I have a great deal of respect for nature, and I have a great deal of respect for humankind as well, but those forms of respect are different. Nature has practiced making sure life thrives for over 3 BILLION years – she has a track history of making that work. Humankind has a recent history of thinking that being clever is more important than being life affirming, an addiction we are in the middle of, right now.
Given that everything we have depended upon seems to be under threat, disorganized, and falling apart, including our weather, it appears to me that actions that are life enhancing might be more important, than even our collective ego. If staying alive, if staying healthy, if thriving, is more important than being clever and even more important than ‘getting my way,’ where should I look for support and inspiration?
I’ve spent decades trying to understand nature, trying to learn how she’s ‘done it.‘ Many others have looked into this as well and I’m eternally grateful to them; Janine Benyus (Biomimicry), Thomas Berry (The Great Work, among others), Brian Swimm ( The Universe is a Green Dragon, among others ), Wendell Berry (Poet), Andreas Weber (Biology of Wonder, among others) Fritjof Capra (Hidden Connections, among others), James Lovelock (Gaia, among others) and so many more. We continue to learn. It turns out that deep learning is hard because we have stood outside of nature and that distorted our understanding and even the questions we asked, let alone the answers we received.
I’ve taken a values-based approach. I learned from Jane Jacobs (Systems of Survival) that values form systems. Bringing my learning about living systems from Capra into play, that was revolutionary. Earth’s values are also a system. All living systems behave the same and have the same attributes – this was critical to my newly awakened understanding of value systems and how they operate. If all of this interests you, please take my course, “Values for the Coming Crisis” where I go into these ideas in more depth.
A start to understanding Earth’s Value System, is understanding the intent(s) she has for life. Her first intent is the foundation , the key, the whole point – she intends for life to continue to thrive! Now you may say, duh, to that, but really think about it. She doesn’t want it to thrive, she doesn’t hope that it thrives, she INTENDS it will thrive. Everything she does is to that end, and more importantly all of the parts of which she is comprised intend that life thrives too, or almost all of the parts. The only part that is also a part of her that does not always adhere to that principle, is humanity.
Humanity, under the cover of free will, often does things that limit the ability of life to thrive – pollution comes to mind. WE soil our own nest. WE poison the atmosphere; WE poison the oceans and foul them with plastic. WE kill our soil – a living system in its own right, by our manufacturing style of farming. WE do not consider, nor seem to care, if our actions make it impossible for others to also live.
The second intent is connected to the first, as are all the rest. These are components of a living system after all. The second intent is continuity – making sure that life, once formed, continues. She has clear ways of being and doing that make sure things flow and move forward. She knows how to make the very best out of what currently exists. Earth is a closed system, except for power, which comes from the sun. What we have is what we got. Everything living system on the planet understands that and lives in ways that support that. Every living system, except one, us. WE burn, pile up, and create inedible stuff all the time. WE act as if there is no tomorrow, as if there is an unending stream of materials for us to use forever – and there isn’t.
The third intent is resilience, the ability to adapt and continue on under stress. The ability to dance with changing times in a way that ensures life continues to thrive. Understanding the magic of how that happens is mind-blowing! WE – all living systems that are part of the living system that Mother Earth is, are SO exquisitely designed to do this – It. Is. Amazing! We all actually know how and even do it, but only one living system chooses to not listen, to disbelieve OR to believe impossibilities, and in so doing flies in the face of…nature – yup, us. She destroys to facilitate rebirth, we destroy to eliminate.
The fourth, and most fun intent, is evolution. Evolution is how she learns. Each living system continues to learn and, in so doing, makes continual adjustments as it learns to finesse and improve its chances at life. If those adaptations are really successful, then it may choose to keep them and pass them on to its progeny. New life forms happen all the time, and some stay and some don’t make it. Nature experiments in SO many ways, and some of them work! WE are the only living system that intentionally makes changes in other living systems. WE are the only living system that makes changes in our own system – without natures help or encouragement.
Each intent has four values that activate it. These intents and values constitute a living system of values by which Earth keeps it all together AND is able to grow in complexity – to thrive. All other living systems play their part. There is only one other living system that actively works to simplify the living systems of which it is a part, and that, of course, is us. We seek to simplify, to limit, to eliminate complexity and diversity, there-by weakening the fabric of nature. WE seek to reduce the number of species, the number of kinds of species, and in so doing we make the whole system much more vulnerable to collapse as we are eliminating a key aspect of resiliency.
So here you have four aspects of nature against which you can check your own actions in life, your decisions, the decisions of your local, state and even federal government. How do they stack up? Are the actions you support life enhancing, do they ensure life continues with ease, do they reinforce the adaptability of the life it impacts, and finally does it support an evolution into a more complex and resilient world? Are you engaged with your life through connection, or are you acting on your life from outside, from a point of separation? Each of us is responsible for our own actions. Each of us can only control our own actions. If we all shifted so that we could say YES to supporting each of these intents, then we will get through all these shifts and changes, just fine. WE will become partners with the Earth, with Mother Nature. WE will have learned to listen to nature not in the ‘what should I do,’ conversation, but in the ‘how should I do it’, kind of conversation. And, that’s one that has been missing for centuries.
Kathryn Alexander MA has been absorbed by trying to understand how we should live. Is there some way to actually determine right from wrong and ensure a moral life - and there is. It does not conflict with any religion, creed or ethnic culture. It clarifies and strengthens them all, and at the same time can be independent of them, as it stands on its own. Live in connection with the Earth.