Mosquitoes, Bees and Spiritual Ecology

Pınar Ergenekon
6 minutes

When I started an elective course for undergraduates called environmental literacy, inspired by the courses I took at the institute, I was looking for classroom exercises for the course. The subject of spiritual ecology came up in the books* I read on the subject. To discover the magnificence of the sacred and to try to see and understand the names of the creator through the figures in the book of the universe, as the Qur’an’s call to “Read” evokes…

Nature provides man with the perfect data for this. That’s why the exercises in spiritual ecology books always start with walking in nature. Knowing that the world carries you with every step you take, but walking with the thought that you and the world you step on are one, that they move together… There are activities that increase awareness, such as seeing the wonders of the landscape or a leaf, flower, branch, stone, or inhaling the scent of a tree, hearing the sounds in the silence of the forest. Such a mindful walk makes one feel more strongly the immense bond and unity between nature and human beings, given that life is actually a unity of interconnectedness.

To do this, it is recommended to focus on the similarities and differences with what is encountered on the walk. What are our differences or similarities with trees, insects, soil?

In what ways are they superior to us in terms of our body structure or our temperament?

Or perhaps, like Jīlī’s physical description of the world in terms of the characteristics of the Prophet’s body, which of our organs do the elements in nature resemble?

How can we create an analogy between us and nature?

All these walking exercises show that nature is a reflection of us. In fact, it is not like a realm outside of us, but it is with us, increasing our interest in it, triggering curiosity. This increases one’s desire to get to know him, and the more you get to know him, the more you marvel and love him. As the bond grows stronger, as one becomes more aware of the connection, one begins to protect this new lover and to see it as sacred beyond material interests. The more he witnesses its sanctity and the fact that one moment of it is unlike any other, the better he perceives its mystery and sublimity.

As one observes all this marvelous interconnectedness and astonishing order, one can feel the shame of one’s unwarranted arrogance and indifference towards nature. In the end, all these short-term exercises aim to give us an admiring perspective, realizing that nature is full of secrets to discover and the strong connection between us, instead of the ordinary, effortless, prejudiced view of “nature as we have always known it”. Of course, it is very valuable to gain such a perspective, but an experience I had while reading this made me realize that there is a big difference between gaining a perspective and living with the perspective you gain: In the morning, when I was having breakfast outside with the children, suddenly three or five bees came to the table; honey bees. The children shouted and immediately tried to shoo the bees away with their hands. In the book I was following for class, the author was sharing a camping memory: When he complained that he couldn’t sleep properly because of the mosquitoes in a campsite he had stayed in when he was very young, “oh they kept me awake, I didn’t take repellent”, an elderly couple of campers there responded to this complaint by saying “well, that’s nature, yes, that’s what nature does”, disagreeing with the author’s complaint and stating that they were happy to be able to feed the mosquitoes, even if only for one night, as they saw them as a part of that nature. It is only years later that the author understands this answer, which he finds meaningless.

Having just read this passage from the book, I told the children not to react so much, that this was what it was like to have a breakfast outside and with honey, and that of course the bees would come across us when they were looking for flowers to make honey, and that they would land on us and on what was on our table. While I congratulated myself inwardly, thinking that I had used exactly what I had read in the book, my words had not the slightest effect and the children immediately ran screaming inside. I was thinking of Mevlana’s lines “I saw particles opening their mouths… Know that the whole world is eaten by the eater” when a bee landed on my head and then went into my hair. Neither wanting to feed a mote nor accepting nature while trying to get rid of the bee that entered my head in a panic, which is the opposite of the calmness and understanding I expected from the children…When a few more bees came, I took the breakfast dishes and ran inside with the same reaction of the children. Reflecting on the incident, the lesson I learned for myself was that I should never again prescribe to others how we should see nature. The main thing is that everyone establishes their own relationship with nature and how close that relationship brings you to the truth…

To be able to start from any point and establish a deeper connection over time, and to be able to realize the relationship in its truth according to the degree of the connection, will be a pleasure, a blessing that everyone can feel from their own level. As with everything, for some it is a level to be able to walk barefoot in nature and sit on the grass in spite of the bugs, for others even smelling a flower in a pot is a level. Of course, it is enriching to read, encounter and see different perspectives and different positionings, but just as there are a thousand different paths to God, there are also a thousand different ways of relating to nature. Accepting nature as it is, not complaining about being bitten by mosquitoes and running away, offering them some of your blood, and staying calm even when a bee lands on your body, saying that it is doing its job, are also different levels that vary according to the individual…

Thanks to this event, I realized that in the Environmental Literacy course notes I had prepared, I had used a superior and teaching tone, as if I could do these things. I need to review the notes again…

One can only teach and learn if one discovers together. Here’s to many more discoveries…

*Seasons of the Sacred: Reconnecting to the Wisdom Within Nature and Soul and Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

*Developing Ecological Consciousness, Christopher Uhl

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