Spiritual Ecology: The Solution to Our Climate Change Crisis?

by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

This week's United Nations Climate Change Conference at Cancun, Mexico is a global forum in response to a global crisis. As well as considering cutting carbon emissions, the conference hopes among other issues to advance green technologies and fund safeguards to prevent further deforestation of the Amazon. Already there are fears that it will fail to deliver real agreements and that as a result, the planet will be condemned to an uncertain or precipitous future. But this evokes in me a central question: can we respond to the true nature of global climate change from just an economic or political perspective?

Our ecological imbalance and the resulting crisis of climate change are caused by our industrial culture, by its chemicals, toxins and particularly carbon emissions. At the root of our predicament is a deep disregard for both the environment and for the consequences of our actions until it is almost too late. How can we expect to solve this ecological imbalance without an awareness of these roots -- that part of the real cost of our materialistic way of life is our loss of a lived connection and reverence for the sacred that is in all of life? Surely we need to recognize that there is a direct relationship between our outer, physical, ecological predicament and our forgetfulness of the sacred in creation.

Spiritual Ecology is an exploration of the spiritual dimension of our present ecological crisis. At the core of Spiritual Ecology is an understanding that our present outer ecological crisis is a reflection of an inner spiritual crisis. Recently many people have been made aware that we are at the "eleventh hour," or even a few minutes before midnight, of a global ecological situation that could result in catastrophic climate change or other irreversible global situations. However we are less aware of the inner spiritual crisis that underlies this outer crisis -- that a lack of awareness of the sacred within ourselves and within all of life has created an inner wasteland as real as any outer landscape. The interconnection between the outer and inner is foundational to life, both our individual life and the life of all of creation, as has been understood by indigenous peoples since the very beginning; therefore we cannot address our outer ecological crisis without a real consciousness of the inner situation. We cannot redeem our physical environment without restoring our relationship to the sacred.

The first step is always to become aware of what is happening. The outer signs of our ecological crisis are only too visible in the pollution of our waters, the dying of species, the change in our climate. The inner changes are less understood, particularly as our Western culture has for centuries dismissed the inner worlds, claiming that only the physical world is real. For those of us who have directly experienced the inner world through dreams, visions or other experiences, we know its value. While those who hunger for the reality of the soul know the pain of dismissing this dimension. It is here within our hearts that the sacred is born. It is in the inner world of the soul that meaning comes into our lives. And here in the inner worlds there is a crisis as dangerous as what is happening in the physical world.

Our collective pursuit of materialism and our disregard for the sacred within all of life has had a devastating effect. We have dismissed our ancient role as guardians of the planet. As a result, the sacred fire that we were supposed to keep burning, the light of the sacred that nourishes all of creation, is slowly going out. We can see this in a culture that is increasingly soulless and fractured. We may feel it in an underlying collective anxiety that can easily become anger, projected onto outer situations. We may sense it within our own soul as if something is becoming lost. And we are responsible. We vitally need to become conscious of what is happening to this sacred light. We need to recognize this growing darkness which is a forgetfulness of the sacred within our own souls and within all of creation. Only when we are aware of what is happening can we begin to change our world.

We cannot respond to our outer ecological situation in isolation. We cannot heal the symptoms without knowing the cause. Indigenous peoples like the Kogi have warned about this present danger. And yet because our culture has dismissed the inner, it is difficult for us to perceive what is happening. We have even forgotten that the world also has a soul. The anima mundi, the world soul, is no longer part of our collective consciousness, even though for centuries it was understood as the root of everything sacred in creation.

Those of us who have been given a knowing of the sacred within ourselves and within the world have a responsibility at this time. We may ask ourselves, "What can I do?" but the inner world primarily requires consciousness rather than action. It is the lack of an awareness of the sacred that is at the root of this crisis. Therefore we first need to bring the light of our spiritual awareness into the present predicament. We need to recognize what is really happening within the inner world as much as the outer, within our own soul and within the soul of the world. Only then can we begin to redeem the sacred and open the door to any real change or transformation. Only then can we begin to heal the world and bring it back into balance.


Published online at The Huffington Post (2010). Photo: Kogis or "Elder Brothers".