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Articulation & Design

Articulating an Ecosophy;
Designing an Ecostery

Alan Drengson


The purpose of this section is to help you to articulate your ecosophy and design an ecostery to fit your home place. It is an extract from the Alan Drengson's pending book "Wise Dwelling: Nurturing Individual and Local Diversity in a Global World", to be published later in 2002.

1. Articulating an Ecosophy

A personal ecosophy is an ecologically responsible life style striving for harmony with Nature and the wild. Reflect on the meaning of ecosophy, as explained by Arne Naess.

Naess’ Description of Ecosophy

“By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.” 

(See A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page 8, in the ecostery reading list.)

Articulate your Ecosophy by sketching your response to these questions:

  1. What kind of world is this? How does it work?

  2. What is the nature of your self? How did you come to be? How do you fit into the world? What is it to complete or realize your self nature?

  3. What do you feel is of most value? How can it be achieved?

  4. What can you contribute to improving our human world, starting with yourself and close relationships? How can you improve the quality of your ecological relationships?

These questions help to guide a deep inquiry that will lead you to articulate your life’s philosophy through a meaningful personal story. Imagine that you are writing a letter to a friend. Tell your story of how the world came to be, where you came from and what is of most value, given your current understanding. Your ecosophy also can be conveyed through art, music and in other ways. Express your ecosophic life style in your daily actions and choices. Your ecosophy can be given a unique personal name such as Blue Mountain Ecosophy.

In articulating your personal philosophy based on ecological values (ecosophy), clarify what you mean by basic value norms, fundamental principles and key words. Elaborate on your statements about values, human life and the nature of the world. Suppose, inspired by Naess, you say that “Self Realization for all beings!” is your ultimate norm. Explain what this means to you, and give illustrative examples. What is this self to be realized? Are only human selves involved? Suppose you say that the ultimate nature of reality is “creative evolution,” explain what these words mean in your philosophy. How are your views connected with your community in daily life in your unique place?

All major worldviews can be communicated through stories which, when systematically articulated by means of reasoning, become formal as well as lived philosophies. Most of us don’t need a fully systematized formal philosophy to live in an ecologically responsible way. Personal ecosophies are more easily shared through stories and verse.

Because we live in a multi-cultural world dominated by a globalizing political economy, it is important to consider some of the cross cultural dimensions in our relationships. To have a broad perspective on our local situation, it is necessary to be aware of international realities. Therefore, our ecosophies should have connections with larger global realities, even though focused in local situations and actions. A cross cultural approach enables us to more effectively support the international movement for ecological responsibility, to “act locally and think globally”. Designing your ecosophy with cross cultural perspectives helps you to appreciate the value of diversity, and how it makes us all richer in quality of life.

Four Levels of Discourse

In his comprehensive framework for cross cultural analysis of grass roots social‑political movements, Naess describes four levels of discourse found in our studies and discussions (see chart). In cross cultural global movements a general consensus develops that focuses the movement through platform principles such as the principles of social justice, or the principles of peace and non-violence, or the principles for the deep ecology movement. (For the DEM platform principles, see below.) The principles of these movements emerge and are supported from the bottom up. They are grass roots movements (as in the Gandhian tradition), without top down hierarchies of control. These principles are not a statement of ultimate philosophy, but a platform for inspiring cooperative action at the local and international levels on behalf of the earth.

Levels of Discourse in Inquiry and Discussion

Level 1

Ultimate Philosophies

Taoism, Christianity, Ecosophy T, etc.

Level 2

Platform Principles

Peace Movement, Deep Ecology Movement, Social Justice Movement, etc.

Level 3


A, B, C, etc.

Level 4

Practical Actions

W, X, Y, etc.

In developing our answers to the four question strands given above, we move toward articulating our own ultimate philosophy, which includes our ideas of reality and our ultimate value norms. In derivation and application we move toward supporting and developing principles, policies and practical actions. This is a continuous back and forth process that helps keep our understanding and practices in harmony with the evolving world.

This deep inquiry evolves with natural and social conditions. In the three grassroots movements mentioned above the principles are individual and international. There is a great diversity of ultimate philosophies in the world, and yet we can work cooperatively for the benefit of the planet, its communities and wild beings. We each can contribute values to realizing a higher quality of life for ourselves, families and communities. We can work on many different levels in our communities and home places, and we can also have a positive global effect.

