Outline of a presentation on EcoSpirituality (1998)

PKL, 1998

Part I: EcoSpirituality
– Introduction and Overview

part I sections: definitions | sources and traditions | contemporary perspectives | dimensions | common views and effects | who is it for? | why now?

One’s real, most intimate self pervades the universe and all other beings. The mountains, the sea and the stars are part of one’s body.

– Willis Harmon


  • A spiritual view on and context for our relationship with the Earth and the Universe

Sources and traditions

EcoSpirituality is found in segments of all major (and most minor) spiritual traditions, including the following:

  • Theistic
    • Judaism
    • Christianity
    • Islam
  • Nontheistic
    • Taoism
    • Buddhism
    • Hinduism
  • Early/Shamanic traditions
    • Native American
    • Inuit
    • Sami
    • Others on all continents

Contemporary perspectives

Contemporary sources for EcoSpirituality include the following::

  • Existing spiritual traditions, sometimes in a revised context
  • Transpersonal psychology: using a scientific approach to study spiritual experiences
  • And there are several a-spiritual sources
    • Ecology
    • Cosmology
    • Systems theories
    • Ecofilosophy
    • Deep ecology
    • Ecofeminism
    • Ecopsychology


The following are some of the commonly found dimensions of EcoSpirituality:

  • Theism-nontheism
    • Theism
      • Notion of a creator; creator-creation dualism
    • Nontheism
      • All phenomena self-created
      • Born from the Absolute
  • Presence of Spirit/Absolute/God
    • Explicit/objective existence
      • Explicitly referred to
    • Phenomenological approach
      • Not referred to or referred to in a poetic fashion
      • Spiritual dimension from an experience of awe, of the sacred or numinous – in front of the beauty and richness of the Earth and the immensity and mysteries of the Universe
  • Spirit/Absolute/God vs. the Universe
    • Beyond the Universe
      • “Outside” of and separate from the Universe (not commonly found in ecospirituality)
      • Encompassing and more than the Universe
    • Equal to the Universe
      • The Universe=Spirit/Absolute/God (pantheism)
      • God as the “Sacred Whole” of the Universe
      • God as the “mind” of the Universe
  • Traditional vs. Evolving
    • Traditional
      • Theology as divinely inspired and reflecting a (near) absolute and perennial truth
      • Do not encourage innovation and change
      • Segments of most theistic traditions and some non-theistic
    • Evolving
      • Similar to scientific methodology
        • The models and maps of spiritual traditions are tools only, to describe and aid a direct experience of Spirit/Absolute/God
        • They do not reflect or constitute an “absolute truth”
        • They evolve according to new needs, experiences and insights
        • Encourage exploration and testing
      • Found in segments of all main spiritual traditions, for instance in Buddhism, Ecumenical Protestantism and Creation Spirituality

Common Views & Effects

Some of the common views and effects found in EcoSpirituality:

  • The Universe seen as a revelation of the divine/Absolute, or seen as a source of a numinous experience, an experience of the sacred
  • Deep sense of belonging to the Earth and the Universe
  • Deep sense of meaning, in being born from, part of and sustained by a larger organic whole
  • Deep trust in the wisdom and self-healing processes of the Earth and its subsystems
  • Experience of nourishment from ones connection with the Earth and the Universe
  • Care for the larger social and ecological whole, as an expression of the divine
  • Not as a moral imperative but arising spontaneously and naturally from a sense of belonging and interconnectedness
  • Natural sense of responsibility for the effects of ones actions for the larger whole
  • Often explicitly not anthropocentric, humans are not the center or pinnacle of creation
  • Often a view of spirituality – as well as religions – as evolving and changing
  • All phenomena, met as “old friends” – openness to all experiences, even those that are unpleasant

Who is it for?EcoSpirituality can be of interest for people from many backgrounds:

