‘A Review and Comparison of the Recent Writings of Iain McGillchrist, Bill Plotkin amd David Abram’ by Don Hills

 In what follows I have tried to glean the essence of these author’s understanding of the ‘pluses and minuses’ of Western culture, as it has evolved to date. Their respective highly imaginative, well researched and readable tomes –  The Master and his Emissary (2009) by Iaian McGilchrist, Nature and the Human Soul(2008) by Bill Plotkin, and Becoming Animal (2010) by David Abram – have each inspired and challenged my own world view, as well as day to day living guidelines. I’ve gathered my thoughts under three main headings – some important background information, theoretical structure of their main work, and its relevance to life today.

Background information.
It’s very important to look carefully at where these three authors are coming from, in grasping their respective messages to the world in which we live.

McGilchrist.
 Very helpful in understanding his background, is the interview he gave earlier this year (Feb 2010) to Frontier Psychiatrist on the Internet. The first question he was asked was about his change of tack, from being a scholar of English literature to doctor, and then to psychiatrist. Said Iain “Much as I loved working with literature, I began to see that the explicit approach to a work of art, which the critical process demanded, was inherently unsatisfactory. It substituted something abstract, cerebral and generalised for an entity, the whole purpose of which was to lead us into the opposite direction. The encounter between the work of art – the poem or whatever – and ourselves was not like dealing with an object, more like the encounter of two people, each unique, each embodied, each an indissoluble whole that could only be mis-represented by examining its parts.”

Iain then looked at the mind-body problem from a practical point of view, concluding “I thought I ought to train in medicine and find out for myself, in a more embodied way, what it was like when things went wrong with people’s brains and bodies, and how that affected their minds. So I wrote a book about my concerns called Against Criticism and went off to study medicine. Then after a brief spell of neurology, I went to the Maudsley to train as a psychiatrist.”  His comments on why he moved from medicine into psychiatry are also revealing – “When I was a House Physician, I remember there were all these patients who came in with chest pain. Of course we did ECGs and cardiac enzymes  – but no luck…..I remember working for the Professor of Medicine: the tests we were supposed to send for, all done on one page of A4 and half-way down the next. But no-one thought of….sitting down with them and asking about their lives, their families etc. And when I was House Surgeon it was the same, except the problem now was abdominal pain. But the same picture – loads of tests, drips, and invasive procedures: zero insight into the most common cause of abdominal pain. The psyche….”

Finally, what about his move from the NHS into private psychiatric practice, and authorship of The Master and his Emissary? “I never foresaw”, he said, “that I would end up working privately – I was completely committed to the ideal of the NHS; and to this day I do not have health insurance myself. But I could not ignore what was happening. I felt deskilled working as a psychiatrist in the NHS. A largely politically motivated, and in my view deeply mistaken, drive to marginalize the role of the psychiatrist, and with it the skills of diagnosis and appropriate treatment, has been disastrous….far too little patient contact. On top of that, I wanted freedom to be in control of my time and the way in which I worked. I knew I wanted to write the book that became The Master and his Emissary and I knew that there was no way I could do that unless I could choose to work as I do now, fitting a normal week’s work into three very long days (during which, incidentally I get as much clinical contact as I would have done in weeks in the NHS.) This gives me a fighting chance of spending the intercalated days in the library and on research.’

Plotkin.
Bill is a depth psychologist, guide of wilderness rites, ecotherapist, author and speaker. As the founder of Animas Valley Institute (Colorado) he has, since 1981, led thousands of people through nature-based initiatory passages, including a contemporary, Western adaptation of the pan-cultural Vision Quest. Previously he had been a research psychologist, psychotherapist, rock musician, white water river guide, and mountain bike racer. His doctorate in psychology was from the University of Colorado. A seminal moment in his life, in 1979, was making a solo winter ascent of the Adirondack mountain, on the summit of which he experienced what Joseph Campbell called the ‘call to adventure’, that led him to abandon academia in search of his true calling.

