Ecomysticism

The Profound Experience of Nature as Spiritual Guide
By (author) Carl von Essen, M.D.
Ecomysticism
The Profound Experience of Nature as Spiritual Guide
By (author) Carl von Essen, M.D.

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Edition : New Edition of The Hunter's Trance

Pages : 288

Book Size : 6 x 9

ISBN-13 : 9781591431183

Imprint : Bear & Company

On Sale Date : October 19, 2010

Format : Paperback Book

Illustrations : 8 b&w illustrations

Ecomysticism shows how the spiritual transcendence of a majestic moment in nature--like other mystical experiences--can heal the Nature Deficit Disorder of our psyches and bodies. Indeed, only through a renewal of humanity’s spiritual connection to nature can we effect true environmental healing.
Description

About Ecomysticism

Explores the philosophy, science, and spirituality of nature mysticism and its Green calling

• Offers a solid bridge between spiritual practice and environmental activism

• Reveals how we can heal the environment by renewing our connection to it

• Shows how spiritual encounters in nature are healing the Nature Deficit Disorder of our psyches and bodies

Many have been struck by a majestic moment in nature--a sole illuminated flower in a shady grove, an owl swooping silently across a wooded path, or an infinitely starry sky--and found themselves in a state of expanded awareness so profound they can feel the interconnectedness of all life. These trance-like moments of clarity, unity, and wonder often incite a call to protect and preserve the earth--to support Nature as she supports us. Termed “nature mysticism,” people from all cultures have described such experiences. However, the ever-increasing urbanization of the world’s population is threatening this ancient connection as well as the earth itself.

In Ecomysticism, Carl von Essen explores nature mysticism through the recorded experiences of outdoor enthusiasts as well as scientific studies in biology, psychology, and neuroscience. Citing consciousness scholar William James and a variety of well-known nature lovers such as Ansel Adams, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, von Essen shows how the spiritual transcendence from an encounter in nature--like other mystical experiences--is healing the Nature Deficit Disorder of our psyches and bodies, leading to an expansion of our worldview and a clearer understanding of our self and of our natural world. Offering a solid bridge between spiritual practice and environmental activism, von Essen’s spiritual ecology reveals how only through a renewal of humanity’s spiritual connection to nature can we effect true environmental healing.
Excerpt

Book Excerpt


Chapter 2
The Hunter


Hunting is the master behavior pattern of the human species.
--William Laughlin


The Alert Man

Until about ten thousand years ago (an iota of evolution) we were all hunters and foragers, living in daily intimacy with all surrounding life. That evolutionary period of competitive success and brain enlargement, achieved through organization and the use of tools, has profoundly affected the engrams (neural connections) of our psyche. The brain of our forebears rapidly enlarged over a relatively short time. By 100,000 years ago that hallmark of our species, “a disproportionately enlarged brain size,” was found in fossil cranial cavities. It is small wonder then that hunting stirs deep recesses in our consciousness and brings up a sharp awareness of this connection. In those thousands of centuries when modern Homo developed, alertness was a prime necessity, for both attack and defense. That awareness can still result in a vibrant state where all senses become more acute, and time and space merge into a feeling of unity.

In his Meditations on Hunting, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset describes the state of awareness in what we know as the Hunter’s Trance.


He (the hunter) does not look tranquilly in one determined direction, sure beforehand that the game will pass in front of him. The hunter knows that he does not know what is going to happen, and that is one of the greatest attractions of his occupation. Thus he needs to prepare an attention of a different and superior style--an attention that does not consist in riveting itself in the presumed but consists precisely in not presuming anything and avoiding inattentiveness. It is a “universal” attention, which does not inscribe itself in any point and tries to be on all points. There is a magnificent term for this, one that still conserves all the zest of vivacity and imminence: alertness. The hunter is the alert man.


“Not presuming anything,” as we shall see, is part of apophasis, the emptying of the mind. Ortega y Gasset associated the development of the capacities of observation and alertness in the ancient hunter to the evolution of the intellect. The sensory processes among many traditional hunters are, to us, extraordinary. From those sentient qualities arise a deep understanding of the world around them, qualities that at some time, long ago, we “civilized” human beings must have also possessed.

