Living in the Altai Republic, Siberia one hears little mention of global warming. Of course everyone discusses the weather and compares last years temperatures with this years; how high the snow was, whether one can still consider minus twelve in December to be “warm” and minus forty in January to be “cold”, and whether there’ll be enough hay to feed the cattle over winter. But amongst these concerns surrounding the weather, there is no significant mention of global warming.
When I returned to the UK I was surprised to read about the urgency and extent of the problem in the newspapers. Global warming it seems is the single greatest threat to life on this planet. Some ask whether it is all a question of values. We are facing the fact that our cultural values favour greed, acquisition, apathy and tendencies to uniformity. At the 1992 International forum for the environment in Rio de Janeiro the path of industrialized Western countries was noted to be a path of catastrophe for humanity and Nature. Spiritual values of themselves can do nothing, but individuals, meeting the necessary challenge of affirming their personal values in today’s society is a totally different matter. If the problem that stands behind excessive carbon emissions is our relationship to the natural environment and the values of our current culture then surely these are the very things that we must address to resolve the ecological problem.
It is interesting to compare how two different cultures face the problems of natural disaster. The people of Altai may not be focused on Global warming but they face the issue of their survival as a people and have recently suffered recent earthquakes. Two years later they are still rebuilding whole villages and schools and lakes shown on the map no longer exist.
The Altai people have a sense of heightened responsibility for their natural environment. An Altai person is more likely to consider how to protect a sacred spring, rather than what they can gain from it. Our relationship to the natural world is exploitative. We see environmental problems as a threat to our future survival and governments see the problem as one they are prepared to solve at the expense of other nations. In Altai, environmental problems are considered moral, spiritual problems.
The response to the phenomena of earthquakes in Altai caused the native population to consider what might be the causes of disharmony in their own way of life that would have such ramifications for their ecology which contrasts to our reaction in the west and how we externalise the problem and look to governments to find solutions rather than looking to our inner worlds. Interestingly, the Altai people decided that the mass excavation of literally thousands of ancestral burial grounds on sacred land was the main threat to their ecological stability. Their response to the earthquakes is interpreted by academics as being a manifestation of primitive fear before the threatening forces of nature and retribution by the spirit world. But their reaction is actually based on a much more sophisticated world view.
Being ‘pagan’ it appears, involves acknowledging the presence of universal mind in the ether and in every form of the bio-sphere. The acknowledgment of the interconnectedness of all things and the totality of these carefully maintained links between dimensions creates a powerful, harmonizing, energetic force within the whole ecological system. In Altai there are places where this powerful force field can be felt as one might feel the presence of a very charismatic figure in a room. There is a sense that abundance, cultural and aesthetic potential are in the very air, representing a massive resource.
Spiritual values are a necessity for ecological harmony. From this standpoint, far from feeling impotent one can acknowledge one’s own place of responsibility and power as a harmonizing force within the ecological system. It is a saving grace that there still exist cultures in which communities are collectively supporting the biosphere as well as the subtle energies it holds in place. The traditional philosphy of life in Altai goes way beyond the ancient and quaint. ‘Ecological consciousness’ is not just a matter of knowing how many goat one may hunt in a given area in a given season in order for that species to be “sustainable”. It goes beyond the numerical and even beyond the rational use of natural resources.
Firstly, the natural world is honoured as being the source and inspiration for our evolution. In certain unspoilt, inhabited places the energetic links between dimensions are so strong that when one acts inharmoniously with the natural world one very quickly feels the consequences – nature’s backlash. In the west, we may be divorced from nature in that we do not look to her for our values, for the timing, meaning, or measure of our actions but it would be naïve of us to think that we can actually be divorced from nature itself. The only difference is that we have protected ourselves with other routines, systems and structures, that we do not see the direct result of our thoughts and actions within the natural world until something extreme like floods and hurricanes and gobal warming happens on such a scale that it is impossible to see a direct connection between the catastrophe and our own individual lives. Hence we are left at the extreme of coming to terms with the spiritual fiasco of a whole culture.
Secondly, there is awareness of the power and potential of place. I asked the Tengri leader (Tengri is the ancient Turkic religion and Altai is a Turkic people) to explain the indigenous understanding of place and land to me and this metaphor is part of his response. Like the human body, the planet is one living organism and like the body is made up of individual parts each fulfilling its own function for the health of the human being, so different regions on the planet fulfil their own specific function within the overall functioning of the planet. Traditional cultures have preserved within their customs, rituals and spiritual world view the knowledge and secrets specific to a given region that also support its energetic informational field. “…folklore and folk traditions although seeming at times strange, being carefully studied can lead to the discovery of long lost but important secrets of nature.” Blavatsky. It would be ridiculous if the heart were to go to war on the right foot simply for having a different religion, or the stomach were suddenly to decide that it would prefer to reside below the intestines, or that the energetic informational field of the liver could be applied to every other organ in the body. But this is what is happening on the planet.
We can learn from indigenous communities. We can study their ways and apply principles. The United Kingdom has no less spiritual potential than the people of Altai or the American Indians. Our land has no less potential than any other. And the point is of course, that the planet can only be truly healthy when every geographic region is fully supported by the people who inhabit it. Why should we not, at a time of change and renewal, look to the spiritual, ecological, historical and cultural resources of our own native land and ancient traditions in order to understand what the function of our region of the planet might be. In that way we can contribute in resolving current global problems.
It is appalling that indigenous peoples are included in the same categories as flora and fauna in lists of things our grandchildren may never see. Neither can we afford to be emotional about native peoples, joining in a kind of beautiful lament for their passing. It is essential now that we turn to the knowledge of native peoples. “Perhaps in some grand scheme of things we are all connected, we are quorum sensitive to all of life, so that the disappearance of diversity makes us just that little bit less intelligent, flexible, human…on a subliminal level, the mysterious level where the will to go on living resides. Extinction is the symptom.” Robert Twigger. “We are in danger of wiping out a fellow species not because it is dangerous but because we are greedy.” Michael Morpurgo.
We have developed a tendency to perceive nature as the volatile, unpredictable threat to our future existence. ‘Perhaps we could accept the idea of nature as protector, the source of knowledge that can provide the knowledge we require to move through the current impasse. Now is the time for spiritual search, for soul searching and true individuality. “The solution begins with rejecting the lack of diversity in one’s own life, with refusing to accept the small extinctions that are forced on us by our addiction to convenient living. Concern about extinction has a real effect if it encourages us to make our own lives less like every body else’s.” Robert Twigger. Society needs wise individuals capable of breathing new life into our human world and harmonizing our relationships with the worlds of plants, animals and micro-organisms. This, more than half hearted attempts by politicians to reduce carbon emissions, will breathe renewed spiritual life into the Natural World and the Planet as a whole.
It is the ecology of our souls that will lead us to the spiritual ecology we so desperately need. “True health, true vitality and true prosperity for society and nature can only be provided by the inner light that radiates out of the individual himself.” Danil Mamyev.