  • Anybody who seeks a way to…
    • Bring science and spirituality together in a coherent and meaningful way
    • More fully live according to ones sense of the sacred in all existence
    • Find deeper nourishment from ones connection with the Earth/Universe
    • Find deeper meaning in ones participation in the unfoldment of the Universe, in the context of the evolution and activities of the Universe as a whole
  • Religious
    • People with a background from a spiritual tradition/religion who…
      • Experience a need to include their relationship with the Earth in their spiritual practice/view
      • Wants to unify their worldview, bringing science and spirituality together
  • Environmentalists
    • People who are concerned about the state of the Earth who…
      • Experience a need to give a context to and space for their sense of the sacred of all existence
      • Want to explore ways to find a deeper sense of belonging to and nourishment from their connection to the Earth/Universe

Why now? Some reasons explaining why there is an increased interest in EcoSpirituality today:

  • Spirituality aspect
    • A need for bringing science and spirituality together in a coherent way
    • Modern science is often consistent with insights from many spiritual traditions
    • A wish to bring spirituality into daily life in a way beneficial to the larger whole
    • There has been split between science and spirituality – and there is a natural urge to bring these together again
  • Ecology aspect
    • Realization of the environmental crisis as a crisis of perception
      • The environmental crisis is due to a fragmented worldview, of not seeing the interdependence and interconnectedness among all aspects of the Earth
      • A need for a more unifying and unified worldview
  • Science
    • As an interface to spirituality
      • Systems theories
      • Quantum physics
    • As a tool for spiritual experiences
      • A not uncommon experience for astronauts and cosmonauts, especially for those that saw the Earth from a distance, is a deep sense of the Earth and the Universe as sacred. This can be a life-transforming experience, causing them to devote their life to working for the benefit of society and the Earth
  • Perception of the Earth as one whole
    • Technology aspect
      • Views from space – the “pale blue dot” phenomena
      • Communication – rapid spread of ideas, bringing people together
    • Science aspect
      • Web of life views
      • Systems theories
    • Potential for mass destruction
      • Diminished and threatened ecosystems on regional and global level
      • Weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical and nuclear
      • Culture seen as dependent on healthy ecosystems on a regional and global level

On the return trip home, gazing towards the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.

– Edgar D. Mitchell, astronaut


Part II: Contemporary A-Spiritual Sources
– Science and Ecosophy

part II sections: ecology | cosmology | systems theories | gaia model | ecofilosophy


Exploring how all aspects of the Earth are interconnected.

If the Rhine, the Yellow, the Mississippi rivers are changed to poison, so too are the rivers in the trees, in the birds, and in the humans changed to poison, almost simultaneously. There is only one river on the planet Earth, and it has multiple tributaries, many of which flow through the veins of sentient creatures.

– Thomas Berry, in The Dream of the Earth



The history of the Universe, as presented from modern science, gives a potentially deeply meaningful context for human life. From this perspective, we can see humans as the local sensory and awareness organs for the Universe. We are the Universe becoming aware of itself.


We, who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos, we have begun, at last, to wonder at our origins. Starstuff contemplating the stars. Organized collections of ten billion billion billion atoms, contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps throughout the cosmos.

– Carl Sagan, in Cosmos

Systems theories

Some aspects of systems theories that relate to EcoSpirituality:


  • Whole-parts
    • Focus on the whole as well as the parts
    • The Universe seen as one whole – one single system – encompassing all polarities
    • Humans must be understood in the context of the Universe as a whole – its evolution and processes
  • Holons
    • All phenomena…
      • Are simultaneously wholes and parts
        • Self-regulating and partly autonomous wholes
        • Embedded in and taking part in the self-regulating processes of a larger whole
      • Are interconnected and interdependent
      • Co-evolve
        • Interdependence of macro- and microevolution
  • Interdisciplinary approach
    • Brings together models and insights from a variety of sciences – as long as they are mutually consistent
    • Brings together science and models and insights from spiritual traditions – again – as long as they are mutually consistent
  • Consistent with and can provide an interface to spiritual traditions
    • Universe as one whole – separation and separate existence is illusion
    • Everything in continuous flux – nothing is fixed

God is not the creator, but the mind of the universe.

