Eco-Spirituality: A Foundation for Ecological Justice

Dr. Rama Mani 

World Future Council – Strategy Meeting

Sekem, Egypt

13-17 March 2012 


The Venerated Mother Earth

Do you recall the poignant, familiar words attributed to the First Nations leader of North America, Chief Seattle of North America, in 1855? He said:

?Will you teach your children what we have taught our children?

That the earth is our mother?

What befalls the earth befalls all sons of the earth.

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.

All things are connected like the blood that unites us all.

Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.

Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.?


As recently as 1855, as the way of life of North America?s First Nations people faced annihilation at the hands of greedy settlers and an expanding state, he echoed what had been the central life-affirming philosophy of all the indigenous people who peopled the geographically diverse continents of the earth. Our ancient ancestors, wherever they found themselves on our planet, lived with the same reverence and love for nature. They treated Nature as sacred. They considered Nature to be a feminine force, a maiden of fertile bounty. They worshipped Nature as a beloved Mother. For archaic humans, ??all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality?, as the religious historian Mircea Eliade describes it.[i]  

From Neolithic cave paintings and sculptures in Europe through to the early civilizations of Sumer, Mesopotamia, India and Egypt, we find innumerable representations of this Goddess of Mother Earth.[ii] Here in Egypt, the beloved goddess Hathor represented the sacred feminine, the creative abundant mother venerated by all, while other Goddesses Isis, Maat and Nut also were deeply connected with nature?s forces. Elsewhere she appeared as Shakti in India, Innana in Sumer, Ishtar in Babylon, Astarte who became Aphrodite in the hands of the Greeks. She was also Demeter in Greece, and Ceres in Rome. This benign feminine deity reappeared as Tara in Tibet, and Kuan Yin in China. Later she survived ? tenuously ? as Lady Wisdom in the Book of Solomon, the Shekinah in Judaism and Mother Mary in Christianity and Islam. The yearning for the creative force of Mother Nature was shared in common by all humankind.

From those early times, learned humans possessed the deep realisation that human life mirrored nature and the cosmos. Nature offered the model for our own evolution through life?s cycles, and for our potential for transformation. Early scientists, seers and shamans recognised the identity between nature and humans. Ibn ?Arabi, the great Sufi saint of the (11th) century, said:

?You have to first establish your relation to the universe you see around you, to see the similarities between the whole of material existence and yourself; to see that man is the microcosmos of the macrocosmos.?[iii]

Here in Egypt, Alchemy was birthed: a sacred marriage of nature, science and spirituality, and the precursor of chemistry and psychology. Some reckoned that Alchemy was the foolhardy attempt of deluded or crafty charlatans to transform base metals to gold. However, its true intent was to unveil the deeper purpose of the human journey, and to understand the processes of the soul?s transformation. It was a sacred science devoted to exploring the secret formulae of Nature, her manifold minerals and elements.

From Nature all else evolved: culture, economics and politics. Nature provided the grounds for the establishment of human Cultures. As our ancestors slowly stumbled upon Nature?s secrets, they learned to cultivate crops and create cultures in harmony with Nature?s rhythms and laws, celebrating her seasons and the circularity of time. They worked with the Earth, learning from her, not against the Earth, wresting her secrets by force to manipulate and dominate her, as science later did.

Nature laid the foundation for Economics ? the management of the household ? how the abundant carefully tended yield of the land and the waters could be fully utilised and provide the basis for sharing, exchange, barter and trade within and between families, communities and nations, for mutual benefit.

Nature provided the elements of Politics as people came together in communities and societies to govern their common affairs and resolve their shared challenges for the greatest welfare and wellbeing of all. Governance evolved as a shared responsibility where the wisdom and experience of the old guided the creative spark and energy of the young, women alongside men.