It is useful to focus on the four levels of discourse to help us organize and spell out our personal ecosophies. From this reflective process, we can see that our day to day to actions might lack coherence. Many of our institutions are guided by policies whose raison-d’être no longer makes sense.

When we question why we act in certain ways, why certain policies are in effect, we can be led to more general statements of principle, what in movements function as uniting platform principles. I discover through questioning and research that there is a global platform for social justice. I then realize that some of my policies and actions are not consistent with these principles. I inquire more deeply and discover my ultimate reasons for supporting these and other principles. Eventually I am led to level 1, that of basic premises, principles, value norms and the like, that when systematically connected constitute an ultimate philosophy.

Ultimate philosophies are often associated with human religious and secular organizations. Many people accept the religious teachings they received as children as the background sense of their daily lives. In articulating our beliefs and commitments, we are able to sort out these different levels and more explicitly formulate our ultimate philosophy as level 1.

If we are committed Buddhists, to use this philosophy as an example, we can explore how to support international social justice principles from Buddhist teachings. The same would be done to support the platform principles of the deep ecology movement. We would spell out why we support these principles (level 2) on the basis of our Buddhist philosophy. We could also say how these teachings support national social justice policies and specific local, practical actions (levels 3 and 4). In real life we are always modifying our articulations.

In articulating our personal ecosophy we can discover our fourfold nature (spirit, intellect, emotion, sensual-physical), and that there are many arts and disciplines that help us to unify and integrate our basic powers through daily practice. These arts can be adapted to our particular place and become part of our daily rituals involved in making our own home place an ecostery. To continue with this undertaking go to part two, on designing your ecostery. Below you will find more questions and a matrix for exploring our fourfold nature and our place. Also see the other resources on this website, links, glossary, and so on.

2. Designing an Ecostery

Let us reflect on the explanation of ecostery set forth on this website.

Ecosteries are loved places where ecological values, knowledge and wisdom are learned, practiced and shared. They can be centered in a semi-permanent camp in a natural forest clearing, a small cabin by a lake, a house in town, or a fully built rural farm, occupied by a single person, family, group or community. Whatever their size and location, they are sacred, respected, and honored places. They are sanctified and made better by caring, skillful practices. They are always evolving in quality.

The word “ecostery” was formed by combining “ecos” with “stery.” Ecos is the ancient Greek word for home or household. It is the source of our word “ecology,” which means the study (logia) of our household place (ecos). Ecos is our house and neighbourhood, but also includes our ecological community and watershed. “Stery” is from the word “monastery.” A monastery is a place where people live according to rules of devotion and respect. Because its members share values, they work together to realize a complete and sacred life here and now. In an ecostery the practices engender harmony with Nature. An ecostery is a place with ecosophy: literally ecological (eco) wisdom (sophia). An ecosophy is any lifestyle that respects ecological values and seeks harmony with Nature. Thus, an ecostery is any place where an ecosophy is learned, practiced and shared. As place specific they can be given a proper name such as Blue Mountain Ecostery.

To design your ecostery sketch your response to these questions:

  1. What is the nature of the place where you live? (Note: Place includes your home location and ecological community.)

  2. What can you learn from its many tame and wild beings? How do they live? What is their Wisdom?

  3. What does the long history of your place tell you about its values and limitations? What values inherent in your place are compatible with your desired kind of habitation?

  4. How can you dwell in your place without reducing or destroying its inherent values? What place specific practices are compatible with flourishing diverse ecological relationships and communities?

  5. How can you realize your ultimate values in your relations with the wild beings in your place? What can you give back to your place? What practices can help you to realize yourself through integration of your fourfold nature (spirit, intellect, emotion and sensual body --see matrix below) so as to be in harmony with others and wild Nature?

  6. Given your specific ecosophy, how will you work, play, rest, clothe, shelter and feed yourself in your particular place and community? How can you cooperate with people at home and abroad to lessen negative local and global impacts and also make positive contributions?

