In the introduction to his latest book, John C Woodcock writes:
The advertising industry has succeeded in reducing all things in the ‘natural world’ to an abstract content that has no meaning. For example, what was once a living animal with its wisdom, mystery and mentoring of human affairs has become a label for a shoe, or a logo for a company. All meaning that was once intrinsic to the animal is lost. An animal is merely a product like everything else (p. 6).
A psychotherapist and an educator, Woodcock here, as often, combines diverse genres – a lengthy case study, poems, part of a doctoral paper, journal entries, essays and a three-way dialogue downloaded from his own head – along with disparate styles; his tone can switch without warning between dissertational and new-age inspirational. So, what principle unites the varied elements of this text? He writes:
To experience the truth of our interpenetration with nature, with animal being! To experience it with the same directness that characterises our present disconnection from nature and our own animal being! Is this possible? The sole intent of my book here is to show that not only is this possible but that it is intended (p.8)!
Does Woodcock succeed? The answer will, naturally, vary from reader to reader. Some of his statements challenge my version of ‘reality’, if not least because I’m not always sure I understand what he means [Disclaimer: I lack the sort of formal education that might assist some readers in seeing the woodcock for the trees].
For starters, I found myself questioning precisely what a book is (many bibliophiles fear that, like countless animals, insects, plants etc., books may soon become extinct, but it appears that they’re just changing form; books, like animals [see above] are becoming less tangible). Technically speaking, The Imperative is a PDF. But ‘reality’ is relative, and subject to conditioning. I grew up reading books that had been edited. That is, they contained few if any typos, even if their contents were predictable. The Imperative is an example of the freedoms made possible by technology. Ideas that threaten materialist consensus values can now be disseminated without the blessing of profit-dependent gatekeepers. As Douglas Rushkoff notes in Program or be Programmed (a clearly structured, coherently argued, accessibly sequenced ebook), the advent of the printing press enabled an age of readers, and due to the digital revolution, everyone’s a writer now (programmers = the new elite). But not everyone is an editor. And I’m not referring to censorship (though parts of Woodcock’s book beg the question) but to the skills required to organise information effectively. Though this point seems worth unpacking, suffice to say for now that Woodcock’s text complexly enacts his thesis that boundaries are breaking down: those between humans and nature, spirit and matter, inner and outer…
Part I of The Imperative comprises ‘David’s Story’ – compelling not least because such accounts have been scarce in our culture prior to now, unless framed as fiction, marginalised as new-age literature or stigmatised as records of mental illness. While untold numbers of PhD candidates the world over may be writing paradigm-busting theses that give their kundalini crack-ups retrospective meaning, the results (unless I’m missing something) don’t yet seem evident in our culture. Could this be because the idea of such a sudden, extreme shock to one’s system – imagine your house is burning down but you can’t run outside because you’re the house – lies somewhere beyond the psychological comfort zone of the average punter? Like, how would you insure against an intruder called The Future?
David’s story appears to match Woodcock’s biography, as it emerges through subsequent chapters, and I found his frankness refreshing (notwithstanding the alias) – as might anyone who’s lived through a comparable body–psyche crisis (especially in the absence of non-repressive guidance). The manifestations of kundalini rising can be violent: involuntary shuddering, shouting and/or grunting; internal heat with redness, intense itching and shedding of skin; the disorientation of waking visions and ‘visitations’ – ‘I feel the presence of an animal merging with me, co-extensive with my human form (p. 28)’ – that engage the whole sensory-nervous system. The list of ‘animal figures’ that interpenetrate with David includes the bear, lion, panther, elephant, butterfly, eagle and, most often, cobra. All of which is consistent with textbook accounts of shamanic initiation, a conclusion luckily reached by David.
In the West, psychosis would be the usual diagnosis, with psychiatrists taking steps to suppress the phenomena, thus aborting the process. And without two+ decades of such torment (and, okay, ecstasy) disrupting what society calls ‘normal’, Woodcock wouldn’t be geared to proffer such radical ideas as:
To retrain our attention and to uproot the entrenched habit of scientific positivism is a formidable task. I believe that it will only happen when enough people courageously come forward with their strange and weird experiences that offer a challenge to our current world view… Over a period of ten years I had a series of experiences that convinced me that the impenetrability of solid objects can be overcome… (p. 135)
For readers reliant on intellect (vs., say, recall of out-of-body events) it’s a question of the chicken or the egg. Did the rise of materialism solidify our world or, as the Bible and Science agree, did solidity come first?
Which brings me to the elephant in the room: for a book on the stated theme of our ‘interpenetration with animal being’, The Imperative seldom makes reference to food. Yet eating is the most common way in which animals enter most of us daily. And herein lies the divide between psychology and politics.* Though maybe at heart Woodcock’s a philosopher?
Of course, psychology and politics interpenetrate each other – explicitly so for ecopsychologists, who credit the interdependence of mind and nature (or what politicians call environment). In his introduction, Woodcock gives ecopsychology’s ‘theorists’ short shrift: ‘I see no sign that such a theoretical move [the resacralisation of animals/nature] is having any effect whatsoever in the real world (p.7).’ Now, maybe I need to do more rereading, but is Woodcock’s real world the consensus one in which most objects seem convincingly solid, or the one in which this taboo on interpenetration can be overcome by ‘teaching from those who embody [the] new reality because of their own extreme experience with the phenomena (p. 175)’?
For practical political slants on the animal’s status today, see The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, Ph.D. or ‘Minding the Animals: Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism’ by Dr Steve Best.