Reviews & Interviews

Book Review – Confronting the Crisis: Essays and Meditations on Eco-Spirituality by David Sparenberg

Book Review

Confronting the Crisis

Essays and Meditations

on Eco-Spirituality

by David Sparenberg

Publisher: Moon Books

112 Pages

Publication Date: November 1, 2021

 

 

Confronting the Crisis is a small volume of collected essays, meditations and occasional verse by ecosophist, poet and shamanic storyteller David Sparenberg. The subject of the essays range from the nature of humanity’s current relation with nature to the nature of reality itself, but the common thread throughout, weaving in and out of focus, is the looming specter of what Sparenberg calls Earth Crisis.

Earth Crisis is the culmination of all the crises that we are currently facing: climate change, environmental disasters such as ubiquitous plastic in our air and water, regional oceanic dead zones, and toxic landscapes created by industry and war. Each one of these crises is challenging in its own right, but each is also interconnected in such a way as to be impossible to be extricated and resolved on its own. Our pollution is due to our method of production, which is tied to our consumerism, which is informed by our culture, which is in turn formed by our relationship with our technology and the world around us, which, at essence is rooted in our self-identity. In many ways this is a Human Crisis, a crisis due to a psychological and cultural severing of humanity with her environment, a self-imposed spiritual orphan-hood which has spilled out or metastasized into a planetary condition. However, due to the broad ubiquitous nature of the danger we are in, Sparenberg argues that partial solutions cannot be enough to make effective change. In an intricately and innately connected, intra-dependent whole, the whole relationship must shift starting from the very root of our behavior. A full solution requires a reframing based on accountability and soul searching – even contrition – deep enough to fundamentally change how we view our place in the world.

Sparenberg’s writing is not for everyone. At times his writing can be overly dense, with complicated run on sentences and a fondness for niche terminology. His own terminology, while useful for conceptualizing where we are and where we are headed, also adds complexity that can throw readers off. If you are someone who gets frustrated by a paragraph that could have been written as a sentence, by 20 words that could have been explained in five – this is not a book for you. He has a poet’s proclivity for adjectives and metaphor which I think could do with some editorial restrain at times. On the other hand I got over these very misgivings, so this should not dissuade you from reading the book. As an ecosophist, storyteller and activist, Sparenberg is good at tying disparate threads into one vision, one cohesive narrative for the change we need to see. He is able to connect the dots between what we do and what we tell ourselves. In essay after essay, from various vantage points, he drives the message that how we view the world inevitably describes how we view ourselves – and changing the former requires a change the latter.

In the first essay, Confronting the Crisis and the Specter of Critical Mass, he begins to chart the moral or spiritual view of where we stand as a species at the moment – a bleak and hopeless view that somehow still succeeds in leaving you hopeful for change at the end. In Illusion or Presence, Sparenberg takes a friend’s question on the nature of reality as a springboard to expound on our own disconnected view of life. Viewing existence as a “matrix” or an illusion of some sort may make sense to someone who largely thinks of themselves as a mind in a body, but it denies the presence of all the organic life around us and how it is connected to us. “We have largely become a head tripping species,” Sparenberg writes in another essay, Majority Report, identified with our brain rather than the totality of ourselves.

This change in perspective is the main driving message of Confronting the Crisis. In Sparenberg’s view, the current phase of human evolution is an individualization that culminated with the spread of democracy two hundred years ago. Now the pendulum must swing again, “from ego-self to eco-self”, to shape the “Practical Gestalten of an Ecozoic Era” in which identity moves from the present singular “me” to encompass the next seven generations. Going even further in borrowing from native peoples, Sparenberg joins Peter Knudson and David Suzuki in a call to use the ritual of the Navajo Blessing Way as a science-affirming, earth centric framing to find balance with our environment.

The magnitude of the problems facing us is so large that it is easy to fall into desperation and fatalistic despondency. But Sparenberg’s argument for hope is infectious: Since our problems are due at root to our lack of spiritual connection with the world we inhabit, as if we could exist apart from it, the solution is also in the spiritual connection we may find in the organic world around us. Most importantly, this change in perspective is always available to us.

In reflections on a quote from William Blake, he says that since Annihilation is by definition linear, its alternative must be circular and episodic, recurrent like a fountain of hope. The very act of acknowledging our part in the web of life and our interconnection with our environment demands action since, as Howard Zinn put it, you cannot be neutral on a moving train.

One of the inevitable problems with a volume like Confronting the Crisis is that it is ‘preaching to the choir’. You are not changing minds with a book like this. Someone on the fence with these issues is not going to be receptive to a shamanic storyteller. No, these essays were written for the pagan, for those already aware they are part of a web of life, not the center of it. This work was written for those already part of the movement calling for serious, drastic civilizational change to divert the way we are going. For that is one of the tasks of the shaman in guise as storyteller – to bring renewal in the sustained struggle and hope in trying times. As the shaman in guise of storyteller, Sparenberg’s righteous anger inspires our anger to new flame, reminding us that we are not the abnormal or mad – it is the normalization of the status quo that is madness.

David Sparenberg is a freelance writer and teacher, ecosopher and eco-poet living in Seattle, US. David’s writings have been published in numerous periodicals and journals throughout the world, most recently in INDIE SHAMAN (UK), OVI (EU), COUNTERCURRENTS (India), and The MYTHIC CIRCLE (USA).

 

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