– Erich Jantsch, in The Self-Organizing Universe

Gaia Some characteristics of the Gaia view:

  • The Earth seen as a living organic whole
    • Self-regulating
      • Feedback loops to maintain stability (ex. temperature)
    • Self-transcending
      • Evolving, organizing itself in ways that goes beyond previous organizations
    • Encompasses nature and culture
      • Has evolved life, awareness, culture and science
      • Nature and culture, cities and forests, experiences and oceans, all part of and evolved from the evolution of the Earth as a whole
    • Will continue to evolve
      • Develop new and amazing ways to organize itself, as it has done repeatedly in the past
  • The Earth not easily perceived as a living whole because of…
    • Our space/time experience
      • Live out our lives on a much smaller size and time scale than the planet as a whole
    • Our previous world-views
      • Reductionism: Focus on parts more than the wholes they are parts of
      • Mechanistic views: Self-organization not assumed


The Gaian organism has evolved to do what it needs to do in order to preserve itself as naturally as we do and with no more purpose than we find in our own bodies.

– Elisabeth Sahtouris

Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the Earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive.

– Lewis Thomas, in The Lives of a Cell


Several streams within ecofilosophy are closely linked to EcoSpirituality:

  • Ecofeminism
    • Cooperation rather than competition
    • Web of life rather than hierarchy
  • Ecopsychology
    • Healing for individuals as primarily coming through a more intimate experience of belonging to the Earth


The reason why psychology is sterile and therapy doesn’t work is that the “self” that psychology describes and purports to heal doesn’t exist. It is a social fiction. (…) to truly acknowledge our interconnectedness with the air and the water and the soil, indeed our identity with them, is to create the conditions for the spontaneous healing of the psyche to take place.

– John Seed, paper to the Australian Psychological Society’s annual conference, February 1994

  • Deep ecology
    • Through a more intimate experience of belonging to the Earth, a sense of care and compassion for the Earth arises spontaneously and effortlessly.
    • Ecopsychology and deep ecology are thus complementary approaches: From a more intimate sense of belonging to the Earth, there is healing for individuals (ecopsychology) and for the Earth (deep ecology)

If we have the experience of ourselves not as isolated, separate, skin encapsuled egoes but as part of the larger body of the Earth, then the defense of nature becomes merely self-defense and this does not require highly elevated moral stature.

– John Seed, paper to the Australian Psychological Society’s annual conference, February 1994



Part III: Main Spiritual Traditions
– Theistic, nontheistic, shamanic and mystic

part III sections: theistic | nontheistic | native/shamanic | mysticim


EcoSpirituality streams are found in all the major spiritual traditions of the world, whether they are theistic, nontheistic, shamanic or mystical.





Mercy [is] not only shown to ones fellow man, be he Jew or Gentile, but to all living beings: the beast of the field, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. We are taught not to harm a single living being, not a fly or an ant, not even a spider. For they too are Gods creature. And these suffer when they are hurt (…) Animals as well as humans are Gods creatures, and towards all Gods creatures we are taught to show mercy.

– Rabbi Dressner


  • Traditional

    • The creation as a reflection of God

    • Stewardship model

    • Saints and mystics

      • St. Francis
        Canticle to brother sun

      • Meister Eckhart
        God in all phenomena
    • Contemporary trends

      • Evolving

        • Christianity seen as evolving and changing

      • Creation oriented

        • Honoring the beauty and sacredness of the natural world

      • Mysticism

        • Experience of oneness with all phenomena possible for all humans

        • Informs and inspires ones daily life

  • Contemporary trends within Christianity – examples

    • Ecumenical Protestantism

      • The Sacred Whole

        • God is the sacred whole of the Universe

        • God, through the Universe as its body, shares in the joys and sufferings of each being in the Universe

        • The aim of the Sacred Whole for its body is healing and wholeness

      • Sources

        • Experience, reason, scripture and tradition

        • Seen as dialogue partners, not absolute authorities

        • Openness to truth, goodness and beauty, wherever they are found

      • Evolving

        • Christianity seen as an ongoing social movement, capable of growth and change

        • Includes Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalian, Unitarian, Lutheran and Presbyterian (and Catholic).

