Guiding hand

Ignatian Spirituality and science have jointly created contemplative practices
to be used by individuals or communities facing ecological distress.


By Sue Martin, ministry coordinator, Being with God in Nature   

In early 2022, JISA (Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia) was approached by Dr Cullan Joyce from the Contemplative Studies Centre at Melbourne University to contribute to a guide comprising practical steps and principles relating to contemplative nature engagement. 

Dr Joyce (pictured, right), a contemplative researcher, educator and eco activist, had moved from the University of Divinity Melbourne to the Contemplative Studies Centre. Not surprisingly, he has a deep interest in understanding the nexus between faith and ecology.  

I was one of the people interviewed by the Melbourne University Eco Anxiety Practice Guide team, whose members also spoke to many other faith practitioners about Christian meditation, Aboriginal spirituality as well as Buddhism and other practices. The guide identifies five types of contemplative nature engagement activities: 

  • Formal meditation; 
  • Attention to nature through the senses; 
  • Movement through landscape; 
  • Visualisation and imagination; 
  • Sharing with others.   

The guide provides practical steps and principles whereby these activities can be integrated into new or existing contemplative nature practices. 

In a nutshell, the new practice guide covers the following areas, among others: 

“Understanding eco-distress: Acknowledging the wide-reaching impacts of climate and ecological crises on mental health, personal relationships, and society, the guide considers how individuals can adaptively respond to these impacts while experiencing ‘eco-distress’. Eco-distress encompasses a range of feelings triggered by present or anticipated ecological changes, from fear and frustration to hope and motivation.” 

“Adaptive responses to ecological change: Building on academic research and wisdom from contemplative traditions, the guide identifies three key dimensions of adaptive responses to ecological change: fostering a healthier relationship with oneself, cultivating connections with others for collective action, and acting with, for, and as nature. These dimensions intertwine to create a holistic approach to navigating ecological challenges.” 

“Contemplative nature engagement practices: The practice guide focuses on contemplative nature engagement practices as a strategy to help individuals experiencing eco-distress. By integrating practices such as meditation, reflection, and sensory interaction with nature, contemplative nature engagement has the potential to encourage healthy outcomes for individuals, communities, and the natural world.” 

Primarily, the guide is aimed at group leaders and teachers working with people who are experiencing eco-distress. It bridges scientific understanding and contemplative wisdom and aims to foster adaptive responses in the face of ecological change. 

Our BwGiN (Being with God in Nature) Ignatian Spirituality practices contributed to each section of the “unfurling fern” process but we are highlighted in the chapter “Sharing with Others.” 

Download a copy to learn more about the guide. 

Banner image by Dee Angelo, Canva