Integral Ecology: Finding a Spiritual Connection to the Environment

Humankind’s connection to nature is all too often viewed through anthropocentric lenses. We, as a population, consistently overlook our necessary dependence upon not only the finite material yield of the earth, but also the more macrocosmic interrelations of our planet. We harvest earthly resources, dominate the landscape with agriculture and industry, and pollute our rivers and streams with little understanding of the long-term additive and possibly multiplicative consequences. More fundamentally however, as our lives becomes busier and our relationships with the environment more distant, we often fail to recognize any potential spiritual connection to nature. We habitually develop our conceptions of self within social and political frameworks that marginalize the value of the natural environment beyond its exploitative capacity.

In comparison to my own individual upbringing and relationship with the environment, I understand how it can be easy, even personally beneficial, to ignore the true importance of environmental wellbeing. Within the current structure of society ‘doing the right thing’ may require extra effort, money, time, and even knowledge that many cannot afford. A significant factor that I believe contributes to environmental complacency is the fact that the vast majority of environmental degradation accrued by the individual is not directly witnessed by that individual. For example, everyday we are provided with the option of recycling. Whether we choose to recycle or not, rarely has any tangible impact on our daily lives. We are not witness to the animals caught in plastic soda containers, or the ecosystems poisoned by the chemicals leaking from batteries, or the extras trees cut down for paper supplies. It is our disconnection with the environment that allows us to live in blissful ignorance of the true harm we may be causing.

Integral Ecology is an environmental philosophy that aims to provide a comprehensive perspective regarding issues of environmental and social concern. It can be applied to the study of subjective and objective aspects of organisms in relationship to their intersubjective and interobjective environments. Of central focus are the four-quadrants through which these environments are viewed: the “I,” the “we,” the “it,” and the “its.”

The framework of integral ecology categorizes perspective and experience on multiple levels, differentiating between the individual (subjective “I”) and the collective (intersubjective “we”) consciousnesses. Similarly, this definition extends to the scientific world as a differentiation between the objective microcosmic realm (“it”), and the interobjective macrocosmic realm (“its”). This philosophy seeks to create a comprehensive approach to understanding the environment as an infinitely interconnected system supported not simply through objective science, but also through subjective human experience. It is this subjective human experience that must be developed in order for a more respectful and harmonious relationship with nature to be realized.

The ever-growing complexity of our lives today makes it harder and harder to live a life in close connection to nature. Everyday we are forced to make decisions regarding environmentalism, whether we can directly see the consequences of our actions or not. Even though contemporary tradition appears to foster the concept that man can, and even should, exploit nature, it must be understood that in order to achieve a sustainable future we must live in cooperation with the environment. This begins by understanding ecological functions and appreciating every aspect of nature for its intrinsic value. Sure enough through understanding our society will be better able to embrace, respect, and value the natural environment for what its truly worth.

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