What I mean when I say we’re in a state of collective spiritual hibernation

Tekst: Silje Hansen, Bachelor in International Development Studies
Photo: Debora Bacheschi // unsplash.com

What makes the soil of pastoralists and indigenous peoples amongst the most fertile and biodiverse on the planet? And more significantly, what makes the majority population of the Occident overlook that such a way of life is far more sustainable than their own? In contrast to pastoralists and indigenous peoples, modern society has lost sight of the recognition that everything is interconnected.

Let’s start by breaking down this phrase: collective spiritual hibernation. Hibernation refers to a period spent in an inactive state. I use the word, spiritual,not in terms of religious affiliation nor the monotheistic notion of god being the supreme being, creator and object of faith, but rather the holistic recognition that the god-like is within everything. Every human, every animal and every plant is unique and yet shares this fundamental quality. Thus spiritualin this context refers to the interconnected and correlated nature of all things. Collective refers to people acting as a group.

Collective spiritual hibernation is therefore the chain reaction generated by the accumulated disconnection of ourselves, others and nature from the divine: the lack of ability to connect ourselves to other beings (nature included). However, just as hibernating animals may seem almost dead during winter, but awaken in spring, so too may we awaken from our hibernation.

This is why I choose to use hibernation rather than the more common use of spiritual crisis. Crisis refers to an alarming state of difficulty or danger. Coupled with spirituality, it refers to either a state of crisis experienced by an individual during the spiraling phases of awakening, or is used to describe the spiritual crisis that we as a society are going through. Referring to it as a state of hibernation includes the notion that this is not a terminal state, but part of a natural circle and is therefore something we will awaken from again when the rays of spring sun hit our caves. The term crisis portrays nothing but a gloomy, dangerous state. I agree with the fact that it is a crisis, but I fail to see how this labelling can liberate us from the state we are in.What is there when crisis is over? Peace.

What is there when hibernation is over? Awakening.

How we collectively, practically go about the process of awakening may seem troublesome – animals wake up with the sun, but what is the sun is in the context of solving our collective spiritual hibernation? The answer to this is not yet known, although I will explore one of the many different ideas at the end. But to return to my earlier point, simply referring to it as a state of crisis fails to include the notion of a solution, thus devaluing the holistic, circular qualities embedded in the term spiritual. Hibernation as a concept includes the idea of seasonal change and so movement between dualities, immediately allowing us to introduce circularity into our thinking, in contrast with the term, crisis. More importantly, hibernation is linked to the fact that there has been seasons before: there have been summers during which life was lived differently. Acknowledging, respecting and dignifying this cyclical way of living, we have the possibility to map out what the summer to come may look like, as well as how to isolate the missing – the sun that will awaken us from our hibernation – of the equation.

Where can we turn to see what summer looked like?
We can turn to the Maasai, we can turn to the aboriginal peoples, we can turn to the Maori, we can turn to the Sami, we can turn to the Maya. We can turn to the more than 300 million indigenous people living in virtually every region of the world. 

There is great diversity among the communities of indigenous peoples, every one of which has its own unique culture, language, history, and distinct lifestyle. In spite of these distinctions, indigenous groups across the globe share a number of values originating partly from the understanding that their lives are inseparable from and dependent on the natural world. Nevertheless, indigenous peoples are not by any means the only individuals who comprehend the interconnectedness of every living thing. Many individuals from a variety of ethnic groups care deeply about the climate and fight each day to protect the earth. The difference is that indigenous people have the advantage of being repeatedly reminded of their duties to the land through stories and ceremonies. They stay near the land, in the way they live, but also in their souls and in the manner in which they see the world: securing the climate is not merely an academic exercise, it is a sacrosanct obligation to which their continual survival depends. Indigenous peoples today often live in places difficult to inhabit without the knowledge they hold, and their symbiotic life with nature is therefore necessary also for their own survival. When Pauline Whitesinger, senior at Large Mountain, and Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone land rights dissident, talk about protecting the land for future generations, they are not merely referring to its people, but to all creatures, plants, water, and every living organism.

