Freya Mathews: Australian Eco-Philosopher, Sage — and, I’d say, Permaculturist!

Two nights ago, during my usual middle-of-the-night wakefulness, I came upon videos of the philosopher Richard Tarnas. That I would come upon him all these years later felt like a looping back to another time, that astrology conference in 1990 when I was a presenter and Tarnas was the keynote speaker. Even more significant, to this story: this is the conference when I met the polyglot mathematician Jeff Joel, who became my 4th husband, and with whom I lived for the next 12 years, until he died of a heart attack. See This Vast Being: A Voyage through Grief and Exaltation.

So here’s the story: during that keynote speech, Tarnas outlined his perspective on the history of western philosophy, a history with which I was deeply familiar, and had, surprising to me, come to many of the same conclusions, back in the late ’60s. These findings, for him, resulted in his book, The Passion of the Western Mind, published the following year.

While I was listening to this talk, I looked around to all my fellow astrologers, hundreds of them, and surmised that what he was talking about was utterly new and foreign to them. That is when I recognized that, given my background, “this is not my community.” I was stunned to realize that fact.

As soon as it was over, I rushed for the door, and Jeff, whom I had already met and begun a conversation, synchronistically happened to rush to the door from elsewhere in the large room at the same time. He and I began to walk together down the hall. It turns out that Jeff, too, was deeply familiar with both what Tarnas talked about and with his conclusions. That was it, for me, though I didn’t consciously realize it until a few weeks later. I had met my partner.

Okay, fast forward to two nights ago, and Richard Tarnas, one his videos. (I must say, he has aged well!) He’s a wonderful thinker who ties together all sorts of ideas in ways that make sense to me, from many cultures. While speaking, he mentioned an Australian philosopher, who he said was oriented to “panpsychism,” or the attitude that all of nature is alive and conscious.

He told the story of how Mathews, who had struck up a relationship with a certain plant, and nurtured it for many years, replanting it over and over again until it finally found its best spot, had to let the plant go when the next door neighbor said he was going to dig a concrete trench around the perimeter of his yard, right next to the fence upon which this plant had made a spacious home. Making the trench would kill its roots. There was nothing she could do about it.

She grieved the coming loss of the plant, spending time with it for days until its scheduled death. The morning that the trench was to be dug, she came outside to discover that the plant had produced a single, enormous bloom. Its very first bloom, after all those years. She was overwhelmed with gratitude. That her plant would say farewell. That their relationship had come to a conscious close.

Tarnas told this story in the context of discussing Jung’s notion of synchronicity, saying that many people would marvel at the synchronicity of this plant producing its first bloom on the morning of its impending death. But Tarnas agreed with Mathews. The significance of this story is even greater, for it illustrates the relationship between this human and this plant. Which reminds me of a famous female permaculturist — Penny Livingston? — who, when asked to define permaculture, says, simply: “permaculture is relationships.”

The next day I looked up Freya Mathews, and from this video, I see that she’s probably about my age, an elder, or crone. Frankly, after listening to this entire video, I cannot tell the difference between her attitude and that of the deeper philosophical aspects of permaculture! I wonder if she knows Holmgren and Mollison, also Australians and permaculture’s founders.

Needless to say, I love the way Freya Mathews thinks. Her distinctions between the philosopher and the sage, between theory and strategy, abstract truth and total immersion, dualism and panpsychism, the western and eastern approaches to life on the living earth make me smile with gratitude.


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2 Responses to Freya Mathews: Australian Eco-Philosopher, Sage — and, I’d say, Permaculturist!

  1. Rachael Carlson says:

    As a life-long committed gardener this story truly touches my heart. I agree that this is not about synchronicity, but about relationship and the oneness of all life. Years ago my sister and I–both flower essence practitioners–were traveling through the desert southwest and stopped at a botanical garden. Wandering through the cacti, which we worked with, but had never seen in person, we came to a chunky Teddy Bear Cholla cactus, an energetic favorite for both of us. As we laughed with delight at being in its presence, we both heard the sound of high, tinkling laughter: the Teddy Bear recognizing us, as we recognized it.

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