By Molly Brown Sherry Ackerman's column last week on 'eco-pragmatism' had me asking, 'What's so pragmatic about destroying our life support system?' That led me to thinking about how we often see the world " as something outside us, 'the environment,' rather than as our larger body " our self. When we think of ourselves [...]

By Molly Brown
Sherry Ackerman's column last week on 'eco-pragmatism' had me asking, 'What's so pragmatic about destroying our life support system?' That led me to thinking about how we often see the world " as something outside us, 'the environment,' rather than as our larger body " our self.
When we think of ourselves as separate from our 'environment,' we tend to imagine ourselves in competition with it, wresting what we want from it, using it for profit, to 'grow the economy.' That way of thinking has led us to the grave crises we face today.
In World As Lover, World as Self (Parallax Press, 2007), Joanna Macy describes four ways of viewing the world, with implications for how we live in that world.
The first is 'world as battlefield' in which good and evil are pitted against each other, reinforced by millennia of living with war. It lends a sense of certainty that we are fighting God's battle and ultimately will win. Our enemies are bad people, (currently terrorists and fanatics who supposedly hate our freedoms).
'This point of view is contagious, spread through fear-inducing propaganda' and 'violent video games in which we engage in the destruction of the 'other'' (Macy, p. 20).
Another view is 'world as trap,' in which we struggle to escape from this messy world. The human mind is seen as higher than nature, and spirit as above the flesh, encouraging contempt for the natural world. Unfortunately, trying to escape from something on which we depend makes us both crave and hate it; we want to both possess and destroy.
'Another hazard of this view is fear of nature, especially during these uncertain times of immense climate change. The increasing devastation wrought by unpredictable weather patterns is perceived by some as the wrath of Mother Earth [This] obscures our deepest connections and isolates us from the source of our deepest wisdom' (Macy, p. 22-3).
In a third view, 'world as lover,' the world is experienced as an essential and life-giving partner. The devotional aspects of many religions support this view in an erotic affirmation of the phenomenal world. When we see the world as lover, every being can become an expression of that joyful love. 'The beloved becomes many, and the world itself is lover' (p. 27) " and we tend to protect what we love.
The fourth view is 'world as self.'
'Just as lovers seek union when we fall in love with our world, [we] fall into oneness with it as well. We begin to see our world as ourselves
'When Hildegard of Bingen experienced unity with the divine, she proclaimed: 'I am the breeze that nurtures all green things'
'Indigenous traditions know the self as one with its world Not only our fate, but also our identity is interwoven with all beings' (p. 27).
Fortunately, we don't have to give up our individuality to experience the world as self. 'As in all living systems, intelligence depends on the integrative play of diversity. Diversity is a source of resilience [and] this time of great challenge demands more commitment, endurance, and courage than any one of us can dredge up' alone (p. 28).
Most of us won't trash our own house, or cut off our own arm just to make a buck. 'World as self' brings us to a deeper, wider sense of caring for all of life, and acting on behalf of life in all our endeavors. We act from 'enlightened self-interest' because we understand deeply that the fate of the world and our own fate are one.