    • Creation Spirituality (Catholic based)

      • Cosmic mysticism

        • Returning to the Cosmic mysticism of Christ

        • Experiencing oneness with the Universe

      • Creation oriented

        • Rejoicing in the beauties and wonders of all creation

      • Inspired by science

        • Science and spirituality seen as complementary ways of mapping and exploring reality

      • A-anthropocentric

        • The spirit of the Lord fills the whole Universe and holds everything together

        • Humans has no privileged role

      • Three main focal points

        • Knowledge also through science

        • Mysticism – experience of unity with all creation

        • Expression of awe of the beauty of all creations through art and daily life


The Universe is the primary revelation of the divine, the primary scripture, the primary locus of divine-human communion.

– Father Thomas Berry


  • Sufism (most pronounced ecospiritual view)

    • God encompasses and permeates nature

    • Nature seen as the “Cosmic Quaran”, a divine revelation

    • To remember God is to see God everywhere, encompassing all phenomena

    • The visible world is like the area lit by a campfire

      • A manifestation of a vastly greater world which transcends it and from which it issues


To God belongs all things in heaven and on earth, and He it is who encompasses all things

– Quaran (IV:126)

Wherever you turn, there is the face of God

– Quaran (II:115)

Assuredly the creation
Of the Heavens
And the Earth
Is greater
Than the creation of humankind;
Yet most people understand not

– Quaran (XL:57)





  • The Universe

    • A self-generating organic whole in a continuos process of becoming

    • All phenomena are interdependent and part of the “Great Transformation” (ta-hua).

    • Chi, the force behind and in all phenomena, encompassing Spirit and matter

  • Human life

    • True happiness comes from studying and living according to the Tao, the natural processes of all phenomena


  • Impermanence

    • All phenomena are in continuos flux, nothing is permanent

    • All phenomena continually die as what they were and is reborn as something else

    • All existence is fresh at every moment

  • Interdependent arising of all phenomena

    • All phenomena interdependent and co-evolving

    • The Universe as a self-creating, self-maintaining, evolving organic whole

  • Emptiness

    • No phenomena has a permanent self or can exist by themselves

    • All phenomena are empty of fixed characteristics and isolated existence

    • Ultimate reality is beyond all dualities, – of existence and non-existence, mind and matter, good and evil.

  • Beyond duality

    • Directly experiencing the lack of independent existence of all phenomena…

      • Opens up for deep gratitude, compassion and a wish to relieve the suffering of all beings

      • Opens up for flexibility and actions more appropriate to the situation


To study the Buddha way is to study the self,
To study the self is to forget the self,
To forget the self is to be enlightened
by the ten thousand things

– Zen Master Dogen Zenji


  • All phenomena interdependent and part of a unified whole

  • The Universe (and the multitude of Gods), a manifestation of Brahman, ultimate reality

  • The Earth as the universal mother, nurturing humanity




The Spirit is in all phenomena.



All creatures are my relatives, even a tiny bug.

The spirit is everywhere. Sometimes it is shows itself through an animal, a bird, some trees and hills. Sometimes it speaks from the Badlands, a stone or even the water.

– Lame Deer, in Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions




There are mystical traditions within all the major spiritual traditions, all very similar to each other.

  • All phenomena are part of and expressions of the Absolute
  • Direct experience of…
    • The oneness of all phenomena
    • God/Absolute
  • The Universe has experienced itself as one whole through mystics from all traditions

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature –
even a caterpillar –
I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God
is every creature

