The Ecology of Hierarchical Thinking

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Watercolor landscape, http://www.carolineallen.com
A month ago, a friend gave me a packet of lettuce seeds and I sprinkled them in the garden. I was just admiring the tiny lettuce leaves springing up and for some reason turned to thoughts of hierarchical thinking. In a hierarchy, the seedlings might well be seen as less than the larger, stronger lettuce I planted three months ago.
How absurd is that? But I think we fall into the trap of hierarchical thinking all the time. 
I stared at the fragile new lettuce and thought about my protagonist in Earth, Pearl. Earth is one in a series of four literary novels (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) all of which follow Pearl as she comes of age in a world rocked by climate change. When she was little, she did not see herself as separate from the earth. She saw every plant and animals as no different from her, “every crunch of ice, every frozen creek, every burr” caught in her coat she saw as herself. But then she was educated, like we all are, to think hierarchically — and it’s in that place that we lose touch with the land. We are now better than the earth. We are not equal to trees, we own them. Animals are ours to use.
What happens to each of us when we grow up this way? Surely, the damage we’re doing to the planet is all about hierarchal thinking. I am superior to fish, so I can pollute their waters. I am greater than a tree, so I can clear-cut whole forests. I have been given divine providence to be a superior entity, so I can factory farm animals and treat them horribly, and then go to the grocery store and buy cheap meat.
But it happens in subtle ways too, this hierarchical thinking, in ways that damage the SOUL as much as it damages the SOIL. Who do you think you are “better” than? Truly think about that. Are you better than a homeless person? Are you better than your neighbor? Are you better than an elderly person? Are you better than someone who is fragile because they’re sick
As an artist, I spent years driving junker cars, anything second-hand would do. Two years ago, I bought a new car, and as I pulled into a parking space, beside me was a man in a rusted out beater. I felt so superior as I looked over at him, then caught myself and laughed. I’d had the car two weeks. Who was I to judge this guy? I was him! And we all know people who think because they have a big house or a big job or a big whatever that they are inherently superior. Doesn’t their abundance prove the gods love them more?
This is such a dangerous way of thinking. Spiritual materialism, I think it’s called, and it seems to be everywhere in the US right now. I sometimes work as an alternative metaphysical healer, using tarot to channel for people, and have myself gone to dozens of such healers. I’ve had it happen too many times to count where the channeler inherently believes that what they have in their lives makes them superior and the reading they give will focus on what you need to get to be like them. It’s not at all the way true spiritual messages work — any true connection with spirit is profoundly non-hierarchical. Your path is your path and mine is mine. Can you just FEEL the freedom in living that way?
And this hierarchical thinking can be even MORE subtle. As a book coach, I was working with a very gifted writer on her novel. Nothing I seemed to do worked with her. I’d actually never come across a situation where I couldn’t help. Every day I meditated, how can I help this woman.  I’d ask it over and over. I tried this and I tried that, but we just couldn’t get the novel to move forward. Of course, ultimately she quit coaching. Years passed, and we somehow got in touch. She told me she’d become a song writer and a singer — a gifted and quite successful one at that! She sent me a track. I was blown away, what a powerful woman’s voice!
I had been stuck in the mindset that I was there to help her with a “book”. Yes, that’s what she’d come to me for, but what she was really looking for was her musical voice, the tune of her soul, and the way it wanted to emerge was through song. I’m so profoundly glad she found her way, and all I can hope is that my meditations energetically helped. I believe I was thinking hierarchically with her. Instead of being open to whatever direction the coaching would take, I was obstinate about the success of the book.
Of course, let me add that I don’t live in that woo-woo place that discounts that some people have more talents in certain areas than others. Of course there are some people out there who have more talent, better looks, better health, etc. I don’t want to live in a bubble that denies that. I can’t make a basket like Michael Jordan. But then he perhaps cannot write a novel like I can. And his giftedness does not make him inherently “better” as a person than anyone or anything else.
I don’t know the way out of this entrenched practice of hierarchical thinking. I do know that when I can loose its grip on my psyche, when I can go outside and watch a sunset and see a red leaf glow on green grass, and see that the leaf is as important as I am, my life opens up. My life blossoms. My art flourishes. I’m more peaceful.
Isn’t that all every person, plant and animal really wants? Isn’t that what might very well save the planet?
Caroline Allen is a writing coach, visual artist and novelist, http://www.carollineallen.com. Her first novel Earth is to be published by Booktrope in 2015.
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