Thursday, 1 December 2016

Book Extract: Rivers of Green Wisdom

Extract from the book ‘Rivers of Green Wisdom: Exploring Christian and Yogic Earth Centred Spirituality’ by Santoshan (pen name of) Stephen Wollaston. Published in the GreenSpirit series in 2016.

There is an urgent cry for us to wake up and re-establish kinship with both our fellow humans and the natural world, with our global sister and brother species, such as many of the endangered and magnificent creatures
walking and living on the African plains and living in the world’s ancient rain forests. Prophetic voices of our age, such as Thomas Berry, have called for recognition of a single Earth community, a single community of life. Berry emphasised the importance of ‘the great work’ that lies ahead. But great changes will only happen when people band together and get fully behind ideas. We only have to look at how the equal rights movement in America led to reforms in legislation. The seemingly impossible can be achieved when we have the vision and driving force of prophets such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. It is a difference between falling apart into hopelessness or finding empowerment through uniting and working together.

Berry termed the new era of spirituality the ‘Ecozoic era’: an era he believed we were entering, where humans live in mutually enhancing relationships with Earth and the Earth community. This is subtly different to
stewardship, as it puts us on a more equal footing with the rest of Nature, instead of seeing humans as the peak of creation. Berry felt that we had lost our links with Earth because we no longer share myths and stories our early ancestors had that helped them find close bonds with the natural world. Yet in the light of contemporary science, most ancient stories and myths have lost their power and relevance to the age in which we now live. Our understanding of how stars, galaxies and organic life came into being no longer matches a lot of their contents (though in some Yogic teachings, everything is seen to emerge from a cosmic form of ‘bindu’, a source point and centre of energy, which is perhaps comparable to the Big Bang theory).

Because of this, what is now seen as a New Earth/Universe Story(what scientist now know about the unfolding of the universe from the Big Bangto the formation and diversity of life on Earth) was recognised by Berry and the
evolutionary cosmologist Brian Swimme to be needed for humankind to reconnect with its roots and the age old quest for discovering meaning and purpose, why we are here, where we are going and the unique and essential roles we and other species have in a spiritual universe. But unlike ancient creation myths – as Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams point out in their informative book ‘View from the Centre of the Universe’ – the New Story would have to be a contemporary factual and flexible account that is not solely bound to just one tradition. It needs to be a part of an ongoing search for truth, based on new insights and discoveries, which will help us to build harmonious communities where everyone feels valued, is able to use their abilities, and express their creativity in fertile and supportive environments.

On the whole, contemporary western societies have lost somethingessential by no longer possessing shared beliefs and teachings and not realisingthat those beliefs and teachings can aid us in awakening to significant
relationships with Earth. When we have nothing to bring us together or to help us find a deep sense of belonging, we often clog-up our lives with material products we do not need and immerse ourselves in pursuits that lead us away from an authentic spirituality that can profoundly enrich us.

The very first flaring forth of creation, Ellen Bernstein tells us in ‘The Green Bible’, was seen by early rabbis as the first revelation of God in the universe. Before any God of scripture or God of humans, there has been a God
of Nature. For God has been working in and through Nature for longer than any human centred spiritual or religious tradition. Matthew Fox has popularly highlighted teachings that honour Nature and our spiritual and creative being as ‘original blessing’, which has strong roots in many traditions that affirm our original goodness – the blessing of life and the spiritual gifts we all possess and have the potential for. The poetic first chapter of Genesis, which was possibly written as early as the tenth century BCE, informs us that, “God saw everything that [she/] he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (1:31).

If we consider how various people, cultures and communities havedifferent beliefs and things they value, such as money, power or beingcompassionate to all beings, we see how these will influence individuals, groups and nations differently. For this reason it is crucial to look at our values and other influences in our societies and communities. Becoming more actively loving– which has associations with the heart chakra, ‘anahata’, in Indian traditions – is central in the universal wisdom of Jesus and different schools of Yoga. Christianity and Yoga have essential teachings about love, non-harm and suffering, how we need to respond to another’s pain with compassion. Any harm deliberately brought against another will hurt us in return, because we ourselves have brought selfishness and violence instead of benevolent qualities into the world in which we are living. The Apostle Paul wrote about awareness of ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16 and Philippians 2:5), which is aboutawakening to the same inclusive, loving and caring consciousness as Jesus, and wrote about gaining and being ‘nothing’ if we do not have love (1 Corinthians 13:2-3). Jesus’s teachings invariably focus on a life centred in the immanent presence of the divine and freedom from impractical rules and customs that
restrict displays of forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, kindness and peace-making actions.

The founder of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness and former Catholic monk, Jim Marion, looks at Paul’s saying in Philippians (“Let the samemind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”) in the book ‘Putting on the Mind of
Christ’. He draws heavily on Ken Wilber’s stages of development and makes masterful links between Paul’s saying and Jesus’s mention of the Kingdom of Heaven, which Marion sees as a metaphor for a transformed, integral and inclusive state of consciousness and new way of looking at the world.

If we embrace the whole – including Earthly life, the more than human life, and transformative and compassionate actions – in order to untangle ourselves from unhealthy patterns of grasping for things we do not need, or from rejecting wholesome ways of living because they force us to reassess how we view the rights of other people and species, we will arrive at a more centred, nourishing and spiritual place. In the midst of such awakenings we tap into the power of authentic being and instead of obscuring who we truly are, face and work through denied levels and difficult stages and find ways of opening to purer qualities of heart that embrace the welfare of others. Allowing all things and existence to enter into and touch our individual lives deeply, inspires us into wholesome activities and actions, such as giving our time and help freely and unconditionally when external life calls for ourassistance.
Other books by Stephen Wollaston aka Santoshan:
‘Spirituality Unveiled’
‘Realms of Wondrous Gifts’
‘The House of Wisdom’ (co-authored with Swami Dharmananda)
‘Spirit Gems’ (co-authored with Glyn Edwards)
‘The Spirit World in Plain English’ (co-authored with Glyn Edwards)
Visit GreenSpirit’s website for more information:
To read an interview with the author, Stephen Woolaston (known as Santoshan), click on this link:

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