SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY: A Guide to Reconnection with Nature

SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY: A Guide to Reconnection with Nature
Jim Nollman
Bantam New Age Books; paperback, 227 pages.


MOTHER EARTH SPIRITUALITY: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World, by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man; Harper and Row, Sun Francisco; paperback, 230 pages.

DHARMA GAIA: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology, edited by Allan Hunt Badiner; Parallax Press, Berkeley: paperback, 264 pages.

SACRED PLACES: How the Living Earth Seeks Our Friendship, by James A. Swan; Bear & Company, Sante Fe, New Mexico; paperback, 236 pages.

Since the birth of the modern environmental movement, the concept of “ecology” itself has undergone numerous transformations. One of the most important of these is the emergence of what has been called “deep ecology,” a philosophy that acknowledges the inherent rights and freedom 'of all beings. In Spiritual Ecology Jim Nollman takes a step beyond secular conceptions of deep ecology to suggest an ecological thinking that is unreservedly spiritual in nature. truly “spiritual” relationship with nature is one that acknowledges the unique awareness, intuition, love, and wisdom that animals and plants possess, while at the same time recognizing our own mysterious depths of spirituality and awareness. Widely known for his work on interspecies communication (chronicled in Dolphin Dreamtime, previously titled Animal Dreaming), Nollman here writes engagingly of the need to reconsider our connection with nature, and stimulates us to look at nature in ways that we may not have considered before. Told- largely through his own experiences and insights, this is an intensely personal account, possessing a directness frequently absent from more academic treatments of ecology and nature.

In Mother Earth SpiritualitySioux Indian Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, places environmental and ecological concern within the frame work of traditional Native American thinking. For thousands of years before the modem environmental movement, Native Americans had developed beliefs and rituals that expressed a profoundly heightened sensitivity to nature. Whereas modern environmental understanding can too often remain at the purely abstract, cerebral level, in the Native American tradition we encounter a practical set of methods to directly re-engage and regenerate our connection with nature. More provocatively, perhaps, the Native American tradition rakes the question of whether we can, through our rituals, also communicate with the Earth and actively partake in her much-needed healing. McGaa writes:

Now our planet is in great danger. Why not turn to ceremony, at least to get the feeling, the message that our planet must live, She is speaking to us quite strongly already. Let her speak also in ceremony. We can gain a special resolve by communicating within the ceremony.

In this informative and highly readable volume, McGaa presents an overview of many key Sioux Ceremonies, as well as offering specific ways that we can begin working with some of these practices ourselves. There is also a fascinating section on the ways Native American ideas and customs have influenced modern American thought and political institutions. For those who wish to explore the connection between modern ecological ideas and traditional wisdom towards nature, this book provides a valuable introduction.

Still another perspective on the current environmental issue can be found within the excellent anthology Dharma GaiaIn this wide-ranging collections of essays from such writers as Joan Halifax, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Gary Snyder, we encounter the relationship between humanity and nature through the eyes of Buddhist thought. Whereas in Native American culture we find a highly evolved sensitivity and understanding of nature (and the rituals to enhance that relationship), what Buddhism offers is a meditative tradition through which individuals may widen their boundaries of identity to encompass the world itself. Among the many ideas one encounters in this collection, the most common theme seems to be this: that as Buddha beings, we exist not simply as isolated egos, but share in the interconnectedness of all life forms everywhere. Hence, the enlightened view of self becomes what Joanna Macy in her essay terms the “ecological self.” In his introduction to the volume, editor Alan Hunt Badiner writes:

Buddhism offers a clearly defined system of ethics, a guide to ecological living, right here, right now. Meditation is its primary tool for raising ecological consciousness. In meditation, awareness of our environment deepens and our identity expands to include the multitude of circumstances and conditions that come together to form our existence, curiosity and respect for the beauty and power of nature is enhanced, revealing an innate bio-spirituality.

This is a moving and thought-provoking work that will be of interest to all who are concerned about the spiritual dimensions of ecology and environmentalism.

In Jim Swan's Sacred Places our attention shifts to the study of the unique properties and qualities associated with the landscape itself. For thousands of years men and women have recognized the power of different sites to move us in ways that are not easily explained by modern science. Why is it, in particular, that certain areas have long been considered “sacred” while others have not? Swan, an “environmental psychologist,” examines questions such as these, and offers a variety of perspectives. Drawing upon both modern research and traditional native wisdom, he explores such areas as the varieties of sacred place; the role of sacred place in the experiencing of mystical states, and the dilemma of sacred places in the modern world. Also included is a regional guide to sacred places on public lands within the United States. Along with Paul Devereux's, Sacred Places offers one of the best introductions to the subject of Earth mysteries I have encountered.


Winter 1990