“The ecological crisis is a revelation. If you do not see it as a revelation, you do not see it deeply and seriously enough. It is certainly not a theophany: what is revealed is not a new God. Nor is it an anthropophany like that of the Enlightenment, which gave us a new image of man. It is rather a cosmophany: the hitherto silent cosmos now cries out and speaks. It is a question of hearing this cry, of understanding this language, of perceiving this cosmophany. This cosmophany is the present revelation, and it is the revelation of contingency. It is not about making ecology a religion, but rather to ecologize religion” (Raimon Panikkar, 1996)
Life in the unprecedented present: From crisis to transformation
The present is unprecedented. Our current moment is fraught. Crisis has become normal. How has this come to be? How do we respond? What challenges you? To what are you called?
The global crisis of climate change is upon all of us. The science is clear and outlines the existential risk humanity faces. Climate change is only the most publicly-covered topic of a deeper and broader ecological crisis. Environmentally, we are in a global crisis as biodiversity and wild habitats are diminished through human overconsumption causing a mass extinction of species. Together climate change and the environmental situation constitute a single global ecological crisis that is unprecedented in historical as well as evolutionary time. The development of industrial levels of extraction of fossil fuels undergirds and sustains our practices of overconsumption through providing us with enormous, but ultimately limited, energy sources, and thus an energy crisis is always an imminent possibility on the horizon of the present. The years 2020 into 2021 were the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a health crisis on a global scale with millions of lives lost and everyone affected. This crisis is inseparable from an economic one, as long-term lockdown for the sake of health caused the loss of income, jobs and businesses.
Every crisis sees a corresponding unevenness in effect, with the poorest and most marginalized suffering the most. This is at a time when socioeconomic inequity exceeds comprehension. The privileged and enfranchised affluent (at whose top is a tiny proportion of “super-rich” billionaires) can afford, for now, to protect and buffer themselves form the baneful effects of these crises. The poor and disenfranchised cannot. This is a terrible injustice, as it is the privileged and enfranchised affluent minority who bear the bulk of the responsibility for causes our crises. (I am one of that privileged and enfranchised affluent minority!) Systemic injustices persist around race, ethnicity, and gender, and around differences in religious or sexual orientation, with corresponding cycling of violence, protests, grassroots movements, and oscillating government policy. All of this attests to an enduring social and political crisis at the heart of “civilization”, and many voices have been raised warning of its imminent collapse.
In short, we live in a time of unprecedented crisis. The challenge is to transform ourselves, individually and collectively to an equally unprecedented degree. This is a spiritual challenge at the deepest level and in the most radical sense. It is a challenge to transform our human being.
Our present moment calls human being to deep, radical transformation.
At the center of this transformation about which every thing revolves: our relation to our natural home, the Earth. Only through being in right relation to the Earth can we reconcile all our other relations.
This website provides you with a perspective called “contemplative ecology”. It is a way to confront the convergence of crises and answer the call to transform. As the wording demonstrates, this perspective is a bringing together of different understandings – one set called contemplation, one called ecology – into a single approach.
Contemplative approaches emphasize a turn inward, a meditative reorienting of our usual focus on visible actions and external things. Contemplation is a “beholding” that goes far beyond the visual meaning of “to look at”. Contemplation starts there before moving through sustained practice into a slow, attentive observing, before moving – deeper and inward again – to a much more inner experiential place where one lets go of egocentric concern, surrenders one’s self, holds space, practices being with, engages listening, cultivates stillness. Ecology emphasizes the inner relatedness of the natural world, articulating the web interwoven from the relations of organisms to one another, to the living systems of which they are a part, and to their physical surroundings. While one meaning of ecology is a branch of science that describes this web, the meaning of ecology in the context of this website departs from that strictly scientific sense (this alternative sense follows Teilhard De Chardin’s deep reflective reorienting of science and evolution). Our participation in that web, as an inner and integral part of the web, is key to the meaning of the term “ecology” here, in a way that moves beyond the objectivity of scientific description (which, as objective, is an emphasis on the outward and the external). Rather, articulating our participation in the web of ecology is “poiesis” (making): the creative effort to express the significance of our inherence within that web, this time moving from inwardness to inwardness, moving from the inwardness of what we have been into the newness of the living present. Thus both contemplation and ecology are movements from the outward and external to the inner and internal, but movements that involve different media: for contemplation, consciousness; for ecology, relationship.
Contemplative ecology is where these two kinds of movements, these two different aspects of inwardness, meet. While contemplative practice begins the work of human consciousness on itself, to uncover and overcome our self-deceptions, it ends in the ecological realization of our deep belonging to the nonhuman world. The final self-deception to uncover is that of our separateness from the world, the conviction that we stand independently apart from nature. Overcoming this self-deception brings into our hearts the truth that we interdepend on the Earth with the nonhuman world and are intimately a part of nature. The truth that the Earth is our home.
It’s a truth that the Earth is our home. We need to start living this truth.
The layout of this “What is Contemplative Ecology?” section of the website represents this perspective through laying out the different understandings of contemplation and ecology separately, and their synthesis. It presents one particular way, developed by one particular scholar, that is solidly founded on numerous different branches of research and deeply grounded in the complex root system where these re-searches – these “searchings again” – meet the Earth and the natural world. These different branches and multiple roots come together into a coherent and compelling perspective for guiding and vitalizing the personal and collective transformation of human being.