A (Relatively) Brief introduction to Contemplative Ecology

Contemplative ecology is a nonviolent revolution: inner and outer, psychological and societal, spiritual and material.


What Contemplative Ecology Is

The heart of the contemplation is an encounter with unfathomable reality. Reality touches us and we are then unable to stomach the lies we normally tell, and the lies society encourages, and the destructive, exploitative habits and systems in which we are embedded.

Contemplative ecology is a radical reorientation, which means going to the root of what we think we are and how we view the world.

Contemplative ecology is a revolution that affects our inner and outer lives. Looking inward, we see that the self is a fiction; it is hollow; it has no substance. I do not exist as a separate entity. Looking outward we see that everything is interrelated; everything--absolutely everything--belongs to and contributes to and derives its essential existence from a system of interrelated systems. Nothing can be understood outside of its context, outside of its relationships, outside of its interdependencies. No separate self; no separate other. Reality is the whole of everything in interrelated co-creation.

Contemplative ecology challenges the dominant social, political and economic orders by ceasing all activity that is not essential to life and erasing the false divisions erected by the mind.

Contemplative ecology demonstrates the lie that we need all the stuff we are incessantly commanded to buy.

Contemplative ecology reminds us that our essential nature is in the whole movement of life: plants, animals, water, air, soil, sun, everything in relationship.

Contemplative ecology understands the value of every living being for its own sake, not as a resource or commodity to be bought and sold to serve our desires.

Contemplative ecology is founded upon the reality of two great mysteries: emptiness and the whole movement of everything.

Contemplative ecology is untameable, unmanageable, inexpressible, holy wildness.

What Contemplative Ecology Is Not

Contemplative ecology is not a plan or a program or a practice or a path or a story nor a system of ideas or concepts or beliefs.

Contemplative ecology is not a prescription for something that has to be done or achieved.

Contemplative ecology is not interested in blaming or changing others; it faces with honesty one's own habitual patterns of thought and behavior. But it does not end there! Personal transformation and societal transformation are seen to be inextricably intertwined.

Contemplative ecology is neither internal nor external. It is an inner-outer, psycho-social revolution.

Contemplative ecology is not an easy road to walk. It reveals what we would rather keep hidden, even from ourselves and it robs us of the excuses we normally make to justify our destructive behavior.

Commitment to the Unknowable

Contemplative ecology is a commitment to reality, inner and outer, the shallows and the depths, the known and the unknowable.

Realizing how little we know of the living world, we give it room to be what it is.

We don't try to force reality - the living world - into the confines of our understanding.

No Separation

There is no such thing as a separate thing.

Everything exists in interrelationship.

No Self

There is no such thing as a separate self.

The self is hollow, an empty shell, a mask without a face.

How The Self Consumes The World

The capitalistic demand for infinite growth is directly related to the demand of the "self" for satisfaction of its infinite desires.

We are caught in an unending cycle of trying to satisfy the desires of an entity that has no real existence.

It is like a dream character trying to fill its belly. It doesn't work. We eat and eat and eat and never get full.

Believing in the reality of the self leads me to behave as if I am free to take whatever benefits "me."

Believing in the reality of the self leads me to behave as if I am free to destroy or manipulate whatever does not benefit "me."

The human economy has turned everything into a commodity to be manipulated, bought and sold to serve the infinite demands of the fictional self.

Is Essential Change Possible?

The force of devotion to the unreal, half-baked stories of the mind - devotion to the self - is strong.

Can the whole of humanity change direction?

What will put a stick in the spokes of the industrial juggernaut, without creating a violent backlash?

A Spiritual Revolution

We need a spiritual revolution...

"Spiritual" in this case means our most fundamental sense of who and what we are, our foundational self-images and world-images.

We need to change the fundamental direction of our life energy, toward the wellbeing of the whole movement of life.

Solitude and silence are probably not optional for beginning to understand the nature of things, but one of the first things any contemplative discovers is that the roots of societal dysfunction are intertwined with their own psyche.

Emptiness Is the Key

Any solution to the eco-crisis must operate at the deepest, unconscious layers of the mind where our conscious stories do not penetrate.

Social revolution without inner transformation is inadequate. We need to encounter the essential emptiness of the self.

Encountering the essential non-existence of any separate, enduring entity, any self, is what penetrates to the core.

The encounter with emptiness, the hollowness of the self, is the deep revolution.

