Feature

Is spirituality of the environment tomorrow’s wisdom?

“We must invest in our own abilities to be changemakers by nourishing the body and the soul. We nourish our bodies in response to hunger and thirst, but the soul also yearns to be nourished. Devoting time to learning about and deepening our understanding of our spiritual identity will bring meaning into our lives, because the soul is the part of us that is most closely connected to the greater unity of all things. The soul’s partner in action is the body. Together they unite the spiritual with the physical by bringing the seed of the soul’s intention into the realities of thought, speech, and action. It is therefore imperative that we nourish our bodies in alignment with our souls, to enable them to be vital instruments for change and transformation in our physical world.”  Dax Dasilva, Age of Union: Igniting the Changemaker, Acts of Union 20 to 28)

IT ALL STARTS WITH A LOOK AT THE WORLD

The posture of humans in front of the environment that surrounds themselves is above all philosophical. Modernist thought that took off at the start of the 16th century placed man at the center of cosmology. He is now master of his ideas and of the world around him, he emancipates himself from a supreme authority. This is when he begins to want to rise above the elements around him: flora, fauna and foreign cultures. For him, the concept of evolution is based on the domination of nature.

The cultures one can find in Asia, Oceania, South or North America, have an ancestral tradition called “animist” which convey a positioning towards the world very different from modernism: “Traditionally, the indigenous universe is made up of all kinds of beings, and all of them are infused with spirituality.” The myths and stories of this spiritual world are passed down orally from generation to generation, and this is how each child grows up with values ​​in which the human being is not located at the top of the hierarchical pyramid of species as in the modern narrative, on the contrary, he evolves with the environment in a relationship of interdependence on an equal level as illustrated by the famous “ego versus eco” infographic. In this sense, David Suzuki explains that, for him, the first threat to the environment is not so much deforestation, global warming, but rather the trigger for these elements which is the wrong mind-set :

The way we look at the world is what shapes the way we behave towards it. Is a forest a sacred grove, or just a chance for timber and pulp? Is a river the circulatory system of the land, or is it just an opportunity for irrigation and energy? Is the soil a community of living organisms, or dirt? Is another species our biological relative, related to us, or is it a resource? Is our house our home, or is it just real estate? We now look at the world in a way that makes us very destructive, and this is why I’ve spent so much time working with First Nations.” (Source: David Suzuki)

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The individualistic way of thinking of modern man is destructive and devoid of any sense of the living. He places himself in a utilitarian approach to the world and therefore seeks at all costs to take more and more advantage of each situation that presents itself to him. On the contrary, for the aboriginal people of Australia, for example, the land cannot be owned, used or modified, since human beings originate from it. As for the First Nation people, the land and all that it offers is received as a gift.

“[They] believe that the environment was created by ancestor beings who are still living in the physico-geographical peculiarities they created (mountains, rivers, deserts, and so on). As a consequence, the environment cannot be modified, for it is charged with totemic value. Similarly, humans belong to and are shaped by their environment (not vice versa). This is so ingrained in Aboriginal thought that individuals consider that they cannot be separated from their territory” (Source: Science JRank)

“These are sovereign species. With their own intelligences, their own wisdom, their own responsibility. (...) The natural world is a gift, not commodities. (...) when something is understood as a gift, instead of a commodity, a door opens. An opening for the potential of reciprocity. Much of mainstream culture has chosen to see the earth as property. (...) but we could choose to live in a world made of gifts.” Robin Wall Kimmerer (Author and professor of Environmental and Forest Biology)

In Qechua, "Apu" means “Lord”. The Inka religion calls Apu a mountain that has a spirit that is alive. The body and energy of the mountain form his "wasi" (“home” or “temple”).

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TOWARDS A SWITCH OF MENTALITY

Today we are witnessing a turning point in mentalities. People are waking up and trying to give back its rightful place to a more global and democratic philosophy where man and the environment are on an equal footing. It is towards a positioning of humility that the man of tomorrow tends, and for this, he will draw on the philosophy of certain traditions where ancestral wisdom speaks of a harmonious vision of man with his environment.

