Eco-spirituality is a new name for a set of ideas that goes back a long way.
Baruch Spinoza and Giordano Bruno both viewed the universe as divine. Their ideas were broadly pantheistic. The implications of the idea that the universe itself is divine are explored by Sam Webster, who prefers immediacy to immanence. The universe is a theophany, the manifestation of the Divine. The implication here is that everything is sacred, and we should take care of the Earth and other beings; we certainly don’t have dominion over them.
A common trope in Western views of reality is the idea that there is an underlying essence to everything, a pure state of being, and that everything else emanates from that. This is a very pervasive idea, from Plato’s concept of Ideal Forms, all the way to Cartesian dualism. Process theology was an attempt to correct this thinking; its basic premise is that everything is always changing. It also views the Divine as involved in the process of change, and developing as a result of the changes:
For both Whitehead and Hartshorne, it is an essential attribute of God to be fully involved in and affected by temporal processes, an idea that conflicts with traditional forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.
As Pagans usually view our deities as neither infinite nor perfect, and many of us regard them as beings on their own spiritual journeys, this makes a lot of sense. Cyclicity and change are regarded as positive in Paganism, so process theology fits in well with that. Indigenous traditions also affirm that process and becoming are natural and inevitable; many indigenous American languages do not translate well into English, because English refers to everything as a fixed state (nouns), whereas they refer to everything as a process.
Gaia theology & theory affirms the idea of the Divine as living, and therefore changing. Gaea theology was developed by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart in 1970, independently of James Lovelock‘s better-known Gaia Theory. Oberon Zell-Ravenheart derived his ideas in part from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Catholic palaeontologist and geologist. Both Zell and Lovelock regarded the Earth as Gaia, a living organism, and named the idea after the Greek Goddess Gaia.
According to James Kirchner there is a spectrum of Gaia hypotheses, ranging from the undeniable to radical. At one end is the undeniable statement that the organisms on the Earth have radically altered its composition. A stronger position is that the Earth’s biosphere effectively acts as if it is a self-organizing system which works in such a way as to keep its systems in some kind of equilibrium that is conducive to life. Biologists usually view this activity as an undirected emergent property of the ecosystem; as each individual species pursues its own self-interest, their combined actions tend to have counterbalancing effects on environmental change. Proponents of this view sometimes point to examples of life’s actions in the past that have resulted in dramatic change rather than stable equilibrium, such as the conversion of the Earth’s atmosphere from a reducing environment to an oxygen-rich one.
An even stronger claim is that all lifeforms are part of a single planetary being, called Gaia. In this view, the atmosphere, the seas, the terrestrial crust would be the result of interventions carried out by Gaia, through the coevolving diversity of living organisms.

Eco-spirituality embraces an ethic of non-violence and sustainability. Non-violence includes respect for life in all its manifestations (human, non-human, animal, vegetable and mineral); harmonious use of natural resources, with respect for the natural order and cycles of the environment, and development compatible with the ecosystem; and listening to Nature, not dictating to it. In Hinduism, non-violence is known as ahimsa. Sustainability means not using up or depleting the resources available, and maintaining the diversity of ecosystems. Reducing the diversity of an ecosystem, or doing something that creates an imbalance in it, upsets the food web (what eats what in a specific ecosystem).
A key idea in eco-spirituality is deep ecology, which advocates the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their usefulness to humans. Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the organisms depend on each other for their existence within ecosystems. This philosophy was named “deep ecology” by Arne Næss in 1973. It is becoming increasingly apparent that a deep ecological approach is needed to ensure sustainability, biodiversity and the continued existence of the human species. Vandana Shiva writes:
“Deep ecological solutions are the only viable solutions to ensuring that every person on this planet has enough food, has enough water, has adequate shelter, has dignity and has a cultural meaning in life. If we don’t follow the path of living in ways that we leave enough space for other species, that paradigm also ensures that most human beings will be denied their right to existence. A system that denies the intrinsic value of other species denies eighty percent of humanity, their right to a dignified survival and a dignified life. It only pretends that is solving the problems of poverty, it is actually at the root of poverty. And the only real solution to poverty is to embrace the right to life of all on this planet, all humans and all species.”

