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Deep Ecology

deep . . . diving, below, unconscious, intense

ecology . . . the world, earth, where we live, relationships, you, me, trees, animals, life . . .

Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Deep ecology has its origins in the ideas of Norwegian ecophilosopher Arne Næss. His ideas include the concept of Gaia: that this planet we live on is a living earth; that all living things are part of the web of life; and that we humans are just another strand in that interconnected web.

It is through expanding our sense of self, and building our awareness and appreciation of connectedness, that we naturally change the way we behave in our daily lives, taking responsibility for our actions on the planet, and being part of what ecophilosopher Joanna Macy calls ‘the work that reconnects’.

There are many practices within deep ecology, but at their core they invite us to connect with a larger sense of self – the self that includes our ecological identity and sense of our place in the web of life. It is an approach that allows us to face the challenges of living in the world at this time.

Sometimes the storm of world events or even the domestic chaos of children, lunches, work and life can crowd out the voice of the earth.

One of the most important practices of deep ecology is taking time to be alone in the natural world in silence: it allows for deep listening to the land and other species; it quietens our busy minds and creates a space where an ancient knowing or an expanded sense of self can emerge.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says that what we most need to do at this time is ‘ … to hear within ourselves the sounds of the earth crying …’. This may seem like an abstract or even scary thought. What happens if I allow myself to really listen to the world news? If I allow myself to feel the pain for loss of species, threats to habitat and ecosystems around the globe?

Being able to acknowledge our feelings of care and love for other species and places in the world when they are threatened is an important capacity that we have as humans. It comes from a deep knowing, as if laid down in our memory through the experiences of our ancestors.

Historically, humans have known the patterns of the land in which they lived; they needed to be intimate with country in order to survive.

Like the Aboriginal use of the word ‘country’, this included an understanding of the relationship between land and people, influencing how they lived and the stories that belonged to different places. They knew about nourishment – more than where the next meal was coming from. They were taught the importance of place, of respect for the sacred, and gratitude for the life of food plants and animals. They didn’t take more than was needed.

Deep ecology helps us remember our connectedness with all living things. It’s like an ecology of noticing: hearing birdsong, feeling the wind move through the trees, watching the moon rise, celebrating the change of seasons.

It builds a language of understanding through noticing the repeated cycles of the world in which we live and are a part. It connects us with a deeper sense of time and history and gives us a greater appreciation for our place in the living, breathing, more-than-human life on earth; developing our ecological identity. It allows us to bring this knowledge into our daily lives. To strengthen our sense of connectedness and belonging, nourishing us in physical, emotional and spiritual ways.

Deep ecology reminds us of the deeper aspects of time from which we have evolved, and allows us to recognise the unique way that each of us contributes to a life-sustaining culture. Whether it is through direct action or by helping to create new structures for a society that brings communities together, each of us is helping to lessen our footprint on this fragile planet earth home.

This is something anyone can do as a daily practice of nurturing and connecting.

  • Simply sit somewhere outside – at the beach, in the forest, under a tall tree, in your garden, or lie on the ground at night under the stars.
  • Just sit, be quiet, watch and listen.
  • You may ask for guidance.
  • You may be surprised at what arises.
  • You may simply feel rested or you may come back feeling more connected with place or with yourself.

Skye Etherington lives on the far south coast of NSW and offers deep ecology experiences from one to several days duration. She has trained with Joanna Macy and worked with John Seed.

Email Skye for more information:


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