Many years ago, I ran a blog where I wrote a series of posts based on a page called “Ask Me Anything.” Each post in the series addressed one question from a visitor to my blog. One reader asked, “As a person new to understanding how to live in harmony with the Earth, which five books do you highly recommend?”
My first list had seventeen books, but I was able to whittle it down to eight. I tried to include not only theoretical content but valuable content as well. I hope that others starting on the path of living in harmony with the Earth find this list helpful. Enjoy!
These books are listed in no particular order, but the first book, Gaia by James Lovelock, is the most important, in my opinion. That book changed my life the very first time I read it in 1982 and continues to influence me to this day.
Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
What a joy to read. In the book, Lovelock talks about his idea that life on earth functions as a single organism and how we must maintain a reciprocal relationship with her as part of her ecosystem. There’s great wisdom in these pages. Much of it is prophetic when viewed from our situation in the present. The book is a journey through time and space, searching for evidence to support a new and radically different model of our planet and our relationship to it. If you only read one book on this list, Gaia is that book.
“City wisdom became almost entirely centered on the problems of human relationships, in contrast to the wisdom of any natural tribal group, where relationships with the rest of the animate and inanimate world are still given due place.”
Animism: Respecting the Living World
How have human cultures engaged with and thought about animals, plants, rocks, clouds, and other elements in their natural surroundings? Do animals and other natural objects have a spirit or soul? In this book, Harvey considers the linguistic, performative, ecological, and activist implications of the different forms of animism extant today. A little dry but provides excellent information.
“Animism is far from primitive, nor is it about pre-modernity because animism does not serve as a precursor to modernity. Rather animism is one of the many vitally present and contemporary other-than-modern ways of being human.”
Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
Soulcraft is not so much a book as it is a handbook for a contemporary nature-based approach born from wilderness experience, the traditions of Western culture, and the cross-cultural heritage of all humanity. The book contains stories, poems, and guidelines. Soulcraft outlines practices that facilitate the mending of our relationship with nature, including dreamwork, wilderness vision fasts, talking across the species boundaries, council, self-designed ceremony, nature-based shadow work, and the arts of romance, being lost, and storytelling. A wonderful read.
“Soul has been demoted to a new-age spiritual fantasy or a missionary's booty, and nature has been treated, at best, as a postcard or a vacation backdrop or, more commonly, as a hardware store or refuse heap. Too many of us lack intimacy with the natural world and with our souls, and consequently, we are doing untold damage to both.”
Earthwalks for Body and Spirit
Like Soulcraft, Earthwalks for Body and Spirit is a workbook of simple walking exercises. Endredy illustrates how the act of walking can be a catalyst for personal transformation by teaching us to develop our attention, quiet the mind, expand our consciousness, and rediscover our sacred relationship with Earth. He focuses each group of exercises on a different aspect of transformation as a way of honoring both our new understanding of self and our deepened relationship with the Earth.
“Walking is an endless school of mysteries and magic; its instructors, the forces of Nature, the energy of animals and trees. It is the truest form of movement that we have been given, an expression of our lives and a way to experience the sacred places on Earth and the spiritual wonders of the wild. Through walking, we can look at our lives and our place in the grand scheme with new eyes while in communion with everything surrounding us.”
Ecoshamanism: Sacred Practices of Unity, Power, and Earth Healing
In his book, Endredy offers an exciting new philosophy of shamanic practice called Ecoshamanism. Rejecting the modern consumer-focused worldview and the spiritual deadness that accompanies it, Ecoshamanism leads to a fundamental shift in consciousness. By becoming aware of the sacred natural world and our role within it and forging a spiritual alliance with the sentient forces that sustain our planet, we not only heal ourselves but the planet as well.
“Connecting and communing with the ancient wisdom of Earth’s natural systems and sacred spiritual elements are at the core of ecoshamanism, and as such offer us a way to heal our separation from our environment, our physical bodies, others of our own kind, and our psychic connection with Earth.”
Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology
As the climate continues to deteriorate, the losses we experience on the Earth make it evident we need a new approach in our relation to the planet. Abram encourages readers to move closer to their animal senses and explore the elemental kinship between the human body and the breathing Earth. This book rounds out the ideas in Gaia perfectly.
“If we speak of things as inert or inanimate objects, we deny their ability to actively engage and interact with us—we foreclose their capacity to reciprocate our attentions, to draw us into silent dialogue, to inform and instruct us.”
The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
In The Spell of the Sensuous, Abram draws on diverse sources to reveal the subtle dependence of human cognition on the natural environment. He explores the character of perception and the sensual foundations of language, which–even at its most abstract, echoes the calls and cries of the Earth. Another highly recommended read, although I enjoyed Becoming Animal more.
“The world and I reciprocate one another. The landscape as I directly experience it is hardly a determinate object; it is an ambiguous realm that responds to my emotions and calls forth feelings from me in turn.”
The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology
Ecopsychology promotes the idea that our mental health is directly related to our relationship with nature. In this book, Roszak explores the connection between psychology, ecology and teaches us about the new scientific insights into systems in nature. He draws on his understanding of the evolutionary, self-organizing universe, our rootedness in the greater web of life, and explores the relationship between our sanity and the larger-than-human world.
“The Earth's cry for rescue from the punishing weight of the industrial system we have created is our own cry for a scale and quality of life that will free each of us to become the complete person that we were meant to be.”