Our early ancestors learned how to understand and respect Nature?s laws to evolve in all these dimensions of life and lay the foundations of human civilization. For thousands of unbroken years from the Neolithic to the Bronze age, culture, economics and politics thrived in harmony with nature, as archaeological findings and the writing of our own councillors, Riane Eisler and Scilla Elworthy, shows us.[iv] These were civilizations across diverse parts of our planet where Nature and the feminine principle reigned supreme. Yet these were not matriarchal societies in the sense of the patriarchal societies we witness today: women did not dominate men or suppress them. These were egalitarian societies of cooperation where creativity and innovation thrived, where we find no traces of war and violence, where there was no hierarchical king or top down governance system, and consequently no archival records of conquests and kingdoms.[v]

This is the era we have ignored and misjudged, for it was not recorded in our historical annals: this unbroken time of connection to our own natures and to our Mother Nature, this time of creative cooperation and egalitarian inclusive flourishing. Yet its memory is not lost to us. It remains encoded in our genes, in our collective unconscious, waiting to recovered


The Conquest of Mother Earth

It was only as recently as perhaps 4000 years ago that what Riane Eisler describes records, that these ?partnership cultures? where the feminine principles of co-creation, egality and cooperation flourished, were overthrown brutally and replaced by ?domination cultures? of patriarchy, exclusion and aggressive competition.

It was then that the chasm opened, as politics and economics began to manipulate and instrumentalize culture and exploit and dominate nature for the benefit of an elite few. It was then that nature was stripped of her divinity and condemned, along with women, to inferior status. both nature and the feminine began to be seen as threatening and needing to be controlled and dominated, while a male god was lifted off the earth, stripped of his feminine aspects and installed in a distant heaven. It was then that, in Mircea Eliade?s words, modern man ?desacralized the world and assumed a profane existence?. 

The major world religions are not intrinsically inimical to Nature, as our Councillor, Judge Weeramantry illustrates in his book, Tread Lightly on the Earth. He shows that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, all exhort a loving and respectful attitude towards the Earth. Yet, the anthropocentricism inherent in Christianity, Judaism and Islam spread like wildfire and soon cemented the still-prevalent notion that all of Creation is intended but for man?s pleasure, to be used and disposed by him at will.

In this fatal split with nature initiated by religion and exacerbated by science and economics in the ostensible pursuit of knowledge and progress, we humans have been the greatest losers. We may not have become extinct as a species, as have so many forms of flora and fauna since man hijacked nature. Yet, with few exceptions of people still living rural or indigenous lifestyles, we as a species have largely estranged ourselves from nature. In the process we have estranged ourselves from our own nature. We have cut ourselves off from our essence, from our source. We have lost ourselves. We have forgotten the true evolutionary purpose of our lives.

As we gradually lost our connection with our own nature, we also lost the ability to see the damage we are wreaking upon ourselves in raping and pillaging Mother Nature upon whose bounty and grace we are entirely dependent. We lost our intuitive ability to tap into our own inner reserves of wisdom, the treasure chest of our collective consciousness in order to transform the demonic forces of destruction unleashed by man?s unquenchable greed. Reconciling with and healing Nature is not only important in and of itself; it is essential for us in order for us to reconcile with and heal ourselves ? in order for us to become whole again. 

The centuries? long exploitation of nature by human hubris, has led us to the brink. It is questionable today whether we shall be able to move back from the chasm and re-stabilize ourselves, our planet and our universe in time. In the 20 years since the Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development, in the 40 years since the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the environmental movement has matured and gained stature. We ourselves, the World Future Council, have contributed significantly and learned valuable lessons from our own achievements and challenges in our five years of existence.  

Yet, however optimistic we may attempt to be today about the state of the Earth, we are bound to realise that neither technical progress nor political will, neither astute policies nor innovative practices will suffice to disentangle us from the enmeshed cobweb of crisis we find ourselves in. Technological and political progress is important, but inadequate. Civic mobilisation and action has been incremental and often heroic in the past two decades, yet, even collective civic action will be insufficient to effect the tidal change we now need. We are outpaced by the mechanisms of self-destruction we humans ourselves set in motion.