Another important strand of eco-spirituality is eco-feminism, the idea that the exploitation of the Earth is symbolically linked to the domination of women, with talk of conquest, dominion, and so on; whereas respect for the Earth can be equated with respect for women. This is a big part of contemporary Goddess spirituality, and is obviously related to Gaia theology. In Ecofeminism (1993) authors Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies point out that modern science is not a universal and value-free form of knowledge, regarding the dominant scientific discourse as a projection of Western men’s values.
Another green precept is “Think global, act local“, the idea that before acting, we should look at consequences for the whole biosphere, as well as for the local environment. This is consistent with the Wiccan ethic “An it harm none, do what thou wilt”, which encourages us to look at the consequences of our actions. It also relates to the idea of spirit of place. The Romans honoured the genius loci, and the Greeks honoured the daemon (both terms mean ‘spirit of place’). This was the consciousness inhabiting wood and grove, tree and well, river and lake. Pagans have found that specific locations have a different atmosphere, a sense of presence. Christians have started to talk about ‘thin places’ – liminal places where the numinous can readily be encountered.
One of the things that keeps me Pagan is the importance of wildness. For me, this concept includes the erotic, the instinctive, the intuitive, a sense of connection to Nature, intimacy, freedom, and solitude. It also links in with deep ecology – the valuing of wild places and wild beings for themselves and not for their utility. An excellent book on the subject of reclaiming wildness is Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a Jungian psychotherapist and traditional storyteller.
Ancient cultures regarded the landscape itself as sacred, and devised sacred geography to describe it. This includes the concept of the four cardinal directions and their associated symbolism; the idea of the World Tree at the centre; and cosmologies with the heavens above, the underworld below, and the Earth in the middle.

author: Yvonne Aburrow
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Oneness & Spiritual Ecology


The Interspiritual Age belongs to our awakening sense of an interconnectedness rooted in the deep awareness of the oneness to which we all belong. This knowing of the unity of being, of the divine oneness of which we are all an expression, has long been known to the mystic and spiritual practitioner, but now is awakening within the collective consciousness of humanity. We are moving from an era of separation into an era of oneness, an awareness of the unity and “interbeing” of all of creation, as expressed in the beautiful and numinous image of Indra’s Net from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition: “Here the universe is seen as an infinite net; wherever the threads cross there is a clear shining pearl that reflects and is itself reflected in every other pearl. Each pearl is an individual consciousness—whether of a human being, an animal, a plant, a cell or an atom—so a change in one pearl, however small, makes a change in all the other pearls, each one both singular and responsive to the whole.” (See Jules Cashford)

An essential part of this awakening into oneness and its living interconnectedness is an awareness of how we are an integral part of the ecosystem of the planet. We can no longer afford to live in a Newtonian era of separation that sees the Earth as something separate from our own selves, as a resource to be used and abused to support our materialistic, fossil-fuel driven lifestyle. Furthermore, the shift from a Newtonian world view to a one based upon the discoveries of particle physics suggests that not only our actions but also our consciousness directly effects the world of matter. We are part of this planet in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

As we stand at the edge of the abyss of climate change, species depletion and other effects of our continued ecocide, there is a vital need to make this shift into oneness: to relearn how to live in harmony with the whole with which we are so interconnected. We cannot afford to continue our present self-destructive behavior that is pushing us towards the “tipping point” of an ecological imbalance with unforeseeable global consequences.

Many people are responding to this crisis—individually and as groups, with ideas and actions—trying to bring our collective attention to our unsustainable materialistic lifestyle and the ways it is contributing to ecological devastation, accelerating pollution, and species depletion. And yet, sadly, much of this response still belongs to the mindset that has caused the imbalance: the belief that we are separate from the world, that it is something “out there,” a problem we need to solve.

In order to go to the source of our present predicament, we need to reclaim our awareness of the interconnection of spirit and matter. We cannot afford to remain in a consciousness that separates the physical and spiritual: we need to return to a knowing of their oneness and dynamic interrelationship. The emerging field of “Spiritual Ecology” seeks to explore this vital subject with a focus on the spiritual nature of our present predicament. We cannot begin to heal the world or return to a state of balance without a reawakening to the sacred nature of creation.