The Animas Valley Institute’s mission is ‘to help people become more fully human by uncovering the mysteries of their souls – their unique way of belonging and contributing to this world – and by deepening and broadening their intimacy with the wild earth.’ This organisation ‘envisions a world in which inspired youth, true adults, and wise elders work together to create an eco-centric, just, and deeply imaginative society.’ It supports the ideals of the Great Work (Thomas Berry) and the Great Turning (Joanna Macy) by aiming to ‘assist people to become visionary leaders and artisans of cultural change.’

Abram.
Perhaps the clearest way of grasping David’s background is this quote from the jacket cover of his latest book, ‘Becoming Animal’:

‘David Abram is a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher who lectures and teaches widely on several continents. Named by Utne Reader as one of the one hundred visionaries transforming the world, he received a Lannan Literary Award for his earlier book, The Spell of the Sensuous. Director of theAlliance for Wild Ethics (AWE), Abram is an accomplished storyteller and sleight-of-hand magician who has lived and traded magic with indigenous medicine persons in Asia and the Americas. He resides with his family in northern New Mexico.’

He holds a special place in the hearts of the GreenSpirit movement for his inspiring contribution to the 2004 Annual Gathering at Leicester University. For those of us present, it was a kind of ‘threshold’ through which we passed in the development of our own eco-spiritual vision. His book ‘Becoming Animal’ promises to do? for our movement in a literary way, what he did for us by his presence among us atLeicester, six years ago.

Theoretical structure of major work

McGilchrist.
 Iain’s interest in the divided brain arose from Bogen and Sperry’s work in the 1960’s and ‘70s. They found that the right and left hemispheres interpret and create the world differently, with different modes of attention, priorities and values. But according to Iain, the early work didn’t prosper because researchers were looking for different ‘functions’ for the two halves, as if the brain were a machine with a lot of little specialised modules. Over time it was discovered that each ‘function’ was carried out in both hemispheres, and so people gave up looking for a real difference. For Iain in his study of neurology, this was obviously a false conclusion, bearing in mind the objective differences in the shape, size, neuronal architecture, neurochemistry and neuropsychology of the two hemispheres. “What I began to see,” he said in the interview with Frontier Psychiatrist “with John Cutting’s work on the right hemisphere was that the difference lay not in what they do, but how they do it.” Thus:

–          the right is capable of appreciating ambiguity, the implicit and the metaphorical, where the left tends to require certainty, the explicit and the literal,

–          the right sees the broad context and the world as a seamless whole, interconnected with itself, where the left focusses on detail and produced a lot of separate fragments,

–          the right is far more capable of understanding new information, while the left deals with the already known,

–          the right sees individuals, where the left sees categories,

–          the right realises the importance of what is intuitive and embodied (see below), where the left prioritises abstraction and rationality (rather than reason, to which both hemispheres need to contribute).”

For Iain, all of this ‘illuminated problems in the nature of human thought and experience that I had struggled with all my life, and which had been brought into focus by my study of literature.’

So where then, for him, lies the importance of the natural world? It comes through, I suggest, in his use of the term ‘embodied’. In the final chapter of The Master and his Emissary Iain notes:

‘There has, in my view, been a tendency (in the West) to discount and marginalize the importance of our embodied nature, as if it were incidental about us, rather than essential to us: our very thinking, never mind our feeling, is bound up with our embodied nature….so does the converse, that the material world is not wholly distinct from consciousness in some way that remains elusive.’ (p.439).