What if anything could possibly make a difference? James Lovelock realised that what we need is nothing short of a change of heart and mind. He said:

?Until this change of heart and mind happens we will not instinctively sense that we live on a live planet that can respond to the changes we make, either by cancelling the changes or cancelling us.?[vi]

How could we possibly bring about this shift?


Three Steps to Effect a Shift

There are three steps we need to take to make this shift. Nelson Mandela provided us with a clue to the first step in his Presidential inauguration speech in 1994. He said: 

?To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld? Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom.

That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in terrible conflict??[1][vii]

That Mandela accorded so much importance to Nature in his short Presidential inauguration speech indicates his recognition that nature is a force for healing, reconciliation and unity in deeply divided times of crisis.

The first step we must take is to reconnect to Nature as Mandela invited his white, black, coloured and Indian compatriots to do. We must heed Lovelock?s proposition to treat the earth as Gaia, a living organism:

?Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy.?[viii]

In this first step of reconnecting with Nature, we must recognize that the Earth is a living organism ? not dead matter, as it was long believed, not something inert to be exploited without restraint.

The second step we must take is to rediscover our profound love for the Earth, and nurture a feeling of relationship with and responsibility for this living organism. We must love, honour, respect and protect Her as a precious, sacred being. Only if we reconnect to the earth with love and responsibility will we be able to access the wisdom, courage, compassion and creativity that are desperately needed today to reverse our catastrophic freefall into self-destruction.

The third step is to awaken and reconnect to our own inner nature. This is eco-spirituality.


Eco-Spirituality and Ecological Justice

Eco-spirituality encapsulates this loving relationship between the nature and humans, and offers us the foundation for a new kind of ecological justice: of inclusion, integrity, equilibrium. Eco-spirituality is a modern expression of a timeless tradition found across all continents of the earth.

?Seeking spiritual connection through nature is the foundation of earth-based spirituality, sometimes called ecospirituality. Practiced for centuries by indigenous people around the globe, earth-based spirituality is gaining popularity among a small but growing number of Westerners who feel alienated from mainstream religions and modern culture?s war on the earth. Common concepts can be found in Native American, Celtic, indigenous African, and Wiccan practices, as well as the Taoism of ancient China, and the women?s spirituality movement.?[ix]

Eco-spirituality is a more accurate description of the kind of spirituality that is re-emergent today. This spirituality has been described as a ?post-religious spirituality in which love and communion become important unifying forces?.[x] However, this new spirituality is no longer divorced from nature as were the dominant religions of the world for the last 3000 years. This emergent spirituality combines a spreading awakening of individual and collective consciousness along with a realization of the gravity of the ecological crisis and the damage to ?mother earth?.

?In a time of ecological crises with huge consequences for humanity and the earth system which is a result of a mechanistic world view and human exploitation of the earth, there exists a serious need for a ecological, resacralised worldview of which an ?ecological? concept of religion and spirituality is part. Eco-spirituality is then the direct consciousness and experience of the Sacred in the ecology which may serve as a sustained source for communities’ and individuals’ practical search to live sustainably from the earth’s resources.?[xi] 

Eco-spirituality is the merging of the emergent ?post-religious spirituality? with a love for, connection to, and oneness with nature and the cosmos. This rising consciousness is indissociable with a profound love of the earth, a feeling of connection to and oneness with nature, and a realization that one?s own wholeness or wellbeing is interdependent with the wholeness and well being of the earth.

?Ecospirituality is a manifestation of the spiritual connection between human beings and the environment. Ecospirituality incorporates an intuitive and embodied awareness of all life and engages a relational view of person to planet, inner to outer land-scape, and soul to soil.?[xii]

Eco-spirituality unites disintegrated and fragmented individuals with fellow humans, with all life-forms, with nature, and the cosmos or ?ground of being? itself. In doing so, eco-spiritual justice provides the basis for us as a species to transcend cultural and political divides that often impede unified action to reverse ecological degradation and prevent disaster. It offers a foundation for collective action based on individual and collective consciousness and responsibility to achieve ecological justice and heal our own long-fractured relationship with Mother Earth.  


