In today’s society, the idea of animism is often viewed as superstition or pseudoscience, which seems to have little value and relevance to our life. In this blog post, I will showcase that the animist worldview can indeed make our life more meaningful, especially in the present world that is largely dominated by materialism and scientific reductionism.
So what exactly does animism mean? The English word ‘animism’ is originated from anima in Latin, which stands for breath or life. It refers to the belief mostly held by the prehistoric indigenous people that everything in the world possesses a soul or a spirit. This implies that everything can feel and think and thus has consciousness and free will. In contrast to our normative view that only human beings have spirit whereas non-human objects are somewhat ‘dead’, animists believe that all existing things – even as teeny-tiny as a molecule, or as far-reaching as a star – are alive. Indigenous societies were convinced that human beings must – in order to keep the harmony and balance of the universe – understood and respect other lives; otherwise, nature might revenge by bringing catastrophe on the community.
So far, it seems that the idea of animism sounds quite mythical and somewhat outdated. And you might wonder how it has anything to do with life improvement. More than just a religious belief, animism is indeed a life style that tells us how to establish personal relationship with nature and with all non-human spirits who inhabit within it. The concept of animism, if applied appropriately, can help use create more meanings and values out of our monotonous life. Sounds fascinating, but how?
On way of applying animist idea into our everyday life is offered by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant. In her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie introduces us the way of decluttering and organizing our room in an innovative way. One ‘animistic’ tip mentioned in her book is to respect your items as if they were alive. Look around your room. More often than not, things are all over the place in a state of mixed-up messiness. Have you ever thought about, for instance, how do a piece of clothes feel when you crumpled her up? Probably, she is feeling sad, or may even be mad at you. Try out the animistic lifestyle: communicate with your belongings, and express your gratitude for their companionship. If you are hungry for more organizing tips mentioned in the book, check out our previous article New year, fresh start: decluttering my life with the KonMari method.
Apart from benefits at the individual level, animism also provides us with a way to combat intractable problems at the societal level, namely environmental degradation. Only by changing the way we see nature can we really change the way we interact with nature. Animists underscore the spiritual equality of all beings, and challenge the presumed superiority of human species. There is no hierarchy in nature, and we need to pay respect to living beings around us – the air, water, plants, soil and the list goes on. If you want to learn more about how to incorporate the animist idea into our life and to help build a healthy relationship with nature, then check out Animist Ecology website for more info.
To wrap up, animism offers us an alternative way of viewing the world. As John Reid put it in the TED talk The Power of Animism, the idea of Animism ‘turns something we use to someone we can relate to’. It teaches us to appreciate, and to take care of, everything around us. Start from now, try to think like an animist, and you will be surprised by the result!