Shamanism, the Dao, new spirituality, new technology and cultural revolution
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Our own ecology An ancient dance Ecology and culture Selves and roles

  What you will find
  in this section

Here we open up the concept of ecology to show multiple levels: an inner ecology that is the energetic heart of our being; the ecology of community that is the intricate web of human connection; and the ecology of our wider environment. These are better understood in their continuous interplay, rather than as separate fields considered in isolation from one another. The reasoning here is strongly underpinned by the account of the biology of cognition which is to be found on another page of this site. The phenomena of structural coupling and consensual domain, in particular provide the essential link between considerations of ecology, and the sense of the Dao (also discussed in another section here), guiding our synchronistic relationship with other life forms within the common eco-system. It also links back to considerations of cultural theory of Mary Douglas, also discussed in these pages.
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Who am I?
I am Michael Roth, the author of all the material on this site. While training as a medical doctor, I was also an alumnus at the famed AntiUniversity of London (1968-1969), and became involved with the alternative psychiatry movement in that era and later.

I worked and studied with the existential psycho-analyst R.D.Laing, and was a founder-member of the Arbours Association (London), which provides alternative care for persons diagnosed with severe mental illness.

My research path has taken me into spheres of philosophy, social politics, linguistics and anthropology - whilst I have continued to seek out a genuine way of relating to other human beings in the troubled milieux of psychiatry, communal living, and twentieth and twenty-first century social and cultural instability.

I have been consistently inter-disciplinary in all of my reading and exploration, and the personal and philosophical insights to which this has given rise are almost always outside the prevailing classifications - or accepted lists of subjects.

The following authors are they whose work I have been most deeply occupied with, at different times in my life. This has often entailed exploring what the actual world feels like, within the patterns and definitions of life offered by these people. I have also written extensively, and often critically, about many of them.


  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Martin Buber
  • Lao Ze
  • St Matthew
  • St Mark
  • St Luke
  • St John
  • Rudolf Bultmann
  • Paul Ricoeur
  • Richard Rorty
  • Robert Pirsig
  • Donald Davidson
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Benedetto Croce
  • Charles Peirce
  • John Dewey
  • A.N.Whitehead
  • J.H.Randall
  • Justus Buchler
  • Martha Nussbaum

Biology, Physiology, Ethology and Cybernetics


  • Mary Douglas
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Milton Ericson
  • R.D.Laing
  • David Cooper
  • Clifford Geertz
  • Victor Turner

Virtual Reality


  • Eugene Gendlin
  • Arnold Mindell
  • M. Scott Peck

I am the foremost exponent of Charlotte M. Bach's ground-breaking theories of emergent evolution, described in my A Bolt From the Bleeding Sky (Dielectric Publications, London, 1984). I continue to work as a psychiatrist and as a researcher into holistic methods of facilitating social change. This encludes facilitation and training sponsored by the organization, Community Building in Britain which continues to develop and disseminate the work of the holistic psychiatrist M. Scott Peck.

I am also involved in an exploratory research group seeking to fuse poetic, practical and fantastical modes of action to create significant cultural/political interventions in the here and now.

emotional intelligence
lived reality
biology, culture, evolution
philosophy, science
systems sensibility
dao and shamanism
applications/ study group
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   Our own ecology
The term "ecology" as originally used in botany and zoology referred to the relation of living organisms to their surroundings, their habits and mode of life. (Oxford English Dictionary 1933 Edition).

The ancient greek "oecos" means a household, and so we have the connotations of those multiple repeating interactions which go to make up the life of a household.

   Three ecologies
When we apply the word to our own lives, we need to notice that our relationship to our surroundings, our habits and our mode of life falls into several broad contexts. These seem to be discontinuous with one another, yet in some strange way superimposed and simultaneous. We can think of these as three distinct, though inter-related, ecologies. Each is a pattern of interlinked relationships, of a similar order to those that have evolved in other contexts - like the ecology of a seashore or a rainforest.
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   Inside us
Firstly the inner ecology, the set of processes and balances called "physiology", the intricate order of the ever-changing states of our body. This is, for each one of us, our integral and secret chemistry, the energetic heart of our being.
   Between us
Secondly, the ecology of community: the impact of human bodies, every body we interact with - every look, every gesture, every transaction which touches our lives. The sum of these makes up a human world, and their collective quality will make the difference - between a living community, an ant-heap existence, or a world given over to predatory gangs stalking the ruins of civilisation.
   Around us
Thirdly, there is the wider environment which we share with all the other animals and plants. This is the living earth, that earth so starkly evoked by Chief Seattle in his celebrated (fictional) address of 1852.
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   "The environment" and the life-world
Chief Seattle helps to clarify for us the limitations of much of the present-day concern for "the environment". The modern version tends to strip out a single level of our ecology and ignore the other two. This results in a sort of disembodied concern - as if we were not a part of the earth, and the earth a part of us.

