There are many ways of knowing; there are many types of knowledge; there are many forms of intelligence, and our current dominant educational system – Western institutionalized education – is very far from understanding the depth and breadth of the vast landscape that is epistemological diversity, which can only be truly understood through epistemological humility.
What is your particular epistemological location? Do you have one? Does your way of knowing transcend any one particular epistemological location?
What types of intelligences do you recognize within yourself and others? Which ones do you foster? Which ones do you hide from others?
The following is Eric Peterson’s epistemological place:
My epistemology is Nature-based. Not in totality, but my knowing is strongly influenced by the intelligence within Nature. Yes, Nature is intelligent, its been learning for billions of years. Nature is the wisest teacher around. Only a clever fool does not see the intelligence within Nature.
To the ecologically illiterate (one who does not understand the vast interconnected relationships that constitutes Nature, which includes emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and this also includes the fact that humans are Nature), Nature may seem to be filled with chaos and disorder, to be filled with “lawless” groupings of life, but this is only because the observer does not realize what they are truly observing. Nature has an all-encompassing order that represents a highly evolved form of social intelligence; the naturally balanced and sustainable relationships within the Earth’s meta-ecology provide us a model of a tested and proven way of being and relating. This is not a romantic perspective upon Nature, because Nature’s balance is not based upon the human constructs, and viewing Nature as a modeler of “right relationship” is not a form of anthropomorphism (projecting human values into the natural environment and the more-than-human world). However, if one is trapped by their own myopic anthropocentric (human centered) paradigm, then one will not be able to accurately perceive Nature’s intelligence and vast learning opportunities. For one to be able to learn from Nature’s intrinsic wisdom and intelligence, one needs to be able to expand one’s limited sense of self and perspective to include the more-than-human world. This is the basis of my Nature-based epistemology. My knowing is placed within the vast sea of information that is Nature. Nature is made of meaningful patterns, and when one becomes attuned to these meaningful patterns, one not only learns from Nature, one learns with Nature.
This Nature-based epistemology has lead me to realize that contemporary human problems are the symptoms of a crisis of perception (Who are we to Nature? What is Nature to humanity? Who are we to each other?) and relationship (How should we relate to Nature? How should we relate to our human nature? How should we relate to one another?), and this crisis is manifested in war between Peoples and war from people upon the natural environment. A very real example of this crisis of perception and relationship can be seen within the consequences of inequality from the social construction of “race.” Race has no biological basis of support, but many of us continue to perceive this to be true, and this misperception aids in the perpetuation of racially based tensions from institutional racism and oppression of minority groups of people. In Nature, there is one human race, in the model of “right relationship” provided by Nature, there is one humanity that is filled with an infinite sea of diversity, which is at the heart of our collective survival.
Here are a few samples of my nature based epistemology:
“The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them. It stays in places loathed by all men. Therefore, it comes near the Tao…” Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching (translated by John C. H. Wu, 1961). We would be wise to look to Nature for guidance on how to be fully human in right relationship with one another and with the Earth. Our modern way of life has become dangerously disconnected from the natural Way of Being. Our fixation with striving and achieving has become a dis-ease that is leading us to self-destruction. If we slow down enough and listen to Nature, to the non-striving way of water, we can transform our ways of being, relating, knowing, and doing into a more sane and compassionate existence, and this is the way forward into a better future. Do you ever listen deeply to water?
We are not individuals; we are multitudes. We are complex beings. The sense of self can be expansive, it can go deep into the Earth, it can go far out into the universe, and it can include the more-than-human world. We are all so much more than these little human minds think. The multitude is realized through the integration of the heart, mind, body, spirit, and the soul, but this realization is only a doorway into this vast spaciousness of this multitude of being. To be thismultitude we must have the faith and courage to walk through this doorway and surrender our little minds to the vastness of uncertainty. The being of multitude is within the mystery.
Mountains are Temples. The view is sacred and closer to wholeness from atop mountain peaks. It is no mystery why those deeply attuned to Nature are attracted to mountains. In the mountains, the Soul expands into all of Nature, and can settle into existential ease. To those deeply connected with Nature, the mountains are Home; the more time one spends in these Temples, the more one realizes one does not need any temple to feel at Home with Nature.
Regularly changing one’s perspective is a powerful transformative practice. Being fireside has the potential of changing one’s perspective on modern life’s pace and meanings. What does living so detached from the forces of nature really mean in these times? Building a fire can be a deeply meaningful ritual that connects one to the ancient ways of being human. When was the last time you were fireside and reconnected to our shared ancestral ways of being?
Anyone who claims that magic isn’t real probably doesn’t spend much time with Nature, and let’s not confuse time ‘in’ nature with being ‘with’ Nature. There is a deep spiritual and mystical quality that permeates the natural world, and being able to sense this aspect of Nature comes from a place of awe and humility, which our world needs a lot more of both. Do you ever just go out and be with Nature to listen to its teachings?
Spending time with Nature is restorative. What is being restored? Our oldest and most vital relationship, that is what is being restored. When we spend time with Nature it is a return trip Home. Walking with Nature is following the path to one’s deepest and most authentic Self. Walking with Nature means walking this path on Nature’s terms, not our’s.
Treeness: There is great wisdom within Treeness. What is Treeness? Treeness is the ability to dig deep into the dirt of life to find what feeds you, to find what helps you to grow strong, to find what helps you to be balanced, to find what helps you to be able to reach out to others and not fall over while trying, to find what helps you be a rooted member of the community, to find your place within the forest of humanity. Treeness is the wisdom to know where your place is within this world that can blow you over if you are not grounded.
