Toward A Sacred Ecology

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    In the face of many recent natural catastrophes – tsunamis, forest fires, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes – we are reminded of the fragile nature of life and how much we are at the mercy of natural forces. Yet, in our predominately secular/scientific worldview we may miss the metaphoric meanings or warnings that may be contained in such events. Such meaning may be found in a sacred, experiential relationship with the natural world that has been historically prevalent in indigenous cultures.

    Unfortunately, our Judeo-Christian worldview sees such sacred connection as primitive, pagan superstition or demonic worship. Self-serving interpretations of a biblical admonition for mankind to be fruitful, multiply and have dominion over the earth have contributed to a world that is increasingly overpopulated and polluted. In 2001, humans were consuming 20 percent greater than the amount of natural resources considered to be sustainable (renewable). By 2050, the earth’s population is expected to be around nine billion and humans will be consuming nearly two planets’s worth of resources (if we could find that much).

    We need to act and act fast, if it is not already too late. Yet, the dominant political and religious climate today in the U.S. views environmental protection and conservation as anti-business – even criminal. I would ask this question: does dominion have to mean domination or can it imply reciprocity and guardianship? I would argue for the latter interpretation if we were to survive as a species in a way that will make it desirable to be alive.

    Gratefulness and respect

    My reasoning goes like this. I challenge anyone, scientific, secular, religious or agnostic to show me any food or resource, natural or man-made, necessary or useful for life, that isn’t provided by Mother Nature with the energy provided by the sun. Aware of this basic fact, and not out of ignorance or superstition, ancient cultures deified the earth and the sun and treated them with gratefulness and respect. Such natural deities or guardians were usually understood as aspects of the one God, not replacements.

    Modern culture may have greater external knowledge of the universe, but this does not have to diminish our respect and gratitude to the fundamental sources of life. When we disrespect and misuse the natural world, we disrespect and mistreat ourselves. Whether we maintain a secular or religious context, the result is the same; without gratefulness and reciprocity, we are spoiling our own house and garden. Our arrogance is killing us.

    A sacred partnership with earth and spirit is the viewpoint of most indigenous cultures. In this worldview, the natural world is seen as alive, infused with spirit or life force. Chief Seattle, a Native American, once said: "This we know: The Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites all: Man did not weave the web of life; he is a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself." In other words, we are not separate from the rest of the natural world. We exist in wholeness and relationship – not in separation, not in a vacuum. We are one living biosphere of interconnected energies (spirits). Whatever we do to the earth and to others, we ultimately do to ourselves.

    Following this point of view, great attention and care should be given to the consequences of community and individual actions on the environment. It is through this principle of oneness – not an angry, punishing God – that we suffer the consequences of our "sins." Actions that come from a true vision of unity create harmony; actions that arise from the perception of separateness cause further discord.

    Caretakers and protectors

    Holding this sacred point of view, indigenous cultures typically maintain a reciprocal relationship with the natural and spiritual worlds. They recognize their origin from, and their dependence on, Mother Nature. In turn, they act as caretakers and protectors of the great Mother, offering respect, reverence and thanks. They consume with gratefulness, and they are careful not to waste or over use her gifts. Medicine people and priests heal, balance and maintain the energies of the natural world with ritual ceremony.

    This reciprocal relationship is key to the indigenous awareness of belonging to a place. The indigenous relationship with the natural/spiritual worlds is sacred, and certain locations in particular reflect this revered connection and meaning. This connection is experienced in the body as a kinesthetic feeling and an intuitive knowing, and this is much more than a projection of a belief system or philosophy. It runs deeper than aesthetic appreciation. Thus, indigenous people are quite content with leaving such places in their natural, undeveloped state. To substantially alter or develop sacred places disturbs this sacred connection and is a desecration.

    Modern humans believe they must develop land to make it valuable. Undeveloped land, except parks and recreational areas, is often viewed as useless, even ugly or threatening. The natural world is nothing more than a commodity to harvest. This attitude facilitates overuse and abuse of the natural world. We don’t understand the importance of connecting to and giving back to the earth, feeding her with attention and ritual.

    Ecological trouble

    Without sacred awareness, we "civilized" people have twisted our planet into ecological trouble. The gifts of fossil fuels, which made the industrial revolution possible, are now in short supply and their toxic by-products are polluting and overheating the planet. The air we breathe and the food and water we consume are becoming more toxic. Could our epidemics of cancer and degenerative disease be, in part, a manifestation of our uncontrolled urban growth and toxic pollution of our planet? Is the incredibly high incidence of heart disease related to our disconnection with our own heart (essence) and the heart of the living planet that sustains us? I believe that it is!

