“Rescuing awe for nature”: a personal journey into Spiritual Ecology

Rafaela Graça Scheiffer, from Brazil – an valued intern for Gaia’s Earth Jurisprudence programme – has studied both biological and holistic sciences. She shares her own journey into discovering the real meaning and practice of spiritual ecology.

Since I graduated from a BSc in Biological Sciences, I have been wandering through lands not usually explored in one’s journey as a scientist. Nevertheless, I jumped the fence to ask myself “What is Ecology, really?”.

Encounters within a meshwork of human beings from the past and present, spread over wide fruitful fields allowed me to harvest a diversity of answers to this question.

From the peace activist, educator, pilgrim and friend Satish Kumar, I learned to go to the root of words. We shared moments at Schumacher College and other inspiring locations, and I had the privilege of hearing him many times teaching that ecology comes from the junction of two greek words, Oikos which means home and Logos or knowledge. How many of us are told during our formal education years that ecology is to know your home?

The Earth is not often admired as home of all earthlings in our western culture. After a Holistic Science masters at Schumacher, I understood that science is capable of returning us to a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world, a need which the catholic priest Thomas Berry has so vividly expressed. However, science alone is not enough. My ecology courses taken at prestigious universities taught mostly dry methodologies in an unattractive way. Academic ecology neither guided me through the challenges of being alive at this point in time, nor dared to touch ethical inquiries.

By reflecting on my previous “knowledge of the home”, I noticed the responsibility of belonging to a highly interconnected world. Equally responsible was myself for propagating an ancient understanding of humans as one amongst uncountable threads in the web of life.

Freedom and independence are often taken as synonyms to individuality. Likewise, human selves are seen as disconnected to the Earth. “Our extended body, the body of the Earth” could be seen as a deeper knowledge of home, as mentioned by author and deep ecologist Stephan Harding – and this idea seems to be more relevant than ever before. The buddhist scholar and writer, Joanna Macy highlights the need for taking action from a consciousness in which the Earth is not experienced as separate. Such understandings are interwoven into the culture and practices of many indigenous peoples, who have been keeping their world views for centuries. If we allow so, they can assist western culture in a process of reconciliation with the Earth.

Interconnectedness and sacredness are fundamental to all spiritual teachings and integrate the essence of what is now known as Spiritual Ecology. Based on principles and practices that offer a base to guiding our behaviour, while flexible and free of judgement, this field emerges out of universal spiritual values, which is informed by a myriad of teachings from religious, spiritual, indigenous traditions alongside a holistic scientific paradigm.

My first formal contact with Spiritual Ecology happened during a workshop at St. Ethelburga’s – a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace at the heart of London. I immediately connected it to the worldview conveyed by the Earth Jurisprudence movement.

Oriented by the principles of Reverence, Interconnectedness, Compassion, Stewardship and Service, Spiritual Ecology practices rescue awe for nature, primordial joy, connection, love, reciprocity and the quality of acting for something bigger than you regardless of our lack of time.

The practices of Walking, Breathing, Gardening, Cooking with love, Cleaning, Simplicity and Prayer are adopted by many Earth lawyers and activists for the Rights of Mother Nature without knowing about Spiritual Ecology.

Initiatives rooted in these practices and principles, such as the Navdanya Bija Vidya Peeth, in India is a good example of a community of practice and learning integrating social, environmental, spiritual and economic dimensions of life. At Navdanya, biodiversity is conserved through promotion of organic farming, rights of the farmers and seed saving. Such practices are also possible in an urban setting and if spread, could benefit many to keep themselves grounded and aligned with a worldview which goes upstream the general destruction of the systems which support life on the planet.

To summarise, ecology can be seen in all its diversity rather than a strictly scientific subject that pictures a world which is out there. We have the responsibility to choose our participation in a world where many worlds are possible, as the Zapatistas say. Like any living being, ecology is evolving by suffering transformations and transforming.

Joanna Macy remind us that to transform the world is to transform the self – the only domain which we have any control over. Any journey starts in the personal realm, from big discoveries to everyday anchoring practices.

Any journey start with a first step. And slowly we (re)learn how to walk in a sacred and reverential manner.