Societal-spiritual eco-healing reflects nature’s capacity to inspire human populations ethically and spiritually. These inspirations are ancient, and their roots can be found all over the Earth.
As environmentalism and sustainability grew in the last third of the 20th century, traditional religions began to explore the role of stewardship in nature. What is nature’s intrinsic value beyond what it does for humans? What actions can we take to increase sustainable behavior and protect nature?
In addition to traditional religious exploration, secular environmental movements offer programs that inform, awaken, and educate people about nature’s sacred value.
At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is nothing…with which I am not linked.
The Ducks Win. Eco-justice can refer to the rights of individuals to have access to nature in their environment, but it can also support the rights of nature. In an October 2010 landmark case, a judge fined Syncrude Canada a total of $800,000 and ordered them to provide $2.2 million for wildlife research and monitoring. The crime? The company had failed to take reasonable action to prevent the deaths of 1,606 ducks on the company’s toxic Aurora Settling Basin. This case was hailed as a big victory for eco-justice supporters (Environment Canada, 2010).
Sacred Sites. At the societal or cultural level, people worldwide have independently established sacred sites, places in nature that are known for their spirituality and healing capacities. Places such as Lourdes in France, the Ganges River in India, the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and Stonehenge were all used by societies for prayer, meditation, ceremonies, healing, and pilgrimages. An example of their public power is found in Japan, where the Japanese Shinto religion teaches that rivers, mountains, rocks, and trees are filled with kami, meaning nature spirits (Taylor, 2005). This perspective has contributed to public policies that tend to restrict building on mountains to religious organizations or not at all.
Visit. If there is a sacred site (a place where people go to pray or create ceremony,) go visit it and offer prayer, if that is part of your practice. If a sacred site is not near you, consider creating one of your own. Go there as often as you’d like.
Nature and Inspiration. Gather a few friends to tell stories of when and how nature has inspired you all or increased a sense of reverence, awe, and/or spirituality. You can also do this alone by listing the times nature has inspired you and expressing gratitude for them.
All My Relations. Wherever you are, offer a prayer for the health and wellbeing of nature. End the prayer with the Native American phrase “All My Relations,” meaning that you are offering this prayer for all life forms who are your relations.
Conservation Volunteers’ Connection to Nature. A 2009 study addressed questions such as: How do volunteers express their connection to nature? How and when did conservation volunteers develop a connection to nature? How does a connection to nature influence volunteering, and vice versa? They interviewed, surveyed, and analyzed 171 Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteers. Amazingly, the majority of volunteers experienced a connection to nature in various ways before they were 10 years old (Guiney & Oberhauser, 2009).
Can Nature Make Us More Caring? University of Rochester researchers explored the difference in people’s life values and aspirations before and after they had immersed themselves in a nature slide show. Results showed that participants exposed to nature valued intrinsic aspirations (such as lasting relationships and working for the improvement of the world) more and extrinsic aspirations (such as wealth and admiration) less than before they had been exposed to nature (Weinstein, et al, 2009). Is society’s emphasis on wealth and material things a direct reflection of less human exposure to nature?
Environment Canada. (2010) $3 million award imposed on Syncrude Canada Ltd. convicted of violating environmental laws [press release]. Retrieved May 20, 2014 from http://www.ec.gc.ca/alef-ewe/default.asp?lang=En&n=9BECA453-1.
Guiney, M.S., Oberhauser, K.S. (2009). Conservation volunteers’ connection to nature. Ecopsychology; 1(4).
Macy, J. (1941). World As Lover, World As Self. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Nisbet, E.K., Zelenski, J.M, Murphy, S.A. (2009). The nature relatedness scale: linking individuals’ connection with nature to environmental concern and behavior. Environment and Behavior; 41, 715-740.
Seed, J., Macy, J., Fleming, P., Naess, A. (1988). Thinking Like A Mountain. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.
Taylor, B. (Ed.) (2005). Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Volume I. London: Continuum.
Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A.K., Ryan, R.M. (2009). Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; 35, 1315-1330.