By Maggie Lears
“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau’s words need to be at the forefront of our minds these days. I’ve been thinking about this quote since the commemoration of Thoreau’s 200th birthday this past July. Unfortunately, our earth’s “wildness” is diminishing and in many areas our natural environment is in crisis. As both physical and spiritual beings, we want to bring awareness and action to heal and care for our earth.
The melding of spirituality and ecology is not a new notion. It is often referred to as ecospirituality or earth-based spirituality. Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan’s research showed that connectedness to nature is associated with greater spiritual transcendence and sanctification of nature – a feeling of standing outside of time and place to view life from a larger perspective. I would imagine that many people felt that way when viewing the solar eclipse this summer.
Ecospirituality is about helping people experience “the holy” in the natural environment and to recognize their relationships as human beings to all creation. All major religions of the world claim there is a spiritual dimension to our relationship to the natural world.
For instance, in his treatise on environmental education and spirituality, Pope Francis states that ecospirituality begins with gratitude. The world is God’s loving gift….we are not disconnected from other creatures, but joined in a universal communion. He recently admonished us “to listen to the cries of the earth.”
As another example, Hindus believe that the environment is related to the divine and therefore deserves respect. They think that a person should not harm or destroy other non-speaking creatures or animals. This notion is tied in with the concept of karma.
In the Islam religion, many Muslim writers suggest that environmental crisis is a result of social injustice. They believe it is not the case of humans as a species are destroying the earth; it is a case of some humans taking more than their share of land and water.
According to Buddhist principles, humans are not separate from nature, but are simply one element in nature. Dharma, often translated as “duty,” includes our responsibility to care for the earth.
And, the First Nations indigenous people see themselves as the caretakers of Mother Earth. This profound spiritual connection to the environment supports their practice of reverence, humility, and reciprocity. Everything is taken and used with the understanding that we only take what we need so that future generations will not suffer.
So, if we wish to seek inspiration (and remember, to “inspire” is to “breathe in”), seek the natural environment. It can be as close as your backyard or a neighborhood park. Take action to heal the earth’s wounds. Follow the words of Thoreau. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.”
Maggie Lears serves on several circles at the Well, has facilitated mindfulness workshops there, and is a member of the faculty at Towson University. She, like many others, experiences her true heart and soul in nature.
This article originally appeared in the winter 2018 issue of Quench, the Well’s quarterly newsletter.