So What? What Difference Could Eco-spirituality Possibly Make?

We are all familiar with Einstein?s famous statement that problems cannot be resolved at the same level of consciousness that created them. As long as we are caught in playing the same game as those who undermine ecological justice, as long as we keep trying to counter their harmful policies and practices with our remedial ones, we will never gain the upper hand and will always be outpaced by their greater financial resources and technical capacities. Many ecological activists are exhausted by the endless struggle to keep up with the latest technological advances and legal loopholes that corporations and other eco-spoilers device incessantly to circumvent any corrective, ecologically sound policies and legislation adopted by governments.

This is where eco-spirituality steps in and offers a way out of this depleting vicious cycle. Specifically, eco-spirituality helps in three powerful and transformative ways: first, it gives us inner power to overcome their material or outer power; second, it transforms the field in which we operate; and finally it gives us the core principles drawn from nature and spirit to guide us in achieving our objectives.

(1) Inner Power

The first way in which Eco-spirituality can make a difference is by unleashing our inner power. Eco-spirituality provides the necessary awakening to our true nature and purpose, and thus unleashes our inner power to overcome the outer or material brute power of those who seek to dominate and destroy nature. Informed by our true nature, guided by our higher purpose, impelled by inner power, we are better able to align our outer actions to this inner wisdom. When external action emerges from and reflects inner awakening, when action is conscious and attuned to nature, it has transformative power.[xiii]  

The Upanishads, the ancient philosophical scriptures of India, say:

?Side by side those who know the Self and those who know it not do the same thing;

but it is not the same:

the act done with knowledge, with inner awareness and faith, grows in power.?[xiv]

Many activists and civic movements already have the tools, the knowledge and the commitment necessary for positive change. Once they gain this one missing element of inner power and become conscious, once they align their outer actions with inner purpose, their actions will have a transformative multiplier effect.

(2) Transforming the Field

The second way in which eco-spirituality can make a difference is by transforming the field. It provides a new ethos and foundation for the pursuit of a different deeper ecological justice through different ? deeper and more life-affirming ? means. The kind of ecological justice we want is not confrontational, exclusive or divisive. We want ecological justice that is inclusive, integrative, life-affirming, circular, regenerative, and harmonizing. The old tactics of environmental campaigning, notwithstanding their merits and achievements, will not achieve this. Infused with eco-spirituality, we will no longer demand environmental action by self-righteous finger pointing and moralizing, by punishing the bad and rewarding the good. We will no longer deplete ourselves by trying to compete with and outwit our foes at their own game. Instead, we will innovate new and creative strategies and align them to our inner power and purpose to have greater impact. Even if we promote ?best policies? and favour ?best practices, they will now be rooted in deeper ground and emanate the timeless compassionate wisdom of the Earth and of the human spirit.

(3) Principles from Nature and Spirituality

The third way in which eco-spirituality can make a difference is by lending us universal and infallible principles drawn from nature and spirituality to guide our pursuit of ecological justice. They not only change our way of doing things but also trump the deleterious assumptions and beliefs that underpin the neoliberal economy and the anti-environmental lobby. The five most important principles highlighted here are: circularity and equilibrium to replace linearity; Abundance to replace scarcity; unity and interdependence in place of division and competition; integrity instead of fragmentation; and finally love to overcome aggression.  


        1. Circularity versus Linearity

For the past few thousand years of the patriarchal or ?domination? model, linear progress has been presumed the norm. The acceleration of linear progress in the past few hundred years since industrialisation has produced technological and scientific miracles ? but has done extraordinary damage to the Earth. It has also sown the myth that our own human lives are predicated on linear progress, and, with medical progress humans can become immortal like the ancestral Gods whose power we usurped.

