“We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” – Richard Rohr
As the opening website introducing the “What is contemplative ecology?” section laid out, these webpages present a view on contemplation, a view on ecology, and in this “Contemplative Ecology” subsection, a way to understand their synthesis.
The “Contemplation” subsection makes clear how contemplation is a Christian tradition of meditative prayer. While its historical roots precede Christianity into ancient Greek philosophy, monasticism within Christianity developed and consolidated the meaning of contemplative practice over many centuries. In the past decades, contemplation has both been revived by contemporary Christians as a living spiritual practice, and democratized beyond the monastery as a practice available to all. At the same time, contemplation has been “de-traditionalized” and moved beyond Christian boundaries into the world-at-large for any; in doing so it has met with other contemplative & meditative traditions – just as, for example, “mindfulness” has been taken out of an exclusively Buddhist sense and been globalized.
At the heart of Christian contemplative practice: self-transformation so as to bring oneself into a faithful, right relation to God. More generally, contemplative practice is about a systematic practice of inwardness aimed at an ego-transcending self-transformation. What should be clear is how contemplation is a coherent, long-standing Christian tradition which forms the historical backdrop to current globalized, and not necessarily Christian, contemplative practice. What should not be entirely clear is to what extent, if any, contemplation in the traditional Christian form is in any way an “ecological” orientation.
The “Ecology” subsection is a much more eclectic gathering of positions from thinkers, scientists, activists, poets, economists, educators, and so on, that together compose a very contemporary ecological orientation. In fact, more powerful than an orientation, the coherence of these many facets adds up to an alternative, counter-cultural worldview. Putting this worldview into action as a way of life would enact a revolutionary change at all levels of our current civilization, which is premised on technology, industry, human progress, economics of growth, and so on. Key to the latter is an anthropocentric (human-centered) focus, an alienation from the natural world (the Earth), and the ignoring and disrespecting of limits – as if technology, industry, progress, and growth could be unlimited. They aren’t. An ecological worldview starts from our inherence within the natural world (not anthropocentric); emphasizes our belonging to the Earth, and thus our being-in-relationship (not alienated), and therefore recognizes and respects limits as what situates us and with what we need to work. At the heart of “Ecology” is a collective, societal transformation of our world- and life-view.
Contemplation without ecology risks inaction and too great a focus on self-transformation without consideration of the nonhuman world and the Earth. Ecology without contemplation risks ideological emphases and too great a focus on action and results without consideration of the human spirit and the evolution and history that has brought us to where we are. Combining them challenges each to face where they fall short and complement what is lacking in the other. Christian contemplation (and by implication, all of Christian theology and the whole tradition) is challenged to a deep and radical transformation of its spirituality to become Earth-based. Ecology is challenged to incorporate the inwardness of human consciousness and how it has been embodied in a plurality of historical traditions, as a distinctive piece within the invisible web of life on Earth. Practiced together they manifest the sacred ecology of Earth as home.
This subsection presents, in keeping with the effort to present a viable transformation of Christian spirituality, a number of contemporary Christian syntheses of contemplation and ecology. Together, they offer a critical mass for transforming the western Christian mythopoetic into an Earth-based, ecological spiritual outlook that leads Christianity out of the historical traditions that have defined it – and, I would argue, have also run their course – and into the next phase of its development, as well as a contemporary global contribution towards self-transformation and collective societal transformation.
“Contemplative ecology” is not only and not exclusively a Christian perspective; some other non-Christian contemplative ecology approaches are also included in this subsection.