Explanations don't do it justice. Emptiness is revolutionary. Emptiness changes everything.

Emptiness is not some kind of esoteric experience that comes as the result of years of spiritual training.

Emptiness is the immeasureable.

Emptiness is the unbridled power and presence of the whole universe; wild, untameable, incomprehensible, life-giving, life-altering, terrifying, unbroken wholeness.

Touched by the infinitely unknowable, nothing can ever be the same. Life is so much more than this petty little mind.


Emptiness is the loss of everything we think we can possess: things and identities and experiences and states of mind.

The contrast between contemplative spirituality and contemporary human society could not be more stark.

The Contrast Between Self and Emptiness

The self defines itself by drawing a line through reality; the boundary of exclusion is the frame of the self.

Emptiness is the absence of a fixed identity. Emptiness is the inclusion of everything.

Emptiness is the whole movement of everything: visible and invisible; audible and inaudible; shallows and depths. It takes care of itself.

The self is sure it knows who it is and how the world works.

Emptiness is the realization that this incredible life going on within us, through us, all around us and without us can't be known, can't be captured, can't be tamed, can't be owned.

When the self collapses, emptiness-wholeness remains. Emptiness is the presence of everything.

Emptiness-wholeness is unfathomable, but it has social, political, and ecological consequences.


Social revolution without inner transformation is inadequate, but so is inner transformation without changing social relationships.

Contemplative ecology applies directly to our relationships with the other animals and other people.

We carry beliefs about others; we prejudge them. We assume we know who they are. So we don't pay attention to them.

If they contradict our expectations, we mangle what we see and hear to keep our beliefs intact.

Pay attention to the other animals, the plants, the soil. Listen to them. Foster reciprocal relationships with them. Learn their ways.

Become well acquainted with the other creatures' intelligence and creativity. We can learn much from them. They can help us.

Because the wild animals are free of our ideas about them, they can shock us out of our assumptions and tell us about the world they know.

The other animals help us by challenging our sense of superiority, by upsetting the stories we tell about them and about ourselves.

They help us because they are gifted with senses we lack. They tell us things about the world we cannot know on our own.

If we are still and listening, other lives can speak to us in their own ways, which are not our ways.

Let them be themselves.


We can't have a relationship with the natural world by having a storehouse of ideas or beliefs about the natural world.

We can only have a relationship with the natural world by paying attention to the lives around us.

When we treat other creatures like commodities, we miss the delight of knowing them as living beings with personality and individuality.

We also miss the opportunity to collaborate and cooperate with them in fostering the vitality and abundance of the living world.

The Whole Movement

Delusion is exclusive devotion to the products of the mind. Reality is the whole movement of life.

What if we shed our devotion to our ideas about the world, and devote our lives to the living world that is right at hand?

When we stop living in devotion to the hollow self, we enter with candor into the reality of now, the living world.

Ideas Divide; Reality Is Whole

The human mind incessantly spins webs of illusion and calls those illusions reality.

The human mind prefers its illusions to the truth.

Emptiness-wholeness challenges social, ethnic, gender, even species boundaries, which is not to be confused with having bad boundaries.

The collapse of the self into everything is very different from the expansion of the self to dominate everything!

Those who overemphasize "oneness" tend to want to impose their will on everyone else. So do those who overemphasize separateness.

Reality is more complex than the idea of oneness or separateness. Reality is humbling. It subverts any attempt to impose one's will.

Accepting Material Loss

Will we accept loss and limits and reduction of power and comfort and status? The ecological crisis requires this.

Do we really need anything but biological sustenance: food, water, warmth, air, and fellowship with life?

Americans must reduce our material and energy consumption by at least 90%. Contemporary civilization is unsustainable.

The planet might be able to support 8 billion bodies, but not 8 billion "hungry selves."

Earth might be able to support our biological needs, but not our infinite desires.


Be still, possessing nothing, welcoming everything.

Pay attention.

Allow reality to unmake you.

Give back to life in proportion to everything you take.

"You" cannot bring about these radical changes because "you" are the problem. See through the illusion of "you."

Then, alert to the illusion of "you," naturally devote your attention and your life energy to the whole movement of life.

Be unmade and remade, over and over, in concert with the whole movement of life.

The embrace of the real leaves us with nothing we can possess, and nothing we need to possess, living in unfathomable abundance.

Life itself is that abundance. What more do we need?