Spirituality Comes of Age

“You could not discover the limits of the soul, even if you travelled every road to do so; such is the depth of its meaning”

– Heraclitus

Spirituality is Inner

FOR A LONG TIME IN THE WEST, spirituality belonged to religion. A person was either religious and spiritual or an atheist and non-spiritual. In particular, spirituality was synonymous with the monotheism – the belief or doctrine that there is only one male God – of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This meant that when religion was degraded by the worst excesses of fundamentalism – arrogant authoritarianism, sexism, homophobia, bigotry, racism and war-mongering – spirituality was degraded by association. In very recent years a resurgence of atheism has become the popular counter to fundamentalism. One leader of the new atheist movement is that master counter-fundamentalist, conceptual swordsman Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, an Oxford University evolutionary scientist, has received a “rock-star welcome” from audiences around the world. In Christchurch he filled the local town hall of 2,500 – a capacity  audience, in a remote country. This would surely be to the envy of any fundamentalist.

HOWEVER SPIRITUALITY IS FAR DEEPER and more complex than fundamentalist movements, religious dogma or an association with orthodox monotheistic religions. In fact, in recent times spirituality is increasingly seen as distinct from external religion. Spirituality which is inner has come of age in a secular postmodern world.  One can be a deeply spiritual non-believer.  For example, for many scientists the idea of a pantheistic spiritual force in the universe and  within the natural world is congenial. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, this “is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language.”

SPIRITUALITY IS A PHILOSOPHICALLY MOBILE IDEA which has undergone historical change over the centuries. Despite modernist, and in particular, twentieth century attacks on it by logical positivism and pervasive undermining by scientific scepticism, it is nonetheless a legitimate and credible concept. As will be shown, what spirituality refers to is to be found within the psyche.

The relationship between spirituality and landscape will be explored in subsequent chapters, in particular with respect to archetypes which are embedded in our landscapes.

Footnotes

1.  See The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, March 12, 2010.

2.  Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam Press, 2006), 19.
 

Archetypal-Imaginal Landscapes

GEOGRAPHER PETER BISHOP’S archetypal-imaginal methodological approach to landscape continues in this radically different postmodern spiritual direction. In 1989 Bishop explored the complex relationship between geography, imagination and spirituality in the encounter between travellers and Tibet. He aimed to “examine the phenomenology of a sacred place in the process of its creation, fulfillment and subsequent decline”, and he was especially concerned with “the relationship between interior phenomenology of a sacred place and the wider context outside its boundaries. It is therefore less of a historical narrative than an in-depth analysis of inner meanings”. Travel texts are seen as psychological documents. They reveal significant aspects of the “fantasy-making process of a culture and of its unconscious”, thus:

“While the study is methodologically based in archetypal psychology, it also draws widely from such disciplines as humanistic geography and French deconstructionism… It is therefore an attempt to develop an imaginal approach to cultural analysis, one that traces the movement and transformation of images whilst simultaneously leading them back to their root- metaphors”.

THE IDEA OF SACRED LANDSCAPES in which the mythic or archetypal is stressed, are part of a tradition, as Bishop acknowledges.

THE MYTHIC AND THE ARCHETYPAL are inherent in the writings of French philosopher, theologian and translator, Henry Corbin (1903-1978); French philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Gilbert Durand (1921-2012); Romanian born historian and philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (1907-1986); psychiatrist and philosopher of religion Carl Jung (1875-1961); archetypal psychologist and philosopher James Hillman (1926-2011); philosopher of phenomenology, landscape, place and space, Edward Casey; and anthropologist and psychologist John Willoughby Layard (1891-1974).

In particular, phenomenology, perception and experience of landscape and place have also been investigated by German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976); French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) and American geographers Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Relph and David Lowenthal. The social context of sacred landscape and the social context of the perceptions of landscape have been studied by many of these authors.

