Exploring Reverence for the Web of Life as a Spiritual Path for the 21st Century

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Deep Green Awakening
is a loosely-knit interfaith community of supportive friends, organized as self-supervising Teams of Two, seeking to live the ideals of reverence for Life and Earth as a spiritual path and Earth/Universe kinship/citizenship (what many writers have called eco-spirituality, the “Great Turning” and “Creation Spirituality,” the journey from isolation to interwovenness). Taken together, all the materials on this site point toward eco-spirituality as an interfaith green dharma, a vision of caring for the web of life of which we ourselves are an expression. 

In every age, the crises of the world become the crises of the self, crises of both personal sanity and of community life. The unprecedented outward challenges of our time now include such processes as global warming, extreme racial and economic injustice, perpetual war, nuclear weapons/waste/accidents, and accelerating global species extinction. These outward challenges are also deep inward challenges to our sense of identity and integrity: Will I collude with the oppressive/destructive forces at work on Planet Earth? Will I withdraw from life as a way of coping? Or will I find creative and life-affirming ways to resist, rebuild, and become kinder and wiser along the way?

As global mentors such as Einstein, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and (more recently) Joanna Macy have each expressed in different ways, our extreme circumstances challenge us: 

 to think much more carefully and creatively,
 to develop much deeper personal strengths,
 to connect with much deeper spiritual resources,
 to build much stronger and more supportive friendships,
and, strengthened by all of the above,
 to participate more deeply in mending the world

The development of these transformational strengths and friendships is the universal work that Deep Green Awakening mutual support network encourages each person to embrace. This is a work we gladly share with many similar movements, from whom we learn and with whom we share through the Creative Commons all that we have learned.

We invite and encourage everyone to live reverence for life more radiantly, and to explore and create new meditation, prayer, blessing and transformation practices that express and celebrate that reverence for life, which one might think of as a beautiful mixture of awe, respect, gratitude, devotion and the desire to serve and protect. The two PDF mandala series shown below express this new approach to the eco-spiritual life. We offer these to everyone free of charge, as our way of participating in the healing of the world.  (Click image for PDF. To view PDF directly in Google Chrome, installation of a PDF viewer is required.)







Prayers/Affirmations/Celebrations of Life Unfolding Within Me and Between us

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  We see the cultivation of Reverence for Life as an important part of finding the deeper inner strength that will allow us to nurture the Web of Life and Earth, work strongly and lovingly for a more life-friendly world, and resist the growing current momentum toward perpetual war, addiction to violence and inequality, out-of-control industrialization, and the resulting processes of climate disruption and global species extinction. In the midst of responding to these various crises, many of which will last far beyond our own lifetimes, we aspire to grow in our ability to nurture and sustain one another in our journeys through the seasons of life. (“Sustainability,” in our vision, includes sustaining our own web of personal relatedness, the life that lives between us  as evolving persons.)

We draw inspiration from many of the ecological, psychological and spiritual teachers of the past and present, from Buddha, Jesus, Saint Francis, Hildegarde of Bingen and Meister Eckhart to Albert Schweitzer, Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, Vandana Shiva, the Dalai Lama, Black Elk, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Donella Meadows, Matthew Fox, Rachel Carson, Julia Butterfly Hill, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Gregory Bateson, to name only a few.  The workshops, retreats, books and lectures of eco-philosopher, anti-nuclear activist and grandmother, Joanna Macy, are especially important to us as we seek to extend the spirit of her Work That Reconnects   into the world of everyday ecological action, everyday spiritual practice, and ongoing creative partnerships and friendships.

We are also inspired by the Bodhisattva ideal in Buddhism, the Christian Sermon on the Mount, the Native American tradition of Mitakuye Oyasin (Lakota Sioux for “All My Relations”), and the infinite interwovenness explored by living systems theory, among many sources of spiritual inspiration. These are all resources for an eco-spirituality that makes sense in our pluralisitc present time. (We invite you to visit our online Interfaith Cathedral.) Because each person is unique, and because evolution thrives through variety rather than through conformity, we encourage each person to create their own unique mandala (a sort of spiritual back pack) of resources and exemplars in support of their communion with and celebration of   the Web of Life and their actions on behalf of the Web of Life. (These two universal aspects of love will be familiar to many as the polarity of Mary and Martha in the New Testament.) Our primary forms of organization are self-organizing, self-supervising Teams-of-Two (creative partnerships of two people) and self-supervising study/action groups (composed primarily of several Teams-of-Two). “Teams of Two” is an ancient idea, with a long history in Buddhism (kalyana mitra), Judaism (havruta), Christianity  and Celtic spirituality, and, of course, in marriage and in the parenting processes of many living species. We hope to renew and extend this way of organizing cooperative effort in the context of serving the Web of Life in Her hour of great need.

