• Watch clips of this episode at Global Spirit TV.

For people of all nations, creeds, and classes, the natural world has been an important access point to the sacred. Who we know ourselves to be is shaped by our relationship with the Earth and all the sentient and nonsentient beings who inhabit it. How we then balance our unending desires as humans with the needs of other species is the most important spiritual challenge of the 21st century. Are we going to continue to control, dominate, and destroy the good Earth in our quest for fuels, consumer goods, and technological progress or are we going to drastically change our ways and begin to heal the separations that we have created with nature?

This is where the field of study known as "sacred ecology" — the study of our home the Earth — is very helpful. It shows us our place in the weave of relationships that make up our larger interdependent family. This episode of Global Spirit explores the implications of this work with two of its most eloquent spokespersons. Host Phil Cousineau's two guests are Joanna Macy, an eco-philosopher and scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology, and Michael Tobias, a global ecologist, historian, author, filmmaker and president of the Dancing Star Foundation. Both guests bring to their discussion of sacred ecology a wealth of practical experiences: Macy has five decades under her belt as an environmental activist and Tobias, a practicing Jain, has done field research which has taken him to 80 counties where he's specialized in an interdisciplinary approach to environmental history, animal rights, and scientific studies.

Cousineau skillfully draws out the insightful comments and personal stories of his guests as they discuss the meanings of ecology, the nature of the sacred, the challenges facing us as we stand at the crossroads and determine our path into the future in regard to the environment, and what steps can be taken to slow down the destruction of the Earth. Macy provides perspectives from Buddhism, and Tobias explains how Jainism encourages respect for nature and all beings. Over and over again, they agree that "everything is sacred."

In addition to the lively and soul-stirring discussions, the program includes clips from Tobias' films on the Jain concept of ahimsa (nonviolence), Easter Island as a place of environment destruction, and Yasuni in Ecuador that is home to 100,000 species. In Oakland, California, Macy shows us around the Canticle Gardens created when five houses joined their backyards; they now provide free organic food to their neighbors.

To Continue This Journey:

• Share your responses to Macy's point that the self is a metaphor and we can choose to extend our self interest to include all of life. Do you agree that the idea of the separate self is at the root of the present-day environmental catastrophe?

• What is your emotional reaction to Tobias's lament over 15 million discrete genetic populations going extinct every year?

• What individuals, spiritual teachers, or religious organizations have opened your eyes to your responsibilities for the planet? How are you helping — or could you help — save the Earth?

• Despite the dangers facing us, both Macy and Tobias contend that these are exciting and spiritually meaningful times to be alive. Do you agree or not? Give some reasons to support your view.

• While visiting the Canticle Gardens (named after St. Francis' Canticle of Creation), Macy reminds us of this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. Read it aloud and perhaps interpret it through dance or a drawing.

"All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong and varied as the land.

And no churches where God
is imprisoned and lamented
like a trapped and wounded animal.
The houses welcoming all who knock
and a sense of boundless offering
in all relations, and in you and me.

No yearning for an afterlife, no looking beyond,
no belittling of death,
but only longing for what belongs to us
and serving Earth, lest we remain unused."

• Joanna Macy is profiled in S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project. Read quotations from her books, check out our reviews of her five books, read book excerpts, and see links to other resources about her.

• For more about Michael Tobias, see this article in Wikipedia.