Eco-Spirituality ~ Thinking Like an Ecosystem

Frances Moore Lappe’s recent article in Yes Magazine, “How to Think Like an Ecosystem” brought to mind a lively round table discussion last fall when a small group of us gathered on Tuesday evenings at our village library, ostensibly to discuss my book. The conversations usually had a starting point, but often meandered in surprising and delightful ways; the focal point of the specific evening that has come to mind in connection to Frances Moor Lappe, had to do with the need to release our sense of human privilege and entitlement. A major premise of all my recent writing is that the ecological work of healing the damage humans have done to the planet cannot be accomplished from an anthropocentric perspective, that we have to release that sense of primacy in order to rejoin by intention what Barbara Brown Taylor has named the luminous web.

Frances Moore Lappe writes, “We perceive the world according to our core, often unacknowledged, assumptions. They determine, literally, what we can see and what we cannot. Nothing so wrong with that, perhaps—except that, in this crucial do-or-die moment, we’re stuck with a mental map that is life-destroying. And the premise of this map is lack—not enough of anything, from energy to food to parking spots; not enough goods and not enough goodness. In such a world, we come to believe, it’s compete or die.”

Hard not to yield to a sense of hopelessness and despair. Or, as in many cases, paralysis, cynicism, and “I’ll get mine while I can.”

But Lappe insists on an alternative mental map. “A new way of seeing that is opening up to us can form a more life-serving mental map. I call it “eco-mind”—looking at the world through the lens of ecology. This worldview recognizes that we, no less than any other organism, live in relation to everything else.”

Frances Moore Lappe convicts me with her words. I have understood for some years that “release” of our sense of human primacy is our portal into health – the healing of the earth, the waters, the air, and all creatures including humans; the healing of our broken economies (or the need to re-imagine our economies), our broken politics, our broken relationships. My concept of release, however – or letting go, or self-emptying – has always carried with it a sense of sacrifice.

In our book group that darkening evening of September, a new word entered our collective vocabulary; The word was un-encumber. It was a word of freedom, of weightlessness, of possibility and joy. It was a word of hope, a word of power. Un-encumber. Should we choose to release our insistence on human privilege and entitlement, we might live unencumbered!

Lappe insists that we can change our mental map – she calls it living from a life-serving eco-mind.  In her article, Lappe lists the six inherent traits we can foster, once we learn to navigate the world with the map of eco-mind: cooperation; empathy; fairness; efficacy; meaning; imagination, creativity, and attraction to change. This sounds to me like a world unencumbered. Imagine it. A world in which cooperating and co-creating trump competition. A world in which empathic happiness trumps money. A world in which fairness trumps injustice.

Is release, or letting go, the offspring of sacrifice? Maybe. But what if we understood release, or letting go, the practice of becoming unencumbered? What joy might lie beyond – on the other side of – our encumbered lives. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? That would be up to us. Life-serving? Serving of all life? Of that there is no doubt.

Much of my current thinking depends on what I know as the power of sacrament and ritual to work their mystery and power on the human heart and mind. This is a risky statement for those of us whose minds go immediately from “sacrament and ritual” to church and religion, in a dismissive kind of way. But that’s not what I’m suggesting. Is it possible, or might it be possible, that we can design eco-ritual to celebrate the gift of letting go? Not only the sacrifice of our sense of human privilege and entitlement, but the utter joy and freedom that comes from un-encumbering ourselves of our misconception that humans are the ultimate species?

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