Echinacea Sacred Geometry Awesomeness

Echinacea showing off its spectacular sacred geometry. I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to be a relational being with them!

Becoming a Relational Being?

Or looking back and trying to understand what an Ecological Self is, how accessible this theory is, and what its relevance and importance might be outside the walls of academia in a time of rapid ecological, political, and social breakdown (A previously unpublished and updated essay from my time at Schumacher College).

As I have previously reflected, environmental philosophers (or ecophilosophers) like Arne Naess and Freya Mathews have argued that in order to change our current anthropocentric trajectory we need to resist the individualism and atomization of modernity and instead embrace an ‘ecological’ or ‘relational’ self. This brings up a lot of questions for me. Specifically, how relevant, important, and accessible is it for those outside of academia to explore these relationships and theories, particularly those struggling to put food on the table or have a roof over their head? Or by the millions who are also suffering from systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, or xenophobia? Can connecting with the ecological self only be accessed through a regular practice? Ultimately, could capitalism, settler colonialism, and our global economic systems rationalize functioning the way they have and do if it became a common practice to work towards becoming a relational being? What place does this have in these troubling times, and how can it be accessed by those forced into migration due to drought, flooding, war, and countless environmental and climate issues?

Is it possible for these theories and similar notions like Colin Campbell has put forward, such as a ’pervious’ or ‘porous’ self to be accessible to human beings? (Campbell, 2021)  Or to what extent? These and similar questions have been at the root of these investigations into this notion of an ecological self and what I’m referring to as a Relational Being, which I’ll elaborate on in time. This exploration was initially composed as a scholarly personal narrative, in which I qualitatively navigated through reality as well as leaned into political ecology while examining key contributions to this concept, theory, and philosophical inquiry of what an ecological self might be (or mean). Then it organically transformed into shifting this inquiry towards relational being. My aim is and was to make this exploration as accessible as possible for those outside of academia as well (can’t guarantee I’ll succeed with this!).

Our cohort had been exploring this notion of an ecological self and collectively, we almost universally had a difficult time understanding what exactly an ecological self even means. And we came here at least in part willingly choosing to take on this exploration. As I breakdown this fourth wall of academic essay writing, introducing the context of my positionality and this essays initial inquiry, I recall being confronted by worrying more about a good grade and my deadline, then of the importance of putting together meaningful words that clearly point to my personal, and our global human (and more-than-human)c existential struggles we collectively face and why I feel, and believe these are imperative questions to weave together. 

Basically everywhere on this planet that humans reside, there are ecological, political, and social crises unfolding, of which, many can be directly connected to human contributed consequences tied to modernity and capitalism. It is also important to note that it is a very small population of humans in these positions of power and privilege that have perpetrated this way of operating on and with the planet. And yet, most of us are still complicit on so many levels.  Massive hurricanes, urban flooding, wildfires, sea acidification, droughts, and more have been conclusively connected to human actions. The anthropocene is a term that has been used to describe this human caused environmental/ecological/geological epoch and shift the world is experiencing though many declare it is unfair or incorrect to use that as a blanket term for why we find ourselves, collectively facing these often very troubling transitions in and on our shared world, especially when it comes to rapid species losses and the portion of humanity most responsible for what is recognized as the sixth mass extinction (Ceballos and Ehrlich, 2018, and Mitchell, 2018). 

The global north and what we call Western Civilization contains many of the key human players and cultural practices and systems that are directly contributing to the chaos that is unraveling. Capitalism, settler-colonialism, patriarchal societies, slavery, plantation culture, poverty and homelessness connected to inequality and various systems of oppression, continue. All of which are primarily due to these narratives, worldviews, and beliefs that perpetual growth and endless extraction can continue indefinitely on a finite planet. These issues are instrumental to bring into the picture when looking at how we find ourselves here. In order to have a proper context when examining such theories and ideas I believe mentioning all of this is important for the framework and the lens with which I continue to collaboratively participate in this exploration around ecological selfhood and this concept of relational being. 

It seems crucial for other terms besides the anthropocene to be brought into this framework and narrative as well. Terms such as Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and Chthulucene (Haraway, 2015) among others which have been proposed. The anthropocene is a problematic and unfairly simplified blanket term for how we have arrived at this place and is rooted in the dominant Western thought/ideology, circumventing the colonialism that is underneath so much of it (Mitman, 2019). 

