To me, green spirituality means having a sense of the sacred in the ordinary, everyday and miraculous world we live in.
I remember being a very devout Christian child – my parents sent me to a church primary school, and a Methodist Sunday School, although they weren’t church-goers themselves. I loved Sunday school and the bible stories, but the description of hell-fire and torment terrified me, and I dreaded that my parents would go to hell as unbelievers.
One night I woke in the early hours of the morning and looked out of the window where the full moon was shining over the fields at the back of the house. I felt filled with a sense of total peace and faith that Jesus was there and loved me. I didn’t speak to anyone about this, but I still remember it vividly, and that sense of awe at being a part of something greater has stayed with me over the years.
As I got older, there seemed to be some sort of expected progression at Sunday school into the senior class, which was initiated by an invitation by a visiting preacher to “take Jesus into your heart” and come up front. I couldn’t move from my seat – a few minutes before he had been shouting about hellfire and damnation and all I knew was that his Jesus wasn’t one I wanted to be close to.
So in my early teens I rejected all of that bible stuff and became a very angry atheist. I believed that science had all the answers, and that religion was not for me. I chose science as a career, and worked in medical science for ten years. During that time there was much else going on in my life – my partner Alan and I running a folk club and a morris team, being part of a community group establishing an arts centre, and becoming fascinated by group-work and the human potential movement.
But then, in my mid-thirties, I had what I could only describe as a spiritual crisis, prompted by an acupuncturist asking me if I felt there was a part of me as yet unknown. I felt deeply threatened by this question, but I couldn’t let it go. I started to have powerful numinous dreams, and to experience synchronicities which I couldn’t explain with my rational mind. I thought I was going mad as I had no context for what was happening.
Bluebell wood near Malborough
I started to read Jung and books on eastern religion and meditation, and found a meditation group locally. I had a hard time there at first as part of me absolutely knew that meditation was the answer to what ailed me, while my rational self was dismissive of the whole thing. After a few months I had my first mystical experience since childhood, where I felt the reality of one-ness of all things and the eternal soul. I sat under an ancient oak tree in the local Great Park and was shaken to my core by the experience of the living, breathing Earth.
The meditation teacher helped me make sense of it all, in her own terms. Her teaching was eclectic, drawing from Jung’s archetypal psychology, shamanism, Buddhism, and Psychosynthesis. I was very attracted to the work on the Goddess, which I had previously thought was only to do with primitive people. But as we went deeper into the forgotten story of the sacred feminine it really resonated with me. A visit to the caves in the Dordogne round about this time brought home to me my arrogance in thinking that we modern people had all the answers. The artistry and mystery of the cave paintings and the simplicity and beauty of the little Goddess figurines really touched me. This was a different kind of spirituality to that of Christianity – descending rather than ascending; immanent rather than transcendent; the one in the many rather than the many in the one. And of course, we need both.
Descent of Inanna embroidery
In the meditation group we worked with one of the oldest stories, The Descent of the Goddess, where the bright shining sky Goddess Inanna descends to the underworld to see her dark sister Ereshkigal. This has become a central myth for me, speaking of our connection to the deep feminine, and the ‘lost and forgotten things of the psyche’. A ten-day retreat on the myth at Springhead in Dorset had a profound effect on me as we made the connection between the loss of the feminine in our culture and the rape of the Earth. This experience brought me a sense of deeper kinship with the Earth. I made changes in the way I lived, leaving my job to run workshops on myths and meditation. I worked with Anne Yarwood at her home Constables in Ascot, and through her and Gordon Dunkerley I helped organise a new GreenSpirit local group in Ascot.
Springhead in Dorset
One of things that attracted me to GreenSpirit was the place that science had in that Earth-based spirituality. I didn’t have to be either/or – I could be both! I loved the Universe walk, and organised one in Windsor Great Park, as well as a smaller spiral version on the lawn in Anne’s garden. To me, the walk brings together our scientific understanding of the universe and our sense of awe and wonder at the incredible complexity that gave birth to us human beings. I also found that reading Ken Wilber helped to bring my rational and non-rational selves together – his model included science as well as mysticism, which was a revelation to me.
Around this time the meditation group came to a close as people moved away. This was a relief, as I had been having an increasing sense of things being wrong. Processing what had happened, and my part in it, took a lot of time (and therapy hours!). I felt a lot of shame for having gone along with things I knew at some level I wasn’t happy with. I became very suspicious again of anything spiritual, but did find Buddhist groups where I could meditate without all the accretions of the previous group, and GreenSpirit events which were refreshingly free from the hierarchical, the leader knows best, aspects of the meditation group. Gradually I sorted the seeds, and was able to value what I had learned there, while acknowledging what was not helpful or healthy for me.
Meanwhile, Alan and I moved out of town to a more rural setting in Wiltshire. I trained as a transpersonal counsellor, we carried on meeting with the old friends from the first meditation group, enjoyed GreenSpirit events and ritual and ceremony, and joined a local Friends of the Earth group. I found Joanna Macy’s work very moving and pertinent to our present environmental crisis and offered workshops on ‘The Great Turning’ in Ascot with Anne and in Wiltshire. Reframing our grief and anger at the destruction of our planet as a healthy and rightful expression of our love for the Earth is empowering and brings hope.
So over the years the different threads have come together. I am integrating what I learned as a Christian child, as an atheist scientist, as a pagan, as a GreenSpirit member, as a Buddhist meditator, and as a transpersonal counsellor, realising I don’t have to identify as just one, but that all of these rich experiences weave together. And as I learn to live with the loss of Alan, my life partner, I find my support not only in loving family and friends, but also in connection with Nature and the reality of the Great Round of life and death.
Jenny is a GreenSpirit member living in Wiltshire and is a counsellor, a meditator, a grandmother, a gardener and a member of Sustainable Calne (“Local Action For Our World”).
All photos © Jenny Joyce.