Part of this knowledge, acquired by Ortega’s archetypal alert man, is not just the mystical connection with his quarry but also with his environment. In another example of the hunter’s trance, a friend told me of this experience when stalking Wapiti elk in the Sawatch Range of central Colorado.

“One day in May I set out at dawn, alone, to track a herd of elk up into the foothills of Mount Princeton. There was still plenty of snow and muddy terrain to follow the herds migrating to upland pasture. I came across fresh tracks of several elk, including one bull. The morning was bright and sunny with a slight wind in my face, assuring me of getting a reasonably close approach to my quarry. After perhaps an hour of slow and careful tracking, I came out on a long glade, fifty yards wide. If the elk were nearby they would detect my crossing the snowy and slushy meadow. It remained for me to be completely still and pay complete attention to the opposite hillside. I felt now their presence and somehow knew that they felt mine. As I stood there, the sense of time remarkably changed. What seemed like minutes I found later to be over an hour. At the same moment an intense feeling of the clarity of the scene swept over me. All my senses seemed to sharpen to an exquisite razor’s edge. I heard the tiniest sounds of distant streams and rustling leaves as if magnified in a celestial amplifier. Everything seemed closer to me and I felt, amazingly, a sort of merger of myself with everything, a sense of belonging. I was connected with everything in that panorama, the grass, trees, rocks, insects, birds, the elk that I knew were quietly moving uphill, out of my sight. I felt a great rush of emotion, a joy of being alive, the chance to exist along with everything else. I will never forget that day.”

The hunter’s unfocussed alertness, his trance, is similar to the attentive form of meditation practiced in Zen Buddhism. The word trance means precisely what the Latin roots say; trans = “across” and ire = “go,” in sum, “to move across” or “to pass over” the object. The Oxford English Dictionary goes on to define trance as “a state of mental abstraction from external things.” The hunter, however, is certainly not disconnected perceptually from “external things.” His whole being is directed toward a quarry, he is the alert man with “universal attention,” unfocused, aware of all yet somehow filtering out what is extraneous or irrelevant. The blocking or diversion of those external and internal signals sharpens his senses. This sensitivity to each subtle sign of nature is a direct precursor to intellectual awareness, and this state of mind is not unique to the hunter. As will be seen, it is a phenomenon common to many who search. It is, as Ortega y Gasset maintains, a state of mind that is the ground for the creative process. The external world as perceived by the hunter is drawn into his inner vision, which leads to a feeling of union with all that is outside, in fact, with the cosmos itself.

The Zen practice of shikan-taza resembles the Hunter’s Trance in that the mind is brought to a heightened state of awareness, intensely involved in the object of its attention. Yet simultaneously the participant can be peculiarly detached, but centered into the ground of his being. This acute sensitivity of awareness lies at the heart of a mystical state from which energy can flow into extraordinary physical and mental achievement.

Table of Contents

Table of content


Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction


Part One
Heritage and Experience



1    The Beginnings of Nature and Spirit
Chaos - Gaia - Eros

2    The Hunter
An Angler’s Trance - The Alert Man - The Archer and the Inner Game

3    The Explorer
Himalayan Epiphany - Inner Exploration - Topophilia - The Despotic Eye and Goethe’s Phantasie - Solitude

4    The Warrior and the Athlete
War as a Mystical Experience - Transcendental Athletics - Mountains and the Ecstasy of Danger

5    The Poet and the Artist
Poetry and Nature - Sublimity and Delightful Horror - Wordsworth as a Nature Mystic - Henry David Thoreau - Ted Hughes - Paleolithic Legacy - Homage to the Rock

6    The Healer
A Universal Art of Nature - Encounter with a Traditional Healer - Wisdom and Healing - The Healer’s Trance


Part Two
Theory and Perspective



7    The Mystic Ladder
Climbing the Mountain - Ineffability - Noetic Quality - Transiency - Passivity - Modern Concepts - Freud and the Oceanic Feeling - Einstein’s Ambivalence - Proust and
the Petit Madeleine
- Spiritual Experience in Childhood - Creativity

8    Wider Than the Sky: The Psychobiology of M ystical Experience
Mystical Models - Chemical or Spiritual? - Altered States of Consciousness - Photism - Ohm’s Law Analogy - Neurotheology - Pathological States - Drugs and Mystical Experience


