in need is a balancing of these forms of exchange, particularly in areas where ‘the spirit of the gift’ operates most effectively – in our relationships with neighbors and the larger natural world. If our world is increasingly characterized by the market logic of scarcity and private ownership, we must find ways of interacting that cultivate abundance and relationship. Indeed, these are the very qualities enhanced through gift exchange, both in the planetary emergence of the gift of Gaia and in the bonds of relationship strengthened by gift communities.
The gift ethic is already thriving in many underappreciated ways, along the margins of our global market economy. Initiatives such as timebanking and LETS schemes, online gift communities such as GiftFlow and CouchSurfing, and the emergence of community Gift Circles all point towards a growing participation in the gift economy. However, our collective relationship with Gaia, with the larger community of life, is still trending towards commodification, even in the most well-intentioned economic circles. International schemes such as TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) and REDD-plus (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) to value the ecological world and reward stewardship risk reinforcing a market relationship with Gaia where a gift relationship is desperately needed.
Perhaps the most hopeful initiatives in this regard are the international efforts to formally recognize and protect the rights of the Earth, giving the more-than-human world a legally recognized voice (Higgins 2011; Earth Charter Commission 2000). If the polar opposite of pure gift is theft, as Hyde puts it, then international laws such as the proposed crime of Ecocide can protect our gift relationship with the earth from the commodification and over-exploitation that degrade the gift ethic of Gaia.
Indeed, if Gaia is perceiving herself through us as David Abram intuits, perhaps the greatest gift we can return to Gaia is in giving her a voice.