Valuable insights for this approach have also been drawn from extensive studies by anthropologists studying primal spirituality; for example Australian Aboriginal sacred sites and sacred journeys.

AN ARCHETYPAL-IMAGINAL ANALYSIS must be distinguished clearly from a philosophical analysis. Bishop has argued “The former is less concerned with logical or epistemological differences … than with their archetypal and metaphorical relationships. A theoretical consistency is less important than an imaginal one”. In this view the underlining image or metaphor is fundamental. The aim is not to achieve a theoretical reconciliation but to open up a field of ideas that has both the width and the capacity to endure contradictions. Bishop suggests that:

“imaginal analysis must bear in mind the dominant root-metaphors of any theory that it uses to craft the imaginal material. A polytheistic approach does not exclude any perspective on the grounds of theoretical incompatibility, but instead tries to relate theories through their common grounding in imaginal reality”.

LISTENING TO THE ROOT-METAPHORS of theories relieves them of their literalness; it “allows space for the material; the textual images to speak pluralistically” and so analysis then becomes a matter of image-work, a crafting of images. The theories do not stand in a privileged position above the primary material, but take their place as imaginal texts alongside the travel accounts and other historical documents.

FOR BISHOP, ‘GEOGRAPHY OF RELIGION’ becomes a ‘geography of spirituality or soul’. He sees his study as a contribution towards “the return of the soul to the world, to an anima mundi psychology. The world presents itself in its images”.

 

Footnotes

1 Peter Bishop, The Myth of Shangri-La – Tibet, Travel Writing and the Western Creation of Sacred Landscape (University of California Press, 1989).

2 Ibid, vii.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid, 9.

5 Ibid, 18.

6 Ibid, 18. Bishop states that “the aim is not to achieve a theoretical reconciliation but to open up a field of ideas that has both the width and the capacity to endure contradictions”.

7 Ibid, 19.

8 Ibid, 251.

 

I -Thou Relation – Viewing the Sacred Landscape

THE QUALITY OF RELATION, explored by the Jewish religious thinker Martin Buber, in the now classic I and Thou, is relevant and to a large extent encapsulates the dualism which has for so long fascinated and preoccupied geographers – between subject and object, observer and phenomena observed, art and science, lifeworld (being-in-the-world), and the world of knowledge. The quality of relation is inherent in landscape ‘focus of perception’.

MARTIN BUBER BEGINS his magisterial work thus: “The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude. The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the basic words he can speak”. There are two basic words (word pairs) or modes of existence, I-Thou (or I-You) and I-It.   I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being; whereas I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being. The quality of the I-Thou attitude or mode of existence is a very different quality of relation than that of I-It. In fact while I-Thou is described as the primary word of relation; I-It is better described as the primary word of experiencing and using.

“While I-Thou is characterised by “mutuality, directness, presentness, intensity, and ineffability”, I-It lacks mutuality. “It is always mediate and indirect and hence is comprehensible and orderable, significant only in connection and not in itself.” The Thou of I-Thou and the It of I-It may equally well be a person or persons, an animal,a tree, objects of nature, a spirit or even God without a change in the primary word”.

What is important is the quality of relation, not the object. The quality of the I-Thou relation is reciprocity; there is a two-way attraction, mutuality of response, an encounter one with the other in genuine meeting and it “involves the whole of whatever is at each end of the poles of the encounter”. Geering observes that, for Buber:

“I responds to his or her Thou with emotions as well as with intellect – with body, mind and soul. The I responds, as we may be inclined to say, in a fully personal way. But in the I-It mode of existence the I does not respond with his or her whole. In particular it is the personal self which is not given. The I uses the It, treats It as his or her possession or as a tool. Where the I-Thou is personal, the I-It is impersonal. The I who says ‘I-Thou’ is not the I who says ‘I-It’”.

