Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interreltedness That Are Transforming the Modern World by Charlene Spretnak, 2011.

Charlene Spretnak was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1946, and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She did her undergraduate work at the Jesuit St. Louis University and received her M.A, in English and American Literature from U.C. Berkeley. Her 1984 book, Green Politics (co-authored with Fritjof Capra) is considered to have been a major impetus behind the formation of the United States Green Party. Spretnak is also one of the founding mothers of Women’s Spirituality and was the editor of The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, released in 1982. Professor Spretnak is a professor at C.I.I.S. She has written several other books and has been inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1986 she was named by the Britian’s Environment Department as one of the “100 Eco-Heros of All Time.”

Spretnak’s Relational Reality, 2011, is a comprehensive study of broad subject matter in many fields. This book is an ambitious undertaking asking us to look at whole systems and the big picture. Here Spretnak challenges our mechanistic world view and introduces us to a holistic paradigm: that humans and the world we live in are far more complex, interrelated, and interdependent than previously thought in fields such as parenting, education, health, health care, community design, architecture, and economics. Although she states that no field is exempt from this phenomenon.

Spretnak sets out to introduce us to a growing list of discoveries that have begun to overturn assumptions our society has held for nearly half a millennia about how the natural world and the humans who inhabit it really function. Here she argues that humans and the natural world are made up entirely of relationships. As a result of this increasingly emerging world view we are seeing an increase in interdisciplinary programs at the university level.

Spretnak cites one of primary sources for this emerging world view was the emergent field of ecology in the 1970s. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, society is beginning to realize that nature offers clues as to how the human body and how human relationships actually operate.

Spretnak says that if we connect the dots and view these discoveries of relatedness not in isolation but as a coherent whole that the resulting “relational perception” will be our “saving grace.

Spretnak naturally begins her quest where we all begin – as babies and children – with a chapter titled, “The Relational Shift in Education and Parenting.” As in all of her chapters (except one) she provides a “snapshot” of the crisis. Rather than summarizing her overview I will instead ask, can you give me one example of a symptom of this crises in your life or the life of someone you know? (I will continue to italicize all of the questions I ask in this presentation so they are easier to locate).

Spretnak illustrates the “relational shift” in parenting with the emergence of Rachel Carson’s pre-Silent Spring article published in Women’s Home Companion Magazine in 1956. In “Help Your Child to Wonder,” Carson,

urged parents to nuture a child’s “inborn sense of wonder” so that it might last a lifetime as “an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupations with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” She advised that feelings and sense experience are of utmost importance for a child because they are the fertile soil to which seeds of knowledge and wisdom will later grow. American society so caught up in the post World War II burst of modernity and its grand promises of technology could not imagine then how prescient Carson’s warning would prove to be.

Can you think of a “relational shift” that you have experienced around parenting or being parented?

The Relational Shift in Education

How has a mechanistic, dualistic world view affected your education past or present?

Probably the most well-known and popular shift in revitalizing education at a pre-college level is the school garden where interdisciplinary studies in, “botany, the hydrologic cycle, soil science, biology, history, mathematics, poetry, group work and the felicitous results of attentive caring about living plants takes place.”

Spretnak says that the relational shift has moved more quickly and easily into college and university level education. She cites a number of holistic alternative programs that have been implemented around the world such as The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in the United States and “Transformative Learning for Sustainable Living” at Schumacher College in England, among others. Some of these new organizations offer courses in, “new ways of doing business, green building,” and “community revitalization.”

Health and Healthcare

So many revolutionary discoveries have been made in this field that Spretnak had to divide her findings into 3 sections:

- Interpersonal Relationships and Human Health
- Dynamic Physiological Relationships Within the Human Bodymind
- Interrelatedness Between the Human Bodymind and its Environmental Context

Does anyone have their own snapshot of the health crises that they would like to share?

In this section Spretnak shares much good news. She cites numerous studies that show that, “the robustness of our immune system is formed in childhood through love.” For those of us who may have missed out on this opportunity there is still hope. Spretnak reports that, “cultivating friendships as an adult can do much to improve the resilience of our immune system and our physical ability.” Studies also show that whether you have faith or not, participating in a religious organization can also improve physical and mental health. Also, exercise can help to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Spretnak also reports on the remarkable health benefits of simple things such as increased exposure to trees, moonlight, sunlight and flowers.

Have you experienced a relational shift in your own health that you would like to share?

Community Design and Architecture

Although Spretnak doesn’t cite this particular example, I’ve decided that my own personal favorite relational shift in this area is the new trend of turning suburban lawns into food gardens!

What is your favorite shift in community design and architecture?


This is a very dense section die to its very complex and far-reaching subject matter but my favorite example of the new shift in economics is community based economies and local currency, such as Ithica, New York’s local currency, Ithica Hours, pictured above. This scrip is based on the local hourly wage and keeps money in the local community.

What is your favorite example of the new relational shifts taking place in economics?

Spretnak concludes her book with the prediction and hope that our relational shift will move into “relational renewal,” and that we will obtain, “a deeper realization of our inherent relationship with the sacred whole, the entire creative presence, the divine mystery of it all.”