Loving Earth as Self
A Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh (16 Oct 2013)
Although the idea of Planet Earth as animate, as instilled with life – or in other words as a living being – was a basic belief in most cultures 2,500 years ago, only a few writers have been willing to promote the idea in modern times â€“ and only quite recently.
Yet, since it is an idea I have long been working to promulgate, I was over the moon with joy to discover this book. For Thich Nhat Hanh to set in print such a beautiful and loving tribute to Gaia, our planet Earth, is a precious event and a blessing to all beings.
His main point is that we don’t live ON a planet; the planet is not just our environment. We ARE the Earth. He says: “The Earth is us.” I so strongly agree with him that: “Everything depends on whether we have this insight or not.”
It has been said before that we will not protect what we do not love. This author not only shows his love for the planet, but fully explains how the planet is lovable. He reminds us of Earth’s many blessings and leaves us with practical examples of how and why Gaia is worth our creating a loving relationship with her. To him, Earth is a bodhisattva. Just as lots of people cannot understand how a loving God could allow the death of their child, this author reminds us that we must not vilify the planet when there are what we call natural disasters, especially when we, in my not so humble opinion, must realize that the devastating effects of the greenhouse gasses have human footprints.
The final chapter of the book contains several beautiful love letters to the Earth. What a gracious idea! These are treasures you won’t want to miss.
I am reminded of Abou Ben Adhem (in the poem by Leigh Hunt) who, when finding his name missing from a list of those who love the Lord, said: “Write me as one that loves his fellow men.” How wonderful it would be if, inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, every one of us were able to say: “Write me as one that loves the Earth.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
2013 Milkweed Editions, Minnesota, USA
17 December, 2013
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, the feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street to a sacred bond.”
This is a book of carefully woven themes. The author has chosen Sweetgrass as the core metaphor that runs like rebars throughout the text. Sweetgrass leaves, found in the meadows and low prairies of Canada and the US higher latitudes, have a sweet, vanilla-like fragrance that is used in much the same way as sage in the American Southwest. Stalks were carefully and selectively harvested and braided into strands for wearing or burning in ceremonies. Native tribes who held homelands in the northern parts of North America before the European invasions, consider it sacred.
The reader will soon recognise how the beautifully woven themes of love of the Earth, reciprocity of the give and take of the earth’s bounty, community and the appreciation of Nature’s gifts convey – always through heartfelt experience – the vision and world-view of the Potawatomie –People of the Fire. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer tells the story of a relationship to the Earth informed by modern scientific knowledge, spirit – love and respect for the Earth – and story; stories that reveal how “people and the land are good medicine for each other.”
Kimmerer, a Native American member of the Potawatamie tribe and biology lecturer, offers the reader a harmonious blend of story based on solid science and the heartfelt experience of one who has absorbed ancient native wisdom. The science aspects will amaze you and the indigenous, traditional ways of being in the world will pull at your heartstrings as Kimmerer shares the stories that reflect the moments of reciprocity between humans and other-than-human beings who know each other in ways seldom known in modern times by those of European descent.
In my reading, it came to me that it is not that we have lost our connection, for that is impossible. We are inherently “not other.” Those who feel lost and disconnected have only closed off their awareness of the Earth’s energy that surrounds and penetrates the globe –in fact extends as far out as what we’ve named the Van Allen belts that protect us from cosmic rays. I was deeply moved to read: “The land knows you, even when you are lost.” And also, in the section where Kimmerer writes fondly about the gathering of maple sap, I read: “Our stories are linked in this run of sap; our trees knew them as they know us today.” This is a profound insight; in fact, the book is profound in so many ways, yet is light and truly enjoyable to be with.
The author does not ignore the travail; the path of sadness around the U.S. federal government’s attempt to destroy the spirit of the conquered and erase all remnants of
their native language and culture. Children were forced into boarding schools and not only forbidden to speak their own language but also not allowed to speak their own names. Nearly fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation provided a legal framework to end slavery in the United States, native children were enslaved and brainwashed by the very same government.
The near total destruction of once magical lakes and tidal estuaries necessary for the survival of fingerling salmon is also not ignored, but we learn about the commitment to restoration driven by the love and respect for the other-than-human beings afflicted.
This book is never boring nor does the text get bogged down with heavy, repetitive detail. Kemmerer moves gracefully through cases of devotion to duty, joy of being and native spirituality to mention just a few. One of my favourites is her comments on language. She explains that whereas English is comprised mostly of nouns, indigenous language is mostly verbs. Thus the latter is a “grammar of animacy” and goes a long way toward understanding why English speakers have such difficulty discussing their connection with Nature. A grammar of animacy allows one to express sentiments within the bounds of spiritual reciprocity – not a Sunday spirituality but a constant acknowledgement of the total animacy of Earth and all its constituents.
