Nature Mysticism: The Re-Enchantment of the World

Susanne Cook-Greuter and Ken Wilber
November 16th, 2011
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Many of us already know Susanne Cook-Greuter as one of the Integral movement's most beloved scholars and authorities on mature adult development. But it's not all developmental structures and tiers and fulcrums for Susanne. You see, Susanne also has an exquisite, life-long appreciation and reverence for the world of Nature. In this dialogue, Susanne and Ken have some very interesting things to say about the role of Nature as a spiritual teacher, and as a source of mystical state experiences that can irrevocably transform us from the inside out.

Image: Forever by Chris Huang [+view gallery]

Written by Corey W. deVos

Many of us already know Susanne Cook-Greuter as one of the Integral movement's most beloved scholars and authorities on mature adult development, continuing the pioneering work of Jane Loevinger. But for Susanne, it's not all developmental structures and tiers and fulcrums. There is another side to this extraordinary woman, one that wonderfully complements the academic brilliance and acuity she is so well known for. You see, Susanne also has an exquisite, life-long appreciation and reverence for the world of Nature. In this dialogue, Susanne and Ken have some very interesting things to say about the role of Nature as a spiritual teacher and as a source of mystical state experiences—experiences that can irrevocably transform us from the inside out.

As a spiritual teacher, you won't find anyone more indifferent, ruthless, and amoral than Mother Nature. Then again, you won't find anyone quite as vital, honest, or beautiful either. There is an undeniable neutrality running throughout Nature—it's easy to imagine Her quietly laughing to Herself as we try to project our own limited narratives of meaning and morality onto Her, or when we try to imagine ourselves as being somehow separate from the natural world.

For those who care enough to notice, Mother Nature can show us the secrets of Creation itself. They can be found in the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze, in the delicate architecture of a flower, in the feeling of warm sunshine pressing upon your skin. Hearing the voice of Spirit echoing though the natural world, we are led by this timeless music to a place beyond life and death, beyond good and evil, beyond the changing tides of the rational mind. For some, this can feel like complete transcendent union with the entire manifest world, as the seamless interconnection of all things culminates into a singular experience of overwhelming totality. For others, it can feel like a radically focused absorption in some particular detail of manifestation, such as the zig-zag capillaries of a leaf or the unique swirls of your thumbprint.

I was lucky enough to participate in Susanne Cook-Greuter's class on Nature Mysticism at the first Integral Spiritual Experience event. Here is how I described my experience:

"One of my favorite memories with Susanne was walking the California beach with her. It was about six in the morning. Susanne was teaching a class in Nature Mysticism, which itself reminded me of one of the reasons I love this integral movement so much: here was one of our sharpest and most important scholars—a woman with such impressive academic credentials she has already flown 60,000 miles in just six months, teaching at various Integral conferences all around the world—and here she was, teaching a bunch of spiritual seekers how to look at a flower. That is, she was showing us how to find God in every moment, shining through each unique expression of the ordinary.

How miraculous, that we can so take these everyday miracles for granted, that we can walk on God's own face without ever noticing how sacred the ground beneath our feet truly is—whether it's a sandy beach, a concrete sidewalk, or a linoleum floor.

As we walked the beach together, Susanne helped me to see it, hear it, touch and taste and smell it more deeply than I could have ever imagined. So deeply in fact, that for a moment I could recognize that I was not really experiencing anything at all—that is, I was not the center of this experience.

It felt as though the ocean was seeing itself, hearing its own yawns and roars, breathing its own salty sensuality.

I was just a convenient window through which something infinitely greater than myself could momentarily glimpse its own impossible beauty.

As I remember, it was shortly thereafter that the handle to Susanne's walking stick snapped off in her hand. I felt my experience immediately contract, yanked back into my skin—fully rejuvenated and ready to serve. Fixing that walking stick became a personal mission for me, handed down from on high, representing the most direct way I could express my love and devotion to the world, to the sea, and to Susanne.  I felt a overflowing gratitude for Susanne, having helped to show me the undeniable miracle of the ocean; and I was determined to try to return the favor via the undeniable miracle of duct tape."

Max Weber famously describes the transition from the mythic worldview to the rational worldview as the "disenchantment of the world", which means that we can explain the great mysteries of the world as having fully natural causes—as opposed to supernatural causes—thus loosening the grasp of myth and superstition upon our shared knowledge. However, despite the remarkable progress that it brought to the world, the rational worldview can only go so far. Its emphasis upon the empirical measurement and categorization of the natural world allowed a remarkably accurate 3rd-person representation of the world to emerge, but too often our 1st-person experiences of awe, transcendence, and absorption were being minimized, reduced to the epiphenomena of biochemistry, or else left out of the picture altogether. Which is perfectly understandable from an Integral perspective—of course the rational mind couldn't quite figure out what to do with these sorts of first-hand trans-rational experiences, just as it tends to struggle with most varieties of 1st-person experience, states of consciousness, and transpersonal realms of existence. In fact, when it comes to the Integral movement as a whole, we could say that one of our most important objectives is to bring these dimensions of experience back into the fold, allowing us to converse freely and intelligently about the continued importance of spirituality, and to make the transition from a disenchantment with pre-rational interpretations of the world, to a loving re-enchantment of the trans-rational.

 

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