Relational Reality & Tending the Soul’s Garden
Subtly weaving the suggestion to always perform right action — based on the sometimes unrecognized fact of personal relatedness with all life — into one’s daily living patterns is one of the most powerful culture-changing tools I am aware of. In this vein, two of the most significant works on praxis within the category of Interrelatedness are also the most recent. Spretnak’s Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness Transforming Modern World was written in 2011, while the second edition of environmental engineer and permaculture designer Denise Rushing’s Tending the Soul’s Garden: Permaculture as a Way Forward in Difficult Times was released the next year.
In Relational Reality, Spretnak recognizes the cultural paradigm resulting from our modern, mechanistic frame of reference, applying illuminating critical thinking and analysis through a feminist heuristic. Initially investigating the deeply problematic results of this extremely limited mode of perception, the author moves on in the second half of the book to trace the growing scientific recognition, and consequent public mainstreaming, of the interrelatedness of life: that “all entities in the natural world, including us, are thoroughly relational beings of great complexity, who are both composed of and nested within contextual networks of dynamic and reciprocal relationships” (Kindle locations 205-207).
Perhaps most encouraging, she dedicates a significant section within the book to not just what can be done to increase recognition and implementation of this radically life-enhancing paradigm, but also what is already being accomplished. Transformational relational shifts in education and parenting, healthcare, community design and architecture, and the economy are analyzed for their applicability in resolving the multiplicity of crises created by modernity — and as Spretnak observes, the result is an abundance of potential solutions based in recognition of the profoundly relational quality of our interrelatedness with nature. As she beautifully notes:
Communion with nature . . . evokes in us the expression of our core potential as relational beings. It enables us to be our true, caring, generous, and expansive selves. It seems to free us of the psychological restrictions — self-absorption, disengagement, and diminished empathy — commonly imposed by modern, industrialized cultures, which are proudly devoted to progressing in opposition to nature. (Kindle locations 4513-4516)
As a result of the combination of Spretnak’s research and innovative thought, Relational Reality is original, enjoyable, and optimistic — a brilliantly creative illustration of the truth that “we interare, that the very nature of our existence is interbeing” (Kindle locations 4496-4497). Spretnak’s clever, deft writing is always a pleasure, and her book is a vivid and heartening call for the collective consciousness of humanity to recognize our mutually dependent relationality with all that is.
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Rushing’s Tending the Soul’s Garden — the second significant work embodying the praxis of spiritual ecofeminism — contains less explorative theorizing and scientific review than Spretnak’s Relational Reality, but is equally solidly based in pragmatic, everyday life as lived by ordinary humans. This particular ideological ecofeminist thread positions permaculture (now also known as either regenerative design or ecological agriculture) as a means of integrating spiritual recognition of our interrelatedness into quotidian life — even when this is not consciously recognized by its participants. Like Starhawk (who was one of Rushing’s permaculture instructors), Rushing frames permaculture as a relational way of living rather than as an exclusively religious or scientifically dogmatic foundation for life. Instead, both Rushing and Starhawk use permaculture as a conceptual framework for designing empowering action in what is sometimes difficult or overwhelming work — while also maintaining a balanced internal sense of hope and purpose. Both teach the primary importance of cultivation of personal serenity and honoring of nature’s wisdom in the process of community engagement.
Interestingly, however, where Starhawk’s emphasis is on what she refers to as “magic,” Rushing instead uses the more current symbolic language of “abundance” to teach what is effectively the same process of cyclical energetic engagement with nature in order to heal first Self, then community and the world. Consequently while she still often and clearly discusses the inherent spirituality of the process of regenerative design, Rushing’s chosen conceptual path positions her book as immediately approachable and religiously non-threatening to conscientious followers of (for example) the current largest world religions. Thus where Spretnak offers us an engrossingly “high-point perspective” on the relational shift, Rushing’s book is firmly rooted in the methodological pragmatics of immediate application.
What is perhaps most fascinating in these conceptual pathways — a rational/scientific-research and/or spiritual/regenerative-permaculture approach to teaching the interrelatedness of life — is that spiritual ecofeminist authors will borrow freely from both, as it suits their needs. Indeed, they appear to have entirely refused to craft these powerfully interrelated choices as either dualistic or exclusive, and their chosen primary approach is almost invariably flavored with elements of the other methodology as well.
Thus many of the books within this subsection [Interrelatedness] powerfully embody both spiritual ecofeminism’s epistemology and actual methodology, in its attempts to change our culture and world for the better — or, turning to Spretnak’s lyrical prose, there is a recognition that this “Relational Shift — which is truly a Relational Renewal — brings us into a deeper realization of our inherent relationship with the sacred whole, the entire creative presence, the divine mystery of it all” (Kindle locations 4520-4521). Thus, through their integration of a feminized scientific perspective, the various ecofeminist authors recognize and usefully modify the strong hold science and so-called rational thought have on our culture, rooting the results within a deeply pragmatic axiology of reverence for all life.