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Ecology of the Spirit

by Gustavo Zubizarreta

I want to share with you some reflections on the ecology of the spirit. Some are drawn from the writings of well-known thinkers, and others are my own. Take your time as you read. When you find an idea that makes sense to you, stop there and enjoy it and look for a way to use it in your personal plan for unfolding.

What is Ecology of the Spirit?

Ecology of the spirit refers to a special type of ecology or relationship with the environment. It is not just about global warming, or species in danger, or Al Gore’s predictions. It is not just about our relationship as human beings with nature. It is much more than that. It is about our relationship with our interior, with other human beings and with nature.

Thus, ecology of the spirit is holistic.

Ecology of the spirit means respect, care, compassion, and harmony in our relationships. It means interrelationship based on respect.

What do we mean by respect? Respect entails not taking more than what one needs. Respect means to take into account the needs of others and to recognize that all of us are in the same Noah’s ark. A duck living in a pond does not take more from its environment than what the environment can replace. The duck respects the other species and the resources in its surroundings.

Respect means to accept how you are and how others are. So, the first thing is to know yourself and to know others. You cannot love or respect if you don’t know.

In Delphi, the site of the most famous Oracle of the ancient world, these words were inscribed over the entrance: Know thyself.

In his book No Man is an Island, the American mystic Thomas Merton says that we cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves, but we cannot begin to know ourselves until we can see the real reasons why we do the things we do, and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond to our intentions.

Relationship and Spiritual Life

Spiritual life is essentially based on love, and our love depends on the character and level of our relationships. Relationships are the great fabric of life; to unfold them consciously and methodically is to learn to love through a work that includes all of life. It is to transform living into an art. Spiritual life and the art of living are, therefore, two ways of referring to the same thing.1

Understanding and compassion are fundamental attitudes in developing the art of relationship. If we have compassion, we can understand others and we no longer hurt them because their beliefs are different from ours. In fact, the word compassion comes from Latin and means to suffer along with the other person.

In Buddhism, the word suchness is used to mean the essence or particular characteristics of a person or thing. If we want to live in peace with a person, we have to see her suchness.

Harmony in Inner Life

Harmony is to live as we are and in the way we want to be. It is to stop deceiving ourselves or living with a false image of ourselves and reality. In learning to live in harmony, we have to overcome fears, prejudices, opinions and ways of thinking that others have imposed upon us.

One of the keys to living in harmony is living with balance. We need to try to reach balance in any situation or in any choice we make. Life is not black or white, life is not ying or yang, life is not sadness or happiness.


I am always surprised by the writings of Thich Naht Hanh. His concepts are so simple and the feelings he rouses are so sweet. I think he sees the essence of life clearly and is living it.

If you are able to see in your rice the rain and sun that feed the plant, you are closer to integrating all aspects in your life; this is one of his main ideas.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He was forced into exile in 1966, when he was banned by both the non-Communist and the Communist governments for his role in undermining the violence he saw was affecting his people. He now lives in France.

The word “formation” (samskara in Sanskrit) means something that manifests when many conditions come together. When we look at a flower, we can recognize many of the elements that have come together to make the flower manifest in that form. We know that without the rain there can be no water and the flower cannot manifest. And we see that the sunshine is also there. The earth, the compost, the gardener, time, space and many elements come together to help this flower to manifest. The flower doesn’t have a separate existence; it’s a formation. The sun, the moon, the mountain and the river are all formations. Using the word “formations” reminds us that there is no separate core of existence in them. There is only a coming together of many, many conditions for something to manifest.” 2

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None of us is separate; we are all part of the same creation, receiving our energy,
happiness, and fulfillment from the cosmic tree. We are the leaves that cannot live without the tree. Feeling this connection deeply and then transforming our inner environment are good places to start developing ecology of the spirit.


1 “Relationship and Spiritual Life,” from The Art of Living in Relationship by Jorge Waxemberg, Cafh Foundation, 1994, p. 5.

2 Buddha Mind, Buddha Body by Thich Nhat Hahn, Parallax Press, 2007, p. 13.