Science is telling us that each single cell is a ‘self.’ An entity, sentient enough to make the decisions it needs to make to keep living and even to reproduce. In the real world, these are not simple or easy choices to make. Each choice involves, at the most basic level, answers to the question, is this good for me, does it serve me to maintain an interaction, or can this harm me? If it is harmful, do you move away or protect yourself, and if protection is desired, then how. That’s a lot of fancy thinking for a single cell, yet the realization that there is something that is not self, and the information gathered to answer the simple yet complex questions above, is the start of the autopoietic process of self-making – for BOTH parties. That interdependent self-making is how Interbeing happens. Together, the choices both parties make from the information gathered, determines the kind and extent of the relationship they form. Enough of these experiences with the same or similar selfs, creates a pattern of behavior, over time. These patterns, over time, become automatic processes that become enacted when that same kind of ‘other’ is encountered. If the experience is continuous enough and often enough, then structures may be created that ensure the process will happen with less energy and attention. Structures can also be created when enough of similar selfs have made the same decision about similar ‘other selfs’ and they decide to stay together to deal with the situation. If enough connections are made, then networks can be formed to better facilitate the desired interaction. Over time, the new information gathered by all of these still independent selfs, may generate enough information to inspire a new set of choices that will generate an innovation – perhaps surrounding another desired self, who also recognizes the benefits of the relationship.
This process occurs with simple organisms as well as with larger organisms, like humans. For humans, the recognition of another person inspires an openness to information from and about the other that also answers the very same questions, but perhaps at different levels. The answers to those questions will determine the willingness to engage further, as well as the shape and kind of relationship that will be developed. If developing the relationship further, is chosen, then, over time, there will be developed a pattern to that relationship. If the relationship continues, then processes might be developed to make the relationship easier – say texting every morning. As the relationship continues, it may be that structures start to appear, such as expectations about response time, for instance. It can be that, over time, there arises a desire to bring in others and a network is formed. The addition of others with similar and compatible interests increases the flow of information, and this can inspire a shift that will create a novel and new expression of the group.
This process can be expressed as: Identity, Relationship, Information, Pattern, Process, Structure, Network, Emergence. In this model, no other can be recognized until a sense of self is clear. The acknowledgement of a ‘not self’ is a relationship that is codified by additional information and additional choices to respond to the experience of that interchange and the choice to deal with that experience. We speak of it from only one viewpoint, but there are always at least two parties, each doing the exact same thing. Each is making choices that the other will have to respond to and in so doing, each is making both their own world and the contributing to the making of the other's world at the same time. This is interbeing as an autopoietic expression of life. This is what Ubuntu means – I am because you are.
As we move into a new world where each of us is consciously contributing to the richness of life and is consciously working to ensure that all life is vibrant and vital, this recognition of our ability, responsibility and gift that is given and received in every interaction can become a deep experience of appreciation, gratitude and even reverence for the interdependence and reciprocity that envelops us every day, in so many different ways. As we learn to cherish the results of other’s choices, we also become much more cognizant of our own responsibility and power in making the world for others. To be engaged in world-making in ways that bring life to oneself and others, is to engage in co-creating a vibrant, robust, and thriving world, one we all want to live in.
Humans, in particular, world create on a daily basis through language. The words we use and the stories we tell are constant world-making tools we use without thinking. The words we hear and the understanding we make are yet another example of how our interbeing creates through our autopoietic actions. In English, in particular, our focus on nouns creates a separation that we don’t even see. The constant recreation of separation dismisses, makes invisible the connection that interbeing points us to.
We are doing this now, but with no consciousness or attention. We make choices without any recognition of the response of the other and how that will impact our own life. We assume that each action is independent and stands on its own. By recognizing this interdependent self-making, we gain more control and agency over the kind of world we are making, together. The autopoietic choices I make and in how I respond to your choices is the interbeing aspect of the world we are creating together. Together we create stories that explain and justify our actions, but without recognizing the world that is the result of these decisions. By paying attention to the effects of interbeing and the results of each of our own autopoietic choices, we can begin to artfully impact and design the world we want to live in.