As in part one of this design file, these questions are meant to help you on your journey of exploration and to inspire creative action. This creative turn is to design your life style and living place. How will you honor your place? What ceremonies and rituals will make it a special and sacred for you? This is a personal undertaking and then a journey with family and friends. In your efforts consider the design matrix below. It is a helpful mapping tool. Also use our links and other website resources for your articulation and design activities.

Fourfold Nature of Self and Associated Theme Categories

Aspects of Self

Forms of Relationship 

Requirements of Community 

Community Theme-sets

Principles of Ecology

Physical- sensual


Mutual place

Productive (economic)

Everything goes someplace

Affective -emotional

Intrapersonal - personal

Mutual trust

Aesthetic (artistic)

Nature knows best

Cognitive - intellectual

Interpersonal - objective

Mutual aid

Theoretical and formal knowledge (scientific)

No free lunch

Spiritual-integrative, unitive


Reciprocal values

Spiritual transformation (religious)

All things are interrelated (on all levels)

To explain this matrix we focus on the fourfold nature of the human self and its development. When we are born we identify with our maternal matrix. Our sensations of separation through birth are soothed by nursing and we bond with our nurturing mother as separate from but dependent on her. As children our affective-emotional capacities are energized. As we learn a language we internalize culture and place. We develop moral, cognitive and intellectual capacities. We are able to use each of our capacities in dominant or subordinate ways. For example, some people live by their emotions, while others live by their intellect. We are able to balance our responses by being aware of how our emotions, feelings and thoughts arise.

Our spiritual capacities are present in integrative-unitive awareness. This can be cultivated through spiritual disciplines such as meditation, e.g. various Indian yogas, the Taos of China, and the dos of Japan. For many traditions, life is a series of stages where the different aspects of self and community are emphasized and elaborated. By the time we are mature elders, we are supposed to have balance and deep wisdom. Wisdom arises not just from a lot of experience, but from the integration of all of our ways of knowing, feeling, experiencing, thinking, and so on, as these are manifest in action and nonaction. The mature elder is grounded in the spiritual, long range, and broader concerns that cut across generations and cultures. The power of wisdom comes from integration and unity of our fourfold nature grounded in our place and wild Nature.

In the earliest stages of life we have the narrowest scope for identification of our self. In the natural process of growth we develop each of our four dimensions. Through devoted spiritual discipline and practical action we can reach high levels of completion and maturity before old age. Each aspect of ourselves is associated with forms of relationship, community implications, organizing themes and ecological principles as shown in the matrix. These are not arbitrary associations, and are found in many traditions.

Each aspect of the self can be seen as a form of power or energy. For example, the sensual form of awareness is present in sensitive physical movement. The affective-emotional is present as aware empathy. The cognitive is present as discriminative judgment. The spiritual is present as unitive-integrative awareness. The presence of each of these powers can be intensified by spiritual and other practices such as good work. Unitive-integrative awareness is a transformative power.

Finally, the matrix displays stages of development that are manifest in maturing relationships over a life time. As babies we start at the prepersonal and purely subjective stage and as we mature fully to the transpersonal stage we become aware of both the individual and universal relationships all beings are in. Each stage reflects the basic principles of community and the story theme sets for the different types of community, work and association open to us as possibilities. The basic principles of ecology are reflected in how our ecosophies, ecosteries and communities respect ecological values and the dignity of other humans and nonhuman beings. Our ecostery can be grounded in our place by unitive practices that integrate our fourfold nature in harmony with wild nature as found in our ecological community.

© 2002 Alan Drengson


Platform Principles of the Deep Ecology Movement (note)

  1. Each living creature has its own intrinsic worth.

  2. The diversity and richness of life has intrinsic value.

  3. Except to satisfy vital human needs, humans have no right to reduce this diversity and richness.

  4. It would be better for humans if there were fewer of them, and much better for other living creatures.

  5. Today the extent and nature of human interference in the various ecosystems is not sustainable, and unsustainability is rising.

  6. Decisive improvement requires considerable change: social, economic, technological and ideological.

  7. An ideological change entails seeking a better quality of life rather than a raised standard of living.

  8. Those who accept these points are responsible for trying to contribute directly or indirectly to the necessary changes.





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Last updated: Nov 27, 2004.