For the Love of Earth
What inspires us to love the Earth? What moves us to see and feel Earth as our source, or as some say, our Mother Earth? I don’t know the answer to that—it’s such a personal question—but I can see things that keep us from that kind of close, loving relationship which we need to have if the planet is to be healthy, and, consequently, if we are to be healthy.
What keeps us from loving Earth?
Aversion to looking deeply, facing reality and feeling pain: When asked what people could do to heal the Earth, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh replied, “Hear the cry of the Earth.” That is painfully difficult because we are not encouraged or well-trained to look within. We don’t want to look at pain, our own or others' pain, or the pain of the Earth. We avoid grieving, or don’t know how to grieve without staying stuck in depression or despair. Yet if we looked at and felt the pain of the world, allowing our hearts to “break open,” as Joanna Macy says, we would release an enormous amount of energy that could be transformed into action on Earth’s behalf.
Our aversion is fueled by distractions: For many people computers, tablets and cell phones have an appropriate, useful and beneficial place in our lives. For many, however, our devices, and our focus on them, keeps us unaware and ignorant of all that isn’t healthy and just in our societies and environment. Thus we don’t get to the work that needs to be done to heal our world. If we are not practiced or helped in the work of looking squarely and deeply at our reality, it is understandable to seek refuge in our devices. No one wants to look at or feel pain. It is inconvenient and it hurts like hell. But unless we do we have little chance of creating a world that works for all, let alone a habitable planet.
A misguided pursuit of happiness: our spiritual crisis:
Advertisers tells us that stuff will bring us happiness, dignity, self-respect, acceptance, status, power, good looks, sexual gratification, relationships and connections. All advertising for stuff implies gratification and fulfillment of some kind. We all have human needs which advertisers take full advantage of, but they mislead us into thinking material stuff will fill spiritual needs. For a very extensive list of those needs—some you might not have even thought about—check out this "Needs Inventory" from the Center of Nonviolent Communications. The needs fall into categories such as Connection, Physical Well-Being, Honesty, Peace, Play. I also appreciate what Frances Moore Lappe´ calls our three essential needs: agency, meaning and connection. She says, “In societies fulfilling these needs, fear subsides and trust expands, enabling continuing growth for individuals and communities.” Trying to fill these needs with material stuff gratifies the senses but only for a short time. We need to find spiritual fulfillment to create “sustainable happiness” and a healthy Earth. (See this article by Sarah van Gelder, “A Brief History of Happiness, How America Lost Track of the Good Life—and Where to Find It Now.
Not only will the acquisition of the kind of material stuff advertisers tempt us with not be deeply satisfying, but it’s also ruining the planet. We’ve already passed Earth Overshoot Day on August 2, which designates what the Earth can produce for us in one year.
For those of us who are in comfortable material situations, I believe our task is to assess what it is that we want or need and make wise choices. Can we “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”? as Eleanor Roosevelt said. Another choice could be buying something and simultaneously giving away something. Everything we buy costs the Earth something in terms of resources, energy, people power. We often don’t know the source of those products, and who has made them and whether those companies are environmentally and socially conscious. Every choice needs to be informed by love of Earth and all life.
Seeing the Earth as a lifeless commodity that we have “dominion” over, and ourselves as separate from Earth and everything else.
Perhaps the most unfortunate language in the Bible is Genesis 1:26 where we are “to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” We have come to interpret this has dominating and commodifying every living thing, including the planet. We have given ourselves permission to do whatever suits our fancy, and our bottom line, no matter what the consequences are to living systems and other living beings. Bad Bible! Ellen Davis, Professor at Duke Divinity School offers us another translation of dominion: “to exercise skilled mastery among, or with respect to.” We could also substitute the word stewardship or partnership for dominion and it would change everything.
How can we rekindle our connection to and relationship with Earth?
Here is a beautiful poem written by Clifford Burke (yes, the very same Clifford I am blessed to partner with in this lifetime!) that for me embodies our connection to and relationship with the Earth. It goes to the heart and soul of how we need to be in relation to all life.
Song for Salmon-babies
We never see them going out,
Nor swim the tiny rivulets, wetlands—
Irrigation ditches! Field drains!
Doing what our own kids do,
Explore, eat constantly, & grow.
If we could pat their scaley butts
as they hit the mighty Skagit
for the first time,
how gently would we take them
to our hands & mouths & bodies
on their one trip home.
The Great Turning, the Sixth Extinction, a crossroads, a tipping point: These are ways that spiritual leaders, scientists, economists, systems thinkers and visionary leaders have described this evolutionary time in our history marked by radical changes of heart, perception, values and priorities. We are now aware of our wasteful, destructive and unjust policies and ways of living. We need to admit we’ve done many things wrong and be able to adjust and change. Millions of people all over the world are engaging in a variety of forms of activism to create a peaceful, thriving, sustainable world that works for all of us, and the planet. Millions more need to join the party. (See my columns in July 2016 and May 2017 to inspire your unique contribution to this new world.) So for the love of all life let us love Earth. Let us regain our sense of awe, wonder, delight, respect and gratitude, for the love of Earth.
Love for the world is what will save us.
[See our monoprint letterpress broadside of "Song for Salmon-babies" at Desert Rose Press.)
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