Yesterday I went to a workshop at St Ethelburga’s, a church in the heart of the City of London that has developed into a center for reconciliation and peacebuilding. The title of the workshop was “Kickstart a Spiritual Ecology Hub” — something that I would eventually like to do in the Netherlands. With about 25 people we talked and meditated all day about our relationship with the Earth and the action we intend to take from there. It was very inspiring, not in the least because I met all these people. The day started with the trailer below, which introduces the book that I discussed earlier.
The workshop gave me more insight into the principles of Spiritual Ecology. Within this approach, environmental activism does not start with doing things and running around, but with sitting still and listening. We did an exercise where we listened to a news story about how bees are threatened by pesticide use in the UK. We had a moment of silence to recognize our feelings about this. We transformed these feelings into a prayer and then listened to our heart (which I’m not yet very good at to be honest…) if it required a response from us. During the discussion afterwards, we shared this with someone else and set a deadline for doing our our actions. I’m for example going to search for an petition and sign it.
By approaching problems in this way, your actions become hopeful rather than angry and frustrated. Many people said they do not even follow the news more because there is so much misery. I have that experience with reports about factory farming. For example, this week a supermarket in the UK announced that they will stop selling cage eggs in 2025. I did not even know that these eggs are still sold here. Because I feel so strongly about that, I actually don’t even want to know about it. But it is important to make contact with that feeling. As Joanna Macy says:
Don’t apologize if you cry for the burning of the Amazon or the Appalachian mountains stripped open for coal. The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel are a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal.
I am still getting used to engage with the Earth in this way, and it is perhaps easy to do off as hazy hippie-talk. But I think it goes to the heart of the climate problem: it is a spiritual crisis. We humans have lost our relationship with nature and treat anything that is non-human as an object, a commodity. I think such an attitude cannot be defended from the Bible, but let me know if you wish to discuss this.
I gained a lot of ideas and linkages. I met Thom Bonneville from (i.a.) the Interfaith Animal Alliance. For me, this workshop has confirmed the decision that Freddy and I made this month: In October I will quit my job and we are hopefully going to Chile to volunteer on organic farms for half a year. I look forward to be working outside every day. It will be a time to listen to nature and to God, before the wild plans can take shape. Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes that we can only make a difference in the world if we have a base that we can fall back on:
Many people are aware of the world’s suffering; their hearts are filled with compassion. They know what needs to be done, and they engage in political, social, and environmental work to try to change things. But after a period of intense involvement, they may become discouraged if they lack the strength needed to sustain a life of action. Real strength is not in power, money, or weapons, but in deep, inner peace.
- Joanna Macy, ‘The Greening of the Self’, In: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (editor), 2013. Spiritual Ecology
- Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991. Peace is Every Step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life