The Ritual Weave

buds‘The human community is woven into the primal ecology of a spontaneously self-generating and harmonious Cosmos’

These words caught my eye this morning as I opened David Hinton’s book Hunger Mountain.  Of course we are woven into the ecology of the cosmos! What else could we be? We are all of us part of a network of belonging, ‘I to we, we to earth, earth to planets and stars…’ as Hinton puts it. The story of evolution of life on Earth, and behind that the story of the evolution of the Universe, makes this so clear – empirically as well as intuitively. We emerged out of the Earth and the Earth from the Universe, just as the buds are emerging from the fruit trees in our orchard on these early spring days.

Hinton’s book explores our world – and specifically his walks up Hunger Mountain near his home – through an ancient Chinese perspective, drawing on Taoist and Chan philosophical traditions and practices. In this view, the individual is not so much an inner self or spirit-centre as part of a weave of social relationships. Ritual – the subject of the chapter I am reading today – invests this social weave with a numinous dimension, a practice of selfless and reverent concern for others.

We are not only woven into society, but also woven into our wider ecology. Aldo Leopold echoes the Taoist understanding when he reminds us in A Sand County Almanac, we are plain members of the biotic community, woven into the fabric of life on Earth and beyond that the Universe.  So what does it take for us to feel that woven identity as a self-evident experience? And how is it that for much of the time most of us walk around self-contained in our ‘skin encapsulated ego’, to borrow Alan Watts phrase?

They are questions that spiritual seekers in many disciplines have pursued through the ages, one that I have explored on my sailing pilgrimages and in my book Spindrift: A wilderness pilgrimage at sea. Hinton writes that ‘Weaving self and landscape together in an opening of consciousness, a walk, like a poem, weaves us into a Ritual fabric’. This is equally true of my sailing pilgrimages.

One of the things I have learned is that, if I allow it, my life is actually quite full of tiny numinous moments, moments when I experience the world as inside me, just as I am inside the world. And these moments can involve everyday objects, as yesterday when the screwdriver, the screws, and the task to hand took on particular qualities of elegance and rightness – suchness, I suppose the Taoists might have called it.  And while these moments are always there, I have also learned that they are very easy to ignore, to pass over in the rush toward some distant purpose. Pilgrimage is not about arrival, but continual open journeying.

Hinton, David. Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape. Boston & London: Shambhala, 2012.

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: Oxford University Press, 1949.

Watts, Alan. The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Spindrift: A wilderness pilgrimage at sea is published by Vala Publications in April 2014





  1. Good blog. I was speaking on just these things to a group at Schumacher College yesterday (‘Only Connect’), and how we need to focus, as our worldview, on the Indra’s Net idea of an interconnected mesh – ‘weave’, if you like – with each being – human, and other-than-human, afforded the equality of being a jewel at an intersection, and knowing that a tug anywhere on the net sends ripples through the whole. We so need to counteract our Western post-Plato post-Judaeo-Christian hierarchical model with – surprise – humans occupying the apex in a special position of privilege and entitlement, don’t we?

    And on a different note, I wonder if you know my friend Peter Marshall’s book, ‘Europe’s Lost Civilization’, tracking his own journey under sail along the Western seaboard from Orkney to Malta? – I’m sure you do.

    Anyway, thanks for this blog, Peter.

  2. Thank you, Roselle, for your interesting and appreciative comment. Somehow we need to both act pragmatically to change our patterns of making and consuming, and at the same time shift to an interconnected, woven in sense of identity. One without the other won’t do. Poets and deep ecologists need to join hands with new economists and cradle to cradle manufacturers! That is my dream, anyway!

    I have a copy of Peter Marshall’s book, although I confess to not yet having read it thoroughly!

    And MY friend Susan has loved your poetry course!


    • Oh! You know Susan! All these interconnections! And I know Geoff Mead, and Chris, a little, too…

      YES, to what you say. My partner, who’s a philosopher-come-eco-builder, is very involved in ideas of new economics (he wrote a guest post on my blog the other day on money [debt economy] as the means of a new feudalism).

      I still campaign passionately for outer change, believing Margaret Mead’s idea ‘Never doubt that a group of committed citizens can change the world – in fact, it’s the only thing that ever can’, while knowing with a deep knowing that actually it’s up to me (each of us) to make our own small steps in our own quiet way in order to really live the principles of interconnectedness through a congruent lifestyle. (Easier said than done, of course; but I tell myself that every drop still swells the pool.)

      All best to you, and I enjoying visiting this blog.

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