What is spiritual ecology?
Spiritual ecology is an emerging field at the intersection of environmentalism and awareness of the sacred within creation. It is concerned with both the spiritual roots of, and spiritual responses to the ongoing ecological crisis. A core tenet of spiritual ecology is the recognition of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life. Grounded in wisdom from various indigenous and contemplative traditions, and borne out of previous movements such as Deep Ecology, spiritual ecology is not specific to any one religious or spiritual path. Rather, it is an umbrella concept that has been informed by contributions from a variety of philosophers, scientists, writers, and spiritual leaders. Some important foundational thinkers informing this growing field include Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, Joanna Macy, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Wendell Berry, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vandana Shiva, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, and Pope Francis, among others.
While many cultures and individuals throughout space and time have held strong spiritual and philosophical connection to land, western spiritual and scientific traditions are increasingly growing to share this insight. Addressing today’s environmental issues calls for more than lifestyle or policy changes, according to the spiritual ecology perspective, it calls for a re-evaluation of our underlying attitudes and beliefs about the earth and humanity’s relationship to all of creation. Likewise, contemporary spiritual philosophies call for awareness of and engagement with ecological issues.
As the field of spiritual ecology is developing in distinct arenas (science and academia, religion and spirituality, and environmental conservation and sustainability), greater connection and collaboration between and outside of these arenas is necessary at this unique time in history.
What is imperative about this moment?
Why is now the time to document and share the best practices in spiritual ecology across sectors?
The current political wave is a symptom of our country’s profound disconnect from ecological systems. Examples of anti-environmental and neoliberal politics stem from old patterns and ideologies rising to the surface that privilege individual profit at the expense of people and planet. As Albert Einstein says, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we create them.” The time is now for paradigm-shifting ideas and tangible models to coalesce, spread, and strengthen the moral fabric of our cultures.
While the core values of what we now call spiritual ecology extend through histories and cultures, the last thirty years have seen the birth of spiritual ecology as an academic, religious, and environmental movement. With the help of digital communications and social media sharing across international borders, these concepts and practices are starting to permeate mainstream environmental and religious discourses.
At this pivotal moment within the world and this movement, it is imperative to build bridges and share resources across previously siloed communities. It is time for members of faith congregations, scientific groups, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations to join with grassroots movements of communities fighting for their own connection to land and access to resources, in order to change our culture.
The ecological consciousness in spiritual traditions is re-emerging, and there is a call to 1) translate this into actionable, accessible tools and practices, and then 2) to share these widely, especially with young people. The grounding in place and inner resiliency that result from spiritual ecology practices will help bolster in the next generation of leaders the audacity to keep moving forward.
Why have a special focus on young people?
Though the fruits of this project seek to benefit society as a whole, the work itself puts a special emphasis on young people. Younger generations are not only shouldered with the burdens of impending environmental and humanitarian crises, but are also increasingly disconnected from spiritual communities and nature. Sociologists identify that over ⅓ of millennials do not identify with any religious or spiritual tradition, and thus have fewer communal opportunities that cultivate a sense of the sacred and spiritual practice. Health professionals warn than less time outdoors is negatively impacting physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of young people at an alarming rate, not to mention the well-being of the earth. While these trends are concerning, young people have shown that they have a hunger for spiritual and ecological connection, and tremendous capacity to create cultural change.
Why focus on Northern California?
Northern California is as an international epicenter for the spiritual ecology movement. Since the 1950’s, our region has been a hotbed for progressive thought leadership, ecological sustainability and contemplative studies. We are home to many pioneering programs and practitioners whose work cuts across disciplines such as Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Lewellyn Vaughan-Lee, CIIS, The Cultural Conservancy, The Spiritual Ecology Fellowship, and many more.
However, apart from a handful of online resources that compile spiritual ecology literature and information about organizations such as the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, there are few, if any, formalized and active spiritual ecology networks at the regional level.
We intend to direct resources into fortifying the spiritual ecology movement in Northern California by creating an exemplar of bioregional collaboration, the outcomes of which could be become accessible and replicable elsewhere in the USA and beyond. If we want to see the spiritual ecology movement spread, we must first direct resources to getting organized and cultivating synergy here.