Note: This essay was originally meant to be an academic essay, of which boundaries and criteria were in place to keep a certain framework in place though I feel obliged in this moment to impress upon those reading this that we face such dire scenarios with racial and social justice, poverty, homelessness, and so many systems of marginalization and oppression that I was challenged on how to write this in a way that could both qualify it academically, and yet still make it readable and provide accessibility for those outside these privileged walls. I ultimately shelved this writing at the time but brought many elements in to future academic writings and my dissertation project as well.

I have previously discussed the ideas of the Ecological Self and Ontopoetics in Is Freya Mathews Ontopoetics an answer to Arne Naess’s Ecological Self? This essay is more of a reflection and addendum to that piece, as just noted, this was shelved at the time and is only being revisited now (September 2022), and published here for myself and others to further explore this broader inquiry.

Our Engaged Ecology master’s degree cohort at Schumacher College was tasked with trying to make some sense of this notion of an Ecological Self in the Spring of 2021, indeed the entire module was called the Ecological Self. We discussed Neass’ contribution and introduction of the term, exploring the idea to varying degrees of confusion and success though it was helpful to then bring in the work of Freya Mathews who provided a great deal of context in a section from her book, The Ecological Self. 

This provided a mapping of what she referred to as the atomistic self which was created through the separation of self/spirit, mind/matter (or world/matter), nature/culture, causing much of the disconnection, dualism, and materialist, reductionist ways of living that have nearly consumed our consciousness since at least the time of Plato on up to and through the age of the enlightenment. She then goes on to show how the cartesian/hobbesian worldview became the dominant cosmology in Western Civilization (Mathews, 1991 p.3-ff). This is where I gather we of the global north and in Western Civilization essentially began a significant almost amnesia like pattern in which we forgot our intrinsic connection to the natural world we are a part of. 

As I see it, Freya Mathews exploration of ontopoetics is what could be considered an answer to the very confusing ecological self that Neass originally provided. The reasoning I have moved towards Relational Being in place of an Ecological Self is primarily a way to embrace that it is an action oriented term that also speaks to the greater connectivity and porosity that has been mentioned before. It folds in ontopoetics in a way as well. We are described as human beings, recognized scientifically as part of the animal ‘kingdom’ but rarely seen as integrated animals in a shared ecology in our storytelling, we have often viewed ourselves as above, or separate from this realm. To be a relational being is to re-integrate ourselves and also is meant to be viewed (and used) as a verb, a life way and worldview in which we live through relational be-ing. 

Second note: I shall continue to do my best to write from primarily my own experience and understanding as a collaborative exploration through this subjective, ecological self/relational being lens.Embracing it is coming through from my particular positionality. As I attempt to appreciate that if this relational being is in fact a real thing, then it is important to note that the “I” that I have been using all throughout this is not the only author of these words. There is a lot to unpack there and I’m currently working on a chapter in an upcoming book called the Vegetal Turn which is all about collaborative authorship in our creation process with our more-than-human companions. I’m also going to be elaborating on much more of this exploration in a book I’m personally – and collaboratively in that relational being kind of way – working on as well.

So, as we continue from this open place of wonder and even in surrender to the not knowing of this all, I consider how this way of being could be accessible in a world in deep transition? The challenges of accessing this lens are immense. Seeing how I, and so many of us have been steadily disconnected from our relationships with (and as) nature. Being generations removed from a way of life that is intrinsically and intimately connected with all the more-than-human beings of this incredible world can often be a difficult realization to reckon with. To practice and embodied this perspective is perhaps a tall order.

Alas, as we continue to confront these challenges, I recognize that this is an ongoing process of humbly being in relationship with the world around us. In this way, I see that you and I are always in a state of becoming. So often, yearning for a sense of belonging. The invitation then would be for you to try on this garment of becoming a relational being as well and see how it fits and feels. 

