Our relationship with the earth involves something more than pragmatic use, academic understanding, or aesthetic appreciation. A truly human intimacy with the earth and with the entire natural world is needed.” -Thomas Berry
There’s a discipline called Ecospirituality that strives to marry spirituality with ecology. Its core precepts are that the earth is our mother in a very literal sense, that we are born from it and a part of it and any human spirituality is inherently earth spirituality, that we can connect to the divine in its totality through our bodies and the earth itself. It’s a truly holistic approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of all things and specifically proposes that human existence and experience are inseparable from the earth itself.
Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest and eco-theologian, went so far as to say “You can’t have healthy people on a sick planet”. Ecospirituality suggests that instead of competing towards individualistic success, as our culture champions and rewards, that we cooperatively work towards a compassionate, connected, inclusive, and balanced society. Can we find a way to live in harmony with our planet, instead of just using it for its resources? Can we find a way to live in harmony with each other, instead of using each other for, well, all the things we use each other for?
I’ve been as guilty as anyone for being a part of exploitative consumerist culture. I’ve lived most of my life chasing my own societally-sanctioned idea of success. I created an active and extravagant lifestyle just to effectively avoid what I didn’t want to feel, filling my time with interesting people and new activities and travels and adventures and parties and festivals and cool projects and fresh clothes and art shows and going out to eat at all the hot new restaurants. I had so many ideas and plans for the future, so many ambitions, hoping that I would finally be validated by the world and that would fulfill me.
But the more “successful” I became, the more isolated I felt.
Finding myself deeply unhappy in my life, depressed and overwhelmed, I set off to explore who I really wanted to be and how I wanted to live in the world. This quest led me to a small off-grid retreat centre in Costa Rica to do some deep reflection on how to live a more meaningful life.
For the first time, I was living fully immersed in nature: rising with the sun, working and eating outdoors, bathing in the river, making friends with trees, and listening to the cicadas sing loudly every sunset. As the days and weeks went on, I felt myself shedding subtle layers of rigidness that had been adopted for city living. Every day I arrived a little bit more.
I realized how much our culture pushes us to be the same, to fit in and be seek validation for being like others, while our real beauty lies in exactly the opposite place. We celebrate each natural species for its uniqueness, the beautiful and endless expressions of colour and form and sound, yet somehow often overlook this attitude when reflecting on ourselves.
I looked at trees and was struck by their openness and patience. I thought about how impatient I was with my own process. I wanted to change and grow, and I wanted it quickly. I wanted to escape my suffering ASAP.
Appreciating how a tree grows, I saw myself in a new light. You can’t make a tree grow any faster than it naturally does. You can’t yank on a branch or a leaf to try to speed it up. If you want a tree to grow at its fastest rate, all you can do it give it the proper conditions for it to thrive. Good soil, sun, water, and air.
So what were the conditions I needed to grow? Of course there are similar conditions needed for my physical wellbeing – healthy food, exercise, sunlight. But also the internal conditions I needed to cultivate – non-judgment, acceptance, discernment, patience…things that are central to my meditative practice. And I needed to look honestly at my life to discern what values I had unconsciously adopted from the world around me from the values were emerging naturally from within.
These are the conditions I’m still cultivating fresh every day, in every moment. The exploration into true nature never ends!
“You look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.” – Ram Dass