The jewelled crown of the whole book for me is the section where Kemmerer tells the story of one of her graduate writing workshops. Most of the students professed to a profound connection to the land; they assured her that they loved the land. Then she asked them: “Do you think the land loves you back?” Dead silence followed the question. They were shocked and speechless. They could only respond when the same question was put to them hypothetically. After lots of discussion, one student proposed a summation: “you wouldn’t harm what gives you love.”
Until we experience that heartfelt knowing with utter certainty that the Earth is both lovable and loving, we won’t achieve the reciprocal, loving relationship necessary to fuel and sustain a life of cooperation, thankfulness and partnership with our greater selves – Mother Earth.
Berman, Bob; Lanza, Robert (2010-02-02). Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe (p. 47). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Straight off, I totally agree with Professor Richard Conn Henry’s review in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 23, Number 3, Fall, 2009, page 371 where he agrees that the essence of the book is revealed by the following quote; “the animal observer creates reality and not the other way around.” Along this line of thought is the concepts of reality, the inner and the outer and the limits of our sense organs. The author’s use quantum mechanics as a basis of their seven principles of Biocentrism. I like the way they gradually and carefully build the basis of each of the seven by clearly explaining the results of the experiments using quotes of interpretation from established authorities. One might claim that there is nothing new here. Perhaps, but I suggest that one will find the most clearly stated attempt to make sense of the illogical results of quantum mechanic experiments. This, if nothing else, makes the book valuable to the lay person who may have tried to understand the various findings but had to shudder and put down other books in dismay.
The reader will find an understandable explanation of the nature of time and space. Lastly, the second underlying objective of the book is to explain why consciousness is a necessary factor in making any sense at all of the message revealed in over 50 years of quantum mechanics research.
I wish to quote professor Henry again: “So what Lanza says in this book is not new. Then why does Robert have to say it at all? It is because we, the physicists, do NOT say it––or if we do say it, we only whisper it, and in private – furiously blushing as we mouth the words. True, yes; politically correct, hell no!”
It Takes a Healthy Planet to Birth Healthy Beings
Sky McCain June, 2017
Published under the title: Healthy Planet – Healthy Being in Greenspirit Magazine, Summer 2015
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ~ Max Planck
Earth is what we all have in Common ~ Wendell Berry
The other day, weeding the spot where last year’s runner beans had grown, I found a fallen bean that had started to sprout. Already there were little pink nitrogen nodules clinging to its tiny roots and the sight of them took me instantly back to my days in Australia, working to fill our thirty acres of over-grazed land with new trees. One of the important lessons I learned was that in order to ensure survival of nitrogen-hungry eucalypt species, one should first plant hundreds of fast growing but short-lived wattle trees. These take nitrogen from the air, accumulate it on their roots and release it into the soil when they die. This interdependence of living organisms, this beautiful symbiosis that we find happening everywhere we look in Nature is, according to the late Lynn Margulis, every bit as basic to life on Earth as the random genetic mutations theorised by Charles Darwin. Gaia, our planet, wastes nothing, recycles everything. Over and over we find that the waste from one organism is food for another. Interdependence is a basic law of Nature.
Organic farmers and vegetable growers know this, which is why they use methods like crop rotation, composting, companion planting and so on. It is a well-proven fact that organic growing methods and the avoidance of pesticides, GMOs, irradiation or chemical fertilisation, strengthens the health of both the soil and the crops and frequently improves yields. It is also beyond doubt that organically produced food is the healthiest option for all creatures, including humans. To be healthy we need healthy food and to grow healthy food we rely on that great bed of nurturing fertility on the Earth’s crust that we call soil. We need that soil to be healthy because we have learned a lot about how healthy plants grow out of healthy soil. We must also keep in mind that our metabolic regulatory patterns were formed from our environment as we evolved. Thus, it behoves us to study, insofar as possible, the environmental components that influenced our evolution. It is often said that we are what we eat. The nutritional value of what we put in our mouths is paramount in maintaining a healthy body and depends wholly on the quality of our environment. Yet something has gone badly wrong. What has gone wrong and why?
Humans have significantly altered the face of our planet Earth. In North America alone, the Great Plains prairie once spread across 560,000 square miles (that’s a little over twice the size of Texas!)—but less than 2% of native prairie remains today. Nearly one third of the world’s arable topsoil has been lost over the last forty years at
a rate of over ten million hectares yearly. It can take from five hundred to one thousand years to build an inch of topsoil. In many areas, desertification has destroyed topsoil permanently. During all those hours spent on my knees planting trees on those rocky hillsides I was constantly aware of how desperately thin the Australian topsoil was and how the thoughtless importation of European farming methods into such a different ecosystem had worsened the problem in the last two centuries.