I’ve put that documentary up here so you, too, can experience Michael’s life. Given our situation, it is time to think about what would, could, should human life look like as we work to weather (ha) the changes now upon us. The separateness stance would have us striving to protect our selves from the changing climate, and from each other as things get challenging. There are many among us who will do that.
Michael chose to move away from others to be free to interact with his environment in his own way. Being authentic with your environment is a slow process. It takes time to get to know it, to understand how it lives, and then to bend your needs around what needs to happen, in the place where you are. It is a slow, respectful, process.
His place was beautiful. It did not speak of difficulty or hardship, yet, he was not connected to the traditional electricity, water, sewer system so these taken for granted comforts were managed in an unusual way, a way that did not pollute his environment, or disturb it in a way that would impact its health and vitality.
There was no talk of food, but we know he managed. He had a garden and the ocean. His environment allowed him to be able to gather all year around, so I suspect that storage was not an issue. As we move into warmer times, how will we address that? Food will become a more consistent area of attention. Will we have the bandwidth to keep animals? Will we be able to provide for them as well as us? Will the need for food require us to live in community?
One of the stories that so sticks in the mind, is his five years playing with a pod of dolphins. His comment that their culture was about being polite, is worthy of some reflection. How will we learn to be together in a way that supports OUR survival? Will we splinter in protective groups, groups intent upon robbing from others what we can’t do for ourselves, or will we discover the joys of sharing and working together? I suspect there will be both groups, at least for a time. Robbing of others is a luxury, one that presupposes that someone else is able to survive well enough that they can ‘afford’ that kind of parasitic behavior. How long will that be tolerated?
The story also speaks to the role of play in our lives. That is a big part of the life of a dolphin, and Michael seemed to have enough time, free from life needs (shelter and food) to be able to join them, for at least a good part of the time. That too, is a luxury, on that all successful peoples have found ways of incorporating, play and art are fundamental ways of spending time. Maybe that is even part of the definition of success, having time for play and art. How have we been doing in that department?
He has a strong spiritual practice. His mind has a natural turn to both the abstract and the beautiful. Both are conducive to the spiritual. Still, he found that guidance from another person, and from an established tradition, provided strength and support. Will we, in this new challenging situation, be able to bring forward those traditions that have supported us for thousands of years? Will we lose all of that? Will we develop new ways of understanding the deeper meaning of life instead? There is a lot of conversation, now, about how to rethink a global ethic, and certainly I’m a part of that conversation. Will we look to nature, or remain stuck in trying to figure out how and why we are different from nature? Will we keep that illusion or seek another way of being?
Another point of rumination, for me, is gender. We have few, if any, stories about women who have gone off into the wilderness to live. In thinking about Michael’s story, I’m not sure if I could have done what he did, even in my youth. The simple physical needs of such a life feel overwhelming, to me. Separation comes naturally to men, (this is another whole essay) and it is a path to connection, as Michael so clearly shows. In my experience, women find a joy in connection, that is natural to us. We do not need separation in the same way. This brings to mind several thoughts. In nature there are certain animals who live solitary lives, not many, most living things live in groups. I wonder if that is an expression of how food is obtained. For the human species, I have heard of an experiment by a tribe in Africa, where children were left on their own at five. That tribe was not successful. The ability to feed children, is a mark of success for any species, and that often requires, for humans, community, of some kind.
So, this film, and our situation, makes me wonder what lessons will we bring forward that will help us, not only survive, but replenish? What understanding do we need to carry forward, so we will not repeat this? Will we know enough to manage our numbers? They say that the story of Atlantis was the story of power run a muck. What will they say about this time?