Third Note: I feel awkward in writing this, but I do not wish to pull an Arne Naess here and claim that I am coining a term or phrase with Relational Being. Nevertheless, I do wish for it to become more commonplace. Using this combination of words, relational + being is not an attempt to circumvent the ontologies and practices of numerous indigenous beliefs and cultures from around the world who have been living in mindful relationships with the world at large since time immemorial. Ideally my hope is that this can exist in tandem with traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). The term ‘relational being’ is an attempt to succinctly describe who (or what) we are and especially for those of us who are products of modernity to have a language that hopefully makes sense and provides a guiding light towards remembrance. Much like what James Lovelock helped bring forth with GAIA theory and what Schumacher College further brought into awareness through the Holistic Science programme which studies our world in ways that embrace the sensorial feedback as much as the quantitative and reductionists methodologies to better understand and interpret reality. These can be accessible pathways for those of us who have come by this honestly through our severed cultural heritage ties.

It is increasingly important to acknowledge where I and we are complicit in the perpetuation of systems of marginalization and oppression, and at times appropriation as well. When I was initially writing this from within the hallowed halls of academia, I felt obliged, no, I felt that it was my responsibility at the very least to illuminate and acknowledge the myriad injustices of our world, both human and more-than-human, and frame my explorations from my position within the myriad crises, taking ownership, as best I could for perpetuating these practices and behaviors that are long overdue for the compost heap. Especially when it comes to white supremacy/superiority, human supremacy, and the whole neoliberal agenda that dominates the Western Hemisphere and global north’s world view. This shit has got to change.

It is baffling to consider how this Westernized perspective, modernity, the age of enlightenment, this atomistic self, and the patriarchal, settler colonial, neo-liberal, perpetual growth and extractivist way of living has maintained its hold on our imaginations for so long. The mind/body and culture/nature separation station on the linear train of humanity’s storyline needs to be closed down and left to compost as well. I am grateful for the actions so many are taking on to make this so.

Likewise, I cannot personally, with any level of success separate academics and politics, or spirituality and politics and of course, this goes for religion and politics, too. Everything is political and when we are avoiding or neglecting this it feels as though it is only through a willingness, consciously or not, to accept the status quo and be complicit in denying the storyline (story-curve? Story-swirl? Story-circle?) we are on which maintains dualism, marginalization, and oppression at so many levels. That does not sit well with me and I look forward to its transformation.

The first nations and indigenous people who have experienced the atrocities of colonization through human and cultural genocide have suffered the loss, or dwindling embers of their belief systems and worldviews for too long. I give thanks for their resilience, resistance, and perseverance as they continue to their ways of living that are essentially a relational way of being.

It is my understanding, partially informed by these notions of an ecological, pervious/porous self, and relational being that there is a strong, generationally built up delusion that the majority of us living in what is known as the global North and Western Civilization are actually separate from nature and a primal, indigenous version of ourselves. Surely it is apparent that we are quite pervious, and that separation is blurry when you really take a close gander at it. So may we welcome back this relational way of being.

To humbly surrender to the truth that we are always and forever in relationship with the world around us is a gift. This is what I am trying to confront in as simple terms as possible. This is an ongoing collaborative journey of living and breathing into the present, paying attention and moving through pathways of remembrance. Thank you for your participation in this as well. It can be a mighty messy, awkward, challenging journey we’re in the midst of! And I know I’m going to mess up and continue to fail spectacularly along the way. Surely this writing can be picked apart and lambasted for some of what might be considered audacious perspectives shared. But I will continue to trust that each act and effort towards confronting, acknowledging, grieving, and healing from this collective amnesia that we of Western Civilization and modernity have experienced will help us to amplify the narrative, mythology, and reality that I know so many among us yearn for.


Campbell, C. (2021). The Southern African Tradition. Schumacher College, Lecture.

Ceballos, G. and Ehrlich, P.R. (2018). The misunderstood sixth mass extinction. Science, 360(6393), pp.1080.2-1081.

Haraway, D. (2015). Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin. Environmental Humanities, 6(1), pp.159–165.

Mathews, F. (1991) Ecological Self. S.L.:Routledge

‌Mitchell, A. (2018). Revitalizing laws, (re)-making treaties, dismantling violence: Indigenous resurgence against “the sixth mass extinction.” Social & Cultural Geography, pp.1–16.

Mitman, G. (2019). Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing Reflect on the Plantationocene. [online] Edge Effects. Available at:, A. (1987). ‘Self-realization: an ecological approach to being in the world.’ The Trumpeter 4(3): pp.35-42.