However, circularity is a powerful principle that nature teaches us. The seasons turn eternally in a circle like our human lives. The earth, the sun and the moon are spherical. Sages around the world have long known this wisdom of circular time. Here, in Egypt, we are reminded that the circle is central to Islam, and the centre of the circle is where wisdom lies.

As Ibn Arabi said:

?Where is the wisdom hidden in the seen

T?is within the circle of the unseen?

The Sioux holy man Black Elk observed: ?Everything the Power of the World does is done in a Circle?.[xv]

The great Indian saint, Swami Vivekananda declared about 115 years ago: ?We know there is no progress in a straight line.?[xvi]

Accepting circularity implies the recognition that life means not only birth but death as well, for without death, there is no regeneration, as Nature shows us. Part of the hubris of globalization ? that also tainted environmental action ? is the fallacious belief that there are technological solutions to all problems. As Lovelock puts it, it may be, ?too late for sustainable development, rather time for sustainable retreat?.

Linear time is related to the solar era that emerged with the awakening of consciousness symbolised mythologically by the story of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden of Eden for Eve?s ?sin? of desiring knowledge. Indeed, historians show us how the expulsion of women and nature went hand in hand with the rise of patriarchal monotheistic cultures in about 2000 BC, as both were deemed to be dangerous, subversive and needing control. Circular time is related to the prior lunar era that lasted from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age, where the feminine principle flourished and led to countless unbroken centuries of egalitarian, co-creative, peaceful societies.[xvii] Thus, a return to natural circularity would also imply a reintegration of the feminine principle.  

          2. Abundance versus Scarcity

The second principle that nature teaches us is abundance, to trump the myth of scarcity that has dominated human imagination since Malthus? theory that population would outstrip the land?s capacity to feed it. This scarcity thinking has long justified the industrialisation of agriculture, the use of ever-more dangerous chemical fertilisers and pesticides to increase productivity, and the genetic modification of crops as purported solutions to the food crisis. Yet, over-production and wastage of food in Europe and North America due to skewed agricultural subsidies has coincided with drought and famine in Africa and Asia. The pressure on developing countries to produce cash crops for export to earn foreign exchange, rather than food crops for subsistence, largely to service their ill-gotten foreign debt, is rarely debated. The still unresolved food crisis of 2008 has further entrenched the fabricated notion of scarcity underpinning the global economy, not only in food but also in resources, and accelerated rather than slowed the aggressive race for non-renewable resources.

Yet, both nature and spirituality point towards the principle of abundance that underlies the universe. We are already aware of the colossal waste of solar energy day upon day, which would be sufficient to power most of our real energy needs. Instead of investing more in safe renewable energy sources, governments and corporations are still over-investing in non-renewable ?new oil? reserves and unsecured nuclear plants.

The words of the wise 14th century visionary St. Catherine of Siena who died at just 33 years of age, could well be heeded by governments, corporations and consumers obsessed with scarcity and driven to rapacity:

?I have no object to defend, for all is of equal value to me.

I cannot lose anything in this place of abundance I have found.?[xviii]

The lushness of nature and the creative productivity of humans that surrounds us here in Sekem show us the possibility of abundance in the heart of the desert when we cooperate and co-create with, not against, nature, and reap her bounties. Gaviotas in Colombia, created by a group of visionaries including our WFC Counsellor Ashok Khosla, is another inspiring example of a wasteland transformed to fertility. Our recently deceased WFC Honorary Councillor, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai rolled back desertification while empowering women in Kenya with her Green Belt Movement. If we can but uproot from our conditioned minds the notion of scarcity long-implanted there, and recognise the abundance of nature and the cosmos, this will transform radically the very foundation of our economy and our ecology. In doing so, it will help us uncover entirely unprecedented, innovative responses to our global predicament.