Confronted with the monumental tasks of our time, such as preventing catastrophic climate change and the radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean, we have become convinced of five organizing principles for our work, stated below and expressed in our Twelve Suggestions, which are shown further down this page.

An Open-Ended List

of Organizing Principles

  • Awakening to interwovenness is the root of the compassionate life.  As long as we imagine that we are separate from other people and the Web of Life and Earth, acting compassionately will seem like a special burden or a special virtue.  The central message of ecology is the interwovenness of all natural systems. Our human lives are also deeply interwoven with, and inseparable from, the lives of other people and the Web of Life. In order to nurture my life, I must nurture yours.  This insight invites us to rethink all our ideas about self-interest and altruism, because our well-being overlaps greatly with the well-being of all other people, creatures, lands and seas. In Native American culture the entire world is named as “All My Relations.”  In African culture our inter-being with others, and our imperative of kindness toward others, is named as Ubuntu, “A person is a person through other people.” 

  • Beauty and gratitude. The deeper the ugliness we intend to confront and mend in the world, the deeper the gratitude and beauty (in the Navajo and Sufi sense) we will  need to cultivate in the world of our own hearts.

  • Mutual support. The greater the task we set before another person, the deeper the support we need to offer that person, that the task might be accomplished.  A Jewish way of expressing this might be to say that G-d gave us two hands so that we could mend the world with one and nurture the person next to us with the other.  The Teams-of-Two way of organizing is an effort to weave personal support into the heart of ecological, climate change and social justice organizing.

  • Universal empowerment.  By virtue of being in the Creative Commons, and by virtue of having been drawn from many sources (including Sufi, Navajo, Christian and Buddhist), the approaches to reverence for life expressed in our Seven Mandalas Exploring Reverence for Life, and Four Prayers of Opening belong to everyone, are distributed free of charge as PDF files, and can be practiced and taught by everyone.  Furthermore, you have infinite permission from Life Herself,  3.6 billion years of evolution, and your own sixty trillion cells, to nurture and protect the Web of Life and Earth with increasing skill, compassion and awareness.

  • We are already all teachers of reverence for life and eco-spirituality, whether consciously or not. By virtue of being alive, you are not automatically a teacher of guitar or calculus.  But by virtue of the way you live, and how much or how little you love life, you automatically teach all those around you your particular approach to loving life.  Most other fields require long preparation before a person becomes a teacher, but one of the great paradoxes of life is that in relation to the most important topics of human life (love, gratitude, creativity, forgiveness, truthfulness) we begin teaching the moment we are born, and teach every moment of our lives.  So we may as well rise to the occasion and become more conscious and inspiring teachers.
  • Follow your greatest love.  The multiple crises of a self-destructing culture can leave us paralyzed by the question of where to put our efforts.  Spiritual advisers from Saint Augustine to Teresa of Avila to Howard Thurman recommend that we take up the work that stirs us to the greatest love. As Thurman put it, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  Frederick Buechner expresses this as “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

  • Make a place in your heart for both joy and sorrow.  Early gaps in our emotional development can leave us with the feeling that when we are successful, God and/or the whole world loves us, and when we fail, God and/or the whole world hates us.  This is deeply unrealistic and counterproductive, given that trial and error are normal parts of the human learning process. And as we face the giant mistakes of industrialization run amok, we are bound to suffer many disappointments that we will need to learn from. Honoring our sorrows and frustrations as expressions of our love for the world, as taught by Joanna Macy, leaves us more able to stay engaged in work that will stretch beyond our own lifetimes. This means growing beyond the simple binary “it’s all bad” or “it’s all good” attitudes we learned in early childhood, whether applied to ourselves or to the world.  As Judith Viorst observed in her book, Necessary Losses, all the significant steps forward in our development as persons are accompanied by the experience of loss. Tribal peoples use the cycle of the seasons as a way of understanding and accepting the inevitability of life including both joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments.
  • Create an ongoing Sabbath from money.  Fund-raising and money making accomplish many good ends in the world (along with all the problematic ones), but fund-raising and money making have a way of taking over nonprofit organizations, community service endeavors, religious congregations, and people’s lives.  There is considerable pressure in capitalist societies to monetize all human interactions.  Because tens of thousands of of nonprofit organizations around the world are already exploring the many good things that might be accomplished with money, Deep Green Awakening choose to focus on the now-neglected area of non-monetary relationships such as spiritual friendships and mutual support for the cause of Life and Earth.  Just as the goal of resting on the Sabbath day is not to abolish human work, but to explore forms of experience beyond the mindset of work, it is not our intention to abolish money, but to explore relationships and forms of eco-spirituality that lie beyond the reach of money, to keep from being emotionally suffocated by it.  We want to create refuges (such as our Interfaith Cathedral, and our Team-of-Two partnerships) where people can be as free as possible, for at least a while, from the continual pressures of needing money and needing to think about money.

