The bible got it all wrong. Go forth and multiply, was a misunderstanding of the Prime Directive. That misunderstanding has made a mess out of our world. It has justified all the harm we have done. More of us is NOT the way to ensure life. High birthrates simply add more stress to the planet. More is not better.
What happened? Nature is not so much concerned with each individual life form, she is concerned about the health of the whole, about how all the various parts fit in ways that ensure that the whole remains healthy and viable. Nature, our planet, wants to make sure that life continues, and she needs all the various parts of her (including us) to help make that happen. There’s the rub. We stopped cooperating. We stopped caring about the whole. We stopped paying attention to the impact of our actions on others. We stopped playing with life and began rationalizing ways that dampened it down. We became human centered, instead of life centered.
James Lovelock makes such a fantastic case for why our planet is special. The ability to regulate our atmosphere is unique among all of the terrestrial objects we know about. Here, only here, does life exist. Only here is there an agreement to keep life going, and here everyone is involved, everyone except us. We stopped playing the game a long time ago.
When there were just a few of us, it didn’t matter so much, but now that there are almost 9 billion of us AND we have learned to take with such expertise, it matters a great deal. Yes, we are a wasteful species and our waste products are suffocating life and burying it in plastic, but we are also a prideful species, actively engaged in getting rid of anything we deem as unuseful – to us.
By not understanding the fierce interrelatedness of all living things, by not understanding the mutual support each offers to the processes that make life work on this planet, we have been actively dismantling that life giving structure. Now, Earth has a decision to make, she can die, or she can remove the creatures that are causing the problem. She’s maintained a fairly narrow, and quite pleasant, range of temperature for millions of years. This range has allowed many, many different forms of life to thrive. Now, as she heats up, new life forms will be brought forth and many old life forms will disappear. We may be one of those.
Many of us have already lowered our body temperatures a degree in an attempt to manage the heat. Will that be enough? What about all the other life forms we know we depend upon, cattle, chickens, corn, wheat, water, soil? Will they adapt fast enough? The loss of ice, millions of years in the making, interrupts the flow of both air and water, flows that have kept some parts cool and some parts warm. This is a whole new ball game that will require a whole new range of adaptive techniques. Our normal pattern of resistance – will it be sufficient; will it be enough?
We have been a bit short-sighted, thinking only of humans and what we think is best for us. Instead of the Prime Directive – ensure that all life thrives, ensure that LIFE thrives, we have been focused on ensuring that human life thrives, and we are beginning to see that we do not live alone. We’ve had a good run resisting the planet, now is the time to shift gears and begin to use our knowledge and expertise to work with the planet. Can we, do it?
There’s nothing like the human ego. Our belief in our specialness has given us things we have dreamed of for centuries, but at an exceptional cost. How attached are we to our egos? How attached are we to our specialness? In every process of maturation, there comes a time when the needs and desires of the individual must be reorganized in ways that acknowledge and contribute to the greater whole. We have been able to avoid that for quite a while, but no longer.
We are hard-wired to connect and cooperate. It is those skills that have made us so successful. Can we bring them out, dust them off, and shift gears? Can we expand our capabilities to include the whole planet, not just our species? Can we use the joy of connection, the bliss of right action as motivators to shift our actions to supporting life? Can we reimagine soil as life giving and not just dirt? Can we learn to clean up after ourselves by focusing on zero waste? Can we follow the termites and build in air-conditioning that doesn’t use energy? It’s all there, it is only our egos that are standing in the way.
The Prime Directive is contained in the first two values of the Resilient Values Set;™ All actions create the conditions that support life, and focus on maintaining the integrity of the whole. Simple? It is simply a shift in focus from us to LIFE. We can do this!
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time when alchemists like Newton became enamored with their own egos, and they brought the rest of us along on that journey. The tension between control and understanding was resolved as the intelligentsia, the scientific, doubled down on control. I can only speculate that the anger and frustration felt by those who resented the inability to control nature was released in their desire to pull her apart in their attempt to control by manipulating or disobeying the ‘limits’ they found there.
Most of human history has been conducted in relationship with nature. Meaning was found in understanding how to be a partner, we worked to find and then grow our food. Our religious life was focused around supplicating or placating nature, and that relationship gave us a place in the universe. When we left that universe, we entered the modern world of science and capitalism. A world where people were taught to hate life, even as they feared death.
Unaware of the moral imperative to ensure life continues, we maintained the corrupted version of ‘go forth and procreate’ as being sufficient, embracing instead, entropy, which has resulted in the obvious result of a destruction of life’s ability to sustain life — at least as we have known it. Morris Berman, in his book, The Reenchantment of the World, makes the case for a re-enchantment that puts the Earth back into her rightful place. He argues, as do the indigenous folks, that we can and must reseat ourselves back into right relationship with life, and that we can do that, even using science, through appreciation and gratitude.