Alongside an alternate perspective on their relationship to the natural world, a large number of the world’s indigenous peoples share an awareness of certain expectations for each other. Coorperation has consistently been important for the survival of kinship groups, and even today collaboration outweighs rivalry in more traditional communities – contrasting the competitive individualism one experiences in societies of the “modern” human. In numerous communities, the most respected individuals are not the individuals who have achieved great material abundance or made extraordinary individual progress. The most respected are the ones who help others, the individuals who comprehend that their lives take place within a network of innumerable reciprocal connections and relationships. The absence of accurate information on indigenous peoples’ way of life leaves a void that is frequently filled with unreasonable generalizations, which either label groups as distressed descendants of uncivilized people or romanticize them as nature’s innocent offspring.

Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network, claims that the “modern” Western culture that has been around for about 200 years is obviously unsustainable. He states that “[t]his is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples […] Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have.” This way of life is what I refer to, when I claim that there has been a summer prior to our current state of hibernation, just as there has been an autumn.

Without room to enumerate all elements of autumn, let’s explore some:
Monotheistic religions claim that there is one god, and all god-like is placed within him reducing humans, animals and plants to non-divine creatures. Today, we no longer treat ourselves, each other or the nature around us as divine, resulting in us viewing ourselves as in opposition to nature rather than as part of it. The notion of one god also generates authoritarianism and elitism (one reason, I do not capitalize the g) : we have to obey rules set by an invisible figure. The Ten Commandments include good moral codes, but they become rules that we have to obey to obtain a better afterlife for ourselves,not something we do because we care for what’s around us. If we felt connected to what’s around us we would simply take care of it for its own sake.

Capitalism also has a role: as long as making money is at the top of the hierarchy of importance, notions of sustainability or social benefit will always be secondary considerations. Capitalism is a force that we think we control, or we think someone controls, but it is out of our hands. Even if a capitalist business owner wanted to shorten the working day, it would probably not be possible because competing companies would continue to exploit workers – his business would therefore perish. As Karl Marx said, under capitalism we become “playthings of alien forces.” We have created a monster over which we have no control.

Whether the good sides of technology outweigh the bad sides is a debate for another time, but the lightning-speeds of the digital world have led to mass entitlement. We are accus-tomed to a strange new belief that we should be able to have whatever we want, whenever we want it. This leads me to consumerism: one of the most serious environmental threats of today. As author Paul Wachtel opines: “The idea of more, of ever-increasing wealth, has become the center of our identity and our security […]” Consumerism is the root of a range of major global concerns, including the development and preservation of the false self, spiritual emptiness AND environmental detachment. According to Dr. Robert C. Gilman and others, many who have changed their attitudes, consumed less, and pursued more spiritually-meaningful facets of life claim that their lives are more fulfilling and rewarding than when they previously evaluated their lives on the basis of how many material possessions they had.

What does winter look like?
Look around you. We are hibernating.

What could spring look like?
Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at University of Pennsylvania, David Orr, asserts that we will inevitably move to a sustainable society; the question is whether we will do so gracefully and in a controlled manner, or as a result of an ecological disaster caused by un-sustainable consumption. Orr is saying that traditional scientific and economic methods are insufficient to meet the challenges of addressing the issues of sustainability and claims that what is needed is an approach that uses a combination of science and traditional metrics with an emphasis on spiritual awareness; honouring mystery, science, life, and death. Historian Lynn White had similar ideas when he stated: “What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one.”

It is becoming increasingly obvious that our way of life is not sustainable and that humanity is facing a tremendous crisis. We cannot continue to live the way we do. We must calibrate our way of life. Although it seems nearly impossible, there are people living more sustainably, based on a sense of connection to the surroundings, from whom we can learn. Instead of disregarding such lifestyles, we have to start valuing them and work towards getting out of our collective spiritual hibernation. ■

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