The Ecology of Life
The Ecology of Life
You are either an ecologist or a lost soul.
The word ‘ecology’ is more elegant, in my opinion, than ‘environmentalism’. ‘Ecology’ comes from two mystery words of the ancient Greeks: oikos and logos. The latter is in the mystical statement found at the beginning of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the logos.” Logos can mean ‘story’, ‘meaning’, or ‘mystery’. This is the logos I understand to be linked to oikos, which means house and home, but also refers to the temple of the god or goddess and the astrological domain of the planetary spirit. It’s worth noting that the ancient words that make up ‘eco-logy’ are sacred words. The combined roots of ‘ecology’ could be translated as ‘the mystery of being at home in this life’. When you live ecologically, you are part of life, a member of the family, and not apart from it
Ecology is not the same as environmentalism. It isn’t an ‘ism’ or an ideology. It has to do with tending the mystery of what it means to have a home: to be at home on this Earth, to be at home in your world and with your self. What you read, watch, eat, and speak of is all part of your ecology, the cultivation of life. It’s the mystery of what it means for you to be at home, to make sure your neighbours are comfortably at home, or perhaps to make a home for your God or guiding spirit. Ecology is fundamentally a theological endeavour and a special, ultimate kind of care.
Ecology is the making and tending of your world. This doesn’t have to be a narcissistic thought, for we each live in our worlds, worlds we share with a great number of beings. Nicolas of Cusa, the extraordinary mystical and mathematical theologian of the early fifteenth century, said that life is always unfolding and contracting. He says to a man named Giuliano, “Everything Giulianises in you.” I say to myself: I live in a great, complex world full of innumerable beings, both visible and invisible, and yet everything ‘Thomasises’ in me. Allowing this teeming world to compress itself in me is my ecology: what I call ‘care of the soul’.
Aristotle gave as an ideal megala psyche, a great psyche. I imagine that the work of ecology is to create in yourself and your world a great soul. You have to be a big person in order to Thomasise or Giulianise the whole. This is the bigness that is the necessary and creative counterpart to the small that is beautiful. I was once invited to speak at a conference on the theme of ‘Small is Beautiful’, and, in typical subversive style,
I chose to praise bigness. I think we can only have beautiful smallness if we appreciate the beautifully big. I love to look at a giant sequoia and a grazing elephant, a huge mural and an oversized book. Getting the big and the small to complement each other is part of the work of ecology. This is where society and person come together, where science and psychology meet, where nature and the individual share the same life.
Ecology is the making and tending of life. It’s an intellectual, emotional and physical activity that includes marriage, parenting, gardening, working for peace in the world, reading fiction, making music, praying and contemplating. Sport, art, exercise and service all contribute to the ecology of life. When you cultivate life so carefully, the protection of nature is automatically part of the process. Ecology is basically a form of love, and only out of love for life can you find good reason for protecting your environment.
To feel radically at home is an extraordinary mystery. You may suddenly sense it at the edge of the sea or in a friend’s living room. It seizes you – an emotion, a fantasy, a realisation. It cannot be manufactured or contained. Ecology is a sacred art, understood only by theology. It is the primary work of us all, no matter what we do. It is the primary thing, the only thing. You are either an ecologist or a lost soul.
Thomas Moore is a former Catholic monk and author of Care of the Soul and Original Self.
THE ECOLOGY OF LIFE
Middle section of wall by Andy Goldsworthy, from Wall by Andy Goldsworthy, published by Thames & Hudson
from Resurgence issue 219