3. Unity and Interdependence

A central principle of spiritual traditions is the unity and the interdependence not only of all humans, but also of all life forms and of creation as a whole. In the Tao de Ching, Lao Tsu the Chinese seer of the 5th century BCE says: ?Every being in the Universe is an expression of the Tao.?[xix] The Upanishads say: ?Those who realise that all life is one are at home everywhere and see themselves in all beings.? Mahatma Gandhi echoed this principle more recently:  

?The forms are many, but the informing spirit is one. How can there be room for distinctions of high and low where there is this all-embracing fundamental unity underlying the outward diversity? For that is a fact meeting you at every step in daily life.?[xx]

Yet, for too long, such spiritual insights were dismissed as idealistic and unrealistic in a fast-paced world of scientific complexity and technological advancement. Ever since the time of Darwin, we have been convinced that the nature of all living beings is competition and differentiation for survival, a rule to which humans were no exception.  However, we are finally at the exciting stage where the truths enunciated by ancient seers is being echoed by pioneering scientists ? where science, nature and spirituality are meeting once again after their long cleavage since the time of the persecuted Alchemists.

Some of the world?s leading scientists are arriving at the same conclusions today that mystics and spiritual sages realised years ago. Francisco Varela, the visionary neuroscientist revealed in his theory of ?autopoiesis? the ?self-generation of living systems?, and showed us the real dance of life that is ongoing moment by moment under our feet and all around us, as the universe continually creates itself.[xxi] Lynn Margulis, the eminent biologist, developed the theory of ?Symbiogenesis? where she described that ?these mergers, long-term biological fusions beginning as symbiosis are the engine of species evolution,? and asserted that ?the living cell is the true self.?[xxii] This evolution is driven by the creativity that is inbuilt in all living systems. Fritjof Capra, the famous physicist, exposed the ?web of life? and the ?hidden connections? that underlie and connect all life forms.[xxiii] Our own Councillor, Hans-Peter D?rr, poignantly illustrates how all matter is actually energy and everything is connected in an intricate interdependent dance of co-creation. From all these diverse disciplinary avenues, scientific ?proof? is being lent to the received and experiential knowledge of enlightened beings through the ages into antiquity. They expose the fallacy of notions of competition and differentiation for survival, by underlining the necessity for interdependence and unity for thriving.

When we acknowledge the unity and interconnectedness of all life and matter on earth and in the expansive expanding universe, and feel ourselves as part of this complex and endlessly creative system, an entirely different vista of possibility opens before us, and the way we approach ecological justice is transformed.

4. Integration versus Fragmentation

A deep principle in spirituality that draws inspiration from nature is that of integration. Just as a tree needs to be deeply rooted in the earth, its trunk reaching solidly upwards carrying its network of branches, each leaf oriented towards the sun to capture vital energy for photosynthesis, and ultimately its flowers and fruit to feed the circle of endless life, so too does human life require this seamless integration of all parts of the organism towards a common purpose. Our minds, hearts, bodies and souls need to be united and not dispersed or working at cross purposes. Spiritual traditions birthed Yoga, Tai ?chi and a range of martial arts and dances to bring about such integration in the human organism and to balance left and right hemispheres of our brain so that our bodies and minds could be harmonized . It was recognised by early spiritual masters that only a fully integrated and harmonized organism could thrive and fulfil its life?s purpose.

Yet, since the emergence of the solar patriarchal age, the body was truncated from the soul and considered impure ? the source of temptation and evil. Since the Renaissance and age of reason, the mind became privileged over the heart. Descartes has imprinted contemporary civilization indelibly. We continue to live in an age deeply marked by rationalism and the primacy of the mind to the detriment of the heart, body and soul ? and yet we often wonder why our lives and the systems we establish are so fragmented.

Early civilizations from Egypt to India and Greece to Babylon had integrated systems of education, where the natural, social and physical sciences were developed and taught alongside the arts and humanities. Scientists were also artists and philosophers. However science soon became compartmentalized and specialized, as did academia. Today, there is a gradual return movement towards integration in science and scholarship, as indicated by the work of the scientists cited earlier, and the emergence of bodies like the Centre for Integral Science, the Integral Institute, the Mind and Life Institute and others like them.