However, he does see some light in this puzzle when considering Oriental culture:

‘The pattern of psychological differences between Oriental people and Westerners suggests the possibility of a different relationship between the hemispheres……The sharp dichotomy in our culture between the ways of being of the two hemispheres, which began in Ancient Greece, does not appear to exist in the same way in Oriental culture: their experience of the world is still effectively grounded in that of the right hemisphere’ (p. 452). He then comes to the point:

‘The recognition (in Japan, for example) of absolute significance within the phenomenal world relates to the traditional Japanese love of nature. Shizen, the Japanese word for nature, also links it clearly to the right hemisphere way of thinking…..Everything about the Japanese attitude to nature, expressed both in mythology and in everyday life, suggests an attitude of mutual trust, dependence and interrelationship between man and nature.’ (p.453). Apparently shizen also refers to the ‘natural self’ – considered as a physical, spiritual and moral being.

Iain also points out that a famous Japanese anthropologist, Iwata, argues that amongst the Japanese as well as most southeast Asian people, whether formally Buddhist or Christian, there exists an ‘intuition’ (Iain’s term) of animism.

‘Everything surrounding human life, including mountains, hills, rivers, plants, trees, animals, fish and insects, has its own spirit (kami), and these spirits communicate with one another, as well as with those who live there……natural things cannot, therefore, be seen by them as merely objects, as in Western science.’ (p.453).

After considering the available evidence, Iain concludes that ‘the East Asian cultures use strategies of both hemispheres more evenly, while Western strategies are steeply skewed towards the left hemisphere. In other words, the Emissary appears to work in harmony with the Master in the East, but is in the process of usurping him in the West’! (p. 458).

NB. As further evidence for Japan’s green credentials, see the article by Chamberlain and Polley, ‘Being Green in Japan’ in the Spring 2010 GreenSpirit Journal.

Plotkin
Of our three major authors, Bill’s theoretical structure is easily the most detailed and worked through. The publishers of his book Nature and the Human Soul actually call it ‘A Manifesto for Personal and Cultural Transformation’ and we are told that the book ‘addresses the pervasive longing for meaning and fulfilment at this time of crisis’ and that it ‘introduces a visionary ecopsychology of human development that reveals how fully and creatively we can mature when soul and wild nature guide us.’ His manifesto/model is based on three premises:

1.      That a more mature human society requires more mature human individuals.

2.      That nature (including our own deeper nature, soul) has always provided, and still provides the best template for human maturation.

3.      That every human being has a unique and mystical relationship to the wild world, and that the conscious discovery and cultivation of that relationship is at the core of true adulthood.

Regarding this ‘maturity’, Bill tells us:

‘Western civilization has buried most of (its) mystical roots, yet this knowledge has been at the heart of every indigenous tradition known to us, past and present, including those from which our own societies emerged’ (p 3).

He goes on to say that his book is basically asking the question – ‘what do the stages of modern human development look like when we grow, in each stage,  with nature and soul as our primary guides?’ His answer is an eight-stage model which shows ‘how we can take root in a childhood of innocence and wonder; sprout into an adolescence of creative fire and mystery-probing adventures; blossom into an authentic adulthood of cultural artistry and visionary leadership; and finally ripen into a seed-scattering elderhood of wisdom, grace, and the holistic tending of the more-than-human world.’ (p 5). He describes his model as ‘ecocentric’ in two respects:

1.      The eight life stages are arrayed around a nature-based circle (as opposed to Western style linearity). Beginning and ending in the east and proceeding clockwise (sunwise), the stages and their attributes are based primarily on the qualities found in the four seasons, or possibly on the four times of the day.

2.      The developmental task that characterises each stage has a nature-oriented dimension, as well as a more familiar (to us) culture-oriented dimension. Bill gives the example of the nature task in middle childhood as learning the enchantment of the natural world through absorbing outdoor activities, while the cultural task is learning the social practices, values, knowledge, history, mythology and cosmology of our family and culture. However, the tragedy in ‘industrial growth society’ is that we have ‘either minimised, suppressed, or entirely ignored’ the nature task in the first three stages of infancy through to early adolescence. For Bill this results in ‘an adolescence so out of sync with nature, that most people never mature further.’ (p 5)

Among the many impressive features of his work is the sheer slog he has engaged in over twenty-five years of developing his model, balancing theory and practice all the way. And he is very careful to define his terms as he goes – for example, he gives a detailed treatment of his concepts of ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, and ‘ego’, and their interaction, in chapter 2. He could, I suppose be accused of over-doing the analytical dimension, but there is no denying his long years working as a wilderness guide and engaging in ecotherapy, as well as the setting up of the Animas Valley Institute – all feeding into his very grounded spirituality.

