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Spiritual Ecology

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

How can we speak about sustainability without speaking about the Sustainer?

Finally we are waking up to our ecological imbalance, to the realities of global warming and its catastrophic consequences. It is also beginning to dawn upon us that these environmental changes are accelerating, that time is running out more quickly than we may realize. To quote a recent article in the New York Times by Paul Krugman:

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe—a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable—can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.1

And we are beginning to respond, with concerns about greenhouse gases and plans to reduce carbon emissions. We are proposing global protocols that can delude us into thinking we are taking responsible action even as we continue our demand for materialistic progress. But underlying our global predicament is an even deeper delusion, the notion that we can avoid environmental catastrophe without considering its root cause, without the change in consciousness that is needed to effect real change.

A stylized photograph of angel statues.
angels fountain by alicepopkorn, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Behind our present ecological self-destruction, caused by industrial pollution, by the chemicals, toxins and particularly carbon that our civilization emits, lies our desire for material progress, the demon of consumerism and greed that walks with heavy boots over the sacred soil of our world. At the root of our predicament is a deep disregard for the environment, and for the consequences of our actions until it is too late. This is the product of a consciousness that is cut off from the natural world and its interconnectedness. It comes from an attitude that we are separate from the world around us and can do with it as we want—an attitude that is unthinkable to indigenous people who respect and revere the physical world, and whose cultures protect the balance between humanity and nature. Our western consciousness evolved through the birth of scientific reasoning to treat the physical world as a mere object, something mechanical whose laws we could learn and thus master. We developed the gifts of science, but also began to create the materialistic wasteland that we now inhabit. We banned the symbolic world as something superstitious, and the understanding of the relationship between the worlds that linked together all of creation, the concept of the “Great Chain of Being,” was forgotten. Rather than part of an interdependent whole, each part nourishing and supporting the other, we became lords of a soulless earth, which we sought to dominate and subjugate for our own ends.

Underlying this outlook is a deep partriarchal conditioning. As our collective consciousness shifted from a matriarchal understanding of the world as a living sacred being, the divine became a transcendent God, living in heaven. The sacred streams and groves became just the stuff of myth, the nature spirits that inhabited them forgotten. Patriarchal consciousness excluded the divine from the natural world, whose darkness man then had to conquer. We were left alone in the world with a God we could only experience after death. Living in a world without the presence of the divine, we had only our own laws to follow, our own desires to nourish us. The results of this consciousness can be seen in our ecological devastation and the soulless world of our materialistic dreams.

The question we now need to ask is whether we can redeem our present ecological situation without addressing the consciousness that created it. Can there be any real change without a shift in consciousness? What would this shift mean and how would it address the very real concerns of global warming? We cannot afford to be idealistic dreamers. There must be real solutions to our very real predicament.

In our patriarchal hubris we have forgotten something that has been central to every other civilization: the primacy and power of the divine. We may have banished God to the heaven of our imagination, but that does not mean that this supreme power is not present. Every other civilization developed and understood ways to work with this power, to channel Its energy. Shamans were trained to understand the way Its spirit worked, priests and priestesses learned to listen to Its voice, Its prophecies and warnings. Sacred geometry was developed to channel Its energy through sacred buildings. But now we have become blind and deaf to Its hidden ways. We may praise and pray to a God in heaven, but we do not understand how to welcome the divine into our lives. How can we heal and transform the world without the living presence of its Creator?

Monotheism pointed us away from the many gods and goddesses of the ancient world towards a single transcendent God. If the living presence of God is to return to our consciousness it will be not as a step back to the old ways, but as a divine Oneness that embraces all of creation. Mystics have always experienced the oneness of being, the many facets of creation reflecting the single Essence. We are beginning to be aware of the ecological unity of life and its interconnectedness; economically and technologically we are being drawn into an era of global oneness. We now need to understand divine oneness: how the different qualities of the divine form a living presence in the inner and outer worlds, and how these qualities work together as one.

On a very simple level we do not have the power or technology to “fix” our ecological crisis on our own. The problems we have created are too severe. And yet here is the very root of our misunderstanding. We cannot do this on our own. We need to embrace the divine not as some transcendent being, but as a living presence that contains the visible and invisible worlds, all of the spirit and angelic beings that our ancestors understood. The oneness of God includes many different levels of existence.

