The Spirit of Environmentalism
Although I have many friends who find deep nourishment in their relationship with God (and gods), and I am utterly respectful of their beliefs, I am not a religious guy myself. However, this doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual; as each year goes by, I feel more and more connected to phenomena that are out of my control. Thunderstorms move me these days. Ancient trees make me teary. And don’t even get me started on bees! For me, it is natural places, processes and creatures that are divine.
Recently, I chatted about my love of the idea of biophilia: a term coined by American biologist and naturalist, Edward O Wilson, which describes this psychological orientation as the “love of life or living systems”, “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. He thinks that the deep affiliation some people have with nature is rooted way back in our human biology – an attraction (“philia” is the opposite of “phobia”) to other organisms, species, habitats, and processes in the natural world.
The idea has made so much sense to me; as I go into nature as regularly as possible to rejuvenate and to calm my nerves, I also realised, this is my source of spirituality! Of course, the worship of nature is an incredibly ancient experience that predates other religions (and is incorporated in many too), but for me (slow on the uptake you might say!), understanding the profound effect that nature has on my mind and emotions has been a remarkable discovery of 2019. I must have known it all along, but since talking about it with all of you, I have realised that what I once understood as an intellectual and activist interest in environmentalism has a deeply spiritual layer – the whole time I am out there rambling on about the importance of bees and their connection to global survival, my heart is a fluttering with passion. And what better time in history, when our Earth is suffering, than to make nature your God!
Social ecologist Stephen Kellert considered the need for biophilia, or a love for nature, in society, especially within architecture, design and built environment. As part of his study, he described “nine hypothesized dimensions of the biophilia tendency” that range from a naturalistic dimension (where there is a primary affection for the outdoors), to an aesthetic dimension (marked by an appreciation of the beauty of the natural world), right through to a moralistic concern for nature, an emotional love for nature, and even a fear of it! Just like religion, biophilia is a multi-layered connection, and one that I feel is important to our current environmental state. It can feel rewarding to finally have a name for something that has felt so “natural” (excuse the pun) to me since I was a kid. Nature lovers unite! Love Ben x