– Meister Eckhart



Part IV: Tools and Degrees
– Tools for a shift in perception

part IV sections: tools | degrees of realization


  • Certain tools are developed within all spiritual traditions for facilitating…
    • An intellectual understanding of interconnectedness
    • An experience of oneness/communion with the Universe and the Absolute/God
    • To help people live more fully from this experience
  • Main and common tools
    • Contemplation/studies
      • Examining the interconnectedness and interdependence of all phenomena
      • Examining the described experiences of mystics
    • Prayer/meditative practice
    • Complementary practices for opening up for an experience of the Absolute
      • Meditation – dissolving the illusion of separation and thus opening up for an experience of oneness with all
      • Prayer – actively connecting with the larger whole and thus dissolving the illusion of separation
    • Guidelines for living
      • Ethical behavior, living as if one already had the experience of the Absolute, of being intimately connected with the Universe
  • Examples of specific tools
    • Buddhism
      • The eightfold path (ethical living, studies, meditation, etc.).
    • Taoism
      • Living according to Tao, yoga (Tai Chi, Chi Gong)
    • Judaism, Christianity, Islam
      • Ethical living, studies, prayer (in words and wordless)
    • Native/Shamanic traditions
      • Rituals, visions etc.
    • Transpersonal psychology
      • All and any of the above, as appropriate for ones specific inner and outer situation.


Degrees of realization

  • There are degrees of realization on each of the three levels mentioned above
  • The saints and great teachers of all spiritual traditions are often examples of a deep realization on all of the three levels
    • Their experiences – although very similar to each other – is often cloaked in the language of their culture, times and specific spiritual tradition
  • There is no “absolute truth” that can be expressed – only an experience of/communion with the Absolute



Part v: Transpersonal Psychology
– Studies of Spiritual Experiences



part V sections: main focus | studies of spiritual experiences



Main focus

  • Transition from a dualistic to a trans-dualistc experience of the world
    • Examines the transition as described by mystics from all spiritual traditions and others
    • Looks for deep structures/common patterns
    • Maps the phases
    • Explores the tools for aiding the shift

Studies spiritual experiences and tools with scientific methodology

  • Examines the experience of the Absolute
    • As described by mystics from all spiritual traditions
    • As experienced by people today
  • Explores and systematizes the maps and tools of spiritual traditions
    • Maps of the mind
    • Tools for opening up for an experience of the Absolute
  • Brings the mystical experience into the laboratory
    • Tests for detecting measurable effects of spiritual practice (changes in the brain, personality etc)
  • Uses systems theories as an interface between science and spirituality
    • Holons
    • Interconnectedness and interdependence
    • Phase transitions – from dualistic to non-dualistic perception, and other changes
    • Attractor states – various states of mind



Part VI: A Fragmented Worldview
– The Source of the Trouble


sections: the source of trouble | symptoms



The source of trouble


A fragmented world view is seen by most ecospiritual approaches as the main source of the existential and ecological troubles of contemporary civilization. This fragmented worldview can be healed through various practices and activities, ranging from meditation and prayer (helping us to open up for a more non-dual experience) to yoga, tai chi, and – maybe most importantly – engagement in the world.





A fragmented worldview can lead to some of the following experiences and consequences:



  • Experience of…
    • Alienation from society and nature, disconnected from the larger whole
    • Meaninglessness
    • Ones own daily life and actions disconnected from the state of the larger whole
  • Leads to…
    • One a personal level
      • Little concern (in daily actions) for the welfare of the larger whole
      • Feeling of hopelessness, powerlessness in making a change that will have a beneficial impact on the larger whole
      • Blind attractions, aversions and indifference
        • Attractions – consumerism, pursue of short lived mindless pleasures
        • Aversions – hostility, suspicion.
        • Indifference – for the state of the Earth, for the suffering of living beings
    • On a social level
      • Destruction of regional and global ecosystems
      • Social inequalities – enormous gap between rich and poor on a regional and global scale
      • Consumerism – the world as commodity
      • Drug use
        • To escape hopelessness, disconnectedness
        • To experience other – possibly less disconnected – states of mind








Part VII: Statements
– For Challenge and Reflection


part VII sections: the absolute | the universe | the earth | humans | culture, science and technology | sensory and awareness organs | authentic life | continued evolution





The Absolute

  • All phenomena are born from, sustained by and merges back into the Absolute
  • Beyond all dualities of existence and nonexistence, mind and matter, life and nonlife, etc.

