Practical EcoSpirituality: Not an Oxymoron?

posting by Jana

2017-11-17 15.23.57.jpg

Yesterday I re-entered the familiar space of progressive spirituality, a space I inhabited in my professional life for 25 years until launching into a PhD and convening this community.

I was invited as one of three speakers for a morning of input and conversation on 'authentic spirituality for the 21st century.' Mark Kickett, the Development Officer of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, and Anne Hewitt, a chaplain on an interfaith team at Flinders Medical Centre, presented immersive talks about aboriginal and Celtic spirituality, respectively. 

We all found ourselves meeting at the point of interconnection as the heart of spirituality. Everything is connected, a reality that grounds us and moves us to compassionate action. 

I was, of course, talking about Ecozoic Living for my part. I titled my talk, Ecozoic Living: A Practical EcoSpirituality. By 'practical' I was signalling the possibility that ecospirituality is as much about going out from nature as going into it. Here's a bit of the introduction to my talk:

What I’m reaching for in the idea of a practical eco-spirituality is a framework for living that simultaneously feeds our spirits with reflective practices and guides our actions on behalf of others and the world we share. I’m looking for a pathway to co-flourishing: my own flourishing, the flourishing of the places and communities in which I find myself, and the flourishing of the whole community of life on Earth.

I’ve always been on a pathway into nature as a source of spiritual nourishment, but it wasn’t until I encountered an idea from Thomas Berry that I learned to articulate an ethical pathway leading out from nature. A complete spiral path of practical eco-spirituality – going in/going out – emerges for me in Berry’s idea of the Ecozoic Era.

The Ecozoic Era is a vision of a time when human beings will learn to be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.

Obviously, there are human beings and entire cultures who embody the Ecozoic and have for millennia. But dominant Western culture has evolved according to a radical discontinuity: in the classical period with the elevation of the mind over the body; within the prevailing Christian tradition that demonised bodies – especially the bodies of women and the Earth – in the doctrine of original sin; and in the context of political, social, and scientific revolutions that forged a social imaginary of mastery and control instead of mutuality and coexistence.

As we thought, so we acted: disconnection led to objectification and objectification led to exploitation and exploitation has led to devastation.

I believe the vision of the Ecozoic can lead to transformation in the human-Earth relationship within Western culture if activated as a framework for living; as a practical eco-spirituality.

I hadn't explicitly named the practices of Ecozoic Living - learning, learning to be present, learning to be present to the planet, and learning to be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner - as spiritual practices before this talk. But the notion sits well with me, for a few reasons: 

1.     These practices engage the big questions: Who am I? Who are we? Why are we here?

2.     They address the big relationships: self, cosmos, others.

3.     They pursue the big tasks: finding meaning, transcending, connecting, becoming.

Here is more from the talk, and here is a link to the full PDF.

I wonder: which of the practices do you connect with most easily and which do you find most challenging? 

The spiritual practice of learning is about allowing ourselves to be changed by this fact: that the universe has evolved in us the capacity for self-reflective consciousness. We can choose to participate in the flourishing of the whole community of life on Earth. This is a better story than the one that imagines us as separate from or in opposition to nature. We can find all the energy we need to live this better story not only in the awe and wonder of the new universe story but also in our own nature love stories.

learning to be present
This practice is about opening up to the world as it is, with courage, clarity, and calm.

The practicality of the spiritual practice of learning to be present shines through in this teaching from Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa that Margaret Wheatley includes in her discussion of emergence in So Far From Home: Lost and Found in our Brave New World

We cannot change the world as it is,
But by opening ourselves to the world as it is,
We may find that gentleness, decency, and bravery are available –
Not just to us but to all human beings.

In other words, as Margaret Wheatley comments on this teaching, ‘If we fully accept the world as it is – in all its harsh realities – then we can develop the very qualities we need to be in that world and not succumb to that harshness.’

learning to be present to the planet
This is the point of the spiral pathway connected directly to the Earth. This is where we sit in nature and watch the interaction of bees and flowers. This is where we lean against the tree and pay attention to the inherent reciprocity of our relationship with that tree: as we breathe out, the tree breathes in, and we breathe in as the trees breathes out.

The practicality of this spiritual practices lies in setting our rhythms to those of the universe and the earth: rhythms of interdependency, connectedness, and emergence.

learning to be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner
This is the point of the spiral pathway reaching out into the world in the ethic of mutual benefit.

Activating the Ecozoic as a practical spiritual framework is testing our participation in the human-Earth relationship – in every thought, word, and deed – with the litmus of mutual benefit.

I wonder: What are you noticing about your responses to my descriptions of these practices? I welcome your comments and conversation!