I’d like you suspend belief for a few minutes and go with here. I want to offer a thought experiment and get your response. Most people in this country, and everyone with a Christian background of any sort, knows the story about the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve and the apple. This story has been told and retold for centuries. For me that suggests that it is important, it carries a message that has had meaning and relevance for hundreds of thousands of people. That said, there have been hundreds of books written about what it means. I would dare to say that our Western culture has been created in response to how some people understand this story.
Most of the time this is seen as a gender story, the innocent Adam seduced by his tempted ‘wife’ Eve. Much has been made about the ‘fate’ of humanity, based on the actions of one woman. I’ve been more concerned about the ‘tree.’ The tree of knowledge? The tree of????? The apple is said to have given the knowledge of good and evil, hummmm. I’ve pondered that for years. Good and evil have been philosophical hot beds of controversy for centuries. What is good and what is bad? I get the jist, but the words were far from clear, and that ambiguity gives folks lots of room for propaganda.
There’s another story that comes from this one, the gift of ‘free will.’ Humans, they say, have the ability to ‘freely’ decide what they do. We have choice. We call this free will. Some brain science suggests otherwise, but most people feel that they are free to decide. So, what did ‘Adam’ decide? What was the choice made by these ‘first people’ that has had such a devastating effect on our world, ever since? Remember, this story was written thousands of years ago.
So, imagine with me for a moment that the choice was to ‘just take care of ourselves’ that we are separate and independent, so we can look after ourselves and we don’t need to think about others, or other living things, we have the ‘right?” the ability, to handle it ourselves. When I look at the root cause of all our troubles, they seem to stem from our illusion that we are separate, and therefore condemned to care for ourselves AND not obligated to care for others AND others are not obligated to for us. The ‘apple’ Adam ate was the apple of separation. Perhaps it was under the frame of ‘freedom’ or ‘independence,’ but no matter the rationalization, the effect was the same. We shifted our focus from LIFE to HUMANS, and we have sacrificed other living being to our needs and desires ever since. Taking care of ourselves is a scary proposition, and fear seems to be almost foundational. Separation runs deep!
Part of this thinking comes from my understanding of how our planet has been for thousands and thousands of years. Indigenous folks have always tended the plant life around them and worked with nature, and in so doing created a garden that flourished and thrived. I do not believe that much of our planet has been untended. Just because WE don’t tend it, doesn’t mean it has always been that way. Take our continent, the USA. When Columbus came, what did they see? Huge trees, rich soil, incredible natural riches, riches that had been stewarded by the indigenous folks who lived here that we called Indians. He was so blind that he could not imagine these ‘savages’ had the knowledge and skills to create such wealth, but they did.
Now science is telling us just how connected we are. Dr. Zack Morton Bush, an endocrinologist focusing on the microbiome, says that we have over 30,000 individual species living in us, doing their own thing, but in doing so they give us life. We cannot live without them. The mitochondria, which we once thought were a part of our cells, we now know are separate entities. They have the gift of being able to convert sunlight into energy. That is where our energy comes from. They are in every living cell in our bodies. They came from the soil, and they need the soil to thrive.
Putting your hands in the soil is a great mood enhancer, this is even backed by science. The Earth needs us, and we need it! There is no such thing as separation, that is an illusion! That need is what is called reciprocity. Back to the garden again. What would your life look like if you lived in reciprocity with your family? How about with your neighbors? Then, think a bit more deeply and think about being in reciprocity with the non-humans in your environment. Noticing the gifts, you are being given, and giving back in appreciation…what a wonderful way to live. How rich those relationships become, and how wonderful to know you are never alone. Welcome back to the garden.
Our transcendence is in our biology. The glory of our being is that we are connected and part of the great body of Earth. Our radical transformation comes in accepting our place within the body of Life as expressed on this planet Earth. WE can only know our own magnificence when we claim our rightful place within the biological expression of LIFE on this planet. We are one!
At its heart, morality is about integrity, but our understanding has been too small. We marvel at the beauty of nature – there is no place where nature has been allowed to do her thing that is not beautiful. That beauty speak of the integrity of the place, of the life that lives there, of the joy in living, being expressed there. That beauty is a big YES, as expressed in the exuberance of life.
