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Ecology and Spirituality

by Diana Autumn

As the wise words of Chief Seattle reveal, the Native Americans revere the Earth and hold her sacred. They consider themselves an integral and living part of the Earth, instead of considering the Earth as something to be used, possessed and exploited. All living and nonliving things on the Earth are considered one, and human beings are a part of this wholeness. By living harmoniously with the Earth, human beings demonstrate their respect and love.

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Western culture, by contrast, has long lived unaware of our oneness with the planet Earth. The Earth has been thought of as something to be possessed, to be owned, to be bought and sold. The Earth was to be used, to give us all the resources that could be rendered from her—from the richness of the soil and minerals, to the plants and animals, the air we breathe and the water we drink.

But now we have come to realize that the Earth’s resources are finite and that we have the responsibility to protect and preserve the Earth. This growing interest in establishing a harmonious relationship with the Earth is an indication of an awakening spirituality. Humanity has begun to view things in relationship. Instead of seeing everything as separate, unrelated entities, we are learning to see the interconnectedness of all things. Freed of the illusions of separateness, we can view the Earth and all living and nonliving things with a new spiritual vision.

In 1948 the British astronomer Fred Hoyle predicted, “Once a photograph of Earth taken from the outside is available, an idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Indeed, our travels into space have helped us create this new spiritual vision. Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, wrote in 1970 that he considered the moon landing on July 20, 1969, as the birth of a new mythology. In his view “we are participating in one of the very greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of an outside nature, but also of our own deep inward mystery, that has ever been taken or that will or ever can be taken.”

For many of the astronauts who experienced the wondrous sight of the Earth as seen from space, their attitude toward our home planet changed forever. They realized the beauty of the Earth and how all living things are connected and dependent upon one another. Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., one of the first two astronauts to set foot on the moon, made the following remark about seeing the Earth from its satellite. “Just above the horizon,” he said, “was the most striking sight of all: Earth, which, at that distance, looked like a blue marble dangling by a thread against a black backdrop. So small did the planet seem that one could blot it out of the universe simply by holding one’s thumb up to it.” This comment, like many others made by astronauts after their space voyages, shows how the experience of leaving the planet and contemplating it from afar produced a great sense of the fragility of the Earth and a deep commitment to care for the planet.

Now as the picture of the planet Earth taken from space has become a common sight, seen anywhere from the classroom to advertising, human consciousness seems to be gradually changing. We can no longer deny that we are all on the same boat, floating out there in space. We are all here together and what we do to our planet will not only affect our immediate environment, but the environment and destiny of the whole planet.

As we grow spiritually, we are taken outside of our personal world which includes only ourselves and those few who are close to us, and our feeling of responsibility expands to include the whole Earth. We understand the consequences of allowing greenhouse gases to build up so that temperatures worldwide rise and the consequences of polluting our waters and air so that some may enjoy big profits and a few more can have material comforts and pleasures. We begin to ask what will happen if climate change continues unabated and if we run out of the Earth’s precious resources, when there is no longer air that we can breathe or water to drink. “Save the Earth” is no longer an empty motto for us. We realize that our own survival is dependent on the survival of our home planet.

“But what can we do?” we may ask ourselves desperately. It would be so much easier to remain indifferent, or to blame others. We may think that the responsibility belongs to big business that is destroying the Earth with its greediness for profits, or the developing countries that do not have the luxury to care. But it helps no one if we simply judge and criticize society, placing the blame outside of ourselves. Society is not someone out there: it is all of us, for we are all an integral part of the whole.

By raising our own consciousness, we help raise the consciousness of all society. This change of attitude becomes a powerful spiritual force which can heal the Earth and help us to preserve it for coming generations. We realize that saving the Earth is our individual responsibility, and that we can’t just pass it on to someone else or ignore the whole problem. As an individual we can have an effect, either positive or negative, on the destiny of the whole human race.

Attitude is essential. By changing our attitude we have already taken a big step. Realizing that we do not possess the Earth and can no longer continue to abuse her for our own personal benefit, we help others to realize this also. When humanity changes its attitude toward the Earth, considering her as our Mother and Provider, everything will change. This new attitude will lead to new actions.

It is one thing to feel united with all, and another to do something about it. The problems seem so grand: global warming, a hole in the ozone layer, CFC’s, acid rain, air pollution, water shortages, floods, famines. What can we do about it?

When we feel responsible, we realize that our individual effort can make a difference. Some may have the option of dedicating their capabilities and education to helping the Earth. There may be time to choose a career which can directly help the Earth. But there is also a very important way in which we all, no matter what our situation in life, can concretely fulfill our commitment to the maintenance of a healthy Earth. This is by making little sacrifices every day which reveal our consciousness of a united Earth.

We need not use more than we need. Just enough water to brush our teeth, bathe and wash our clothes. Turn the faucet ALL THE WAY OFF. Just enough water in the shower to get clean, not that extra that is only for comfort. Do I really need that expensive new coat? Can I ride the bike instead of taking the car? Do I really need the light on to take a shower, to go into a room? Do I need to rinse with warm water or will cold water do the job? These little, individual efforts lead to a consciousness that increasingly expands.

Another useful practice: every time we use anything, we can take a moment to consider the wealth of the Earth and human endeavor that it represents. The hot water coming from the tap is heated by gas. Where does that gas come from, how does it get to us? The computer we use: it represents the fruits of the effort of many, many people from all over the world. It is run by electricity which flows to us easily from a wall outlet. We need not take these things for granted, but continue to remain in awe and thankfulness when considering the human effort involved and the gifts of the bountiful Earth.

As we work spiritually, delving into our inner depths, we realize that we also have an effect on the environment with our thoughts and feelings. We contribute to the mind and heart of humanity, and our contribution should be as positive as possible. Good thoughts and feelings have a lasting beneficial effect on all around us. We should not underestimate the value to the environment—all living and nonliving things—of a smile of love and encouragement, a prayer sent out to a distant friend, a good word for one’s adversary. Love is an invisible force in the world that can touch everyone and everything, no matter how distant. The spiritual force that we generate by good thoughts and feelings can reach so much beyond the work of our hands. Good thoughts and feelings sown into the world of conflict and greed can help bring about a transformation in human consciousness that will save the Earth and all of us who are part of her.

And maybe that beautiful blue pearl that filled the astronaut with awe as it dangled delicately in space is but a mirror of the human heart filled with love. We contribute to this force of love with our spiritual effort, with our feeling of responsibility and commitment to Save the Earth. The Earth is our home and we all wish to live here in peace and security.


Cadutuo, Michael J. and Joseph Bruchac, Keepers of the Earth. (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, Inc., 1988).

Aldrin, Edwin E., in Home Planet, edited by Kevin W. Kelley. (Menlo Park, California, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1988).

A slightly different version of this article was printed in Seeds of Unfolding, vol. IX, No. 1, 1992.

Diana Autumn lives and works in a spiritual community of Cafh in southern California. To find out more about communities of Cafh, visit www.cafh.org