Abram
Like Spell of the Sensuous before it, Becoming Animal is a beautifully written, almost poetic book, full of the richness, mystery and enchantment of the material world. In fact it’s not just about ‘becoming animal’, for David also has chapters on Shadow, House, Wood and Stone. For me, it’s a book about embodiment in the most profound sense. Where the animal side comes in has to do with his ability to ‘draw readers ever deeper into their animal senses’, as the blurb on the inside of the front cover tells us, ‘in order to explore, from within, the elemental kinship between the body and the breathing Earth.’ But even then, the material world has its own animate sense: consider this startling passage from his chapter on Reciprocity:

‘Wander over to that oak, or to a maple, or a sycamore; reach out your hand to feel the surface of a single, many-pointed leaf between your thumb and fingers. Note the coolness of that leaf against your skin, the veined texture your fingertips discover as they roam across it. But notice, too, another slightly different sensation: that you are also being touched by the tree. That the leaf itself is gently exploring your fingers, its pores sampling the chemistry of your skin, feeling the smooth and bulging texture of your thumb, even as the thumb moves upon it.’  He then concludes:

‘Such reciprocity is the very structure of perception. We experience the sensuous world only by rendering ourselves vulnerable to that world. Sensory perception is this ongoing interweavement: the terrain enters into us, only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be taken up within that terrain.’ (p58).

Later chapters delve into the more complex worlds of mind, mood and language, stepping finally into ‘the natural magic of perception itself, exploring the willed alteration of our senses, and the wild transformation of the sensuous, addressing magic and shape shifting and the metamorphosis of culture’. (p 8). This is David at his most enigmatic and mystical, perhaps most revealing when he discusses the mind/body relationship, including mind’s relationship with nature. He simply cannot accept that mind is an exclusive property of humans, and in a life-changing journey he walks away from his college, out onto the New England highway, thumbs his way to the Rockies and enters his wilderness experience, as described in this memorable passage:

‘As my legs carried me past the last of the phone lines and into the thick of the forest, as the shadows deepened and the exclusively human world fell behind me, a great remembering shuddered through my muscles, as though a soul long buried were striding to the surface…I found myself sliding through a vast array of feelings and moods, following thoughts as they meandered and fed into other insights and knowings…..It was there in that solitude, that I first noticed how the drift of my thoughts was instilled and steadily carried by subtle alterations in the landscape….

‘The ways of mind seemed more manifold and mysterious here than I’d ever realised. I was beginning to glimpse a complex array of images for mind itself, visible patterns of mental process far more fitting than the neurological categories and mechanical descriptions I’d been inundated by in my psychology classes. Here, all around me, was a field of patterned metaphors as precise as one could want for the dynamic life of the psyche’.  (pps 111 to 113).

Describing in great detail how he came to the realisation of the ubiquitous quality of mind as being at the heart of all life, David exclaims:

‘Mind, here in this high valley suspended beneath the blue, seems a vast thing, open and at ease. The thoughts that soar into view, the sedimented knowings, the bright blossoms of sensation are all held, here, within an accompanying equilibrium, permeated by a silence that wells and breathes with the cycles of light.’ (p 113).

He concludes: ‘Sentience never was our private possession. We live immersed in intelligence, enveloped and informed by a creativity we cannot fathom.’  (p 129)

Relevance to life today
Each of our three authors has a large claim on our attention, bearing in mind the lengthy and highly committed nature of their respective careers, in seeking the ‘betterment’ of human society in relation to the needs of the natural world.