Spending simple time with Nature is spending time with one’s most primary relationship and one’s most authentic Self.
Staying connected to the constant changes within Nature can help us to accept change as a necessary element of this temporal life, and not something to be feared and avoided. Change is inevitable, and welcoming it into our lives is a sign of maturity and wisdom, a sign of integration.
Looking at the world and thinking one is seeing it in some type of objective form, is a little like looking at this photo and not realizing it is upside down. One’s perception is strongly influenced by one’s beliefs and attitudes, and one’s beliefs and attitudes are created through a very subjective process of conditioning. Only when one starts to see what has created one’s particular lens, does one truly start to see the world and how one fits within it.
What is reflecting what?
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend” Bruce Lee.
I see these words of wisdom from Bruce Lee as being timeless. We need to empty our minds of the garbage that this consumer society is continually offering up as our shape, as our form, as our being. It would be wise to stop accepting the story of stuff, and return to our original being – be like water. We need to flush our selves of modernity’s toxic story. Be fluid; be adaptable; be life giving; be resilient to the oppression of the story of consuming stuff, because you, and I, do not need more stuff. All we need is to be content to flow like water, my friend.
If one looks at this pattern of sand on the beach through an understanding of hydrology (how moving water affects itself and other objects) one can see how all these small individual islands of sand are actually created by one-another. As the water flows over these little bodies of sand, their individual forms are co-created as a result of the micro-eddies (a back current that forms behind an object that is obstructing the flow of water), their existence is all interrelated.
All these little bodies of sand are like the individuals who make up a community, a nation, and all of humanity. Our existence as individuals are interrelated to the whole of humanity, and to all of life. We often only realize how the ones closest to us affect our lives, if we have some basic form of self-awareness, but in reality, we all are influenced by individuals who are far away from us, even those we have never met in person.
How are you being formed by those around you and simultaneously helping to form the individuals closest to you?
What is beauty? There is beauty within all of Nature. Nature teaches us that to be beautiful is really about being authentic and not about conforming into some prescribed shape, form, style, sound, or color. True beauty comes through a state of ease and acceptance of Nature’s Way, but also through struggle and resistance to the the ugliness of uncritical conformity. Can you see the beauty in all of Nature?
What is creativity? Creativity is an unfolding process that is available to us within our everyday experiences; creativity is a way of intentionally relating to our world that brings us into a more authentic and fully engaged way of being. Being creative is a way of seeing the world as it is and not as we think it is. To be “creative,” one does not need to produce any material object or “creation.” To be creative at the most fundamental level, one merely needs to be awake to the life one is actively co-creating. Why “co-creating”? Nothing is created exclusively by an individual; the “individual” is a fiction of modernity, and does not truly exist within Nature. All beings are created, and create, through the process of relation; even self-realization happens in relation to the world. What is this self you think “you” are creating, realizing, or becoming? How are “you” really creating anything?
Can you see the equality of beauty between the bud and the blossom, within the potential of the flowering? If one is attuned to the ongoing creative process that is Nature, one sees the entire world as having intrinsic beauty; one sees no real delineation between the process and the product. Being open to the intrinsic value and beauty within all of Nature – Nature as an ongoing creative process – is a pathway to deep healing of the wound of separation between being human and being a part of Nature. Healing this misperception of ‘process and product’ is vital to our collective ability to co-create a better future, because when we only see the value in the product – the future- we are blinded to the fact the product is only one point along a much broader spectrum of creative process; the future exists within the creative process of the present moment and the lessons from the past. How are you seeing and valuing ‘process and product,’ and how is this related to what you are creating in this life?
Sometimes we just need to be by the water and listen to its message, and let the wisdom from the more-than-human world permeate our being; sometimes we need to hear the humble message that we once were non-human and understood the language of all life. The natural world is filled with “language” and intelligence, and all we have to do is look past our own human-centered view in order to be able to hear what we once knew deep in our being.
When I walk with the forest, I see stories of life’s lessons all around me. Layers upon layers of meaningful stories. I see cycles of life and death, and how they support one another, necessarily. Death gives life a place to be solidly rooted when there is no solid ground of existence to stand upon. Theses young trees are emerging out of the old fallen dead of those who came before, and someday, they too will become food for new life. They appear to be stable, but they are rooted in precarious places. Isn’t all of life truly rooted in a fragile and precarious way?
Patriots day? It is long past time to stop pledging our allegiance to the delusion of the “other.” Whether it is nationalism, racism, or speciesism, the process of “othering” is based upon misperception and wrong-relationship, which will be the end of us all if we do not heal this collective woundedness. All of life on Earth is inextricably intertwined through the beautiful web of life, and the harm we do to any “other” comes back to us in a form of self-destruction. Let’s co-create a future where we celebrate days like “reconnection” and “resacralization” instead of the perpetuation of the destruction of the “other.”
Creativity? Our survival as a species is dependent upon our ability to reframe what it means to be creative; we desperately need to reappraise what creativity means as well as deeply question how it is either nurtured or oppressed through our cultural institutions and our everyday lives. Being creative is the ultimate form of human authenticity, and there is a direct link between embracing one’s own authentic self and embracing diversity in all its creative forms. Now more than ever, we should be looking to Nature for lessons in creativity, because Nature has evolved over billions of years through an intelligent creative process. How are you using your creative powers? Not in some mainstream “artsy” interpretation of creativity, but rather, in the everyday practical sense of creating your self, your relationships, your society, your world, and our shared reality. How are you choosing to participate in the collective co-creation of life on Earth?