Perhaps just getting in touch with the amazing creativity and cleverness of nature allows us to marvel at the world and then to marvel at us, how amazing WE are, and maybe we can discover our own ‘fit’ with the rest of life. The loneliness and angst we feel, the lack of satisfaction and meaning, can be regained as we stand in wonder at the beauty of it all. The beauty of dance and the pair's competition in ice-skating is not just at the graceful and technically skillful moves, but at the fact they are done together. Perhaps we can find purpose and meaning if we choose to dance with life, instead of resisting her at every step?
We have been so seduced by parts we have lost sight of the whole, of context, of culture, of the water we swim in. Our worldview has blinded us to the tone and hue created by that world-view, which colors everything thing we see, distorting our vision. Instead of life, we have substituted survival, instead of life we grasp for success. Neither of these offers satisfying and meaningful experiences, once past the initial rush, they are not sustaining, but they are seductive.
The re-enchantment of the world is not a ‘going back’ but a reawakening to the miracle that life is. A recognition of the amazing sophistication and elegance of nature, as evidenced by sea slugs and dragon fish. It is a deep appreciation of the magic created by following her principles and dynamics and watching life thrive. Few things are more thrilling than watching the miracle of life happen, as any parent knows. If we hang on to that thrill, and turn our faces to life, who knows what wonders we might not only discover, but be an integral part of making happen?
For many of us, our values are the water we swim in. They are the mycelium that live between us and that carry the information we pay attention to. They signal us to notice this, or notice that, making the rest of the information we live in, invisible. Our penchant for parts means that all of our values are equally important and when the results we expect aren’t forth coming we blame ourselves, or others, not seeing the water we are swimming in.
The Earth is a living system — a whole, composed of parts. Our focus on the parts has blinded us to the patterns and processes that hold the parts together and that make everything work. It is not the parts that are the cause, they are in relationship to each other in certain ways, and it is that relationship that makes all the difference. Our values are the same. It is the relationship between them that create a whole worldview, and it is this that makes all the difference.
The seduction of culture is that when we look around for guidance and validation we see ‘everyone else’ doing the same thing, and even though it isn’t working for us, we double down because ‘that’s how it’s done.’ We believe what the mycelium are telling us. What we don’t understand is that we have choice and options. All we see is the culture we are in, one that is caught in survival or one that is caught in ‘success’ defined as stuff and status. The sliver of truth contained in each of these is corrupted by the fear of life and the self-hatred that generates, because we are life. Both of these belief systems put us at war with ourselves as we dismiss, shut down or ignore all of our internal signals that tell us we have it all wrong.
The re-enchantment of the world begins when we stand in amazement at life and at ourselves, seeing us as the mystical and magical beings that we are. Then, maybe we will have the courage to lift each other up, instead of denying who we are. Maryanne Williams said we are afraid of our own brilliance. We develop machines to be better than we are instead of doing the work to be what they do. We have lost respect for ourselves because we have ceased to take our rightful place in the gift called life. We hide behind our need for life in our fear of death, and we hide our need to be seen in our drive for success. Both of those are placeholders for reality.
It feels good to be true to ourselves, to tell the truth, to address reality squarely, but our cultures will tell us otherwise. The angst we feel is reflected in our teenagers’ suicides, in our vast addictions to drugs, television, technology and social media. All methods designed to distract us from engaging in the real world, the world of soil and water, wind and rain, plants, and animals — and us. We justify our agony by repeating the whispers of our culture that we will die if we care, that we need others to approve of us so that we become real.
We can begin the re-enchantment by noticing how the world works and be amazed by it. We can reawaken respect as we notice the incredible effort everything makes to fit, and we can regain our self-respect as we strive to do the same and then witness the benefits of doing so. The book, Darwin’s Finches by David Lack shows so clearly how each individual is willing to change itself in order to find its own niche and so fit into the world with the least resistance. We do this too, but we are now working to ‘fit’ into a life hating world and so are bringing about our own demise.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We simply have to turn our faces into life. As we begin to seek the thrill of bringing forth life, we will create the path we have to walk. We will begin to actually SEE and experience the interbeing Thich Nhat Hanh talks about. Fit is not easy, but it is a wonderful driver for learning, creativity and reverence. Appreciating the skill and caring that goes into making ‘fit’ happen opens up a brand-new appreciation for life. As we see and acknowledge our own skill and creativity in creating our own fit we will also gain a new appreciation for ourselves and our own creative abilities. The world is waiting to welcome us back — we just have to say yes.
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.