    There is a metaphoric meaning and cause of disease, as well as a physical one. At a time when our population growth is straining the seams of our ecological envelope, can we afford to ignore our relationship with the whole? Will we fully understand and accept the contribution from global warming to the increasing ferocity of natural disasters? We are intended to be guardians of the earth and serve as caretakers, not conquerors and destroyers.

    How can we begin to transform our perception and values toward a more sacred, earth-attentive direction? This is not an easy task. Modern culture does not have a strong heritage of earth-centered guardianship. Our wanton materialism feeds on feelings of inner vacuity and encourages us to consume more and more. The marketing of insatiable desires, which drives our economy and foreign policy, demands we use more of the earth’s diminishing resources and creates enormous amount of toxic waste. But external gratifications alone, without deeper spiritual connection, are fleeting – and ultimately shallow and empty.

    Instead of a sacred myth, or context of values based on spiritual connection and wisdom, we have become worshippers of materialism. Our values have become so externalized and action oriented (male polarity) that we have become increasingly alienated from being – intuition and instinct (female polarity). The unseen world of spirit, which underlies and precedes the visible world of matter, is almost lost to us. Our cognitive capacities are highly trained, but our hearts and intuitions are not. A clear and open heart allows us to perceive our deep connection with the natural world. Our heart connects us to the heart of the earth, from whom we spring forth, animated by the flame of spirit.

    This description of "heart" is not limited to the physical organ, but refers to an esoteric center that, when developed, allows an extrasensory mode of attention, being and perception. The heart is the conduit of experience of that which connects all things. When we merge our intellect with our intuitive subtle senses, while cultivating a clear and open heart, we become fully embodied and we can directly experience our connection to the greater mystery that includes the continuum of matter and spirit. This interactive connection can guide and inform us how to be more attentive to the needs of the earth.

    The natural world

    There is movement in this direction in modern culture. But we must journey beyond a mere aesthetic or sentimental connection with the natural world. Although we all carry an intuitive capacity for connection with nature, deeper interactions usually require training, especially for Westerners without such cultural heritage. Filmmaker Werner Herzog poignantly portrays the dangers of a sentimental approach to nature in his movie Grizzly Man. The principle character of this film is a young man who has become a self-proclaimed guardian of grizzly bears in a protected preserve in Alaska. He attempts to gain respect and admittance into the bear community by showing fearless love to these ferocious animals. He closely approaches, telling them he loves them. As one might expect, his would-be brothers eventually eat him. Nature is not a place for sentimentality, no matter how well-intended!

    The post-Katrina and Rita reconstruction of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast region will need attention on many levels, including both scientific and spiritual. We must be willing to ask hard questions, such as: Should we even rebuild a city in such a vulnerable geographic location, mostly under sea level and susceptible to tropical storms? If so, how, especially knowing the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps will also increasingly threaten coastal cities? Will an adequate and honest assessment of the environmental impact caused by chemical and fuel spills, toxic mold, decaying human bodies and fecal waste be made? And what effect will the contaminated water being pumped back into the Gulf and the lake have for generations to come on the fish and food chain?

    Anyone who claims the effects will be minimal can eat my shrimp gumbo. These catastrophic events also point to broader issues, such as our antiquated infrastructure of interstate highways and dwindling fossil-fuel supplies. The absence of viable mass-transit systems left many people stranded on overloaded highways, out of gas. Two major hurricanes striking the same region within weeks of each other is a poignant warning of these shortcomings. Change and adaptation is necessary. We must redirect our efforts toward renewable energy sources and ecologically sound living practices that are sustainable for the long term.

    We must also address the emotional distress that affects local inhabitants and remains stuck in the land unless healed by those who know how, such as Native Americans or Tibetans. I suggest we consult individuals who have the intuitive capacity and training to reciprocate with and heal the earth. These teachings continue in indigenous culture and have also been imparted to individuals in modern culture. It is not a time for tribalism and concealment of such knowledge and skills. Let’s identify and encourage those who have this knowledge to use and teach it. We desperately need to redefine our relationship with our world.

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    Larry Alboher, D.C., is a healer, writer and teacher who has spent more than 30 years practicing Eastern and Western mysticism and receiving personal initiation into two different wisdom traditions. He maintains a professional healing practice that intuitively blends esoteric energy healing techniques with chiropractic and cranial-sacral therapies. For further information and to contact the author, please visit www.LarryAlboher.com. Copyright © 2005 Dr. Larry Alboher. All rights reserved.

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