But the quality of relation is not static. I-Thou can become I-It and I-It can turn into I-Thou: “The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course. The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation”. I-Thou and I-It must alternate. There is nothing inherently evil in the It-world which has brought great benefits to humankind and without it the modern world of science and technology would never have emerged. In this Buber is a realist. However, evil for Buber is the predominance of I-It to the exclusion of relation.

TO RECAP; Saint-Exupery’s plea in the first half of the twentieth century for spirituality and morality in human life and landscape, is very much a plea for I- Thou, and the world of relation. His “alarmed concern for the rapid dehumanization of modern lives and landscape” is an abhorrence for the world of It. When Saint-Exupery wrote shortly before his last mission over France that he didn’t care if he was killed in the war, only for what would remain of what he had loved – he is describing the world of relation. What matters are certain orderings of things and invisible ties.

When Katz and Kirby make a critique which argues that the “externalisation of nature is built into our concepts of science”, and that “Western Science excludes and marginalizes alternative epistemologies”; and further that the “exploitation of nature is coincident with its constitution as something apart and ‘other’,” they are drawing attention to the world of It.

As we have seen, landscape as a ‘focus of perception’ involves a focus in relating. The quality or type of the relating is determined by the individual, who lives within a cultural milieu, as well as the landscape in focus. Unlike the world of It, the I-Thou relation is reciprocal, lyrical and outside time and space.

This I-Thou quality of relation between individual and landscape in focus is described by Lopez:

“Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land… no matter how profound or accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes very simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression – its weather, and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know the land knows you are there”.

Footnotes

1 Buber’s I and Thou (Ich und Du) was first published in German in 1923 and translated into English in 1937. The edition referred to here is Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. W. Kaufmann (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1970).

2 Ibid, 5.

3 Ibid, 54.

4 Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber – The Life of Dialogue (N.Y: Harper & Row, 1960), 57.

5 Ibid.

6 Lloyd Geering, The World of Relation – An Introduction to Martin Buber’s I and Thou (New Zealand: Victoria University Press, 1983), 16.

7 Ibid, 20.

8 Buber (1970) I and Thou, 84.

9 Geering (1983) The World of Relation, 27.

10 See Friedman (1960) Martin Buber, 73-76.

11 Bunkse (1990) ‘Saint-Exupery’s Geography Lesson’, 100-102.

12 Ibid, 106. Bunkse states: “What is valuable is a certain ordering of things. Civilisation is an invisible tie, because it has to do not with things but with the invisible ties that join one thing to another in a particular way.”

13 See Cindy Katz and Andrew Kirby (1991) ‘In the Nature of Things’, 259-265.

14 Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 228.

 

Eskimo Spiritual Landscapes

ARCTIC EXPLORER BARRY LOPEZ, who has lived and hunted with Eskimos, has noted differences in the way in which our modern technological/materialist culture relates to the Arctic landscape – objectively as a landscape for exploitation of resources – and the relationship that the native Eskimo hunters have with their landscape. He describes his experience hunting with the Eskimo and the ‘focus in relating’ as follows:

“To hunt means to have the land around you like clothing. To engage in a wordless dialogue with it, one so absorbing that you cease to talk with your human companions. It means to release yourself from rational images of what something “means” and to be concerned only that it “is.” And then to recognize that things exist only insofar as they can be related to other things. These relationships – fresh drops of moisture on tops of rocks at a river crossing and a raven’s distant voice – become patterns. The patterns are always in motion”.

By contrast, Lopez argues, Western culture has tended to turn all elements of the natural world into objects.

“We have turned all animals and elements of the natural world into objects. We manipulate them to serve the complicated ends of our destiny. Eskimos do not grasp this separation easily, and have difficulty imagining themselves entirely removed from the world of animals. For many of them, to make this separation is analogous to cutting oneself off from light or water. It is hard to imagine how to do it”.

Lopez concludes that the depersonalization of relationships is a most confusing aspect of Western culture for the Eskimo to grasp.

Footnotes

1 Lopez (1989) Arctic Dreams, 199-200.

2 Ibid, 200.