Part Three
Ecocrisis and Spiritual Necessity



9    Ecocrisis
The Human Impact - Philosophic Reason - Nature’s Revenge

10    The Future Rests with Us
Finding the Road - Urbanization: Blessing or Curse? - Bringing Nature Home - Needed: The Moral Equivalent of War



Notes

Bibliography

Index

Author Bio
Carl von Essen, M.D., studied medicine in California and Sweden. He has practiced and taught in the United States, India, and Switzerland and served with the World Health Organization in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The author of The Revenge of the Fishgod: Angling Adventures around the World and Memory Is a Dwelling Place, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Reviews

Reviews

Book Praise

Book Praise

“This, I believe, is an important book, a systematic and fearless new look at spirituality in the language of both the humanities and biology. It is impressive in scholarship and style . . . I believe it will stimulate new interest in the subject.”
E. O. Wilson, professor at Harvard University and author of The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

“A fascinating account of a crucial issue for our species, presented in an intelligent, articulate, and immensely readable way. I feel a close kinship in much of what he says.”
Anthony Stevens, Jungian analyst and author of The Two Million-Year-Old Self and The Roots of War and Terror

“Carl von Essen mixes the personal, the scientific, and the ecological as he tracks the experiences of nature exemplified by the ways of the hunter, the warrior, the athlete, the mystic, and the scientist. As an angler, physician, scholar, and adventurer, he is uniquely qualified for these explorations. Read and be enlightened!”
Stephen Bodio, author of On the Edge of the Wild: Passions and Pleasures of the Naturalist and Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia

“A significant statement in our present chemical era on the return of the physician to the role of the naturalist. To see ourselves through the lens of nature is to see that everything in nature is reflected in the life of the soul. And when we see this, God speaks to us and our consciousness is transformed.”
Eugene Taylor, Ph.D., author of William James on Consciousness beyond the Margin

“This is an important book in the advancement of education.”
Ron Macisaac, Lower Island News, March 2011

Ecomysticism bridges the artificial divide between science and art. The author. . . reaches into our collective past, present and future to demonstrate why our spiritual relationship with Nature must be nurtured in order to “bring us back to our senses”.
Miriam Darlington, Resurgence Magazine, July 2011

“Offering a solid bridge between spiritual practice and environmental activism, von Essen's spiritual ecology reveals how only through a renewal of humanity's spiritual connection to nature can we effect true environmental healing.”
Arizona Networking News, March 2011
Back Cover

Back Cover Copy

NATURE / SPIRITUALITY

“This, I believe, is an important book, a systematic and fearless new look at spirituality in the language of both the humanities and biology. It is impressive in scholarship and style . . . I believe it will stimulate new interest in the subject.”
--E. O. Wilson, professor at Harvard University and author of The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Many have been struck by a majestic moment in nature--a sole illuminated flower in a shady grove, an owl swooping silently across a wooded path, or an infinitely starry sky--and found themselves in a state of expanded awareness so profound they can feel the interconnectedness of all life. These trance-like moments of clarity, unity, and wonder often incite a call to protect and preserve the earth--to support Nature as she supports us. Termed “nature mysticism,” such experiences have been described by people from all cultures. However, the ever-increasing urbanization of the world’s population is threatening this ancient connection as well as the earth itself.

In Ecomysticism, Carl von Essen explores nature mysticism through the recorded experiences of outdoor enthusiasts as well as scientific studies in biology, psychology, and neuroscience. Citing consciousness scholar William James and a variety of well-known nature lovers such as Ansel Adams, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, von Essen shows how the spiritual transcendence from an encounter in nature--like other mystical experiences--can heal the Nature Deficit Disorder of our psyches and bodies, leading to an expansion of our worldview and a clearer understanding of our self and the natural world. Offering a solid bridge between spiritual practice and environmental activism, von Essen’s spiritual ecology reveals how only through a renewal of humanity’s spiritual connection to nature can we effect true environmental healing.

CARL VON ESSEN, M.D., studied medicine in California and Sweden. He has practiced and taught in the United States, India, and Switzerland and served with the World Health Organization in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The author of The Revenge of the Fishgod: Angling Adventures around the World and Memory Is a Dwelling Place, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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