An Ecological Selfie from this summer (2022) in the High Sierra’s in and around Mono Hot Springs

Is Freya Mathews Ontopoetics the Answer to Arne Naess’s Ecological Self?

Environmental philosophers (or ecophilosophers) like Arne Naess and Freya Mathews have argued that in order to change our current disconnected from nature and anthropocentric trajectory, we need to resist the individualism and atomisation of modernity and instead embrace an ‘ecological’ self. Freya Mathews has written about the ecological self in great detail since Naess brought the term into existence though his eco-philosophy (or ecosophy), and over the past 20 years Mathews exploration has led to a concept known as ‘ontopoetics’ which could potentially be a pathway, or practice and answer to the ecological self that Neass originally provided.

This essay, originally presented as a summative essay in my master’s degree program, was an investigations into this exploration of ontopoetics as the potential answer to engaging with this ecological self. This work was done partially through a scholarly personal narrative, which will be the italicized portions of this essay. I also qualitatively navigated this journey leaning into political ecology while examining key contributions to these concepts, theories, and the philosophical inquiry of what an ecological self might be, and how ontopoetics could potentially provide access for people beyond just academia. This subject brings up further questions for me as well. Specifically, how relevant, important, and accessible is it for those outside of academia to explore these relationships and theories? Particularly those struggling to put food on the table or have a roof over their head. Or for the millions suffering from systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, or xenophobia. I also wonder if connecting with the ecological self can only be accessed through a regular practices.

A great challenge and task I did my best to also hold on to throughout this journey was the question; could capitalism, settler colonialism, and our global economic systems rationalize functioning the way they have and do if embracing an ecological self became a common practice? In my last essay, Could we Learn to be an Animist Society? (Culhane, 2021) I briefly explored similar ecological and political questions while focusing on animism. Combined with this exploration into the ecological self, this all eventually greatly informed my thesis dissertation project, the three-part podcast Engaged With Ecology. For now, I shall attempt to confine the exploration so as to better illuminate the ecological self, ontopoetics, and my relationship with them.

These words are being written on what is a lovely, late summer day. Autumn is in the air and a light cool breeze is carrying the sounds of robins, squirrels, and buzzing insects into this space presently. It is comfortable and I am feeling the support of a full belly and the welcome hydration from this clean, fresh water in the cup by my side. Knowing there is a sense of stability with this roof over my head and a warm bed here for me tonight fills me with gratitude. On this in breath I’m further taking a moment to reflect on the position of privilege I’m living with as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied male human being. Here in the countryside of Devon, England, the world around me appears to be very close to what I imagine is an idealised, romanticised, Westernised (and White) nearly perfect version of reality. I’ve recently concluded the taught portion of this masters programme, which fits within the boundaries of the environmental humanities, in a cohort of people from various parts of the world, in humble recognition that we are among a tiny fraction of the human population that is able to devote some of our time and energy to such pursuits. It is from this place of acknowledgment that I shall commence this exploration.

Back in the summer of 1987, Arne Neass poured out a heaping dose of rather confusing, though provocative thoughts and ideas that circled around this idea and coinage of the term ‘ecological self’. This is how it was introduced:

Traditionally the maturity of self has been considered to develop through three stages, from ego to social self, comprising the ego, and from there to the metaphysical self, comprising the social self. But nature is then largely left out in the conception of this process. Our home, our immediate environment, where we belong as children, and the identification with human living beings, are largely ignored. I therefore tentatively introduce, perhaps for the first time ever, a concept of ecological self. We may be said to be in, of and for Nature from our very beginning. Society and human relations are important, but our self is richer in its constitutive relations (Neass 1987, p. 35). 

