This we know: The Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like to blood that connects us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. — Chief Seattle
In GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness (O Books), author Marian Van Eyk McCain interweaves deep connections between ecology and spirituality. She brings together the ideas of over two dozen contemporary writers from a wide range of disciplines and wisdom traditions. Contributors include cosmologist Brian Swimme, ecologist Stephan Harding, Episcopalian priest and educator Matthew Fox, economist David Korten and wellness expert John Travis.
GreenSpirit is a timely and inspiring manual for eco-spiritual living and practical guide for grassroots action.
To learn more, AHB reached Marian Van Eyk McCain at her home in Devon, England.
Ruth Dempsey: So what is green spirituality?
Marian Van Eyk McCain: Green spirituality is based on reverence for the wonder, the beauty and the mystery of the universe, particularly this beautiful little corner of it that we know as Planet Earth and which some like to call Gaia.
It is ecocentric (focused on ecosystems), rather than anthropocentric (focused only on human beings). It sees all creatures great and small as having equal importance in the scheme of things. And it regards healing and maintaining the integrity of the world’s ecosystems as a sacred duty.
RD: This book looks at the implications of a green retrofit for society. . .
MVEM: That’s right. If we were truly to embrace green spirituality, our laws would need to take into account the needs and rights of all organisms and ecosystems, not just those of humans. For example, our state schools would become more like our Waldorf schools but even greener, and our health system would change its focus from sickness to wellness. As cultural historian Thomas Berry pointed out, "The medical profession is only beginning to recognize that no amount of medical technology will enable us to have healthy humans on a sick planet."
RD: You say it takes time to green one’s personal lifestyle. Can you explain?
MVEM: Yes. This is an important topic because every small choice we make, every day, affects what is happening in the wider world.
Where does our rubbish end up, for example? When we swallow antibiotics, hormone pills and other pharmaceuticals that will be excreted and go down the drain, how might that affect the watercourses and the creatures that live in them? How much fossil fuel did it take to make that new, shiny gadget that we didn’t really need and have managed 40 years without? And so on.
Every one of our decisions does make a difference. Even a decision as tiny as turning off a light switch either adds to the problem or helps to ameliorate it. The trick is to think of "higher level greenness" as a direction rather than a goal.
It sounds difficult, but it’s really not. All we have to do is to follow what I call the Gaia principle. Simply ask yourself "Is this good for Gaia (the Earth) or not?" By placing the well-being of our planet and her ecosystems at the center of everything, we create a rule of thumb for ourselves that will guide us correctly in every situation.
I have written a whole book on just this question The Lilypad List: 7 Steps to the Simple Life (Findhorn Press). My forthcoming book Downshifting Made Easy (O Books) will have more suggestions.
RD: And community is important . . .
MVEM: Absolutely. Many of us are working very hard to make the world a greener, saner and healthier place, each in our different way. This may be in the home, the workplace or local community, whether it is growing organic food, writing articles, downshifting to a simpler lifestyle, teaching children, organizing events . . . the list is endless.
But one gets weary sometimes, and it is easy to lose heart. A GreenSpirit community, where we can get together — in real time, online or both — to share ideas and support each other in our efforts is like coming to drink at a well. It is how we get re-inspired.
I think that there is something special, even necessary, about being able to hang out with like-minded people. It feeds our hunger for meaning and a sense of deep connectedness. If you think about it every religion or spiritual tradition has this component: a congregation, a sangha or whatever the name. It is essential.
RD: Finally, how does green spirituality speak to the legacy older adults leave to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
MVEM: The elder is a wisdom keeper with his or her own legacy. When the development of human beings follows its optimum path or as Bill Plotkin puts it, a "soulcentric" path — those reaching elderhood have a key role to play.
As children, our primary focus is naturally ourselves. As adults, our focus widens: as well as caring for ourselves we take care of others and of whatever tasks we are called to do in the workplace. Then as elders, our focus widens even further to caring for the well-being of human tribes, the ecosystems in which they are embedded and the planet as a whole.
To use my favorite nature metaphor: if the child is the bud, full of promise and potential, and the adult is the blossoming flower rich with the nectar of energy and knowledge, then the elder is the fruit. So the wisdom created from our own unique mix of knowledge and experience is the precious seed we pass on to future generations.
An egocentric culture — which, unfortunately, mainstream culture tends to be at the moment — has no role for elders. But a soulcentric culture certainly does. And it is that sort of change to a soulcentric culture that green spirituality aims to effect.
Indeed, many people believe that this greening of human consciousness is the latest phase of evolution, and, in this, elders are leading the way.