Our transcendence comes when we, too, are connected to our being within the vast expression of LIFE. We have been told this for eons, in so many ways, but we had the belief that transcendence could happen when we pulled away from life, sitting on a mountain top or gazing at our navels. These techniques are paths to coming back into relationship with all of life. One chops wood and carries water with a new and very joyous perception and gratitude for the LIFE that permeates everything. Then every action takes on new significance, new importance, new meaning, as every action becomes filled with love, both given and received.
We are transcending our separation and finally coming home. We need not flee our humanity, our bodies, we need to embrace them, and in embracing we will transcend the smallness we fear and expand into the expansion that is LIFE itself. Greatness comes in understanding the boundaries that make LIFE possible, not in breaking them, and thus eliminating life’s possibilities, as we have been doing for the last few millennia. Our blindness to the wholeness of the planet, has led us to disrespect and dismiss the parts that constitute that wholeness – of which WE are one.
In accepting our wholeness, we can begin to luxuriate in the richness of LIFE’s expression. We are already touched and awed by LIFE's expression, but now we can know that we, too, are a part of that expression and just as miraculous! To know that, in our own experience, opens such gratitude and reverence, that the only correct expression of those feelings is to live the Prime Directive – ensuring that ALL our actions create the conditions that support LIFE! Our attention is pulled, and our emotions are enticed by the joy that comes from seeing LIFE thrive. We will find our purpose in our joy.
We have so come to identify ourselves with the pain and sadness that comes from denying who we are, that it has become painful to reconnect with ourselves. It hurts to open up to love. We have put SO MUCH of ourselves into that separation, into denying our connection, that opening to connection is both scary, AND bitter. Re-embracing our fullness takes real courage. Our mystery and magnificence is not that we are outside or at top of all other life, but that we are special and different within all other life. WE are special and different, just as every other living being is special and different, we have just never seen ourselves, or our place, within the chorus of life. Our notes are needed within the song of life, but to add them we need to be listening to the melody sung by others. We will only know our gifts when we join the song.
A choir does not sound good unless everyone is listening to everyone else. It is the blending that creates joy. There are times when that expression requires a solo, and that, too, is an expression of the whole. The joy in coming home comes from the experience of connection, of finding one’s place in the scheme of things, in knowing that the notes through which we express ourselves are a correct part of the song being sung. Pythagoras spoke of the music of the spheres, and it was this he was speaking of. Our planet cannot sing until all our voices are joined in the music of life.
Listening is key. To listen means to slow down, and meditation is certainly a good way to this. There are others. Gandhi used his spinning wheel to slow down, I clean. The simple things of every day, ordinary life are places to listen. If there were messages from plants, trees, animals, life, how would you get them? Would God send a text? It is our consciousness that connects and that happens in two places, our mind, and our bodies. The skill is in using your body in a way that allows your mind to be free and receptive. The stillness and discipline of meditation is how we train our minds to be receptive. Listening to your own chatter, is not really listening.
Your essence, your true self is pure. It remains unsullied, no matter what you do or think. However, your identification with your actions and thoughts keeps you from experiencing your true nature, so you think you are unworthy, not capable, etc. Plants and animals don’t play that game, so they seem ‘closer’ to nature than we are, but that is not the truth. WE are just as close, but we must listen as the song is being sung just by humans, as part of the choirs, we only add our specific notes.
Please join me in a thought experiment. Kindness and consideration seem to go hand-in-hand. We wring our hands and bemoan the current conditions of our culture, the hatred and animosity that seems so prevalent. The coarseness and vindictiveness that seem to be everywhere as people express their angst and frustration. Yet, even in that atmosphere, it is possible to experience acts of kindness. The smile, a hand outstretched, time taken out of a busy schedule to chat, all these exist within the cacophony of frustration and anger.