It would appear Neass is pointing towards a way of being that reconnects our experience as humans in a relational way and as John Seed points out in his review of the ecological self, “Ideas only engage one part of our mind in cognition. We also need ecological feelings and actions as well as ideas to nurture a maturing ecological identity in a place” (Seed 2006, p. 98). Seed further elaborates on Naess’ contribution to both deep ecology and this pursuit of an ecological self in sharing how the development of “The Council of All Beings” (co-created by Seed, Naess, Joanna Macy, and Pat Flemming) is a set of experiential deep ecology processes, ceremonies and rituals that help us to expand our identification in the way that Naess describes. “Community therapy to develop deep awareness of our ecological self” is a good way of thinking about this work. (Seed 2006, p. 99) I found one more piece of Seeds reflection very insightful that speaks to an action or a practice that can bring about our ecological self and notes this is not just a current dilemma, he notes, “that the tendency to disconnect from the natural world might not be just a modern phenomenon as I had assumed. The fact that indigenous people invariably practice such ceremonies, speaks of the human tendency to forget who we really are and wander off into socially constructed identities. Why else would we need to regularly and powerfully remind ourselves that we are part of the web of life? (Seed 2006, p 100). In this recognition it seems clear that there is a practice, process, or even set of rituals and/or ceremonies that may be needed in order to develop an ongoing connection with an individual and collective ecological self.

I feel it important to elaborate on something in relation to indigenous practices and beliefs here that came to my attention when first reading Naess’ article where he introduces the concept of an ecological self, he relates a case study and shares that, “The Lapps of Arctic Norway have been hurt by interference with a river for the purpose of hydroelectricity. In court, accused of illegal demonstration at the river, one Lapp said that the part of the river in question was ‘part of himself’. This kind of spontaneous answer is not uncommon among people. They have not heard about the philosophy of the wider and deeper self, but they talk spontaneously as if they had” (Naess 1987, p. 37). This statement feels presumptuous and problematic in negating that perhaps the Lapps people already have a cosmology and ontological notion similar to his term the ecological self. To say it came out spontaneously does not sit well with me. While I do not know anything of the Lapps of Arctic Norway beyond what Naess provided here, I have studied and been in relationships with people in the United States (from various indigenous sovereign nations within it), and specifically what comes to mind is the Lakota and their words ‘Wankan Tanka’, which translates essentially to ‘great spirit’,  and ‘Mitakuye Oyasin’, which has been translated as ‘we are all related’ or ‘all my relations’. And as Justin de Leon notes in Lakota Experiences of (in) security Cosmology and Ontological Security, “This complete unity of all reality is represented in how the Lakota view Wankan Tanka. The Lakota traditionally internalize the presence of the celestial in their everyday lives, causing them to revere and treat all matters of life as sacred…This wholeness is central to Lakota life – that reality is bound by a sacred reciprocity, a balance achieved through a series of interrelationships. Being one with the universe leads to harmony and security” (de Leon 2018, p.40f). These two expressions and beliefs combined feel quite close to what Naess is pointing to with the idea of a wider and deeper, or ecological self. I bring this in as an acknowledgment that settler colonialism and modern Western culture and academia proposing notions like an ecological self as a new concept is questionable. I may be missing the nuances and differences of what Naess proposes with an ecological self and what Wankan Tanka and Mitakuye Oyasin represent but I feel further inclined to share one more excerpt from de Leon which again notes their similarities: 

Cosmology creates the conceptual and ethical scaffolding in which the Lakota process and react to daily life. The worldviews represented in Lakota experiences of security are all linked to cosmic, stellar theology – an identifiable pre-given essence. For example, mitakuye oyasin is based upon the belief that all comes from the same source, the same cosmic energy – the Nagila. This, in turn, is informed by Lakota cosmology of unity and coherence between the stellar and the earthly. Cosmology dictates the practical values and assumptions that shape how life is lived and how emotions and security are understood in the first place. “Mitakuye oyasin is in no way regarded as a normative proposition, but as a statement of simple fact whose falsity is so completely unthinkable that it may rightly be regarded as an aspect of tra- ditional Lakota common sense,” asserts Beier (2003, 104). (de Leon 2018, p.42)

What is referred to here as traditional Lakota common sense in comparison to how Naess describes one of the Lapps of Arctic Norway describing the river as a part of himself as a spontaneous answer is unfortunate, disrespectful, and sadly, one of the ways we in the West have contributed to the erasure or invalidation of pre-colonial peoples and cultures. If we loop back around to Naess’ original introduction to the term ecological self, and bring in J. Baird Callicot’s Note’s on ‘Self-realization’ paper, I see a close comparison in Mitakuye oyasin, Wankan Tanka, and the ecological self, as Callicot describes: 

