Seeking in the Past: Relationships and Living Systems (Part 1)

Those of us working as professionals on the gamut of fronts considered environmental have a range of drivers and motivations that bring us to this work.  It might be scientific understanding, emotional connection to nature, simply that there’s a market and it seems to be the right thing to do, or other factors.  What’s striking is that many coming from a spiritual perspective have similarly raised concerns – often very grave concerns – of our direction as a society, as it relates to our environment.  Further, there is a wealth of this thought, going back 20, 30, and more years, which we tend to forget.

Samples include:

Chief Oren Lyons of the Haudenosaunee Nation: “In our perception all life is equal, and that includes the birds, animals, things that grow, things that swim. All life is equal in our perception.  . . . you must consider in the process and in choosing the direction of your life: how will this affect the seventh generation?  Will people of all races learn? . . . Will they reach beyond feelings of racism and antagonism to see what is good for the welfare of all people? And not only people, but of all things that live.”[1]

Chief Lyons represents one of the vast array of indigenous religions that developed across the planet during our nascency as peoples, which continue today and which inherently hold this environmental respect, in the dependency of their peoples on local natural forces, plants, and animals for survival.

Former Catholic priest Matthew Fox has said that “this issue of creation and Earth spirituality is the issue of our time . . . “ and that “Religion should not be contributing to the sin of anthropocentrism. It should be opening us up to reverence for the water and the soil and the rain forest and all the creatures . . . ”[2]    Father Thomas Berry, also of the Catholic tradition, asserted “Dimunition of the natural world is dimunition of the inner psychic world . . the natural world is an enormous resource for our minds. . . . Only if we have a beautiful world can we have a beautiful mind and beautiful soul. . . We must come to see the human species and other species as a single community.”[3]   Berry also said that the falling out of reverence with nature was a tragic historical development within Christianity during the time of the European Middle Ages, arguing that nature should still be a central facet of Christianity.

Spiritual beliefs such have these also contributed to the Deep Ecology movement, which is not a religious movement per se, but clearly hold much reverence for our environment.  Deep Ecology, as articulated by Arne Naess, Warwick Fox, Bill Devall and George Sessions among others very fundamentally asks “which society, which education, which form of religion is beneficial for all life on the planet as a whole, and then . . . what we need to do . . . to make the necessary changes.”[4]. Warwick Fox articulated three assumptions of deep ecology:

1. Human beings are just one species among others in the community of nature, and they are not separate from their environment. All beings are intrinsically equal.

2. Everything is connected, and the interrelationships are constantly changing.

3. Instead of economic growth, this view assumes ecological sustainability and requires a long-term view.

Not only is untamed wilderness valuable in itself, but it is valuable for spiritual reasons as well. And the central motivation in the lives of deep ecology proponents is a spiritual connection with nature. [5]

(Part 1, to be continued)

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[1] Learning to Listen, 1991, “An Iroquois Perspective” chapter.

[2] “The Sounds of Silence”, New Age Journal, March\April 1989.

[3] “Finding Heaven on Earth”, New Age Journal, March\April 1990.

[4] Arne Naess, as quoted in “Deep Ecology”, Tanya Kucak, Yoga Journal, September/October 1986

[5] “Deep Ecology”, Tanya Kucak, Yoga Journal, September/October 1986