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Submitted Literature

Nature as Mirror: Ecology of Body, Mind, and Soul

By Stephanie Sorrell

Review

REVIEW BY TERRY BURRIDGE 

 

I came to this book with some scepticism. I am wary of books that, to me at least, smack of New Agei-ism. Be that Angels, Fairies, Crystal Healing, or Eco Spirituality. My reservation is that so many of these philosophies/ practices seem to make claims that have no real evidence base. So I came to Sorrell’s book with a degree of ambivalence. I was sceptical but nonetheless quite willing to have my scepticism challenged. I like the idea that mankind is part of the natural order. That we are as involved in the eco systems of our planet as are cats, dogs, microbes etc. and that as the highest form of life on our planet we have a greater responsibility to care for it than , say, my dog.

I also like the idea that caring for our environment might also be a spiritual task. That a sense of connectedness to “Mother Earth” brings with it a sense of wonder at the very least. (It is very difficult to look at a sunrise or sunset without encountering a sense of the numinous. Similarly when one sees pictures of tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and the like there is always a feeling of how powerful nature is. And how helpless man can be in the face of nature’s raw power.)

But the difficulty with language like this is in defining meaning. What does “spiritual” mean in this context? The OED offers a  range of meanings “”Of, pertaining to, affecting or concerning the spirit or higher moral qualities... characterised by a high degree of refinement of thought or feeling… clever, smart or witty.” (Shorter Oxford English dictionary: 1973) What does Sorrell mean when she speaks of spirituality? It sounds pedantic to ask for a definition but it is this looseness of thought that runs through Sorrell’s book. She makes statements like “Communications are flowering on the non-technological front too. In the New Age milieu, orbs, earth healing and accompanying angels are blossoming.”(p.80). What does one make of such a statement? And what does it have to do with me? And why should I be remotely interested? She makes no attempt to link this statement with anything-except that it occurs in the context of a chapter called “Late Spring: Blossoming” where she tells us that “The wonderful thing about blossoming is that it is not just for us. It is for the world. Blossoming is an act of service. Everyone enjoys being showered by blossom, everyone notices… It is pure darshan to be in the presence of anyone in blossom. It is like being a caterpillar in the presence of a butterfly” (p.79) What does this mean? Is Sorrell suggesting that in some odd, anthropomorphic way, a caterpillar looks longingly at a butterfly wishing that it could swop places?

In the chapter “The Tree as Model” she writes “Flower-power generation parents often birth children that are very grounded and immersed in the material world as they learn from the mistakes / inbalances their parents made” (p.43). Again what does one make of such a statement? Presumably the children of flower power parents are as diverse a group as the children of any other set of parents. No doubt some flower power offspring are “very grounded in the material world” (whatever that means). But one assumes that a large number are not. So what is Sorrell trying to say here?

 

It is these sorts of phrases that are exasperating. Rather like candy floss. It looks solid until one tries to eat it. Then it disappears into nothing but a sticky, sweet aftertaste in the mouth. There is nothing substantial about it. I found much of “Nature as Mirror” to be like eating candy floss. It seemed to hold out the promise of something substantial and nourishing but ended up being nothing more than a sweet confection.

Where it seems to me that Sorrell does write well is in her thinking about what nature came to mean for her. She tells us that her father suffered from depression and committed suicide whilst her mother had a succession of psychotic breakdowns. Sorrell describes how, for her, nature became a refuge. “Outside in the country, I felt safe and secure. The emptiness and loneliness I felt inside me drained away in the presence of nature as my fears and anxieties subsided and I observed the world around me… the more I looked at nature, the more I saw the journey of my own soul reflected.” (p.21). One can imagine a young child with her parents seeing – or projecting into nature- the various mental states through which she must have passed. And coming to realise that neither sunny days nor stormy ones last forever. And, perhaps, realizing that the cycles found in nature were also found in herself and her parents’ lives. She further writes “But I personalized everything, attributing feelings to nature that I had not been able to accept in myself. In fact nature was mirroring unconscious painful feelings within me… additionally, I came to understand that within me was the destroyer as well as the healer. I could not accept one and reject its shadow.” (p.23). This seems to be a good description of Klein’s Depressive position.

This, for me, would have made for a much richer book if Sorrell had found a way to continue to show nature as a mirror. These insights about the human psyche and its reflections of and in nature I found genuinely moving and thought provoking. It did leave me reflecting on both the points of contact between man and nature and the points of departure. Nature is impersonal. Whilst it is “all things bright and beautiful” it is also “red in tooth and claw”. We too can be loving, nurturing, and kind. But we can just as easily blow planes out of the sky, destroy skyscrapers, and indulge in torturing others. Like the prison guards at Auschwitz, we can herd people into the gas chambers during the day and then go home and play with our children in the evening. But unlike the animal that kills for food, we claim to be moral creatures who wish to be held accountable for our actions. Perhaps this is the challenge for any book on eco-spirituality, to look at both ours and nature’s light and dark sides and to help us find a way of living with both.

Key Themes:

  • Vulnerability

Reference: Stephanie, Sorrell. 2011. Nature as Mirror: Ecology of Body, Mind, and Soul. O Books, 2011

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Wednesday 1st June 2011