Ian McGilchrist, for example, has progressively worked himself into a position of being able to combine vital research on the divided brain, with seeing patients in some depth, and communicating his ideas in writing – as supremely with The Master and his Emissary. His telling message is that we have allowed our culture to drift far out of balance between hemispheres, becoming virtually a’ left brain society’ immersed in materialism and shallow thinking. He believes it is in the areas of religion, art and our attitude towards nature (all right brain activities), where we particularly display our lack of creative thinking and action. Bill Plotkin comes to a similar conclusion, especially with our attitude to nature. For him we need to ‘deepen and broaden our intimacy with the wild earth’. And David Abram, as we have seen in the previous section, with his remarkable ideas about the vital importance of ‘becoming animal’, firmly believes that we need a total transformation in our relationship with the living land.
DO OUR AUTHORS SEE ANY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?

  1. McGilchrist.
    Iain concedes that the theme of his book may seem pessimistic, but does, nevertheless see some reasons for hope. For example, he sees some ‘small indications’ that our society is ‘urgently moving on from our current, limiting preconceptions about the nature of physical existence, spiritual life and art’. (p. 445 of The Master). Oddly enough, he finds another reason for hope in that ‘however much the LH sees progress as a straight line, it is rarely so in the real world’. It’s the ‘very circularity of things’ that is important, and in a detailed section of the Conclusion (pps 446 to 449) he compares linear progression with circularity.  The LH’s very cognitive style is sequential – taking bits apart or putting them together, one by one. And it’s always reaching forward with a utilitarian end in mind.

By contrast, says Iain, ‘no straight lines are to be found in the natural world’ and the shape that is suggested by the processing of the RH is that of the circle, and ‘in the round’ is the phrase we use for something that is seen as a whole, and in depth. In a very appealing aside on this idea, he notes that ‘cognition in the RH is not a process of something coming into being through adding piece to piece in a sequence, but of something that is out of focus coming into focus, as a whole’.( p447). He goes on, as discussed above, to talk about what we can learn from oriental culture – especially the Japanese love of nature – and how our far eastern cousins seemed to have achieved a healthy balance between the hemispheres. Iain doesn’t (anywhere that I can see) predict which cultural orientation will ‘win out’ in the end, but does make the useful point that ‘the obvious inauthenticity of the LH world we have come to inhabit, may in itself lead us to seek to change it.’ (p. 449)

  1. Plotkin.
    Bill has devoted a whole chapter  (‘The Eyes of the Future’) of Nature and the Human Soul to looking for any signs of the ‘personal and cultural transformation’ he so earnestly desires. At first sight it seems impossible, given that his ‘Wheel of Soulcentric Human Development’ requires ‘an intact, vital, eco-soulcentric commuity, a village in which people of all stages and ages interact daily’ (p443). He notes that the Tuareg people of the Sahara give just a glimpse of this, and somewhat wryly suggests that ‘in the modern world, there’s mostly an inverse relationship between individual human development and the so-called development, or industrialisation, of what are thought of as poorer, ‘undeveloped countries’. However, he is pleased to note that ‘individual development and socio-economic development need not be opposed, as reported by Helena Norberg-Hodge in her work with people of Ladakh, a high altitude Himalayan desert province:

‘Ladakh ..is a place of few resources and extreme climate. Yet, for more than a thousand years, it has been home to a thriving culture. Traditions of frugality and cooperation, coupled with an intimate and location-specific knowledge of the environment, enabled the Ladakhis not only to survive, but prosper.’ In spite of some unhealthy ‘development’ inputs from the West into Ladakh, Helen and her colleagues have shown that ‘some kinds of technological and economic development can enhance, or at least be compatible with healthy individual and cultural development, e.g. solar greenhouses, solar heating systems for homes, water and cooking, photovoltaic power for lighting, micro-hydro-electric and small wind turbines, and a seed-saving programme.’ (pps 449-50).

