Eleanor Stoneham, author of Healing this Wounded Earth, recently let me interview her for the West Coast Writers blog. Here is that interview for you to enjoy. Her web site and blog are at the end; if you're interested, buy the book and visit her web site and her blogs.
Laura: Eleanor, your book, Healing this Wounded Earth: with Compassion, Spirit, and the Power of Hope, seems to go against the prevailing pessimism of society today. How have you maintained your own hope in a life with many difficulties?
Eleanor: Sometimes it’s been really difficult! I’ve been to some dark places, to the brink of almost total despair, and fought hard to recover. But I think my faith has supported me, and my friends and church community, and a very understanding team of medical professionals over the years. And also a positive belief in human nature. Anne Frank, in spite of the terrible experiences she suffered at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War observed that ‘Despite everything…people are really good at heart.’ Simone Weil once observed that ‘at the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done.’ We have to believe this! If we are to hold any hope at all for the future of our race we must believe that mankind is inherently good, not evil. And hope is more than simple optimism. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that he had never been an optimist. “I've always been a man of hope,” he said, because “hope holds on even when things are seemingly doomed and dark.” I like that – it’s very positive and has helped me get through some pretty dark times of my own. My first working title for this book was Ripples of Hope, from a speech that Robert Kennedy made in Cape Town in 1966:
Laura: While many people see a dichotomy between science and medicine on one hand and spirituality on the other, you find their union generative to your hopes. Can you explain your ability to connect these two spheres of mental activity?
Eleanor: I don’t believe there is a dichotomy! When I talk with delegates at the conferences I attend, with scientists, doctors, philosophers and scholars from many disciplines, even enlightened ministers of religion, I realise I’m far from alone in believing that science and religion or spirituality are not mutually exclusive. I think the extremes of polarity between the scientific and the spiritual viewpoint, between the objective and the subjective, between thinking and feeling, the expressible and the ineffable, between our outer or exoteric selves and the inner or esoteric, are simply different ways of viewing the same reality. We have inherited the works of the great mystics, from all cultures and faiths. They have seen things, experienced things, which they’ve been able to articulate for the benefit of us all. And many of us are able to feel these qualities from both a heart and a head perspective, to have a sense of the spiritual, the intrinsic, the inner, as well as an ability to analyse rationally and objectively. And we sense that there is something there beyond the material. Some scientists, such as Rupert Sheldrake, think “outside the box” and are daring to challenge the restrictive materialistic dogma that has infiltrated science worldwide. Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, for example, through morphogenetic fields, controlling the growth of plants and animals, is simply brilliant. In Rupert we have a highly intelligent scientist, also incidentally an Anglican Christian, who reminds us that we should have a more open mind in our approach to science. And when I was at such low ebb, I found healing in the spiritual, in meditation, yoga and prayer as much as in conventional medicine and pills!
Laura: As you point out, regulations and laws are not very effective in changing behavior, and you advocate education and understanding instead. But many people feel that atrocities perpetrated in World War II by highly educated people, claiming to be sensitive and cultured, undermined any faith in learning and understanding as a way to improve human behavior. What can you say to critics who make that claim?
Eleanor: But we’ve moved on since then and I’m advocating a different kind of education that hopefully recognises past mistakes and tries hard not to repeat them. I want to see an education that is more holistic, that equips people with the skills to be good citizens rather than simply able to find and hold a job. I want to see an education that nurtures spiritual literacy, teaches conflict resolution, the art of dialogue, tolerance and respect for all people. And this kind of education has to become available to all, including women-in fact especially women- across the globe, in the poorest as well as the most privileged countries.
Laura: As your book title implies, you emphasize healing from wounds as a road to insight. If someone has had a blessed life with no major problems, do you believe they cannot achieve real understanding?
Eleanor: No, I don’t think so. The emerging science of empathy is showing us that we seem to be actually wired for empathy and compassion, at a neuro-physiological level. Empathy and spirituality are natural in young children, but unfortunately this is too often beaten out of them rather than fostered by our education system. If children have a blessed life, as you say, then their natural empathic selves should reflect in their empathic behaviour. But very few people have such totally charmed lives. We also know that who we are and how we behave as adults is not only a combination of our inherited gene and possibly also our meme makeup. We are also affected by subsequent influences in our upbringing and our experiences as we develop through childhood and beyond. This is what is meant when we talk about ‘nature versus nurture’. And as well as our inherited physical characteristics, we pick up mental wounds from the collective experiences of our ancestors. The unhealed wounds of mankind inflicted through millennia of evolution by strife and violence and disaster mean that hundreds of millions of people are psychologically, emotionally and physically scarred and wounded and in need of healing. It has even been suggested by some psychologists that human culture as a whole has been saturated by unhealed wounding, which, if unchecked, will continue on a downward spiral toward inevitable disintegration. That’s a really gloomy prognosis I know, which is why I am calling for much more healing!
Laura: Your emphasis is on what one person can do, a powerful concept and one that can move people to individual actions that add up to big effects. But I've heard criticisms of this approach by people who say that only acting at the level of city government or above has any measurable effect on the huge problems we're facing today. How do you answer such people?
