The Ecology of Calling 

Tracking the Scent of our Soul
By Aninha Esperanza Livingstone, Ph.D.
Common Ground ~ The Green Issue ~ April 2013


Do you believe that you are on Earth for a reason, that you have a unique calling? Do you long to embody your innate gifts and to contribute to the world? Answers to these questions vary, depending upon our relationship with ourselves, the world, and ultimately the great mystery.

The theme of calling is ancient. We find it in myths, fairy tales, and more recently in films and television. Joseph Campbell, well known for the phrase, “Follow your bliss,” taught that to engage one’s calling is to embark upon a heroic journey, which culminates in the ability to share our gifts with the world. During this initiatory process, we face great ordeals and find help in unexpected places.

Nature can be one of those unexpected places. An earth-based approach to living our purpose invites us to slow down, to ponder who we are, and from where we came. In the company of trees, lakes, mountains and stars, the mind quiets and the senses reweave themselves into the fabric of life reminding us of a belonging we cannot buy.

We are invited to leave behind a sense of self that has been shaped by our modern way of life, and return to ourselves as nature. When we see ourselves through the eyes of culture, our calling can end up feeling like a product, and we a brand, but when we remember ourselves as part of the natural world, our calling becomes a process and we participants.

To engage our purpose through the lens of ecology is to take a quantum leap in perception. We move from the view that we live on earth, to the experience of being the earth. Joanna Macy calls this process the “Greening of the Self.” A striking example of this identity transformation is John Seed who proclaimed, “It’s not me protecting the rainforest…I am the rainforest protecting itself.”

Mainstream culture tells us that our purpose is a means of acquiring fame and wealth. Ancient wisdom tells us it is our unique way of belonging and contributing. For example, the Dagara of West Africa, whose cosmology is based on the elements of earth, fire, water, nature and mineral, view purpose and nature as one. The community aims to support each individual in developing a strong “earth identity,” or sense of belonging, as well as a deep connection with their unique gifts, or “nature identity.”

How do we open to this way of experiencing ourselves? The mind can be an initial doorway that lays the groundwork for direct experience. Consider the fact that almost half of the atoms in our bodies are made of stardust or that the salinity of our fluids are said to be the same as the seas from which mammalian life emerged. If we are in fact the earth, and the cosmos from which it was born, how could our purpose be anything but an expression of both

Of course, the world of ideas takes us only so far. How do we take this lofty concept and ground it in practical tools for living our purpose? I have found in my work with women who feel blocked in their calling, that spending time in nature with a specific inquiry and a soulful intent can be a catalyst for change. One 50-year old woman, who brought a question about her calling to the land, found unexpected guidance. In a state of receptivity to nature’s speech, she watched a leaf fall through the air and what would normally be uneventful, became revelatory. A poignant awareness that she too would be released from the tree of life evoked a sense of urgency rooted in the cycles of life. Inertia and fear became courageous action, and she was able to prioritize her life’s dream for the first time.

Receiving guidance from, and being mirrored by nature, is an innate human capacity. As we engage nature from the place of Soul, we come to realize that our psyches and nature speak the same language. We retrieve our mother tongue, and an ancient ally on the path of calling.

Whether you are someone who has traveled far on the path of calling, or who is just beginning, the process of engaging nature as an ally is the same. Here are some essential items to bring on your journey:


  • A sacred question or intent: hold this in your awareness as you begin your exploration in nature.
  • A threshold: mark the leaving behind of the ordinary world in some way. This can be as simple as stepping over a stick, or taking a moment to set your intention before stepping onto a path. Don’t forget to mark the return on your way out.
  • Time: set aside an amount of time that will allow you to unwind and wander.
  • Child-like curiosity and wonder, coupled with a sense of adventure.
  • Attention: take note of subtle cues. Follow your intuition, and sense of allurement.
  • Receptivity: allow yourself to linger. Soften your senses and open to relatedness.
  • Imagination: notice where you are led and allow yourself to receive messages from the right side of your brain. The linear mind does not speak the mother tongue.
  • Trust: don’t let your Western mind talk you out of what you sense, feel, hear or see.
  • Reciprocity: give thanks for what you receive.
  • Honoring: if you received guidance on your path, take a concrete step in your life that reflects this. In this way, you honor the conversation that was had.

Finally, it is important to remember that whether we are in the wilderness, or in the middle of traffic, we can attune to our subtle senses, take notice of hints that might otherwise go unnoticed, and continue following the signs. We may not have the certainty of a destination, but like good trackers we follow the scent of our soul. Sometimes we may even wonder if we are not the ones being tracked, for no matter how many times we turn away, or for how long, this mysterious phenomenon called purpose continues to seek our participation.