Psycho-spiritual Environmentalism and Activism

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Pagan community here.

Taken earlier this week on my drive home from work

There is a bit of distance that many people invoke when thinking about the damage happening to the environment. The feeling of cognitive dissonance that becomes present when realizing that the current lifestyle that many of us live will be the very thing that eventually kills or limits life on this planet is hard to face. There is a large sense of denial that we live with in order to cope with the reality that today’s luxuries are contributing factors to the destruction of the Mother Earth. I relate with this struggle, and yet acknowledge that we are running out of time to get it right.

There is a bit of psychological process that needs to be addressed and explored in the American agenda to ignore the problems of global warming, climate change and other environmental issues that are continuing to manifest. We are not able to truly be effective in getting everyone on board when we are still catering to the cognitive dissonance that reminds us that doing right by the environmental movement means that we have to do without the very luxuries that we have been conditioned to believe make life worth living. Pagans have not failed in the environmental activism and preservation movement, we as people have failed to take into account the psychological conditioning that capitalism and other such systems here in the United States have had on the average American. We are are continuing to struggle between the messages of society that are based on worth, gain and monetary values, and the knowing that this life will not continue if we do not change.

And this is why the solutions lie very much in the psychological and the spiritual realms of activism, we cannot combat hundreds of years of programming with a simple Public Service Announcement or by using guilt tactics that promote recycling. We have to reach beyond the borders of our average activist actions and embrace the concept of magical intervention as a means to transformation in thought, action and healing. We must also incorporate the knowledge we have gained from the social sciences in understanding how systems of denial operate, how dissociation from reality becomes a protective measure against what feels threatening, and how the social construct of our environment will shape and mold value systems. We MUST stop pretending that a commercial or bigger recycling bin will be the answer to having people engage in the issues of environmentalism and awaken to the severity of this issue; we are unknowingly trained not to question those things to the degree of action.

When I think about spiritual interventions, I consider how we can work in tandem with mission of the Gods to bring wholeness back into the minds of the average person. How can we encourage a relationship with all things to emphasize the consequences, good or bad, of our actions and our choices? How do we mirror and encourage healthy relationships with everything that we touch, that we think, that we believe, and that we are. Those very elements are essential to the reasons that people will make choices to recycle, to reduce their carbon footprint….. to choose life over a capitalistic framework of value. We must choose life….

I cannot expect people to revere the life of the Mother Earth with more importance than they view their own lives. This is a challenge we face in this day and age. We live in a society that exists in so much pain, and with so many struggles…. that life becomes about the struggle and not about the beauty. We have to look at the struggle for environmental justice in combination with the many other struggles of justice we are fighting, they do not exist in isolation.

The fight for environmentalism is a complex one… and a combination of a psychological, spiritual, societal and historical wound that is wrapped in the bandages of unchecked privilege, oppression, pain and the trauma of a nation. The Pagan agenda should be no different than any other, we must intensify our efforts to support healthy, whole and integrated people, so that we can change and heal the world.

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  • Cognitive dissonance is a great way to put it. Day to day, I struggle to keep my family afloat. How can I do that with integrity, knowing how we live is the problem? I can only do so much as an individual, this will take cooperative action. I look to magic to inform us how to engage in that action.