Kindness is experienced when someone takes the time to notice the need for connection and support in another human being. Kindness comes when one human shares the space of being human with another. The quiet communion of souls, as one human touches another, can make all the difference. Extending kindness tells the receiver that they are valued and important. The recognition of humanity in another is one of the deepest forms of recognition.
Consideration is expressed in manners, the simple act of holding a door open. The recognition of a need in the other and then acting on that perception and sharing the mutual joy in that situation, makes the world brighter. Consideration is a wonderful equalizer, eliminating a situational difference in status with the assurance that our humanity trumps any such illusion.
Kindness is often seen as a spontaneous act between individual people, but what would a kind family look like? What would the daily habits and experience look like? We might expect to see examples of consideration, a sensitivity to one another’s feelings and moods coupled with a caring concern. We would anticipate a skill in gentle inquiry and spontaneous offers of support. We might expect discussions filled with deep listening so everyone’s experience is understood.
Consideration suggests not only the ability to see a need, but to be able to project into the future a bit and act to forestall a situation that might be unpleasant. It provides a bit of ease in trying and difficult situations. Choosing not to do something that might create discomfort in another, or taking an action that might prevent discomfort or pain to another, are both examples of consideration in family situations.
What might a kind organization look like? How would a company provide the experience of being valued to its employees? How might an organization be considerate? Perhaps having a focus on the experience of employees as they interact with the company by creating processes that are client and employee focused, instead of internally focused, might be a good start. Employers could help by trusting employees to take care of their own business AND the company's business at the same time, with a focus on accomplishments instead of time. Consideration runs both ways as employees strive to meet the employer's needs, discovered through discussion and mutual planning. Perhaps a shift from competition to service might help? Perhaps a move from efficiency to effectiveness would provide the context for kindness and consideration to flourish?
Kindness and consideration both speak of a form of reciprocity that is actually found in nature, as each life form seeks to create the conditions in which it can thrive. The inherent interdependence requires a certain consideration of the other. The high energy cost of competition is saved for occasional and extraordinary circumstances. Adaptability and even tolerance are much more economical energetically, and both foster innovation. By minimizing resistance and recognizing value in the other, new opportunities arise that would be missed in the passion of competition.
In a way, both kindness and consideration recognize and facilitate change. By embracing flexibility and acknowledging the distress change causes, consideration and kindness create an experience of grace for the difficult parts of life. Can organizations embrace flexibility? Can organizations wean themselves off the irrational drive for stability and sameness that is a path to death? In nature, stability and lack of change only happen in death. All life change and in fact life might even be defined by its inherent cap, for change. How could it be otherwise? Each life form has a say and as each one adjusts and responds to all the others change in foundational to that engagement with self-expression. Learning to hold reality lightly and with curiosity provides the space for kindness and consideration to happen.
Organizations focus on the process, in the mistake belief that process generates the result, when, in fact, the desired impact should inform the process. Living systems are metabolizing systems, and one of the things they digest is information. Many of our systems are suffering indigestion as the information stored in homelessness, in mental illness, and crime is not being digested. Kindness and consideration offer paths through these mazes of confusion and pain if we allow ourselves to feel our way through.
Kindness and consideration speak of connection, of the ability to feel and share the experience of the other. In that connection the right action arises, without that connection confusion and irritation block that knowing. When we experience kindness and consideration, we are so grateful, and we desire to share that experience with another. When we experience disdain and disregard, then we, in anger, wish to share that too. We create the world we live in, one decision at a time. Those decisions start with our own selves as we internalize our external experience. Kindness and self-care are not “nice to haves,” they are necessary to a thriving life.
We are in a crisis beyond imaging. Many have chosen to ignore it. That is one way. Denial and continuing on as if nothing is wrong or even resisting seeing anything wrong in the first place, is one way. This kind of pretense is temporary as it doesn’t stop the collapse from coming, though people will be surprised by it when it becomes impossible to deny. These people will be victims.
