Empathy for Earth

Updated: Aug 24, 2018

- Written by Ian Stabler, Springhouse Faculty -


One of our values at Springhouse is connection to Earth. As beautiful an idea as this is, it can be hard to understand how to facilitate this for others. Unlike connection to self and other human beings, Earth connection cannot rely upon language and shared mindset as the catalyst for relationship. It can be hard to speak our way into community with our Earth as it rarely speaks English, and we cannot know with our rational minds what the Earth’s way of being looks like. As we try to understand how empathy and connection to Earth can be achieved, we must first find ways to circumvent our rational minds and delve into the depths of our primordial being.

Historically, the human-Earth connection was a given. Ancestral humans had no choice but to be in sync with their environments. Their existence and the lives of their children depended on their adherence to the cyclic systems that surrounded them - those forces so large that they could only be met with surrender and reverence.

As modern humans, however, we rarely have the need to pay attention to nature and its cycles. Our technological breakthroughs have largely focused on mitigating the extremes of nature and allowing humanity to spend less and less of its attention and ingenuity on its own survival. You need not know anything about raising animals to eat meat every day, nor do you need to spend your energy on learning or courting your neighbor who does. You only need to know how to earn the money through which to access the detached systems already in place.


As the space between us and our food and water continues to widen, our contact with the Earth as the provider of our existence widens with it. It falls on us as modern humans, then, to choose to connect with the Earth. Our lives can continue to be lived without ever needing to acknowledge that the ground beneath us is part of one of the great mysteries of the universe. We can live our entire lives not seeing this insanely precious gift we have the joy and responsibility to be a part of.


Without the survival need to push us to see nature’s complexity and its infinite connections, we must find ways of engaging with the Earth that are as deep as those primal instincts that have allowed our species to survive. I believe that without this depth of engagement, we fail to recognize the extent of our connection to the Earth. That is, if we are connecting from a more surface level place, we can continue to believe that humanity is autonomous and separate from animals, plants, and Earth. When we connect on a soul level, however, we can begin to reclaim our innate belonging in the Earth’s web.


Art, one of our soul's way of speaking, can be the perfect language through which to say those ideas we hear but can only understand, like dreams for instance. Our creations can convey things our mouths never could, things our brains could never think. In this way, our work can gain the capacity through which to explore deep truths. Art not only allows us to merely walk through our forests but pushes us to explore their intricacies post-verbally and, in this way, appraise ourselves within them without the judgements of society’s hyper-rational pressures. We can begin to know without thinking that we belong within this web, that we are already intimately connected with it.



At Springhouse, we use art as a lens through which to see these truths. Projects like weekly sit spots, site-specific sculptures, and intuitive mapping allow us to engage with our world through a different perspective and from a place of soul and spirit. These projects empower our students to re-examine their place in the universe, break down the paradigm of separateness, and allow themselves to restore their birthright as members of Earth’s vast web of beings.


Art enables us to let down our guard of being wrong or “irrational” and frees us to see what comes from deep within us. Our paintings may start as attempts to portray our world, but the awareness of shapes and lines in nature open us to the understanding that those are the shapes and lines of our own bodies. Humanity’s innate belonging to the Earth is clear when we spend the time and energy to engage with it deeply and sincerely. I believe that art is one way of accessing the depths within ourselves that allow us to intuit the immensity of our kinship with the Earth, and our hope at Springhouse is to pass these tools onto our students.


Published on August 13th, 2018

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