Integral Ecofeminism: An Introduction

Categories: Articles,The Sha'can Tradition

By: Chandra Alexandre
First published in Integral Review Vol. 9, No. 3 (2013)

This introduction to integral ecofeminism is a meditation resting on the juicy, rich, layered, and deep context afforded by critical spirituality, embodied mysticism, spiritual politics and ecstatic devotion. It is a pathway motivated by a deep call to spirit and the various wisdom traditions of our world, indigenous and post-modern. It is also a prayer for helping us to understand that which we oftentimes cannot describe or explain adequately though the vehicle of language. It is a perspective dedicated to weaving together strands from opposing worldviews, all the while guided by a vision of global community as diverse, individual, intense and sublime as all of creation. It is a journey, a call to the realm of spirit or cosmic consciousness for initiation into the mysteries.

At its core, integral ecofeminism provides an orienting vision as well as some of the strategic tactics necessary for the creation of a sustainable, thriving way of life. It invites us into the challenge of implementing the particulars of our authentic selves in the fullness of our manifestation within the context of our daily lives. Why? Because doing so is movement toward realization that we are the essential elements required for achieving the benefits of integral ecofeminism—benefits resulting from the work of love in practice, or that which breeds optimism, peace, respect and equity. But can we honor the invitation? Doing so attempts to give meaning to being alive. It propels us toward the schisms of the world so that healing might occur.

In this way, integral ecofeminism asks us to experience more of the world by re-membering who we are in ways that are not limited by either external or internalized oppressions. To make this happen, we must question our belief in the nature of things. For if we can work from the premise that life is inherently intelligent, integral ecofeminism argues us into having faith in an evolutionary developmental process. In this, we may recognize the larger ocean that is the Divine, called by any name, as guiding our lives. This is the truth (holding both the illumination and the shadow) of our unfolding unique stories and our collective process as human beings on Earth. It is our increasingly unencumbered soul held within the mystery of our incarnation and our evolution. Integral ecofeminism as thus defined, catalyzes the process of conscious global transformation—and this is its essential motivation.

The Road Here and Beyond

Prior to our new science understandings, the Western position has generally been one of unquestioning domination. The fight of feminists has been with rectifying a man-woman dichotomy that values only one side of the equation. Environmentalists have most often struggled with a culture-nature dichotomy, where civilization has been deemed supreme and nature regarded as an expendable resource. For ecofeminists, the link between the struggles of women and those for nature has been made explicit. In fact, ecofeminists argue that the oppression of women is inextricably linked to the domination of nature: only through the realization that the two have been equated can we begin to re-value both spheres and remove the weight of imposed inferiority. Integral ecofeminism seeks therefore to empower those marginalized by patriarchal ideology, helping them to find voice and recognition within the local as well as global systems and institutions of the world.

Greta Gaard (1993) notes that the theoretical base of ecofeminism is generally expressed as a sense of self “interconnected with all life” (p. 1). This is a sentiment of relationship; of relationship to the whole of which we are each a part. And such a sense of relationship to the whole is exactly what is required in order to break dualistic mindsets and create a worldview that incorporates the worth and wisdom of the non-dominant (for example, the female and her body, the chthonic and the antinomian, the voiceless and the unheard) readily into its embrace toward fostering new consciousness.

At its outset, the project of integral ecofeminism is that of an embodied spiritual philosophy, one that understands the central role women’s bodies, the Earth body and Goddess must play in dismantling the patriarchal paradigm. And not just because these are previously undervalued tokens present in a new worldview. Rather, what is represented here is otherwise missing from the lifeblood expression today of human evolution in its fullest. We are therefore asked to take in the rainbow provided by the rich red of menstrual blood, the blackness of Kali’s skin, and the whiteness of silence in order to heal. As Ynestra King (1990) asserted, there can be no sustainable vision for the future until we realize that healing needs to occur. Embracing all that is, was and ever will be, integral ecofeminism then moves us to blossom love, realizing both the polarity of opposites and the sacred marriage that births us anew in the process.

Vandana Shiva (1989) proposed that we consider the example of Hinduism’s Prakriti as a guide in our healing struggles. Prakriti is living nature or the feminine principle, and Shiva holds that this concept is a pathway toward accomplishing a more balanced worldview while also promoting environmental sustainability and the well-being of diverse, autonomous communities. Prakriti also represents the sacredness of relationships, inviting us to become one with self-other and personal-planetary concerns. While women are the foremost carriers of Prakriti, in part because they have been—in the eyes of patriarchal society and its constructs—equivalent with exploitable nature, both women and men may engage Prakriti as a non-violent, non-gendered and inclusive alternative to instigations and affronts that sap women and nature of their vital energies for the production of unsustainable profits and greedy capital accumulation that serves the interests of merely a few.

When examined, Prakriti provides more than the dualistic counterpart to Purusha, the activating or male principle of Samkhaya Indian philosophy. Instead, it is the entirety of nature, replete with its ability to create, sustain and destroy in order to continue the cycle of life. It is the blood required at the birthing, the energy of growth toward ripeness, and the vulture feasting on our remains. Prakriti thus considered asserts, “both a holistic perspective and an inclusive agenda of concerns based on its considerable respect for diversity—both in turn being principles of nature…” (Kothari, quoted in Shiva, 1989, p. x). As such, Prakriti is a source of inspiration for integral ecofeminism as it emerges from the grassroots of the world’s rebellions against hate and oppression. Within its embrace, those in need of self-respect and community, healing and rest may find their space and time.

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