We know for our individual self  that real healing only takes place when we our inner and outer selves are aligned, when we are nourished by our own soul and the archetypal forces within us. What is true for the individual is true for the whole. It is from the energies within and behind creation that the healing of creation will take place, because these are the beings that support, nourish and help creation to develop and evolve. How can we heal creation without the help of the devas and other spiritual forces that are within creation? They are waiting to be asked to participate, for their wisdom and power to be used. We need to once again work together with the divine oneness that is within and around us.

But how can we learn how to work together with the inner worlds when our culture has dismissed them to such a degree that we have forgotten their existence? We may talk about angels, and even pray for their intercession, but do we really understand their power, or that they are just one level of invisible beings? The invisible worlds are present all around us even though we cannot see or touch them, just like the wavelengths of light beyond the small portion of the spectrum we can see. First we have to step out of our dream of separation, the insularity with which we have imprisoned ourselves, and acknowledge that we are a part of a multidimensional living spiritual being we call the world. The world is much more than just the physical world we perceive through the senses, just as we are much more than just our own physical bodies. Only as a part of a living whole can we help to heal the whole. Just as we need to work together with the outer ecosystem, we need to work together with the inner worlds. We need their support and help, their power and knowledge. The devas understand the patterns of climate change better than we do, because they are the forces behind the weather and the winds. Just as plant devas know the healing powers of plants (and taught the shamans and healers their knowledge), so are there more powerful devas that know and guide the patterns of evolution of the whole planet.

Once we regain our consciousness of the divine within creation, we will discover Her invisible presence in many different ways. And once we acknowledge how we are an interdependent part of this living whole, we will find that the divine can once again communicate with us. It is only humanity that has exiled itself from the divine, banished Her presence and thus become blind and deaf. When we lift this veil of separation we will rediscover the ways the divine within creation communicates with humanity, and how we can work together to save the planet. She will teach us what we need to know, guide us in the ways we need to go. We only need the humility to be open and listen, just as for our own healing we need to listen to our own soul and the deeper rhythms of our body.

But this shift in consciousness does mean that we will have to take responsibility for our actions and attitudes. We can no longer walk blindly, uncaring, on the face of the earth. Leaving behind the myth of our banishment means accepting our faults and the damage we have done in the inner and outer worlds. We are beginning to take responsibility for the ecosystem, though we have not yet fully realized that we will need to sacrifice our materialistic dream and to suffer the pain of withdrawal from this addiction. Taking responsibility for the damage we have done in the inner worlds, for example the sorrow we have caused the Great Mother by our abuse, is a step we have not yet taken. Nor do we realize how we have desecrated the symbolic worlds, whose sacred images are today being used as just another way to sell materialistic fantasies. Symbols and sacred images used to be a way to connect with the divine, to make the transition from the physical world to the mystery of the soul. Yet we now use these images for personal gain, without taking any responsibility for our actions, for the rape of the sacred. There will be a price to pay if we are to redeem the symbolic world of the creative imagination, just as we have to pay a price for our own faults and failings. Redemption requires real sacrifice. Only then can we regain the dignity that belongs to us, and help to heal the wrongs we have done.  Growing up requires responsibility and is a painful process.

To reclaim our dignity and role as guardians of the planet will not be easy. But we can pray for the intercession of His mercy, knowing, according to an ancient promise, that “His mercy is greater than His justice.” There is a real reason that the ancients understood that He is a wrathful God, and made penance and sacrifice to placate Him. We may think that our science and civilization can protect us from this primal power, but the symbol of the dragon as the power of the earth is not without meaning. We have little understanding of the archetypal forces that underlie our surface lives, and of how they are all interconnected and can manifest the will of God. We can no longer afford to be ignorant or think that we can abuse the world as long as we want.

