“I Am Because We Are”; Exploring GTUx’s Newest Original Offering Ecospirituality: Environmental Pathways to Healing

Answer the call of our urgent environmental crisis with this new GTUx Original Ecospirituality: Environmental Pathways to Healing, created by Dr. Rita Sherma. The devastation of our shared environment on this planet has deep roots in our collective environmental, social, ethical, and economic relationships. There is no humanity separate from nature; there is only nature. And yet, the way we live does not reflect that fundamental truth of our collective interdependence with nature. Our commodity and consumer-focused economic models diminish not only our relationship with the environment but also with our own collective appreciation for the arts and culture within our communities. Many people today are questioning these economic models that policymakers and industry giants continue to follow, despite their harm to our planet, communities, mental health, and well-being.

Society must be reimagined within the deeper dimensions of the human experience, not the radical commercialism of our present and past. With the concerns of economic inequity and the ravaging of our environment, we must ask ourselves: In terms of sustainability, what is it being sustained? Now is the time to reconsider the entire trajectory of the project of unlimited growth on a finite planet.

As a global community, we need wide-ranging cultural and spiritual transformation. Together, we can explore policies that lead to more equity, investment in education for a vast variety of resources, and a fundamental shift away from a purely consumer-based economy. Because at our core as humans, we possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This is a concept called the Biophilia hypothesis, as Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized in his book, Biophilia (1984).

Today we are experiencing a mental and physical health crisis incited by the sorry state of the earth. With the recurrence of human-caused climate change and the crisis that ensues, many are experiencing both the physical effects and mental effects in the aftermath of these disasters. Eco anxiety is now recognized as a mental state that reflects our current and predicted future state of the environment. Psychologists are increasingly aware that the changes in the earth are increasing the anxiety of those witnessing these unprecedented changes to our earth. The endemic nature of this trauma means there is no safe place to turn to, there is no alternative to our shared environment on this planet.

Our spiritual connection can be a response and resource to our anxieties. As we examine the concept of the eternal–the divine, the source, God, or any other name you call this eternal life source–in the context of the temporal, which is the here and now, we know there is something beyond what is in front of us. When the anxiety of the temporal begins, there must be a looking towards the eternal. Understanding the relationship of the self to the eternal can bring a deep sense of calm in the face of anxiety. The reflection of the eternal can be found in the deep peace and presence of nature. Finding ourselves in nature can be a deeply therapeutic and healing process for those facing these deep eco anxieties over the present conditions and predicted future conditions of our planet. Finding relief in nature is a form of eco therapy that can begin in your own backyard. Whether you grow and cultivate plants in your backyard or apartment, go out into the forests, or simply rest in nature. There is something healing about simply being in touch with the ground beneath our feet. This is a practice called eco-praxis, which means being integrated into the natural world and integrating yourself into the natural world.

In this GTUx Original, Dr. Kathryn Barush joins Dr. Rita Sherma to discuss embodied practices to encourage eco-praxis. These ritual practices can be found in the embodied forms of pilgrimage. The practice of pilgrimage places us within nature in the context of ritual. The ecological pilgrimage speaks to the human desire to connect with something greater than ourselves. The ritualization of walking in nature, drinking filtered water from sacred sources, and giving thanks to the elements in nature, can all be a deeply connecting experience with nature, with spirit, and with ourselves.

Debashish Banerji joins Dr. Sherma to discuss aspirational eco-communities, not by creating entirely new knowledge systems, but by mining old ways of thinking within new context and modern applications to create communities with healthy relationships to nature, other humans, and the divine. Together they delve into communities that attempt to re-integrate human relationships in nature. Such an example of this is the ashram, which is a spiritual community with roots based in India, but can now be found all over the world. Exploring ancient texts like the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras gives ancient context to modern sensibilities regarding how humans can understand and act ethically toward the environment.

Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble joins Dr. Sherma to discuss the intertwining of environmental justice with sustainability. Dr. Miles-Tribble asserts that environmental justice is the fair treatment of all people with respect to the enforcement of environmental laws and policies. Environmental justice is a basic human right that includes the food we grow, the housing we live in, and all of the environmental factors that affect us–beyond the wilderness alone. She quotes the African philosophy of Ubuntu: “I am because we are.” This encapsulates the understanding of how everything is interconnected, including how we treat one another and how that dictates how we interact with our environment and the other species that inhabit it. Dr. Miles-Tribble explores how religious faith can activate us to become co-conspirators to create positive change for the whole health and welfare of communities. She explores this intersection of faith, social justice, and environmental sustainability using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s thought leadership to galvanize religious communities to take on our roles as responsible stewards of the planet and its resources.

If you want to discover more about the GTUx’s newest Original, you can watch a brief trailer here. If you’re ready to delve into the course, you can start anytime here. Want to go deeper? Use our LibGuide to discover additional resources. Ready to talk about what you learned? Join us on our new designated Slack channel #ecospirituality.