Paul Thomas Maiteny
Why are we humans so cruel and destructive to each other, other species & the ecosystem; and what might our human role be as members of the ecosystemic body? Since childhood, these question have informed my life and work - in ecological education and habitat management, research in ecological anthropology & organisational behaviour (UCL, Oxford & Open Universities), & psychospiritual therapy practice integrating ecological & transpersonal understanding. My teaching includes Transpersonal Ecopsychology & Psychotherapy, Education for Sustainability (since 1995) & Psychotherapy Research. My ecopsychology & anthropology research focuses on psychocultural causes, consequences & possible transformation of ecological breakdown, especially clues to these contained within spiritualreligious traditions. Publications include: Ancestral warnings of ecosystemic holocaust, its psychospiritual causes, and clues to resolution (Self & Society) Longing to be Human: evolving ourselves in healing the Earth (Rust & Totton ed. Vital Signs), Finding Meaning without Consuming, Psychotherapy as an Eco-Systemic Activity (The Psychotherapist, Winter 2008/9).
Person+Planet: basic choices & perennial clues for meaningful healing
We humans have been warning ourselves for millennia that living by priorities that consume & assimilate planet Earth to ourselves would generate the ecosystemic holocaust we are now experiencing. Ecological language & imagery were not available millennia ago. Prophets & sages used other language, & for clues to the emotional & spiritual evolution necessary for us to discern our true niche in the ecosystem, & align our lives to it. Unwilling to hear their warnings, we have persecuted them, ignoring our capacity to hear them – to know we are participants in thetrans-personal, contextual ecosystem on which we depend, & to find meaning in life by discerning our roles within it, behaving accordingly.
Instead, we prefer to see the ecosystem as a resource for ourselves. A traditional word for this selforientated dynamic is ‘idolatry’, self-worship. Its result is to destroy the bigger Body of which we are actually members, and on which we inescapably depend.
I will explain how this contradictory dynamic is rooted in an instinctive orientation towards growth & selfinterest in pursuit of well-being, satisfaction and meaningful life. It explains psycho-cultural reasons why this natural urge for survival, shared with other species, ends up inverting ecological necessities, with catastrophic consequences, when it is the long-term driver of the human.
Transpersonal-religious traditions have highlighted two basic orientations to life – consumptive and contextualizing. The first points to dis-integration - the ‘klippotic tree of death’, the second to the harmony of parts and the ‘Tree of Life’. The route to both is via the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. Life or death depends upon our individual & collective free choices – of emotional-cultural priorities, aims & purposes, and according to which of these we apply our knowledge.
The challenge to all of us is more urgent now than ever.