As we learned from the Gaia Theory formulated by Lovelock and Margulis, Gaia has been able to regulate temperature, atmospheric content and many other factors, including soil, to stay healthy. When we fail to observe this and ignore Gaia’s modus operandi, we endanger all life. So why do most farmers continue to deplete the fertility of the soil and make it so much harder to produce healthy food?
There is no simple answer. Claiming that farmers are greedy is not a good place to start. A reasonable starting point might be with the realisation that we are strongly conditioned by our culture’s language. In our minds, ‘Nature’ and ‘Earth’ have been separated. We learn that ‘Nature’ refers to all living things outside of ourselves that the Earth is a lump of rock that we live ‘on’. Thus we grow up with the illusion that:
1. We are not part of Nature, and…
2. Although Nature is alive the Earth is not.
Many of us talk about how deeply we feel connected to Nature. But this doesn’t go far enough. Our observations that we are ‘connected’ to the Earth are valid, but connectedness paints a fairly dim image of our relationship to Gaia and obscures its fundamental truth. In fact, we, Nature and Earth are all one and the same. The truth is that we do not just live ON Gaia, we ARE Gaia.
Consider a tree. We use our thinking function to subdivide a tree into parts such as leaves, trunk and roots. But referring to the leaves, for instance, does not negate the fact that the leaves are the tree. The trunk and roots are also the tree. To say that the leaves are connected to the tree obscures the fact that the leaves are the tree. To say that my hand or arm is connected to me obscures the fact that all my parts are me.
We see ourselves as advanced, self-organising living beings and most of us also consider ourselves to be conscious beings. Yet although we are entirely dependent on Gaia for our health and survival and our very existence, we often fail to appreciate that our planet itself is a living, self-organising organism, even more so than we are. We need to recognise that the wondrous beauty, diversity, and life-supporting qualities of Gaia are not due to dumb luck or the result of random shakes of cosmic dice. Gaia has a development and maintenance system that we must examine from the realisation that using machine-checking instruments to probe what we view as dead matter will inevitably result in further destructive behaviour. The carbon cycle is a good example of one of the many ways in which our planet exhibits self-organizing and self-sustaining behaviour. By interfering with that, we have created problems that at best will stretch Gaia’s healing abilities to the utmost and at worst could totally change the shape of life as we know it.
A further obstacle to working in a way that is healing for us and all life forms and the planet is our anthropocentric outlook which sanctions governments to treat Gaia like a vast cookie tin with a label on the top that says “for humans only”. We are egocentric and not ecocentric in our outlook on land use. Again, our use of words such as ‘resources’, or phrases like ‘ecosystem services’ constantly reinforces the view that Gaia is simply a source of wealth for humans only.
Once we truly understand that we are the Earth, that the Earth is a living, conscious being and that it is NOT all about us; we will surely recognise that our health and Gaia’s health are not just connected but utterly intertwined, joined and interdependent. They are one and the same. Our healing and the wellbeing of all life are dependent on Gaia’s healing. Neither we nor any other living organism can be healthy unless Gaia is healthy.
So what can we individuals do? So much of the environmental destruction we read about is caused by forces beyond our ability to influence. However, taking an interest and supporting the production of clean local food is a realisable goal for every single one of us. The higher the demand for organic, locally grown food, the more the market will respond and the more the farming sector will be encouraged to turn to decentralized and diversified farming practices that naturally boost soil health and farm resilience. These include: crop rotations, cover crops, reducing tillage where it makes sense, and building local food systems. We all need to encourage our local food stores to accept nutritious locally produced food.
Recently, a food survey conducted by Oklahoma State University found that: more than three-quarters of the consumers polled said adopting a more ‘natural’ agricultural production system—that includes additional local, organic and unprocessed foods—would be most effective at addressing the future food challenges rather than adopting a more ‘technological’ agricultural system. Science, New Series, Vol. 267, No. 5201(Feb. 24, 1995) 1117 – 1123.
And we can plant seeds. Even if it is just a container on the windowsill or a planter on a balcony, we can all grow something to eat. This year, I shall plant my runner beans in a different spot to maximise the health of the soil in my garden. Knowing that the more local my food is to my bioregion the lower its carbon footprint, I shall be shopping once again at the farmers market. Every little helps when you want to become a healthy planet.
“Scientific and economic arguments such as those we have been exploring for protecting biodiversity can help a great deal, but on their own they are not enough. We need, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to recover the ancient view of Gaia as a fully integrated, living being consisting of all her life-forms, air, rocks, oceans, lakes and rivers if we are ever to halt the latest, and possibly greatest, mass extinction.”
Gaia and Biodiversity by Stephan Harding
“Planet as Self calls for an Earth based spirituality: one that acknowledges Gaia as a living and lovable being, created by and radiating the creative energy of the universe.”
Planet as Self Sky McCain