The Eco-Feminist-Spirituality Movement: Path of Transformation

Ecofeminist philosophy and creation have brought changes in
consciousness, political action, and spiritual practice.
– Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein

I have been doing reading and offering workshops on eco-feminist spirituality for more than 20 years. Still, I am no expert; only someone with questions seeking answers.  Discovering in ecofeminism a philosophy, a path of action, and a resource for meaningful spiritual practice, as Diamond and Orenstein suggest in the above quotation, has been extremely life giving for me.  It offered me hope and wholeness in a cultural milieu often without either of those. My own experience has caused me to believe the movement offers a liberating and hope-filled transformative path for all individuals and societies.

Because I have found my learnings from the ecofeminist spirituality movement to be so helpful in my own life, I have been drawn to share those learnings with others. In fact, I would have to say that I am quite passionate about it. Many people in my workshops, even individuals who never have heard the term, “ecofeminism,” before, often resonate very deeply with the concepts and issues raised in my presentations, and are eager to learn more.

Diamond and Orenstein suggest that ecofeminism is really a new term for an ancient wisdom (1990. xv). It is true that much about ecofeminist philosophy and spirituality mirrors ancient teachings and rituals of oneness with the natural world. However, in my teaching, I still prefer to keep using the term “ecofeminist spirituality,” largely because in the context of Western culture, I believe the term names the issues with which we struggle. I think that it is important to our recovery, both individually and communally.

One of the first books I read in this area is called, My Name Is Chellis and I Am in Recovery from Western Civilization by Chellis Glendinning. I love that title. There is no doubt in my mind that it is aspects of Western culture that are at the root of the devastation that faces Earth’s community of life at present.

A second reason why it is important for me to name the elements of this contemporary transformative path as the “ecofeminist spirituality movement,” is that while it reflects much of ancient indigenous wisdom, our context has changed dramatically from that of our ancestors. The ecofeminist spirituality movement is not just about going back and reclaiming or re-enacting spiritual practices in the way our ancestors might have done them.

Many of these practices emerged within ancient cultures because our ancestors intuited a sense of oneness with the cosmos. Today, we know that oneness cognitively. It is what scientists of the 20th century came to discover through the instruments that Western science and technology created. It constitutes what Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme began in their early writings to call “The New Cosmology.”

Every ancient Earth culture has a cosmology, or story of its origins. The story science has now given us of the origins of our Universe is a “new” cosmology, one unknown to ancient people, and more importantly, one that all human communities can embrace.

In addition, our context today requires that we make choices our ancient ancestors never in their wildest dreams imagined they would face. More and more people are seeing the importance of this, and looking for healthy ways to change their behavior.

So, what is the ecofeminist spirituality movement? As the name suggests, it is an integration of three movements (ecology, feminism, and spirituality) that each individually emerged in the West in the latter half of the 20th century. This integration happened, as I see it, because all three of these movements have their origins in a response to the same root cause of the abusive and destructive behaviors they seek to heal: patriarchy.

The word patriarchy has its roots in an ancient social concept, and translates as “rule of the fathers.” But its influence extends far beyond the household structure. As I mentioned last week, the ecofeminist philosopher, Karen Warren, argues that patriarchy has developed in the West into a complex conceptual framework – a way of thinking – that supports male dominance in nearly every aspect of the culture.

Uprooting patriarchy for ecofeminists is not about “men as the enemy.” Ecofeminists recognize that while men certainly have benefitted most from the existence of patriarchy, and also have the most to lose in the conversion to a new conceptual model, men also often are extremely psychologically burdened and emotionally damaged by the expectations placed upon them in patriarchal societies.

Reversing the behaviors supported by patriarchy involves a process of transformation, both personal and societiel. It demands “spiritual practices that are practical and environmental practices that are spiritual,” writes Carol J. Adams, editor of Ecofeminism and the Sacred (Continuum. 1993).

For me, the ecofeminist spirituality movement is about understanding our fundamental relatedness, as well as the implications that flow from that reality. Supported by the new story of our Universe, with its revelations through science that “All is One,” the ecofeminist spirituality movement seeks to assist us in re-awakening to an awareness of ourselves as steeped in relatedness.

Again, this experience of relatedness seems to be something that humans always have known intuitively about the reality of our existence. It remains an awareness deep within us even today, whether we are conscious of that awareness or not. Bringing that awareness to consciousness is the transformative nature of the ecofeminist spirituality movement.

Relatedness is integral to who we are; it is just as much a natural part of our existence as our own breathing. Perhaps, long, long ago, the first humans became conscious of this reality of connectedness, and began to give expression and shape to this experience in ritual, symbol and celebrations.

In other words, want I want to suggest is that this deep experience of relatedness is at the heart of the world’s spiritual traditions. The early feminist activists, after realizing that the personal plight of individual women was connected to structures in the larger society, developed a rallying cry for their cause: “The personal is political.” For me, the rallying cry of the ecofeminist spirituality movement might be: “The personal is spiritual, and the spiritual is political.” In other words, the reality of our relatedness – our spiritual inheritance as human beings – manifests in our relations with one another, for better or worse. The more we “grow” in our own spiritual life, the more we “see” this relatedness, and that has political and social implications.

As I bring this post to a close, I want to share a cautionary note. The full implications of the ecofeminist spirituality movement are so profound that they need to be lived into at a gradual pace. I have found it helpful in unraveling the complexity of these implications to begin with establishing some common understandings of the terms involved (ecology, feminism, spirituality) and a bit of the history of these three movements. I will begin to cover this in the next post.

I will be able to only skim the surface of this complex topic, while pointing you to further resources. But, if you stay with me, it is my conviction that you will be able to draw energy and hope from insights of the women and men engaged in this movement.

Adams, C.J. (1993) (ed.)  Ecofeminism and the sacred.  New York, NY: Continuum.

Diamond. I and Orenstein, G. (Eds.) (1990) Reweaving the Wworld: The emergence of ecofeminism. San Francisco: Sierra Club.

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