One of the key concepts in Halifax’s The Fruitful Darkness is the idea of nonduality, the sense that we are an integral part of the whole. It is this sense of nonduality that she has discovered through her study of Buddhism, shamanism, and deep ecology.
We go into the darkness, we seek initiation, in order to know directly how the roots of all beings are tied together: how we are related to all things, how this relationship expresses itself in terms of interdependence, and finally how all phenomena abide within one another. Yes, the roots of all living things are tied together. Deep in the ground of being, they tangle and embrace. This understanding is expressed in the term nonduality. If we look deeply, we find that we do not have a separate self-identity, a self that does not include sun and wind, earth and water, creatures and plants, and one another. We cannot exist without the presence and support of the interconnecting circles of creation— the geosphere, the biosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the sphere of our sun. All are related to us; we depend on each of these spheres for our very existence.
My original love of nature came from a childhood on Puget Sound spent fishing and hiking. It didn’t take long to discover that America’s predominant culture didn’t have the same love for nature that I did. I could never reconcile my view of nature with the Old Testament idea that man was giving dominion over the earth to use it for his own needs however he wished. Perhaps that is why later I was drawn to shamanism, ecology, Taoism, and, eventually, Buddhism.
In a world that seems increasingly mechanical and increasingly alienated, perhaps Halifax is right when she suggests that
The wisdom of the peoples of elder cultures can make an important contribution to the postmodern world, one that we must begin to accept as the crisis of self, society, and the environment deepens. This wisdom cannot be told, but it is to be found by each of us in the direct experience of silence, stillness, solitude, simplicity, ceremony, and vision.
The deep ecologists Arne Naess, Joanna Macy, and John Seed write about the ecological self, the experience of our interconnectedness with all of creation. They know as well as I do that these words are intellectual concepts until this self is directly experienced. This is understood in Buddhism, where experience or “direct practice realization” is contrasted with conceptual knowledge. Buddhism as well as tribal traditions emphasize direct learning. In the tribal world, and I dare say in ours, Truth is not easily made real in our everyday lives, nor is it easily described.
Though I see few signs that society is ready to accept such wisdom, there are at least signs that society is beginning to pay more attention to ecologists and other scientists who warn about the abuse of the environment and the effects that has on people’s lives. Perhaps a realization that we cannot continue to plunder the environment without consequences will help people to realize just how much we are a part of the ecosystem. At the very least we can hope so while doing our best to promote that view.