I wonder if it is even possible to care wholeheartedly for the life and landscape surrounding you, if you are not also caring for the life within yourself and the life which is bodied forth between yourself and your neighbour?

   Intricate blending of the three
This is the most ancient of dances, and whilst it is true that we are forever losing the beat, it is also true that the beat is ever there for us to hear.

For the same reason - the millions of lifetimes we have been in this dance together - the pattern of our human relationships has a similar synchronistic relationship with the other two levels of ecology. This means that the search for genuine communion and sharing with each other is intimately linked to the search for right relationship at these other levels.

Words of Chief Seattle

   Fine tuning our
This is why it is a more realistic project to try to fine-tune all three of these levels of our ecology together, than to insist upon acting one-dimensionally in one arena at a time.

If this is right, it means that the same effort which works towards salvaging our planet from the blight of rampant Western materialism, can also help to restore to our inner life that sense of delight, of communion, of deep satisfaction, which is nothing else than the birthright of every creature born on this planet.
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What does it mean: to consider our cultural life as a kind of ecology? Firstly it is to recognize how our habits, customs and individual impulses all take place in the context of our life together. Our life begins in a mutual adaptation between ourselves and our family, in which we learn the ways (and the language) of the local culture. Our circle of contacts later broadens out to include the wider community.
   Recurring rhythms of life
These are multiple, repeating interactions which fall into a relatively stable pattern of expectations, frustrations, satisfactions and surprises. In this micro-environment of human- to-human signals each of us evolves into a member of the culture we were born to.
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An important aspect of this is the parts, or roles, we play in the repeating rituals which make up communal life. It is always ambiguous, the extent to which we have chosen these roles (none of us chooses the role of dependent infant, after all - nor do we choose that particular pattern of customs which our family expects us to fit in with), and the extent to which these are prefabricated expect ations of the community, so that we simply "walked into the part".
   A margin of choice
I do not question that there is a margin of personal initiative, in the way we respond to the allegiances and traditions which are proffered us in situation after situation. We also have some initiative in which situations we choose to approach, and which we avoid. But there is a sense in which all of it was all waiting for us, before we arrived on the scene. The cultural drama simply borrows us for a while, for the purpose of its continuing enactment.
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   Mary Douglas' cultural theory
This, broadly, is the same position which the cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas and an increasing company of collaboraters developed in the latter decades of the twentieth century. She claims there are just four main cultural types which express themselves in a multiplicity of ways through the entire spectrum of traditional and modern societies.
   How this may be of use
It is no part of my project to try and convince people that this cultural theory is "correct". The important question is whether it can provide signposts or relevant feedback, for the process of "fine tuning" which I am discussing elsewhere. This will only be established by trying it out. I think this theory can also help to understand why the simple procedures we shall be adopting, could have such powerful effects. But this is a different discussion altogether.
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   Illustration of the cyclical, self-maintaining
   aspect of everyday activity
Here is an example of how I myself am placed within the cyclical, self-maintaining patterns of interaction which I am calling "ecological".

I write words on a page, expending physical energy obtained from food, even as more food is now being digested in my stomach, which will replace the energy presently being used in writing (and keeping me alive while I write). These are already interwoven cyclical processes of the kind I am talking about.

This is going on even as more plants and animals are growing somewhere in the world - replacing the plants and animals presently providing me with food, and offering me the hope that there will be more food for me on subsequent days. Thus, more cyclical processes.

If the writing is successful, then it contributes to another set of cyclical processes altogether, that of the literary and practical culture to which I address these words.

   What if I lived in the Amazon Rain Forest?
If I lived in the Amazon rain forest, amongst people who knew their place within the cycles of living processes surrounding and including them, I would probably be writing with locally gathered and worked materials. And the activities of gathering food and other materials would be integrally related to the life of the forest - they would in a hundred ways contribute to the replenishment of that life.

And all my waste products, gasses breathed out, sweat evaporated, urine and faeces expelled, old writing materials discarded, all would be restored to the cycle of substances and energy which make up the continuing ecology of the forest.

My corpse, eventually, would be allowed to rot in contact with other life forms which would use these substances in their own cycles of transformation and replenishment.

   So what if I did?
What lessons are to be drawn from this? Certainly not that we must all run out to the forest today - even supposing that we knew what to do when we got there. We have simply a sketch, the merest illustration, of what cyclical, self-maintaining processes look like, observed from a certain physical and chemical viewpoint, and with a mind to the holistic workings of them.
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"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky, the land? The idea is strange to us.

"Every part of this earth is sacred to my people, every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, all are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

"We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man - all belong to the same family.

"Each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father. The rivers are our brothers.

"If we sell you our land remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. This we know, the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.

"All things are connected, like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

"Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? The end of living, and the beginning of survival.

"When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any spirit of my people left?

"We love this earth as the newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us all.

"One thing we know: there is only one God. No man, be he red man or white man, can be apart. We are brothers, after all."

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© all content: copyright reserved, Michael Roth, March 2009