An Ecological Civilization

I was recently asked how my spirituality or religion can be a force for realizing an "ecological civilization."

I would say that my spiritual ethic is compassion and loving-kindness. I have an underlying understanding that all beings are interconnected and that your happiness and well-being is directly related to my own. Therefore, I sincerely care for others and want them to be happy because I want to be happy. This approach to relatedness is aligned with Thomas Berry’s “Ecozoic era,” because I recognize that I am sharing this one home with all of life. I would say this is the basis of an “ecological civilization” – a mutual understanding that we are sharing this one home.

Lynn White says that “what people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny." I agree. Thus, I endeavor to shape my perspective of the world and myself in a way that conditions me from within to behave in a wholesome way toward life. By feeling the intimacy I have with the things and people around me, I am inspired to be kind. Through this felt sense of intimacy I also realize that my nature is not separate from the world around me – it is continuous. Therefore, I can see that my destiny is intimately intertwined with all the beings around me.

Elizabeth Allison says that “an attitude of reverence suggests that humility, respect, and awe are experienced in relation to that which is revered." I like this formula. Humility helps me to remember that, no matter how much I think I know, I do not know, and thus to hold things lightly. I do my best to respect all beings, but this is not always so easy because it seems to me that respect is not universally but individually defined. In other words, individuals have different perspectives on what it means to be respectful and to be respected. While there are often many similarities, the differences mean that I must be flexible and attuned to each moment to truly honor someone’s presence with respect. I must also balance this outward respect with an inward mindfulness not to disrespect myself in the process… It is a dance. And then there’s awe. Awe opens me to the moment, to the miracle of existence, and to a profound connection with the mystery of it all. I think awe is a quality of love.

I think that the reverence that Allison describes is a quality of relatedness that keeps one aligned with the greater whole. Humility prevents dogma and rigidity, respect honors otherness and values the subjective interiority of all beings, and awe reveals love and gratitude for the great gift of existing at all. I think such qualities are important for an ecological civilization.

With love and gratitude,

Ryan Heart