Earth & Body

Blogpost #1

In this series of blog posts, our goal is to have a conversation with the concepts of trauma and ecotheology and ecophilosophy. According to Leonardo Boff, ecology can be seen as “the study of the interrelationship of all living and nonliving systems among themselves and with their environment.”¹ Therefore, “a living creature cannot be seen in isolation as a mere representative of its species.”² The intersection of trauma and ecology is then also a study of the interconnectedness of bodies: the body of the Earth and all it contains, the human body and bodies of communities, and the Spirit or the Body of God.

In Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, the impact of trauma on the somatic body, or the visceral experience of human living, is thoroughly engaged.³ Admittedly, van der Kolk generally addresses the body in terms of neuroscience. The message is clear: trauma reshapes the brain and the body — it is remembered even when language fails to retell. He does discuss his findings within the larger social context. Yet, his work does not engage the natural world directly, neither our disconnection from it or the healing that can be gained through it. Nonetheless, we believe that his work on the body can be discussed in relation to and reinterpreted in light of ecology.

Van der Kolk relates what his former professor at Harvard noted, “healing, he told us, depends on experiential knowledge: you can be fully in charge of your life only if you can acknowledge the reality of your body, in all its visceral dimensions.”⁴

Given this reality, we are beginning by asking, “what does it mean to acknowledge the reality of our bodies, not as isolated entities, but as affecting and being affected by the natural environment(s) in which we live?

Further questions emerge from this: “If humans have evolved for thousands of years as an interconnected part of the natural world, how has disconnection from it caused trauma and/or further traumatized individuals and communities?”

“If the ‘body keeps the score’, as van der Kolk argues, then in what ways are our bodies prevented from accessing the truths they hold due to limited access and interaction with natural environments?”

We also want to begin to explore the concept of the body of the earth . If we are moving toward an interdependent view of the self, then it would allow us to consider the earth as a body to care for as well. Boff contends that the original people of the earth (i.e. indigenous or native) saw the earth not just a means for production but as an “extension of life and the body.”⁵ Perhaps, the earth’s body is ‘keeping the score’ as well. In what ways have we harmed the body of the earth, to our own detriment?

Moreover, theological considerations are important here. Boff writes, “the ecological view of the cosmos emphasizes God’s immanence. God is seen to be involved without being merged into them.” Taking a panentheistic view, Boff describes this as “God in all and all in God.” While God is distinct from the material world, the Divine is not merely the creator but also the “Spirit of the world.”⁶ This Spirit dwells in the cosmos, sharing in its developments and pains, holding the interrelationship of living and non-living systems together.

With this in mind, separation from the material world causes further trauma as it prevents a primary way of relating to the Divine. And in harming the body of the earth, we also harm the Spirit of the world.

If the natural world was viewed in this way, would we treat it in the same as we do currently?

Finally, while theological and philosophical musings are essential to this conversation, it must also be noted that both the topics of trauma and ecology are practical. Boff writes, “the earth is ill.”⁷ And those that are most affected by this sickness are the poorest of the world. These questions raised cannot be only for those who are minimally affected by the earth’s illness. They must be for those who are the most vulnerable — both people and those species that are near extinction. And if we are all in interrelationship with each other, as one suffers so do all. The hope might then be a movement towards a collective, interconnected healing.

Endnotes:

  1. Leonard Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997), 3.
  2. Ibid., 3.
  3. Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (London: Penguin, 2014).
  4. Ibid., 27.
  5. Boff, Cry of the Earth, 125.
  6. Ibid., 152.
  7. Ibid., 1.

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