The Universe

  • As one whole
  • Beyond and embracing all dualities, all polarities, beyond perfection and imperfection.
  • The Universe as a self-organizing system
  • The Universe as mind, expressed in self-organization
  • The Universe involved in a process of exploring itself, continuously unfolding its potentials in new ways

The Earth

  • The Universe bringing itself to life through the Earth
  • Earth as a living system
  • The Earth, a local focal point for the self-awareness of the Universe


  • The Universe has organized itself into awareness in humans
  • We are the Universe becoming aware of itself

Culture, science and technology

  • Culture as a way for the Universe to organize its exploration of itself
  • Technology as a way to go beyond the biological limitations of humans as sensory organs

Sensory and awareness organs

  • The Earth and humans as local sensory and awareness organs of the Universe
  • The Universe bringing itself, its history, complexity and processes into awareness through the Earth and humans

Authentic life

  • Humans, actively and consciously take on the role of an awareness organ of the Earth and the Universe, bringing meaning and healing for ourselves and the Earth (and the Universe)

Continued evolution

  • The Universe is in a process of continued evolution
  • The Earth and humans as expressed now, belongs to only one phase of this evolution
  • Future possibilities
    • Possibly in the area of awareness
      • Global mind? (Sri Aurobindo)
      • Omega Point? (Teilhard de Chardin)




Part VIII: Sustainability
– EcoSpirituality and Sustainability


part VIII sections: context | guidelines for living | trust | motivation | intention and action



Context – not instructions


Ecospirituality motivates and gives a context for sustainability. It does not give instructions for which specific actions to take.


Guidelines for living


Main effects of ecospirituality:



    • An experienced need for exploring ways of re-organizing our lives on a personal and social level that is more coherent with the ecospiritual view and experiences
      • Inspires people to explore ways of living that will minimize the harm for the larger whole
      • Organize society in a way that will be beneficial to, or at least not harmful, to the Earth as a whole
    • Focus on quality of life as primary. The quantity of material resources seen as secondary (are there to provide a basis for quality of life)
      • Ecovillages, renewable energy, organic farming, holistic approach to health and education, reducing consumption, reorganizing our economical system in a way that is sustainable and reduces the gap between rich and poor etc.



Trust in the self-healing powers of the Earth



    • The Earth is a self-organizing and self-healing system
    • Our role is mostly to “get out of the way” – allowing these self-healing dynamics to function optimally



The following can be some of the motivations for engaging in this effort:



  • Experience of converging interests
    • One’s self-interest and the interest of the larger whole converge and are ultimately one and the same
    • The health of the Earth as a whole is interdependent with the health of its subsystems (including each of us)
  • Sense of…
    • Interconnectedness and interdependence
      • The well-being of the Earth as a whole – global, regional and local eco- and social systems – are ultimately connected
    • Gratitude
      • For being part of a rich and beautiful whole
      • For being born from and sustained by the whole Universe and Earth
    • Compassion for and protection of all forms of life – from the largest to the smallest systems (Gaia, forests, earthworms)
      • We all seek to live and to avoid suffering
      • We are all born from and part of the same whole
      • We are not separate from each other’s suffering
    • Despair over the destruction of the Earth
      • Experienced more openly and deeply
      • Seek to channel into actions that will alleviate suffering and be of benefit to the larger whole

From intention to action


EcoSpirituality is experiential…

  • A lived whole body-mind experience

    Includes, but goes beyond an intellectual understanding


    Can be opened up for, sustained and deepened through tools and techniques…


      From spiritual traditions


      And developed today


        Ex. Council of All Beings


The essence of EcoSpirituality is experiential, including but beyond an intellectual understanding. It is potentially a whole body-mind experience, which makes it not only flow more easily into action, but makes it almost impossible for it not to flow into action. If we see Earth as one whole, we have to live fully according to that realization to be authentic. We have no choice but to let it seep into every action in our everyday life.

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in its midst. That which extends throughout the universe, I regard as my body and that which directs the universe, I regard as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters and all things are my companions. – The Western Inscription, Chang Tsai, 11th century, China.
Inscribed by the administrative official Chang Tsai on the western wall of his office

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