Twelve Suggestions

An open-ended invitation to participate in the self-organizing, self-supervising, Deep Green Awakening extended community-without-walls
Deep Green Awakening are inspired to work, pray and bless together in four ways, which express reverence for life in four distinct dimensions or strands (as sketched out visually in our  Seven Mandalas Exploring Reverence for Life, and Four Prayers of Opening):
  • The life within us: cultivating a deeper embodiment of compassion for all life, of wisdom, courage, creativity, truthfulness, and a web of related strengths, and
  • The life between us: nurturing one another in the face of the great challenges of our time, and
  • The life that surrounds and supports us: mending what is broken in the world around us (and nurturing what is life-giving, and opposing what is harmful), while also

  • The life life of the cosmos: opening to deeper spiritual resources within us, between us, around us, in nature, in the entire universe
We invite you to participate in the Deep Green Awakening open-source vision of peer accompaniment and encouragement, anywhere in the world, with anyone in the world, by using the following suggestions (and the linked support materials) as guidelines:
  1. Explore the vision of how we propose to weave together the Four Strands, especially:
    Seven Mandalas Exploring Reverence for Life
    Companions in the Storm, Companions in Blessing
    Teams of Two: A Model for Personal Unfolding, Citizen Activism and Social Transformation
    Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects
    Four Prayers of Opening

  2. Follow your calling from the Heart of Life. Pick a specific study topic, create an action project, or select an existing public service organization, which strongly expresses your reverence for life and your evolving compassion for all peoples and all creatures.

  3. Find project partner(s). Find one or more persons who share your deep interest and invite them to become Team-of-Two / Study Group partners with you dedicated to the above topic or project. Together, dedicate your shared work to the mutual well-bring of all peoples and all creatures. Agree to work together as cooperative partners, free from the exchange of money.

  4. Explore and agree on project goals. Agree on what you would like to accomplish in a 3 to 6 month period of working together as volunteers on behalf of the Web of Life and mutual encouragement.

  5. Meet weekly to accomplish your goals, and keep a journal of your progress and challenges. Pass a “talking stick” back and forth to one another or invent other creative rituals to make sure that each person receives a roughly equal amount of listening attention. Make a space for expressing both joys and sorrows. Practice empathic listening. (Please see the Seven Challenges Workbook   for suggestions about how to improve your team communication skills.  Please see the Spiral Journey Mandala   for suggestions about how to work on demanding issues while nurturing the people around you.)

  6. Deepen your practice. We invite and encourage each participant to explore and develop a Web-of-Life- centered, daily, ongoing practice of prayer, meditation, blessing, gratitude, invocation, transformation, and opening to immanent and transcendent beauty (in the Navajo and Sufi sense). This can include communion with any and all the great souls who have inspired you on the path of compassion, communion with all your ancestors back to the birth of the Milky Way, and communion with all the future generations of Life on Planet Earth. (We offer our  Seven Mandalas Exploring Reverence for Life  as one of many possible starting places for this kind of ecological spirituality. You are also invited to visit our meditation, prayer and blessing exploration page   for a wide variety of examples and suggestions.)

  7. Invite others to join with you in your project, if and when that feels appropriate. Encourage new participants to find and team up with new project partners. (Please give new participants a copy of this document.)

  8. Create a gift from your work. With each of your Team or Two partners, create a memo, report, book report, PowerPoint presentation, video, painting, sculpture or music performance MP3 that documents/expresses what you have done and learned.

  9. Celebrate and share the results of your project with the larger Deep Green Awakening community, with other communities, and with the whole world through the Internet. Place the results of your project or study in the Creative Commons as royalty-free resources so that others can learn from them and build on them.

  10.  Evaluate your experience together. Identify areas where you would like to function better and know more, both as advocates for the Web of Life  and as Team-of-Two participants.  Consider how you would like to deepen your  spiritual practice.  Record all the above in your journal.

  11. Plan your next step. Renew your participation in a given project for another 3 to 6 months, turn your Team of Two into co-coordinators of a study/action group focused on your theme or project, or conclude your project and make a space for each Team-of-Two partner to bless the other to work on new projects and extend their circle of creative friendships.

  12.  Expand the circle. Meet other participants in your region and begin to have monthly or quarterly regional meetings/potlucks, where participants can share their ongoing work and evolve new forms of celebrating the Web of Life and our existence within Her. Deepen your knowledge, then volunteer to teach courses on Reverence for Life, Deep Ecology, The Work That Reconnects, and the Great Turning.  Encourage your Team of Two partners to develop other Team of Two partnerships.

By Dennis Rivers and friends in Deep Green Awakening and www.EarthCitizens.net


 5/28/2017 revision