Spiritual ecology means reawakening our awareness of what is sacred in all of creation, and knowing that only if we work together with the divine in all of its manifestations can we hope to redeem what we have desecrated and destroyed through our greed and arrogance. It means to reclaim the wisdom of our ancestors who knew the sacred interconnections of life and the divine forces within it. Once again we have to relearn how to relate to the divine, how to bring an awareness of the many facets of divine oneness into our lives and prayers and meditations. We cannot afford to remain in this wasteland of separation, lost in our ego-driven arrogance. And we cannot afford to wait. We have already waited too long, ignoring the signs that are around us. Nor can we afford to think that science and technology will give us the answers we need to restore our ecological imbalance. Their ideology is born from the separation of spirit and matter, and this is what has caused the problems that are now bleeding the lifeblood of the planet. Matter is not dead, however we may treat it. It is part of a living organism like the cells in our own body. And this living organism is an embodiment of spirit. We have to bring together spirit and matter, heal the split that has wounded our world.

The world has been through many crises over the millennia, but this is the first global crisis that has been created by humanity. Whether we take responsibility for our predicament will determine our future and the future of the world. There is an ancient teaching that in times of imminent catastrophe we are given the opportunity of divine intercession; we can look towards God and pray for divine help. We are at such a moment and the soul of the world is crying out. Are we prepared to welcome back the divine and work together with the forces of creation? Are we able to claim this real empowerment? Or are we going to remain on the sidelines and watch as the politicians argue while the world continues on its present course?

We do not know what it might mean to once again work with the divine forces within creation. In the West we have long since lost touch with this heritage, even though it is buried deep in our psyche. Yet it is a simple shift of awareness to reclaim this consciousness, and in doing so we will step into the future that is being born at this moment of crisis. We will become alive in a new way as we help the world wake up from the dream that is destroying it. We will be active participants in the real ecological work that is needed.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a sheikh in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujadidiyya Sufi Order. Born in London in 1953, he has followed the Naqshbandi Sufi path since he was 19. In 1991 he moved to Northern California and became the successor of Irina Tweedie, author of Chasm of Fire and Daughter of Fire. In recent years, the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, and the emerging global consciousness of oneness. He has also specialized in the area of dreamwork, integrating the ancient Sufi approach to dreams with the insights of modern psychology. Llewellyn is the founder of The Golden Sufi Center and author of several books. workingwithoneness.org, goldensufi.org

Read more about Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Footnotes

[1]June 28 2009.

Comments (11)
  • I’m delighted to come across this article on spiritual ecology.  I’m in the process of teaching a master’s program in Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney on Ecology and Spirituality. 

    We are clearly tuning into the same thought processes.  There are a number of authors and social commentators who have drawn attention to the link between the ecological crisis and the spiritual crisis, including Al Gore himself in a book he wrote around 1992. 

    It’s something I resonate with as a student and practitioner of Sufism myself.  I follow Hazrat Inayat Khan’s teaching to read the sacred manuscript of Nature, as he says, it’s only book that will enlighten the reader.  This has certainly been my experience.  I love reading books and I love reading Nature even more.

    My sense is that only when we enough of us re-member our deep connections with the web of life that we’ll really be able to save our dear planet and Mother, Earth.  Indigenous elders I’ve sat with and read all say the Earth is our Mother! It’s time we learned to listen to these people who are still tuned into the Earth.  This is an emergent theme that came out of my own doctoral research in social ecology.  I proposed the need to develop an ecology of culture as a way to heal our Great Mother.

    So thank you for this inspiring article, I’ll recommend it to my students as well,

    In peace,
    for the Earth,
    Arjuna

    — Arjuna Ben-Zion Weiss on August 19, 2009

  • at good last exploring the roots. thank you so very much.

    — Renate Faber on August 19, 2009

  • Your wisdom speaks to every part of my being. And if I were to read your words aloud the faery beings around me would be dancing with the angels. Deep gratitude from someone who practices the eco/pagan mysticism of her Celtic ancestors, and the mysticism of the divine human being that I am learning on the Sufi path.

