Finding our niche
The biophilia hypothesis (defined as the passionate love of life and of all that is alive) suggests that humanity depends on nature not only for the obvious material and physical sustenance, but also for much deeper and equally important human needs for “aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction” (Kellert & Wilson, 1993, p.20). Indigenous people experience nature as a presence to commune with and be instructed by. They experience the natural world as Thou rather than an It. Reconnecting with our innate love for life in all its forms lies at the heart of creating a more regenerative human presence on Earth. Relatedness inspires love and love can unearth conscience, which changes the way we behave (Shaw, 2020). Jung saw the need to restore the human soul in its integral presence in relationship with the earth and earth’s vital powers of health and regeneration.
Soul and spirituality are touchy subjects because they are so close to our hearts, our very being. Some confuse spirituality with religion, but I see religion as a static state, mired in dogma. If nature is our teacher to learn how to flourish, then we should follow her patterns. Nature sets the example of dynamic interaction, cooperative interdependence and evolving process. Also, many major world religions place spirit above us, outside us, when from my perspective, spirit surrounds and fills everything. I like Plotkin’s (2003) definition of spirit as a concrete thing here in our world: our place and purpose within our ecosystem, our unique niche in the family of all things. Transforming or evolving spirituality is awakening a deeper perceptual awareness of the living organisms in our environment to build deeper relationships. To discover and fulfill our niche in the world.
Central to being human is a pervasive need to belong, to have purpose, to find meaning in our lives. At the heart of this endeavor is relationship. Relationship with other people, other organisms and the places that instill deep emotions in us. Place is part of any transformative experience, it is the context for our experience. And nature can offer wonderment and awe, opening our hearts and minds in readiness for re-creation. Our modern world, running on a hamster wheel for a paycheck, may not offer us the depth of experience and connections we need for a full spiritual life. Such consumer driven lifestyles are causing planetary eco-crisis which are increasingly becoming an existential threat to the human species and other living organisms.
“Our sense of urgency is prompted by the conviction that the modern onslaught upon the natural world is driven in part by a degree of alienation from nature. Our modern environmental crisis — the widespread toxification of various food chains, the multifaceted degradation of the atmosphere, the far- ranging depletion of diverse natural resources, and, above all, the massive loss of biodiversity and the scale of global species extinctions — is viewed as symptomatic of a fundamental rupture of human emotional and spiritual relationship with the natural world.”
— Kellert & Wilson (1993, p.26)
If we perceive spirituality as a relationship between the earth and humans, then our task is finding balance and harmony with the places where we live, to have a fuller experience of our connection to earth. Spiritual practices become a way to learn how to live well with the natural world as we recognize the sacred processes of interconnection and cooperation that create the conditions for life to flourish. These practices are methodologies for reaching an appropriate level of consciousness, or mindfulness, of the world. Awakening an awareness of the living world would re-establish relational and caring interactions with the natural community. The heart of ecology is a study of relationships. Sustainable communities begin with relationship.