For First Nation peoples, “storytelling served as a means to share vital lessons across generations about the relationship between plants, animals, and people, and the importance of maintaining relations of respect and reciprocity between humans and their world” (source). The story-teller Roy Henmya Vickers talks about decolonizing food, for example. A political and ecological action at the same time which highlights how the modern man takes more than what he needs, which leads to the imbalance that we are experiencing today: “When we come to get fish, we should get them with a thankful heart, and we should take what we need that’s all”. A reciprocal relationship exists between each human being and the nature in which he lives: “Anything from the sea, gets returned back to the sea. Anything of the land, gets put back into the land” (Source: The Whale and the Raven). 

Some nations whose culture is based on this ancestral knowledge are renewing their beliefs to protect their territory. It is in this momentum that laws are set in place by the supreme courts of certain nations to give human rights to their natural spaces. Thus, Ecuador recognized in 2010 that: “La naturaleza o Pacha Mama, donde se reproduce y realiza la vida, tiene derecho a que se respete integralmente su existencia y el mantenimiento y regeneración de sus ciclos vitales, estructura, funciones y procesos evolutivos.” (“Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and created, has the right to integral respect for her existence, her maintenance, and for the regeneration of her vital cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes.” Source: The Widener Environmental Law Center). In 2016 the Constitutional Court of Colombia gave human rights to the Atrato River, and in 2018 to the Amazon rainforest which is on its territory. In 2017, Ganges and Yamuna rivers granted same legal rights as human beings (Source: The Guardian)

I ask questions to Dr. Kerry Bowman (president and founder of The Canadian Ape Alliance and a member of the Board of Directors of The Jane Goodall Institute) about his corridor project in Congo. He tells me that one of the missions is to restore old traditions since they are positive for the environment. Kerry explains that there were sacred places in the forest where animals used to go and give birth for centuries, because traditionally these areas were protected from hunting. But since the Congo was colonized, these traditions have been lost and spiritual beliefs no longer regulate man's connection to his environment.

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IN CONCLUSION

Ancestral traditions from various cultures all had in common the knowledge of the world in which human, animal and plant natures live in a harmonious relationship. The Vedas, written somewhere between 1500 and 1100 BCE, already stated nature as an entity worthy of protection.

"Do not harm the environment; do not harm the water and the flora; earth is my mother, I am her son; may the waters remain fresh, do not harm the waters... Tranquillity be to the atmosphere, to the earth, to the waters, to the crops and vegetation." Vedic prayer (Source: Times of India)

It is quite clear that drawing on this wisdom is one of the answers to tomorrow's solutions. We can no longer deplete our planet by being in a one-sided “take” and “use” relationship without limit. We can no longer take for granted that natural goods are rightfully ours. It's time to understand that we are part of it all and that taking care of what surrounds us is simply taking care of ourselves and vice versa.

“What [the octopus] taught me was to feel... that you're part of this place, not a visitor. That's a huge difference.” (Craig Foster, My Octopus Teacher)

Human beings must now give back, take care, and be part of a relationship with what surrounds us in an egalitarian and conscious manner. This paradigm shift requires a deep questioning of oneself. Our era is being redefined. Each of us has the power to rewrite the narrative of our present to help build a future with more meaning. The new components of the world will be based on the symbiosis of man with his environment, of the environment with his human beings. A space in which the balance between each other's needs resonate, and where dialogue based on deep listening is at the heart of this relationship.

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Photos by Mariette Raina
Lencois Maranhenses, Brazil
National Park, South Korea
Benares, India

Written by Mariette Raina
Mariette has been a monthly columnist for Never Apart Magazine since 2016 and collaborating with Dax Dasilva on the Age of Union project since 2017. She combines her academical training and experience in the artistic field to create articles putting under the lights today's changemakers and reflect on current environmental concerns.
@phylactere_ontheroad | marietteraina.com