What is an ecological approach to being in the world? In the context of ‘The Shallow and the Deep’ article Self-realization is a relational conception of the self and, more importantly, an experience of oneself in relational terms. One is and one experiences oneself to be a ‘knot in the biospherical net of intrinsic relations.’ Or better: as a node or nexus in a skein of internal socio-environmental relations. One experiences ‘the beauty and complexity of nature [as] continuous with [one]sel[f].’ (Callicott 2017, p. 239)

In the exploration of how to access this ecological self, I will bring in the research of António Carvalho who explored meditation, affect, and ecosphy’s place in connecting with an ecological self, noting: 

“The development of a new somatic mode of attention rescues practitioners from the endless cycle of mind wandering, resulting in an increasing awareness of sensations. This attunement to embodied experience is often described by resorting to natural images and metaphors. The meditative body is progressively porous to the sensate and the more-than-human. As Thrift (2000, 49) suggests, contemplative practices ‘expand the bio-political domain’ and indicate that the world has not been ‘dis- enchanted’: ‘(…) the mystical qualities of the world remain in place. Assured by a whole series of body practices, some old and some new, these practices have produced an expansion of awareness of present time’ (Thrift 2000, 35). Meditative practices of the self bring forth vitalist forms of affect, turning participants porous to sensations and energies (Carvalho 2017, p. 9)

Recognising the ecological self is an action, a state of motion and fluidity, in concert with and in relation to other aspects of our combined, shared ecology. This points similarly to the work of Michel Foucault and the philosophy of a technology of the self where he calls upon us to take care of the self, basing some of this methodology from a neoplatonic curriculum. He  states that, “technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality. (Foucault, 1982). Taking account of this, while not being explicitly related to ecological self exploration, we can see how there are many approaches to even beginning to make sense of what a ‘self’ is. 

Colin Campbell provides a different notion of self and an ecological self, he speaks to the ‘pervious self’ and this idea that porosity is not a foregone conclusion but rather an ongoing process where we actively allow the ‘other’ in. That we can be a “self of kinship”(Campbell, 2021). In a lecture he gave our cohort he spoke to the untangling we must do with such narratives as referring to parts of nature as ‘resources’ which he proclaimed is one of the ultimate displacements from our inextricably connected relationship with and as a part of nature. I like how he put it, “We are nature, naturing”. By objectifying nature as an ‘other’ we become complicit and perpetuate the current collective narrative. We have turned life forces other than humans into commodities. In addition to this, he pointed to how at the core of our current mythic narrative there is this ‘affect ambient anxiety’ where we value ourselves through a lens of productivity, combined with so many of us living largely in a world with too much artificial light, drivin by stimulation, this is detrimentally shaping our behaviours, actions, and reality. We must deconstruct ourselves from the narrative, this ideology, and these beliefs. (Campbell, 2021)

This leads me into what Donald Rothberg illuminates in the Crisis of Modernity and the Emergence of Socially engaged Spirituality, providing a similar perspective to what Campbell spoke to when he points out that, “The idea of a “socially engaged” spirituality is that of developing spiritual qualities or virtues in the context of full involvement in social, political, and communal life. To embody such a spirituality is to approach and express “spirit,” the “sacred,” or “God,” not through separation from the “world,” from the spheres of family, but in the midst of embeddedness and activity in these spheres” (Rothberg 1993, p. 105).

And here we are finally brought around to Freya Mathews’ wonderful contributions to this subject. In her book The Ecological Self, she starts early with this description of where modern western thought has come to:

Such, at any rate, has been the presupposition of our thinking, of western thought in general, and of our philosophy in particular: that the world is made up of a plurality of discrete individual substances: the world has been viewed, since classical times, as an array of individual objects which are logically mutually independent but bound in a web of causal ties. That this individualistic bias is merely a contingency of our culture is evidenced by the fact that in many human cultures it has been transcended: ideological, or perhaps experiential, factors have inclined these cultures to a flow view of things—the familiar eastern view of the world as a unity in which the appearances of plurality and diversity are no more than ripples on the surface of an oceanic continuum. (Mathews 1991, p. 1)