Others recognize that collapse is coming, and they are fighting – tooth and nail – to prevent it. These people have picked strategic points, places of leverage where a change could make a difference and they are pushing and fighting to shift that lever. That is the second way. These people are marching, lobbying, writing, and organizing to shift those levers that they see can make a difference. They are warriors.
The truth is that nothing has worked. We are toast. Or at least our way of life is toast, so the next questions is, what are we going to do about the end of the world as we know it?
Real change is not someone else’s job. Real change starts with us – you & me, becoming different. Some of that difference is easy to see, but most of the iceberg is underwater and invisible, and that’s what must change. Change this deep is a non-linear process.
What do I mean by that? Here’s an example: You can stop buying cars, and not buy either gasoline or electric, in an effort to do less damage. That is a linear approach to change. An action is being taken that has a direct impact on the problem and it is clear to see. It is preventing harm, but it is not building a new way. What if instead of wheels we used air, so streets were not needed? Maybe that would begin to bring forth a new world.
Non-linear change is change that opens new doors to places we have never been and that we can’t see or predict. Just as being nice to BIPOC folks is a linear change. Dropping any feelings of superiority is a deeper, non-linear change. That shift from helping them to working with them is exactly the shift we need to make as we deal with collapse. We need to move from living on the Earth to living with the Earth. This is the Third Way. We need to shift from the illusion of power over. Even the illusion of helping is often a power over approach, especially when we are the ones with the answer. To achieve success, we need to leave any intention of creating change, and move to discovering the joy in partnership as we co-create together with the Earth. This is not something we can know before hand; it is something that will come into being through relationship. The move from being for, to one of being with is profound. It is a non-linear change. It shifts our energy from resistance to nurturing. WE change as we make change, this is the Third Way. These people are makers, creating a new world as they live.
None of us act independently, we act together, we need others to be effective. We listen, we take into account the wisdom and needs of others, and we act accordingly. This is slow change at the beginning, as we learn to know one another. It is predicated on a commitment to relationship – to LIFE – not just the human side of the relationship. It is not human centric – even when humans are involved. It is LIFE centric in every act, no matter who is involved. It requires trust in all the participants – not blind faith. We need to trust the Earth as well as each other. We need to learn to trust ourselves, as well. This is the Third Way.
Trust is not easy to come by. It is not only given but created. Trust requires the courage to ask hard questions, hear the answers, and acting accordingly, in ways that nurture the relationship. It is not about winning or losing. Trust is about understanding and knowing, knowledge gain through experience by experiment. Knowledge gained through curiosity and inquiry, learned by asking difficult questions, withholding judgement, and having patience. Nature is the only thing that is truly trustworthy. Every action is designed to support and nurture life. If we want to live, there is no better teacher.
In building a mutually nurturing relationship, all parties must thrive – not all at the same time nor in the same way. Judgement changes to discernment as the question of right or wrong changes to life enhancing – or not. Owning the challenges of being able to see clearly require being willing to ask, and ask again, to gain that clarity. Relationship is all about asking/listening – it is all about dialogue. Right relationship works to ensure that all parties in the relationship thrive.
How do we learn to listen to each other? How do we listen to the Earth? What is being asked of us? What are we being called to do? In any relationship each party has needs, each party has gifts. The Earth has needs, the Earth has gifts. We have needs and we have gifts. What is the Earth asking of us?
Our Earth, what we see all around us, is an expression of LIFE. LIFE loves life! Life is fierce in its commitment to continuing. Earth has been experimenting with how to do that for over 3,900 million years. She’s practiced a lot. Brian Swimm, Thomas Berry, Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd as have so many saints, have been sharing their awe of her wisdom and skill. Fritjof Capra, Andreas Weber, and Robin Wall Kimmerer, among others, have been doing the same. The indigenous voice has only told that story. We are just beginning to listen. We are the youngest species; other life forms have way more experience at it than us. Other life forms keep their agreement with life, the Prime Directive – all actions are to create the conditions that support more life, we do not.
