It is sometimes said that the environmental crisis is but a symptom of a deeper crisis, which is a spiritual one. I have a lot of sympathy with this suggestion, but what does it mean?
Spirituality, in a general sense, has to do with what makes us tick. It draws on those aspects of life which we cannot measure such as beauty, joy, kindness, love, relatedness and purpose. Spirit in most traditions implies vigour and vitality – the very breath we inhale and the life-giving energy we find in our heart of hearts.
It is thus both profound but also intangible. We may sense a deep spiritual aspect to our lives, yet we often cannot gauge or evaluate this.
However, the culture we live in tends to value only that which it can measure. We prioritise the material and concrete – money and finance, land or buildings, data and targets. Since the philosopher Descartes divided the world into the things of the mind and the things of matter, science has evolved into a discipline largely confined to ‘measurables’. So today’s technological information age does not have much space for that which does not generate substantial results. That is why, to quote Oscar Wilde, “we know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”
At the centre of what we cannot measure are our relationships. We cannot reduce bonds of care, compassion, justice, integrity to mere figures and statistics. Relationships have to do with the quality of life more than its quantity – for instance, of having one or two closely intimate friends rather than hundreds of virtual friendships through the social media, or dozens of casual acquaintances.
Eventually all our relationships have to begin and end with the Earth. It is from the Earth that we come (and return) and it is through the Earth we are gifted the oxygen, water, plants, animals, minerals that we all need to live. But for many of us we are so detached from the natural cycles and rhythms of life that we have become fractured and disconnected.
We cannot be spiritual beings without being physical beings. We cannot be fully physical beings without relating to the wider elements that underpin life including such as bacteria or the soil or the weather. Disconnected people cannot be spiritually rich. We need to be earthed in order to be spiritual, but we need to be spiritual in order to be better earthed.
The global ecological or environmental crisis (including loss of species, pollution, resource exhaustion, climate chaos) is a consequence of the human population being out of touch with itself, with the Earth and with the Universe (or for some of us, with God). We need to realise that unless we actively care about and for the planet, the planet will not sustain us. We may have stored up lives full of material possessions (treasure on earth) but remain in poor relations with the wholeness of life (losing our deeper souls).
It is in addressing the holes and vacuums we find within us, that we can heal the brokenness of the world outside us.
Martyn Goss, September 2014