    — Zahira Conaire Sheehan on August 19, 2009

  • Thank you for a lovely article, I have struggled with this developing this awareness in a manifest way in my life for a long time. I live in a rural way, and yet still enslaved to the corporate urban industrial culture, there does not seem to be a way out anymore, all of the trend curves point to catastrophe, except as you say through the development of the spiritual consciousness of the divine within the whole fabric of being, Hafiz poem talks of halting the sword midblow in the realization that we are all one flesh and so it is with all creation

    — john Khalid on August 20, 2009

  • I am aware of this living divine within the deep levels of earth and her supportive beings and I often feel very alone in connecting consciously. Now I pray for others to become aware of these important things that you describe. Your plea is core and key to the present course. Thank you.

    — Iman on August 20, 2009

  • Thank you for this article: it is all so true!

    I used to feel a deep despair about our treatment of the Mother Earth and in particular the suffering we inflict on the animals.  But through recent work I have been able to do on a small scale involving the energies of the Mother Earth and various spirits of nature, I have learnt how extraordinarily powerful the forces of light within and behind everything are.  I have learnt also that both earth and cosmic energies are changing rapidly in these days, that everything is becoming new and different and, most encouragingly, that working with these forces does not require complicated procedures or knowledge, only a willingness to help and clarity of intent.

    — Francesca Gracie on August 22, 2009

  • Until we see the global as personal we will continue to race headlong to destruction. Until we stop blaming ‘them’ and realise it is each of our thoughts and actions that creates our world there can be no return to sanity. When we listen to the prompting of our heart we remember what we once knew… we are one.

    — Gillian Stokes on August 25, 2009

  • Great position on Ecology, friend. It is true that we as a part of the larger must recognize that our “environment” has never been separate from us. The very notion of an environment is as much a misnomer as the arcane ideal of some god in the sky watching our every move. And I believe our spiritual “environment” is as vast as the physical (since again, they cannot be isolated from one another).
    I do have to bring one element to your attention: the charge of monotheism as one catalyst in the separation of our physical/logical selves from our deeper reality. After reading a number of monotheist scriptures, I could not determine that with the close reading of any of those works one could not attain the deeper understanding of the inner and find a path through the Messenger, Savior or Prophet into the Self any less or more than any polytheistic work I’ve read.
    Perhaps it is the intention of those who molded the scripts themselves to have lesser meanings that didn’t require deep thought and reflection and silence—those privileged persons who saw their wealth and power as scarce and could not themselves find the deep abundance of Truth became drunk with the thirst for material power and control. Perhaps we continue to relive these chapters BECAUSE we haven’t outgrown them as a people: Kings to Landowners, Politicians to Corporations—this chain is our temporary sentence. But it is weakening.
    We need to prescribe a non-logical solution, like the one you mentioned. One that brings light from the divine (beyond our senses) into the physical and dovetail that with the passions and fervour of those who are out on the front lines of the physical plane. We must look to those who brought us here (good and bad) and thank them for their efforts (good and bad), for we can now move forward with warmth and compassion. This will trigger the new dawn that theosophists and countless others before them touted we’re meeting in this century.
    I deeply thank you for your works, thought and actions. Peace be unto you forever!

    — Idris on August 25, 2009

  • We all look for ways to be one with nature and yet try to keep as much of our old lifestyle and thinking as possible as eg with plastic bags and such. All our small actions add up. We are the caretakers of the Earth and it is as easy as just knowing what to do in the new way of doing things and deciding that I make a difference. If I am right, the world will be right. Thank you for making waves and acknowledging fairies and devas and the consciousness of Nature. Many masters are working with us on different levels and dimensions and it is wonderful to be alive today with all the challenges we face.Bless you and your holy work.

    — sarasijam nair on September 8, 2009

  • Yes, there may be global warming. But there may—instead—be cooling: http://www.iceagenow.com/. One should examine the evidence obectively.

    — sahajana on September 27, 2009

  • you seem to be on the right track; most are ‘Going about it the wrong way’ to quote slightly out of context an Angel of Peace (yes they do exist and can be spoken with)

    it is fundamentally about the collective consciousness.

    a human perception of an unsustainable existence is simply projected onto the environment; when more people Realise they are both immortal AND responsible through the Samadhi/At-one-ment event as given in my case, this maladaptive projection will cease.

    all very simple!

    — david collier on September 2, 2010

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13 August 2009

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