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.”[i]
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. To quote Wendell Berry:
“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.”
[i] See Jules Cashford, “Gaia and the Anima Mundi” Spiritual Ecology, ed. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and published in July 2013.