Having then introduced the vexed question of global climate change, with its deep need for global cultural change, Bill asks if the necessary changes are possible, and somewhat enigmatically replies – ‘NO, but let’s not let that stop us…’! He then goes on in his final section of the book, ‘Impossible Dreams’, to answer the conundrum of how to make the impossible possible. In the first place, says Bill, this apparent dilemma has always existed. For example, when 2 billion years ago the eukaryotes learned how to metabolise oxygen, giving rise to breath itself. Or the miracle of the emergence of human life itself.

So, Bill’s ‘soul-centric society’ may look impossible, given the generally ecological immaturity of most adult humans. But undeterred, Bill tells us – ‘at this critical hour, any dream worth its salt oughtto seem impossible to mainstream society, and to the mainstream elements of our own minds…. But if alternatively, you look at the miracles – moments of grace – throughout the known history of the universe, it will dawn on you that there is, and has always been, an intelligence or imagination at work much greater than our conscious human minds. Given that we cannot rule out a moment of grace acting through us in this century, we have no alternative but to proceed as if we ourselves in fact can make the difference.’ (p457).

  1. Abram
    David’s hopes for a better ecological future seem to be built on something not immediately obvious to us in western societies. Yes, we can see that the perceived world of today is ‘everywhere filtered and transformed by technology, altered by countless tools that interpose themselves between ourselves and the sensuous’. But, says David, ‘it is less common to suggest that there’s a wildness that still reigns underneath all these mediations – that our animal senses, co-evolved with the animate landscape, are still tuned to the many voiced earth. Our creaturely body, shaped in ongoing reaction with the other bodies that comprise the biosphere, remains poised and thirsting for contact with otherness. Cocooned in a clutch of technologies, the nervous system that seethes within our skin still thirsts for a relatively unmediated exchange with reality in all its more-than-human multiplicity and weirdness.’ (p 264).

David does acknowledge that ‘there can be no complete abolishment of mediation, no pure unadulterated access to the real’ – the languages we’ve evolved are themselves ‘a kind of filter that mediates our experience.’ But nevertheless ‘some ways of speaking are more abstract than others, and some are more permeable to the hoofed and scaly shapes that fly and slither through the sensible surroundings’. Moreover, ‘there are other, older discourses whose sounds still carry the lilt of local songbirds, languages whose meanings are less removed from the intimacy of antler and seed and leaf. Such languages live more on the tongue than on the page or screen.’ And, for David ‘Non-written, oral languages are far more transparent, allowing things and beings of the world to shine through the skein of terms and to touch us more directly.’ (pps 264 and 265)

As an encouragement to persist with what he calls ‘the real in its wonder’, he reminds us ‘although such states may feel peculiar to the modern intellect, it is worth recalling that we all have our indigenous ancestry, and indeed that our hunter-gatherer heritage is by far the largest part of our human intelligence. Human culture was itself born in a thoroughly oral context, informed by songs and spoken stories for many tens of thousands of years before any such stories were preserved in a formal writing system. So while the intensely participatory, or animistic frame of mind common to oral cultures may seem odd to us, it is hardly alien: it is the very form of awareness that shaped all human communication for better than 95% of our cultured presence within the biosphere. It is that modality of experience to which the human organism is most closely adapted, the mode of consciousness that has most deeply defined our imagination and our intelligence. We could never have survived, as a species, without our propensity for animistic engagement with every aspect of our earthly habitat.’ (pps 266 and 267).

This highly adaptive style of experience has lain mostly dormant in the modern era, David is saying, but is still only just under the surface of our shallow culture – WE CAN AND MUST recover it if we are to stop being a curse on this beloved planet, and start to once more becoming simply a part of its amazing ecological beauty and balance.

Conclusion.

I stated at the outset that each of the three authors have both inspired and challenged my world view, as well as day-to-day living guidelines. So perhaps it is fitting that I conclude by outlining these effects on my life and thinking. I am tempted to simplify things by saying that McGilchrist has influenced me most in the area of MIND, Plotkin in the area of BODY, and Abram in the area of SPIRIT. Stated thus forthrightly, it is certainly a gross over-simplification, and yet such an assertion is probably a good starting point.