I call this listening, gaining Planetary Consciousness. Planetary Consciousness means that the goal of LIFE to thrive, becomes ours. Planetary Consciousness means that we become partners with LIFE, playing the same game by the same rules, becoming giddy as we see LIFE burst out all around us. We have been seeking the answers to Earth’s problems by asking each other. We have refused to ask her, and we have refused to listen – even when she’s yelled at us – as she’s doing now. She is the expert on LIFE – as are so many other life forms on this planet. Life forms that have been here and practicing at living far longer than we have. We are Johnny come lately’s, yet we only listen to our own voice, and we even do that, poorly.
Earth’s values are designed for resilience (an intent of Earth’s). Ours have been focused on protection (lack of trust), or on winning (success). Ours are focused on human needs and desires, choosing domination because we don’t trust. Choosing success, defined as bigger and better, over right relationship as we take what we want, using future resources now, and denying their use to other life forms on the planet. In Africa the laying down of roads is destroying migratory patterns and killing wildlife. Our needs appear to be greater than theirs, yet with their death – we die.
What is undeniable, is you can’t trust if you are not trustworthy. The indigenous have never understood us – we say one thing and do another, we deny ourselves and blame others, we don’t take responsibility for our own actions. We waste. We know we are fakes, and we cover it up instead of admitting it and changing our ways, so how can we be trusted? We also know this about ourselves, so we don’t trust our own selves. Honesty and self-forgiveness are a big part of the path forward.
Everything on this planet is an expression of LIFE. Everything. We acknowledge that when we say, “We are one,” or when we say “God dwells within us a us.” We mean it when we say, “Each of us is a speck of the Divine.” We know the truth! If everything is sacred, because everything has a spark of the Divine, why don’t we treat everything as scared? How can we pollute? Self-deception is one of our biggest challenges. The collusion we all participate in that we are good people, doing our best, allows us to deceive ourselves and perpetuate that illusion, this is another massive challenge we face, preventing us from making the changes we need to make.
The gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands will not get us out of this. The answers are here, the Earth is waiting with open arms, if we will just come home. Our resistance to Earth has made us long for home. We believe in the illusion that ‘home’ is out there, somewhere. But HOME is here, right under out feet. Be curious, be courageous, and ask stupid questions, mull things over and become skilled in self-reflection. Earth Values offer insights into the patterns of LIFE. Patterns we can begin to discern, patterns we can nurture and replicate. Patterns we can emulate and curate.
What do I mean by Earth Values? They are not wild and crazy, but they are immutable – they cannot be broken. We are where we are because we broke them. Our sense of safety is a thing we call stability. Nature calls stability death. In the real-world everything changes – all of the time. Instead of designing for similarity and stability we need to design for resilience and diversity, two Earth Values. Instead of NO change, we need to embrace dynamic stability where there are ranges to boundaries, instead of barriers, another Earth Value.
Take the Prime Directive (an Earth Value), all actions create the conditions that support life. That provides a path that anyone and everyone can walk. How do YOU create conditions for life? What around you is thriving? Your family? Your garden? Your worms, bees and butterflys? Your soil? All of these are in your control. YOU can make a difference in each one of these. Can you get over being concerned about your image and stop making things ‘look good’ and make them actually thrive instead? Can you shift from feeling powerless and useless to noticing the difference you can make?
As we shift into managing the integrity of the process of right relationship (an Earth Value), new opportunities will open that we have been too blind to see. We will begin to realize our own gifts and honor our needs as we recognize the gifts of others and honor their needs. This is the future. We will live in gratitude by recognizing that abundance is not about having it all, or having more, it is in having enough. The Earth knows, listen.
I’ve been struck by how often we choose control when we don’t trust. When things seem like they are getting unfamiliar, or surprising, then the usual strategy is to bring up or create a ‘rule’ that banns that behavior. We really don’t trust each other. We substitute rules and obedience for trust.
Why is that?