Within many religious faiths environmentalism is becoming an area of study and advocacy, emphasizing, for example, our role as stewards, or trustees, of God’s Earth. However while religiously-oriented environmentalism is grounded in scripture and theology, Spiritual Ecology is a more recent environmental movement that articulates the need for an ecological approach founded on spiritual awareness rather than religious belief. The individuals articulating this approach may have a religious background, but their ecological vision comes from their own lived spiritual experience. The difference between this spiritually-oriented ecology and a religious approach to ecology can be seen as analogous to how the Interspiritual Movement moves beyond interfaith and interreligious dialogue to focus on the actual experience of spiritual principles and practices.Spiritual Ecology similarly explores the importance of this experiential spiritual dimension in relation to our present ecological crisis.

The focus of this emerging movement is to bring our attention to the world as a living spiritual being which is now in distress. The earth is calling to us, sending us signs of the extremity of its imbalance through earthquakes and tsunamis, floods and storms, drought, and unprecedented heat. These are what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the “Bells of Mindfulness” awakening our awareness to where it is needed at this moment in time. We cannot afford to do our spiritual practice in isolation, in separation. It is not just about us, our own interior practice, but about the greater whole of which we are a part. We are needed to respond to the cry of the earth.
And although we should be aware of the predictions of scientists, the world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong. The world is part of our own self and we are a part of its suffering wholeness. Until we go to the root of our image of separateness there can be no healing. And this comes from far deeper than Newtonian science and the Age of Enlightenment, but lies in our forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation, which is also our own sacred nature. When our Western monotheistic culture suppressed the many gods and goddess of creation, cut down the sacred groves and banished God to heaven, we began a cycle that has left us with a world destitute of the sacred, in a way unthinkable to any indigenous people. The natural world and the people who carry its wisdom know that the created world and all of its many inhabitants are sacred and belong together. Our separation from the natural world may have given us the fruits of technology and science, but it has left us bereft of any instinctual connection to the spiritual dimension of life—the connection between our soul and the soul of the world, the knowing that we are all part of one living, spiritual being.

It is this wholeness that is calling to us now, that needs our response. It needs us to reclaim our own root and rootedness: our relationship to the sacred within creation. Only from the place of sacred wholeness and reverence can we begin the work of healing, of bringing the world back into balance.
We cannot return to the simplicity of an indigenous lifestyle, but we can become aware that what we do and how we are at an individual level affects the global environment, both outer and inner. We can learn how to live in a more sustainable way, not be drawn into unnecessary materialism. We can also work to heal the spiritual imbalance in the world: our individual awareness of the sacred within creation reconnects the split between spirit and matter within our own soul and within the soul of the world. We are interconnected with the spiritual body of the earth more than we know.

We will each have our own way of living this connection, this primal mindfulness of our interbeing with the Earth. There is, for example, a simple prayer for the earth: the act of placing the world as a living being within our hearts when we inwardly remember the Divine. We become aware in our hearts of the sorrow and suffering of the world, and ask that divine love and healing flows where needed. That even though we continue to treat the world so badly, the power of the Divine will help us and help the world—help to bring the earth back into balance. We need to remember that the power of the Divine is more than that of all the global corporations which continue to make the world a wasteland, even more than the global forces of consumerism that demand the life-blood of the planet.

Sometimes it is easier to feel this connection when we feel the earth in our hands, when we work in the garden tending our flowers or vegetables. Or when we cook, preparing the vegetables that the earth has given us, mixing in the herbs and spices that provide flavor. Or making love, as we share our body and bliss with our lover, we may feel the tenderness and power of creation, how a single spark can give birth. Then our lovemaking can be an offering to life itself, a fully-felt remembrance of the ecstasy of creation.

