An ecology of love:

changing the world through our presence


“Music and silence — how I detest them both!” exclaims C.S. Lewis’ character Screwtape, a senior devil who has mastered the arts of both temptation and manipulation.

All that resembles heaven, he explains to his nephew Wormwood, should be replaced with noise, “which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.”

No doubt Screwtape would approve of social media and the constant barrage of the marketing industry.

Noise distracts our attention from what is most important, precious and good.

How we perceive reality is intimately bound up with the faculty of attention. To paraphrase William James, the philosopher and pioneer of modern psychology, in the moment of attention what we attend to is reality.[1]

What we overlook or ignore falls outside the world of our concern. What we don’t give attention to becomes less real, unimportant, regardless of how real and important it may be.

In a very real sense, we choose the world we inhabit through what we give attention to and by the quality of our attention. Though, for many of us, our “choices” go unnoticed. Driven by conditioning and habits that we are largely unaware of, our choices are mostly unconsciousness, and so are barely our choices at all.

As global leaders prepare for the 27th United Nations summit on climate change (COP27), what isn’t in question is that we have the technological and financial resources needed to halt the tragedy of human-caused climate change and ecological destruction.

What is in question, is the extent to which hearts can be awakened, whether governments and corporates can move from a mind-set of self-orientated competition to conscious, ecologically-aware collaboration.

One way or another, we have created a way of seeing, a way of being, that is dislocated and dislocating, which encourages us to forget that every atom of our body, every breath we inhale, is a gift from the Earth and the entire cosmos.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can wake up. We can choose a new way of seeing, a new way of being.

When the Pulitzer Prize winning writer and environmental activist Gary Snyder was once asked if he had any advice about climate change and the ecological crisis, he replied, “Don’t feel guilty. Guilt and anger and fear are part of the problem. If you want to save the world, save it because you love it!” [2]

But we can only love – and will only want to save – what is real to us.

Truly great books for children convey great truths for all of us. And Margery Williams’ classic book The Velveteen Rabbit tells us something of singular importance for our relationship with the world.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” the Skin Horse tells the Rabbit, “It’s something that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.” [3]

We can only love what is real to us. And things become real for us in the light of loving-attention.

It’s crucial that we find ways to challenge the narratives and cultural forces which encourage us to see ourselves as separate from the world. But it’s not enough to simply understand non-separateness as an attractive-sounding, rational proposition. To bring about real, lasting change, we need to touch the truth of non-separateness, to know it in our experience.

The invitation of meditation is to come home to the simple reality of life, unmediated by our stories about it. We are invited to deep communion, to discover that the deepest truth of who we are is the deepest truth of everything.

We do not come to this by a process of thought or analysis, but through the practice of loving-attention, through clearing a space for encounter.

The revolution that’s so badly needed begins within each of us. Everything we need to find a new way of living is waiting within our hearts.

With the energy of loving-attention we can cultivate a new relationship with the Earth and all her inhabitants.

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[1] William James, The Principles of Psychology (New York: Dover Publications, 1958), II: 322.

[2] Cited in No Time Like the Present: Finding freedom, love and joy right where you are by Jack Kornfield (Penguin Random House), 2017, p.213 (emphasis added).

[3] Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (New York: George H. Doran) 1922, pp. 5-8 (emphasis added).

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