Today, our societies as a whole are urgently in need of such integration. The supremacy of economics and politics over nature and culture is deeply detrimental to human and planetary life. All sectors of society? nature, culture, economy and politics ? need to support and cooperate with each other, after centuries of fragmentation and division. Mahatma Gandhi observed:  

?The whole gamut of man?s activities today constitute an indivisible whole. You cannot divide social, economic, political and purely religious work into watertight compartments.?

He went on to underline that ?religion? ? by which he meant in today?s terms spirituality or spiritual ethics – needed to form the central core of life, and to infuse all activities one undertakes:

?I do not know any religion apart from human activity. It provides a moral basis to all other activities which they would otherwise lack, reducing life to a maze of ?sound and fury signifying nothing.? 

Such integration is not hypothetical or idealistic, but is a model that can flourish in contemporary times. Sekem is a living embodiment of such integration. Sekem?s working philosophy states:

?Our main goal is a development impulse for people, society and the earth.

The cooperation of economic, social and cultural activities is stimulated by art, science and religion/spirituality?

When we are integrated within our own selves ? in mind, heart, body and soul ? and when our social systems are integrated, we overcome the fragmentation of centuries within our own organisms and within our social and political systems. When we are integrated, we no longer create our own monsters; we no longer hijack our own wellbeing. When we do make mistakes, as we inevitably will as fallible mortals, we are better able as integrated beings, to find creative and holistic solutions to forward the shared interest and wellbeing of all.

5. Love

Finally eco-spirituality teaches us the simplest and most important principle: quite simply the principle of love. Spiritual teachers throughout time emphasized that love is the foundation of life.  Jesus Christ?s entire teaching was based on love, just as Buddhism is based on compassion, and Islam on peace and fraternity.

Yet, for hundreds of years we have lived in the conditioned belief that neo-Darwinian competition and Hobbesian aggression and are the irreversible corner stones of human nature. Darwin?s theory was interpreted to assert that the survival of the fittest applied also to economics and politics, and justified the competitive and aggressive political and economic systems we devised and have now become hapless victims of. Hobbes convinced us, due to his own fatalistic view influenced by his specific historical context, that human life was nasty, brutish and short, and required strong centralized government to control the chaotic state of nature. This remains the standing justification for aggressive, security-centred, sovereignty obsessed, zero-sum game governmental politics that still prevail 23 years after the Cold War ended and 66 years after the Second World War terminated. Realism and neo-realism still shape the atavistic mentality of our national and international systems of governance and our globalized economy. Any consideration of ethics or compassion for the adverse consequences of one state?s actions upon citizens of neighbouring states is overruled by ?imperatives? of state security that demand nuclear weapons capable of destroying the planet multiple times, and economic policies that generate untold wealth for the few and misery for the multitudes.

However, love is now no longer just a spiritual injunction; it is also the finding of biology and pyschology. The renowned Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana proposed the theory of the ?biology of love?. With his psychologist colleague Gerda Verden-Zoller, Maturana writes:  

As neotenic, sexual, tender, and sensual animals, we humans are loving animals that become ill when deprived of love.

In the blindness that the negation of love creates in our living, we stop seeing ourselves as part of the harmonious interconnectedness of all existence in the unending dynamics of life and death, and we begin to live guided by ambition, greediness and the desire for control.[xxiv]

Interestingly, they argue that love actually expands intelligence, while the absence of love reduces intelligence and spawns stupidity:

?Thus, ambition, competitiveness, anger, envy, aggression and fear, reduce intelligence, because they restrict the domain of openness for consensuality. This is acknowledged in daily life with popular expressions such as: he or she is blinded by anger or ambition. Only love expands intelligence, because love as the domain of those behaviors through which the other arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself, opens us to see and to enter in collaboration.?

And, countering neo-Darwinians, they show that it is love, not competition or aggression that underlies evolution.