The divine oneness of life is within and all around us. Sometimes walking alone in nature we can feel its heartbeat and its wonder, and our steps become steps of remembrance. The simple practice of ‘walking in a sacred manner’ in which with every step we take we feel the connection with the sacred earth is one way to reconnect with the living spirit of the earth.
There are so many ways to reconnect with the sacred within creation, to listen within and include the earth in our spiritual practice, in our awareness and daily life. Watching the simple wonder of a dawn can be an offering in itself. Or when we hear the chorus of birds in the morning we may sense that deeper joy of life and awake to its divine nature. While at night the stars can remind us of what is infinite and eternal within us and within the world. Whatever way we are drawn to wonder, to recognize the sacred, what matters is always the attitude we bring to this intimate exchange. It is through the heart that a real connection is made, even if we first make it in our feet or hands. Do we really feel how we are a part of this beautiful and suffering planet, sense its need? Then this connection becomes alive, a living stream that flows from our heart as it embraces all of life. Then every step, every touch, will be a prayer for the earth, a remembrance of what is sacred.

Our present ecological crisis is calling to us and it is for each of us to respond. There is action to be done in the outer world, but action that comes from a reconnection with the sacred—otherwise we will just be reconstellating the patterns that have created this imbalance. And there is work to be done within our hearts and souls, the foundational work of healing the soul of the world, of replenishing the spiritual substance of creation. This is an opportunity for humanity to reclaim its role as guardians of the planet, to take responsibility for the wonder and mystery of this world, for its sacred nature.
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” (Wendell Berry)

author: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
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Sustainability, Deep Ecology, & the Sacred


As our world stumbles to the brink of ecological collapse, the “tipping point” of irreversible climate change, sustainability has become a vital issue. But in order to consider the question of sustainability, it is important to begin with the question: who or what is being sustained? Does sustainability refer to “sustained economic growth,” and an environment that is able to sustain our present human civilization with its energy intensive, consumer driven needs and image of material progress? Or does sustainability refer to the whole ecosystem, an interconnected web of life with its vast and rich diversity of species? Which world are we trying to sustain?

The first image of sustainability has economic models of growth and energy efficiency, often with accompanying “green” ideas such as green technologies or green jobs to help our civilization develop. It is orientated almost solely towards our human wellbeing, which the environment is seen as supporting. This is sometimes referred to as “surface ecology.”

The second image of sustainability is often referred to as “deep ecology” and it considers the ecosystem as a living whole of which humanity is only one part. In this complex web of interrelationships all species are dependent upon each other, and it is this dynamic pattern of inter-relationship that needs to be sustained. No one part can be considered as separate from the whole, and the idea that the environment is just here to support our human civilization is a travesty of real environmental consciousness.

Deep ecology moves beyond the Newtonian idea of humanity being separate from the world in which we live—the image of humanity and its “environment.” It does not see humanity as a “superior” species, which the rest of the ecosystem should support in a subservient manner, or that nature is for humanity to master and control. Rather than embracing a Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest, deep ecology sees life from the perspective of co-operation and inter-dependence. It brings into question whether our present civilization, with its model of continued economic and material growth, is ethically or environmentally sustainable. Is it right that our human needs and desires take precedence over the whole of creation, to the point of unprecedented species depletion, pollution, and destruction of natural habitat—as well as constellating a climate change that is bringing our whole ecosystem into a dangerous state of imbalance? And if creation is an interdependent whole, how long can we all endure this present ecocide?

An interdependent ecosystem is closer to the dynamics of particle physics, which we begin to understand as underlying our physical world. Here not only is no one part separate from another, but everything is interacting, both locally and at a distance. And consciousness itself is not separate from physical reality. We are interdependent in ways we are only just beginning to understand. And yet we still live in a civilization dominated by an outdated Newtonian image of separation. Sadly even much present “environmental consciousness” remains within this paradigm, seeing the ecological imbalance as a problem that we can solve scientifically or economically. We have only begun to recognize the degree to which this unprecedented global crisis requires a shift in consciousness. If we are to truly respond to the need of an interconnected whole, we need a quality of consciousness that embraces the whole.

Once we step into the reality of a holistic consciousness that is truly in “interrelationship” with the whole, we will find our self in a very different world in which everything is interacting with us in a continually dynamic state. Even our consciousness is affecting the physical world. The question then becomes what is our role in this truly interdependent reality? Even our present image of “deep ecology” primarily sees the world through a consciousness of separation—the analytic and rational framework of our education and conditioning. We rarely experience our consciousness merged into the oneness of the world around us, as for example exists with indigenous peoples for whom even the idea of an individual being separate from their environment does not exist.

