Make a Spiritual Connection to the Environment
Being an environmentalist is sometimes depressing.
We are told that the oceans are rising, the planet is heating, our forests are dying, our polar bears are drowning, our water is drying up, and our air is becoming more and more toxic to breathe. We try to do our part by recycling and carpooling, but we’re told it’s not enough. Environmentalists still warn that we are facing a potential environmental doomsday. It’s scary. It’s sad. Sometimes it feels like our very existence is at odds with nature.
But I’m here to say that’s not the case. And we should not feel depressed our discouraged. Humanity is not at odds with the environment. Instead, we are a critical component of our planet’s amazing natural structure. We have the capacity to study, explore, utilize, and nourish the environment in a way no other life form can. Forget worrying and fussing. To be an environmentalist, you just need to develop an environmental spirituality.
Many religions describe various spiritual connections we can have with the environment. For example, there is a clear Judeo-Christian spiritual belief that humans must protect and nourish the environment. In Genesis, God gave humans “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26). However, this dominion is not absolute. The creation is ultimately God’s and we are merely stewards tasked with the responsibility of protecting it. Some Christians even make a connection between human deliverance and environmental restoration.
Buddhism does not distinguish between humans and “nature.” Instead it understands nature as a totality — a living web that interconnects all individual beings in interdependence. The First Essential Precept expresses the bodhisattva’s intent to live compassionately by not harming the body or psyche of another. This has often meant respect for animals, and sometimes implies respect for plants. The Second Essential Precept expresses the intent to live from a generous heart and not take what is not given. Through cultivating these intents and increasing mindfulness, humans can better appreciate their relationship with all of nature.
What these, and other religions, teach us is that humans can develop various relationships with the environment. There is no right relationship. It is just an acceptance that we should connect to the environment spiritually and ethically. The environmental decisions we make should not always be based on politics or economics.
So turn off the lights in your house — not because you want to save electricity — but because you want to enjoy the stars. Only we, as humans, can write songs about the heavens.
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