?To live in love, in the biology of love, in the conservation of collaboration, in the acceptance of the other and in the acceptance of the conditions of existence as a source and not as an opposition, restriction or limitation, has been the fundament for the evolutionary trend of conservation of the continuous expansion of intelligence in our lineage. 

These pioneering scientists conclude with a strong invocation to live with love and not aggression:

??let us stop cultivating aggression as a manner of living that leads to the prevalence of the Homo sapiens aggressans that is already with us, let us live in the biology of love, let us open our intelligence in a conspiracy that leads to the prevalence of Homo sapiens amans.?

This is the final way in which eco-spirituality could make a difference in our pursuit of ecological justice: by bringing us to love. What could be a better place than right here in Sekem to evoke the ?biology of love?? Sekem?s own tried and tested philosophy is the ?economy of love?. All around us, we see living proof that the economy of love overpowers and outweighs the economy of greed! Love ?works? ? and it works wonders!

And who better than Rabia of Basra ? the 12th Century Sufi poetess sold into slavery and liberated when her sainthood became apparent ? to remind us, in conclusion, of the primacy of love for a life of peace.

There is a powerful delegation within each of us

that lobbies each moment for contentment.

How can you ever find peace,

until you yield to Love![xxv]

[1] (Accessed on 7 February 2012). All his other speeches are also archived at

[i] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harcourt, 1959), p. 12.

[ii] For a detailed historical analysis of the Goddess from the earliest times, see Anne Baring and Jules Crawford, Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London: Viking 1991).

[iii] Ibn ?Arabi, Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, trans. Tosun Bayrak  (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 1997)

[iv] See especially, Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (New York: HarperCollins, 1988, 1995)  and Scilla Elworthy, Power and Sex (Element Books, 1996).

[v] These observations based on archaeological findings are meticulously noted by Anne Baring and Jules Crawford in Myth of a Goddess, and echoed by Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade.

[vi][vi] James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia (New York: Basic Books, 2006), p. 17.

[viii] Lovelock, Revenge of Gaia.

[ix] Jeanne Mackey, ?Time to Kiss the Earth Again: An Exploration of Ecospirituality? in Nature as a Healing Place, in Connections, Volume 5, No. 2, 2003.

[x] On post-religious spirituality, see Martin Lockley with Ryo Morimoto, How Humanity Came into Being: the Evolution of Consciousness (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2010). 

[xi] Annalet van Schalkwyk, ?Sacredness and Sustainability: Searching for a Practical Eco-Spirituality?, in Religion and Theology, Volume 18, Numbers 1-2, 2011, pp. 77-92 (p.16)

[xii] Valerie Lincoln, ?Ecospirituality: A Pattern that Connects?, Journal of Holistic Nursing September 2000, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 227-244

[xiii] For a detailed discussion on inner power see Scilla Elworthy?s Power and Sex.

[xiv] Chandogya Upanishad, in Eknath Easwaran trans., The Upanishads (Tomales CA: Nilgiri Press, 1987), p. 177.

[xv] John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008) first pub 1932.

[xvi] Swami Vivekananda Vedanta: Voice of Freedom

[xvii] On lunar and solar time see among others Jose Arg?elles The Transformative Vision (Berkeley: Shambala, 1975). On the feminine principle, see Andrew Harvey and Anne Baring, The Divine Feminine (Hants: Godsfield Press, 1996).

[xviii] In Daniel Ladinsky trans. Love Poems from God (New York: Penguin Compass, 2002)

[xix] Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992)

[xx] Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing, 1960)

[xxi] Francisco Varela with Humberto Maturana, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, a biographical DVD by Franz Reichle (available at

[xxii] Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (New York: Basic Books, 2002), pp. 12; xvi.

[xxiii] See Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life (New York: Anchor Books, 1997) and Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living (New York: Anchor Books, 2002)

[xxiv] Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zoller, ?Biology of Love? (Munchen/Basel: Focus Heilpadagogik, Ernst Reinhardt, 1996), can be downloaded at:

[xxv] In Ladinsky, Love Poems from God

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