Sadly separation is so embedded into our present Western consciousness that we are not even aware of the limitations of our perception, or how our problem-solving mentality has a determining effect on how we see and interact with our environment. We have been educated to see the parts rather than the whole, and to think and act from an attitude of separation. If we are to truly embrace the reality of an ecological sustainability that recognizes the world as a living whole, we need to make the shift into a holistic consciousness, a consciousness that sees the whole in every part. Only then can we fully respond to the environmental crisis that is being caused by our present Western consciousness and the values it supports. Deep ecology requires not just a shift in values or ideology, but a shift in consciousness.

We cannot return to an indigenous consciousness, and we need the tools of science and technology to survive in today’s world. However, within indigenous awareness there is a key that can awaken us to an awareness of oneness. This key is the recognition of the sacred nature of creation. For indigenous peoples everything is sacred, and they live this primal knowing in all of their daily activities. All of the world is sacred, and all of their everyday activities a lived relationship to the sacred. This is the heartbeat of their world. It could be argued that our Western civilization is unusual in not having the awareness of the sacred at its foundation. In our image of “progress” we are unaware of having lost something so essential to life.

The “sacred” is not something primarily religious or even spiritual. It is not a quality we need to learn or to develop. It belongs to the primary nature of all that is. When our ancestors knew that everything they could see was sacred, this was not something taught but instinctively known. It was as natural as sunlight, as necessary as breathing. We all have within us a sense of the sacred, a sense of reverence, however we may articulate it. It is a part of our human DNA. We each need to find this key within us. What does it mean for something to be sacred, what feeling does this evoke? How do we recognize the quality of the sacred, and how do we then respond?

If we recognize the sacred and embrace it within all of life, we will find that life will speak to us as it spoke to our ancestors. It will remind us of how to live in harmony with creation, and how to restore the balance that is intrinsic to life. This is the ancient wisdom of the Earth itself, the Earth which has evolved and changed over millennia, been through previous ecological shifts. Unless we return to this deep knowing, real sustainability will remain a concept rather than a lived reality.
“We need not a human answer to an earth problem, but an earth answer to an earth problem. The earth will solve its problems, and possibly our own, if we will let the earth function in its own ways. We need only listen to what the earth is telling us.
We still carry this primal knowing of the sacred within our consciousness, even if we have forgotten it. A relationship to the sacred is older than any formalized religion, even though it is found at the foundation of many religions. It is a primal recognition of the wonder, beauty and divine nature of the world. It is a felt reverence, an inner sense—we even speak of “a sense of the sacred.” Once we bring this foundational awareness into our consciousness, into our relationship with the world in which we are present, we will find that it opens a door in our consciousness into oneness. The sacred is a quality of spirit in which all is one. Once we recognize something as sacred we feel its unity—the whole of which it is a part—the sacred naturally draws us away from separation towards oneness. The remembrance of the sacred is a key that can awaken our consciousness to the oneness to which we belong.”
(Thomas Berry)

The awareness of the sacred reconnects our consciousness to the primal structure of life which was known to our ancestors. For them the world was sacred and whole—they could not conceive of it being other. The greatest tragedy of modern man is that we have lost this primal awareness, this knowing of the sacred. The most needed work is to reconnect with the sacred in our outer and inner life. Through this simple act of remembrance we can regain the balance we have so dangerously lost. Then we can see how we are a part of the interconnected web of life and know the work that needs to be done. Our outer actions, rather than reconstellating the patterns of separation, will naturally come from oneness and help life’s unity to unfold. We will again be a part of the evolving organic interdependence of life. Without this simple key of awareness of the sacred we could remain lost in the wasteland world we are creating.

If we remember the sacred we will find our self in a world as whole as it is holy. This is not a world that sustains our models of economic growth and consumer desires. This is rather a world of wonder and magic, and a world that needs our attention—that needs to be sustained as much as it sustains us, sustains our souls as well as our bodies. But first we need to make this shift in consciousness, to see the earth with new eyes.
“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity—then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.” (David Suzuki)

author: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
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