With McGilchrist, for example, I have been deeply impressed by his demonstration of the actuality of qualities I value highly – ambiguity, the implicit, the metaphorical, the interconnectedness of everything, the intuitive and the embodied. In fact he surprised himself as he increasingly found the illumination of ‘problems in the nature of human thought’ he had struggled with all his life. His suggestion of the prevalence of left-brain thinking in the West has sent a powerful message to me as to how much I have personally ‘absorbed’ this obsession with materialist mindsets. It is interesting that although the mind-brain question is not the subject of the book, he does offer his own view in his Introduction (pps 19-20). At one level he sees the mind as ‘the brain’s experience of itself’ leading to the idea that ‘the brain necessarily gives structure to the mind’, but he then quickly acknowledges that it is futile to debate whether consciousness is a product of the brain, or vice-versa. He leaves us with the inexplicable mystery of the interworkings between mind, brain and consciousness, something I have come value as I have aged (and hopefully matured). It leaves scope for the intuitive, imaginative aspects of daily living. I awake each day to the immense possibilities and challenges it offers.

With Plotkin we are in very different territory. His ‘eight life stages’ are heavily grounded in nature-oriented dimensions, and our mystical relationship to the ‘wild world’. Just as we need to respect and value the natural world, so we need to do the same with our own bodies. He is looking for ‘an eco-centric, just and deeply imaginative society’. As I look through his eight life stages, I have to acknowledge how far short I fall in many areas, and yet, strangely I don’t feel disheartened. I can see that I am in no sense completely stuck at the ‘early adolescent stage, so common in Western society. What I find really helpful is that Bill gives quite specific suggestions about the tasks and challenges at each stage, buttressed by the gifts and blessings that can accompany our journey if we yield to the ‘moments of grace’ that come to us all.

As for Plotkin’s influence on my world  view, I go back to the essence of his vision – that nature provides the best template for human maturation; that ‘every human being has a unique and mystical relationship to the wild world, and that the conscious discovery and cultivation of that relationship is at the core of true adulthood’. This gives me hope that, however immature in ecopsychological terms, any individual has it within him/her to ‘grow up’!

And as we have already seen with Abram, David strongly believes that ‘our animal senses, co-evolved with the animate landscape, are still tuned to the many voiced earth’. Having read his latest book, I cannot go outside my front door without his challenging words ‘we experience the sensuous world only by rendering ourselves vulnerable to that world’ ringing in my ears’. As I said above – for me, ‘Becoming Animal’ is a book about embodiment, literally as well as metaphorically. This is a concept that unites our three authors:

–         McGilchrist warns us about the ‘tendency (in the West) to discount and marginalize the importance of our embodied nature, as if it were incidental about us, rather than essential to us’. For him, our very thinking, as well as feeling, is bound up with our embodied nature. It is our right hemispheres which enables this vital perception to reach our conscious minds.

–          In a charming passage from ‘Nature and the Human Soul’, Plotkin tells us: ‘the body is an essential realm of the enchanted world. Its thorough exploration, befriending, and celebration with the child’s own hands, eyes, nose, ears, tongue, thought, emotions, imagination, and movement is natural and essential for healthy development….’

–          And, of course, David’s book is just replete with the intensity of his immersion in the ‘wild world ‘. As Joanna Macy said of it: ‘It’s teachings leap off the page and translate immediately into lived experience. Shaking us free from the prisons of our mental constructions. ‘Becoming Animal’ brings us home to ourselves as living organs of this wild planet’.

Although, then,  McGilchrist, Plotkin and Abram, are giving us substantial separate accounts of, respectively, mind, body and spirit, their thoughts coalesce and intermingle freely and imaginatively. They are indeed separate rivers flowing into the mighty ocean of the All.