There's been a lot of talk lately about healing the planet, but this book is not about that. It's about changing our relationship with the Earth, so that the Earth can heal us. According to Devereux, the planet doesn't need us to fix it. We are the ones at risk, and if we don't change the adversarial relationship we have with nature, we will cause great suffering for ourselves and other creatures as we precipitate our own demise. However, after that, life--and the planet--will go on just fine without us.
Devereux offers much insight into mending modern humankind's alienation from Mother Nature. His introduction focuses on a brief history of our modern outlook, and offers a healthy critique of the Western scientific worldview and the way it has shaped our minds and our relationship with the natural world. However, he is not anti-science, having been well-trained in the scientific method. He currently serves as a research fellow with the International Consciousness Research Laboratories (ICRL) group at Princeton University.
He has also spent decades studying topics viewed as somewhat "fringe" by the mainstream scientific community, including ancient and traditional spiritual practices, the anthropology and archaeology of consciousness, sacred sites and landscapes, psi phenomena, and what are loosely termed "earth mysteries". He's somewhat of a rarity in my experience as a reader: a rational scientist who is not a materialist. This book reflects the special quality of his outlook, which is rooted in, but not limited by, rational thinking.
His introduction is the densest part of the book, but well worth the effort. He briefly defines and discusses ecopsychology and deep ecology, and then discusses the nature of human perception and how cultures condition individuals' picture of reality. According to him, each culture's world-view is only one of many possible world views, and that of the Western world has come to be based on materialistic science. That viewpoint has brought us great material advantages, but it denies the legitimacy of other worldviews, many of which have much of value to offer us.
Our greatest limitation is that our worldview denies the validity of data gathered via altered states of consciousness. Most Westerners dwell constantly in what Devereux terms the monophasic state, which is ego-based, materialistic, and logical (or strives to be). People in other cultures can move with much more ease between different sorts of states, depending on the cues they receive from the environment or their interior selves. These other states, although not respected in our culture, have served over millennia as avenues to wisdom, meaning, and connection with the universal web of being. By denying the legitimacy of altered states, we have walled ourselves off from our greatest source of healing.
Devereux goes on to present five chapters, each organized around a central theme, that are designed to open our minds to ways we can tap into the healing power of our world. At the end of each chapter he offers activities to bring the concepts to life. "Centering" explores ancient ways of establishing a center from which to ground oneself. The author discusses architectural and ritual means throughout history that were used to create geographical and personal centers in different cultures. Through an experience of a center, and of an axis running through that center, we can root ourselves firmly on the earth as well as open doors between this world and other worlds or other states of consciousness.
In "Placing," Devereux writes about feeling a "sense of place" within a landscape. Sadly, places all over the planet are starting to have a similar look, due to the spread of a dominant market-based culture and its mass-produced buildings and products. Western culture tends to see the land and its creatures in terms of economic utility. But we need to start seeing the land as living, as having a soul. We do this by looking at our surroundings with mythic consciousness. Devereux examines this sort of awareness in ancient cultures, as well as in current societies where people still live close to the land.
"Journeying" considers moving through the world with opened awareness. Devereux writes of "taking the soul for a walk," which involves "carrying the center of one's being, the portable `here,' along through nature." He discusses three principle types of journeying: walking with heightened awareness, pilgrimage, and the vision quest.
"Mapping" challenges the saying "the map is not the territory." Drawing from David Turnbull's book "Maps are Territories," Devereux shows how maps define the way we perceive the Earth. If you doubt that, then consider the mass-produced globes we see in every classroom, which have the northern hemisphere atop the southern. Why are they made this way? The mapmaking industry arose in Europe, and took on European values. No one in the First World wants to be on the bottom, with the metaphoric stigma that entails. Devereux discusses how ancient maps were made, how mythic consciousness figured into them, and how we can make maps for ourselves that re-draw our relationships with our surroundings. (A good example of a mythic map is that of the Hundred Acre Wood in A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh.)
Finally, "Dreaming" leads us into the fertile, shadowy world beyond the rational ego mind. Devereux addresses nighttime dreaming, including lucid dreaming, as ways to connect with the larger circle of life around us. But he also addresses how people living from their mythic consciousness draw on a relationship with the dream world throughout their waking hours. He calls this waking experience of the dream world the waking dreamstate, or the imaginal state. It is through this state that legends, music, rituals of worship, and mythic maps come into being. In our culture, this state is quite familiar to poets, artists, and spiritual travelers. It is this faculty that builds relationship between humans, the land and the spirit world.
For Devereux, the waking dream state is key to restoring wholeness to the Western psyche. Rather than being the result of delusion or illness, it is a mode of consciousness that unveils a hidden reality. He proposes that ecopsychology set about developing tools to allow more people to learn how to access it. He writes
"The very word "paradise" comes from ancient Iran--"pairi-daeza," a walled garden. . . The Iranian paradise garden symbolizes the Earth in all its levels, from material to the celestial Earth. . .Paradise. . .is located in the human mind, or, to put a different spin on that, it is not a physical place but a realm accessible only through the portals of human consciousness."
Re-Visioning the Earth will not appeal to strict rationalists and reductionists, nor to those who want a quick and easy read. Devereux demands attention and patience from his readers. But if you love the earth, and have an open mind, plus a willingness to explore new ways of seeing, then you will probably gain much from reading this book.