Eleanor: Of course we need both. Some things are just too big to tackle on our own as individuals. But without a change in the hearts and minds of the individuals laws can be and are in fact widely abused. Sadly today many people seem to live according to what they can get away with. The use of hand held cell phones in autos is a good example of this. And shoplifting. And this brings us back to education again.
Laura: When you were writing your book, did people tell you no one would pay attention unless your coauthor was Nick Kristoff or someone else with name recognition? How are you approaching getting your message out all over the world?
Eleanor: Yes, as any budding author knows, getting a first book published is not easy, and global recognition is a long slog but I’m getting there!! I continue to write, I do talks, I attend conferences to keep up with what is happening in my areas of interest, I have my own blogs and I actively comment on other blog sites if I think it will help to get the message out there. And it obviously helped to have people like Dr Larry Dossey, Dawson Church, William Bloom, Alastair McIntosh, Paul Ray of Cultural Creatives fame, and The Revd. Peter Owen Jones, for example, supporting my book and endorsing its message. Not to mention the renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist writing a very powerful Foreword for me. I really hope that many will read Healing This Wounded Earth, be challenged by it, inspired by it, tell me what they think about it, tell other people about it, use it for discussion in their book club, their faith group, or in any other discussion groups, and run with an idea or two from its pages. Because each such deed, however small, will start its own ‘ripple of hope’ towards a better future. Surely we all want that.
Laura: I notice that a large section of your book focuses on money (and its inedible quality) while your biography says that you've been a scientist and an accountant. Do you feel you understand the unreality of money because you've been an accountant? Do you approve of the Occupy movement, focusing on the concentration of money with the 1% instead of the 99%?
Eleanor: Yes after I’d completed my scientific PhD, I trained as an accountant with one of the largest accountancy firms, and further training as a tax consultant and financial adviser obviously gave me quite some grounding in all matters financial! But I spent the last decade of my business career as a sole practitioner looking after small self employed businesses and family companies, plus some wealthy individuals, and others who continually struggled to make ends meet. And I noticed very often that vast sums of money were not necessarily making people any happier. I also became disenchanted with the whole money-making machine, where for many clients the sole purpose in life seemed to be making more money, and more; and for what purpose? And I saw greed and injustice at first hand! And that sickened me. So yes, I do support the Occupy movement, at least in principle. I believe they have a very good point to make. In fact I went up to London twice to walk around the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, to talk to some of the demonstrators; and I was impressed with the set-up, the serious discussions being held, the really strong feeling that something is terribly wrong when the gulf between the rich and the poor is so huge. How can we call ourselves civilised and human when the divide between the materially wealthy and the hungry poor is massive and the gap is apparently widening; when half the world live in hunger and poverty whilst there is a serious obesity epidemic amongst the rest of us?
Laura: Would you like to tell people about your blogs?
Eleanor: I started my Ripples of Hope blog as I was writing Healing This Wounded Earth, and I try to post items that I pick out of the news, that expand or illustrate those things I write about in the book. I also like to include plenty of photos of beautiful images – of gardens I have visited, places I have been, anything really that speaks to me in some way, which I hope others will also enjoy.I have now completed my second book, Why Religion? The Wisdom of Tolerance, which will be published hopefully later this year, by Circle Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing. This book is a rebuke to the militant or angry atheists, an apologetic for all religion, and this is the focus of my second blog, started in 2011. I push the boat out quite a bit in this book, because as I mentioned before, the trained scientist in me rejects the rigid materialistic dogma of conventional science. I believe that there are other realms of reality beyond this materialistic one; that the soul is immortal, that prayer can and does work, that we can connect with others through conscious intention. How can we explain phenomena such as psychometry, near death experiences, psychic imprints, intuitive medical diagnoses, and telesomatic experiences, for example, unless there are links between us all at some deep level in our consciousness? The late and great T. C. Lethbridge believed that the supernatural of one generation would eventually become the natural of the next and that all occult phenomena would in time be explained by science. But it will be that science I’ve already mentioned, a science that has thrown away the shackles of conventional dogma, a more open-minded science. And far from proving the myth or fairy tale of all matters religious, I think this new science will support and explain the religious phenomena of prayer, distance healing, and life after death, for instance. And this is something that I think could help to unite the religious in some way, not divide them. I’m really interested in this and am working on these ideas now. So to my third blog. I love my allotment. I was really keen on gardening even as a little girl and when we moved to a farm when I was eight years old I began fairly soon to supply much of the family’s vegetable needs. Any surplus vegetables were sold outside the farm gate to passing traffic. That helped to supplement my pocket money, which always went on gardening books, seeds, plants, cloches, netting, and anything else I could afford to buy for my garden. This all came to an end when I left home to go to University, and then my career and business took over. So now I am thoroughly enjoying being able to grow all our vegetables again. I set up the allotment blog to share some of my trials and successes, to show photos of the plot and the plants throughout the year, to help others who may not be so familiar with the whole gardening process, to perhaps inspire confidence in those who aren’t sure where to start!Please visit Eleanor Stoneham's web page and blogs to learn more, and buy her book! Cheers, Laura