Emptiness Changes Everything

If you want to understand contemplation, and therefore contemplative ecology, you have to become acquainted with emptiness. You can’t bypass emptiness and understand why contemplation has the potential to address the root causes of the ecological crisis. The encounter with emptiness is a fundamental stick in the spokes of the operations of the human mind and all it wishes for and all it projects onto the world in the myriad forms of exploitative desire, that endless grasping for more. Emptiness negates all of our attempts to affirm our independent existence. Not too many people want to go there, but contemplation cannot be understood without emptiness.

Emptiness is not to be found in its description. The thing that actually reshapes a life cannot be described. My own words do not do it justice. Emptiness unmasks all of our images and replaces them with incomprehensible reality. If it doesn’t turn a life on its ear, it hasn’t been seen, or it has been seen and dismissed. Buddhists speak of emptiness (sunyata) as the flip side of interdependence. That is, because everything is absolutely interdependent, everything is empty of independent existence. In other words, emptiness is the interdependence of absolutely everything. This is good as far as it goes, but if it remains only an intellectual formulation, it barely hints at the “turn your life on its head” effect of actually seeing the truth of emptiness, of discovering that you do not exist in the way that you imagine you do, as a separate, independent self. It is hard to accept that all of one’s life energy has been poured into the maintenance and defense of a fiction. What a waste of life energy.

Emptiness is the key. Emptiness is what makes contemplation inherently ecological. The emptiness (non-existence) of the separate self is the presence and interaction of everything. Without emptiness, contemplation might be understood as stillness or quietude or self-reflection, but not ecology. You might have an idea about wholeness or oneness or interdependence, but you don’t necessarily experience it. You don’t get the whole movement of life rushing in, where before you had a separate self, trying to make its mark on the world and trying to get the world to fulfill its desires and confirm its beliefs. Emptiness is the loss of every belief and every idea and every image of one’s self and the world. Emptiness takes away everything we think we are, and brings us into contact with the whole of everything, exactly as it is, beyond all images, all experiences, all ideas, all stories, all beliefs, all understanding. Emptiness changes everything.

Ecological Spirituality

My preoccupation for the last 30 years has been to articulate an authentic, ecological spirituality that erases the division between the spiritual life, the life of the body, and the living Earth. That body-spirit division lies at the heart of most of what we call “spirituality.” It might even be fair to say that this is what most of us mean by “spirituality:” a belief that something exists beyond this physical world, and that our true nature, our essence, the thing that makes us most human, belongs to that disembodied realm. Whatever we imagine the spiritual world to be, it usually stands in contrast to the material world. Continue reading “Ecological Spirituality”

We Must All Be Changed

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I met Dr. King on April 22nd, 1967, slightly less than one year before he was killed. I had just turned six. He was coming to Brown University to speak, and my father, who was a chaplain at the university, was given the job of meeting Dr. King at the airport. I went along for the ride and shook the great man’s hand. I remember the total attention that he gave to me as he met me. Two weeks earlier, he had come out publicly and forcefully in opposition to the war in Vietnam, and an ocean of criticism had fallen on him for doing so. Here was a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and yet, he had the time and attention for an unknown six-year-old white kid from Rhode Island. Continue reading “We Must All Be Changed”

We Need an Ecological Spiritual Revolution

The following is a modified version of the final part of the post The Whole World Is Sacred. I am reposting that part because it is a good summary of what I am trying to communicate.

The human presence on Earth has become so dysfunctional; our ways of living and working, of growing and catching food, of making things, of gathering the resources to make things, and our ways of disposing of those things are so fundamentally out of harmony with natural, life-giving processes, and so destructive to the basis of life, that we must be utterly changed, inwardly and outwardly, in our sense of identity and in the structures of our societies. New technologies and a few policy changes are insufficient and often merely perpetuate the problem in a new form. Continue reading “We Need an Ecological Spiritual Revolution”

Contemplative Ecology in 100 Tweets

Last year I tried an experiment, editing a summary of contemplative ecology to fit into the format of a series of tweets. As far as I can tell, only 2 or 3 people read any of those tweets. Oh well. I don’t belong on Twitter and that’s not what Twitter was made for. So I have posted the entire series on my website, with the date on which each group was posted.

Here is the first group:


Contemplative ecology is not a plan, a program, a practice, a path, a story or a set of ideas or concepts or beliefs.

Contemplative ecology is not a prescription for something that has to be done or achieved.

Contemplative ecology is not an attempt to bring about psychological or social change, but it can effect change at the deepest levels.

Read the rest here..