Social Ecology and Me

I recently had a paper accepted in The Journal of Environmental Education, that develops an original model of education based on Murray Bookchin’s theory of social ecology. During the peer-review process, I came into contact with the work of Stuart Hill, who was the Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney. Under his leadership, social ecology has four inter-related domains: the personal, social, ecological, and spiritual/unknown, of which, according to Hill, the personal is the most important. My original manuscript only made reference to the social and ecological domains, but through the peer-review process, I expanded it to include some personal elements, and thereby greatly improved the paper.

I considered this the best of the peer-review process, not only because it improved the paper, which is what it’s supposed to do, but because I was made to see a yawning gap in not only my model and understanding of social ecology, but in my personal life as well. Since reading Christopher Wylie’s MindF*ck, I’ve had a growing interest in psychology, and I put it on my agenda to begin systematically familiarising myself with any psychological literature that may contribute to the development of my PhD and related work. Adding a personal domain to social ecology is just what I needed to do this. But on an even more personal level, I hope that it will help me to deepen my relationships with others, which often seem pretty shallow to me, by helping me to understand others on their own personal levels, just as I come to understand myself on mine.

As for the last domain, the spiritual/unknown, yesterday I was at the beach, just after recovering from the flu, and, for no reason at all, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I had just read in Bessel van der Kolk‘s book, The Body Keeps the Score, that agency begins with interoception (p. 97), our subtle feelings of our own bodies, and that the greater our awareness of these feelings, the greater the chance we can control our lives. van der Kolk goes on to urge readers to hone their interoception, and become familiar with those inner, body-based feelings. As I stood on the beach, I tried to do just that, and figure out what my internal feelings were. After a minute or two, the best I could come up with was: awe. I felt a sense of awe, at the ocean’s grandeur and the panorama of the beach. I suppose this was not interoception as it was not strictly body-based, but my feeling of awe, it seems, was a reflection of what was going on around me, and an expression of the fourth domain in Hill’s social ecology: the spiritual/unknown.

I’m not usually one to talk much about spirituality, so I will leave off now but for one last thought: standing in awe on the beach, I realised that the word ‘awe’ is actually an example of onomatopoeia, and is meant to be pronounced, not shortly in the mouth, but deeply from within the body: ‘Aaaaawwwwe’.