And so Mathews’ work continued developing eventually into this realm of ontopoetics, where she presents the idea of accessing an ecological self through an enchanting process which is the closest form of describing our relationship with the natural world in magical terms. Or as Mathews puts it, ontopoetics, “seeks to call forth the communicative potential of reality, devising forms of address conducive to communicative encounter. One form such address might take is the time-honored one, prominent in many religious and spiritual traditions, of invocation. To invoke the world is to ask it to manifest its self-meanings to us” (Matthews 2017, p. 224). There is an importance placed on ontopoetics as an ongoing practice. Mathews impresses on us that, “To engage in ontopoetics it is necessary first to open one’s mind to the possibility that reality is not only relational in its structure, in an ecological sense, but also potentially communicative and responsive to us” (Matthews 2017, p. 223f). Further noting “Each time the world arranges itself with poetic intent, each time it manifests in the poetic image of our invocation, it is as if it presents itself to us for the very first time” (Matthews 2017, p. 225).

What Mathews does in delivering these exciting ideas around ontopoetics, it seems reasonable to conclude that this could in fact provide a pathway to access one’s own greater ecological self, individually, and in larger group contexts. Mathews shares that onopoetics and the “Invocation in the present sense may be practiced privately or collectively. Contemporary examples of collective invocational practices include those involved in bioregional rituals—ceremonies or festivals enacted to celebrate place or landscape or local ecologies” (Matthews 2017, p. 225). 

In my own experiences throughout my life I have practiced varying degrees of this theory while admittedly being unaware of what the philosophical terms/concepts were. By this I mean to say much like with animism, I practiced forms of it throughout my life and it wasn’t until deep personal and academic explorations more recently that I was able to learn what contributions to these ideas and theories there were. Similarly, in just this past term, I created a ritual, which I didn’t recognise as such until recently, of going to the River Dart every day to do what is called around these parts as a ‘wild swim’, it was a daily practice that involved the same rhythms and routines and while I wasn’t quite thinking of it as such, I was creating ontopoetic invocations as well. And nature and the world around me was indeed responding through numerous interactions with the river itself, the trees nearby, and various birds and animals as well. In my recent research I was pleased to find others in academia actually exploring ontopoetics and connecting with rivers through an article entitled: River Connections…Voicing Rivers through Ontopoetics: A Co-operative Inquiry (Kurio and Reason, 2021), I was so excited in fact that I reached out to one of the lead authors, Jacqueline Kurio and am now in communication with them about more of their research. I will be continuing that communication and hope to find ways to potentially collaborate as well, or at the very least, have it inform my own explorations with the River Dart and our ontopoetic journey together.

In this exploration of the ecological self, as introduced by Arne Naess, I have attempted to elaborate on and clarify to some degree this notion and theory through various other scholars and philosophers and then bring the focus onto ontopoetics brought forth by Freya Mathews as the potential answer to accessing this ecological self. I feel these ideas require a great deal more elaboration and exploration to be better understood and accessible for an average reader, I personally am still working to understand and comprehend the ethics and philosophy that surrounds this subject. Especially when it comes to non-Western thought and the idea that other cultures and peoples have quite likely already deeply explored these concepts and have been practicing them since time immemorial. I conclude with the surrendering thought that there is still a great deal of work for me to do in this exploration. As much as I can grasp what the ecological self is, and ontopoetics as a pathway and practice for accessing it goes, I am in support of it and grateful for the contributions all have put forth thus far.


Callicott, J.B. (2017). Notes on “Self-Realization: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World.” Worldviews, 21(3), pp.235–250.

Culhane, J. (2021). Could We Learn To Be An Animist Society? Academic Essay. 1-10

de Leon, J. (2018). Lakota experiences of (In)security: cosmology and ontological security. International Feminist Journal of Politics, pp.1–30.

Campbell, C. (2021). The Southern African Tradition. Schumacher College, Lecture.

Carvalho, A. (2017). Ecologies of the self in practice – meditation, affect and ecosophy, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography

Kurio, J. and Reason, P. (2021). Voicing Rivers through ontopoetics: A co‐operative inquiry. River Research and Applications.

Michel Foucault, Info. (1982). Technologies of the Self: Lectures at University of Vermont in October 1982. [online] Available at:

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