I think it goes deeper than the stories about strangers. I don’t think it is just about strangers. I don’t we think we really trust other people – period. Why?
I’ve been doing values work for over 20 years. I’ve discovered a couple of insights that I think bear on this question. First our values are scrambled, we put importance on values that are superficial and ignore action on values we claim are important. Deeper still, we see anything we like as a ‘value’ and yet have no real foundational perspective to give direction and coherence to our values. We seem to think that everyone can ‘create’ their own values and that no one else has any right to say anything about that. Really?
Many folks also think that values are so individual that there is nothing that unites us or holds us together. That, I think, speaks to our basic distrust. AND, I think that is not true. The sickness that we all are fighting and that has put our beautiful planet at risk is the illusion of separation. In the past few decades, we have been saying to each other, “we are all one” but the actual experience of that has eluded us. There is a sense of the truthfulness of that statement, but not the emotional experience of it.
There is also some confusion about being all one and being treated the same and being treated equally – is there a difference and how do you know which is which? Something seems to be missing from the equalization. At the same time, our culture has lost any sense of respect. Nothing really matters, nothing is really important. If something is more important than another, than isn’t that artificial and elitist?
We are body, mind, spirit and emotions. Our Greek heritage separated our mind from our body, in search of spirit, leaving emotions as barriers to a free search for the glorious. As water is ice and steam, so life is body, thought, feelings, and connection/spirit. It is not one or the other, but a joyous celebration is every aspect of life’s expression.
To understand the Earth as a living, whole, being, to see her expression alive in every other self that exists here, is to become a living part of the majestic whole, that is EARTH. It is to become connected to the whole, to become reseated IN the life around us. The biology that has open up our eyes, my eyes, to the actuality that every self, every life form is actively choosing what makes its own life better, that that is the ONLY decision that life can make, that that is THE decision that can be trusted, has given me deep peace. We CAN trust life to choose life!!!
And that is why we don’t trust each other. At some time, when we choose to be separate, different, special, we also choose to dismiss the need to choose life. We now deny life, dismiss the need to nurture, and enjoy engaging in taking life from others (human and non-human). The belief in that illusion has made us distrust, and rightly so. If we are not actively looking to nurture the life around us, then what are we doing?
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I need solace. Today I need to feel the arms of the planet around me, I need to know I’m OK, everything is OK. Everything is not OK, we now know that, but I need to reconnect to nature to tell me, “We can do this!”
Where I live, there is no untended nature. Yes, I can get in my car and drive, but that seems to defeat the purpose. This is the first place I’ve lived where I can’t just walk out and find solace. It pains me. It pains me a great deal.
We love that phrase – undeveloped land. It gives us permission to….develop. It also denies the value of life living life. I need to walk thought, to sit in, places where life is just living life. I need to feel the joy those plants, insects, nematodes, feel in just being alive – that invigorates me.
I think that is what is missing in my life – the enjoyment of others loving being alive. My friends are overwhelmed with the changes they are dealing with. Many of us have just lost a friend to add to the load. As other lives are expiring, even if you aren’t consciously aware, I believe we feel that loss. Everything that dies needlessly, because of a lack of care, or a denial of or refusal to recognize the importance of that life, hurts.
When life loves life there is a joy that radiates out into the world, a juice we all drink from, that seems to be waning. I am thirsty, I need to drink from the cup of life! The ennui I feel, the lack of interest, is really about that. I can tackle anything. I can get fired up – IF I feel connected to life.
I miss fireflies, big black and gold spiders, butterflies. I miss the blue spruce my neighbor cut down because he feared her roots would interfere with his pipes. I miss the huge elm that was cut down because…? The spirits in those trees didn’t understand either. Surely there is another way?
It seems to me that the strange and violent weather we are experiencing is Mother Nature’s anger at the disrespect we have been expressing for life. Her intent is to keep a rich, vibrant and robust complexity of life on this planet – to glory in the abundance and creativity of life’s expression. And here we are cheerfully eliminating any life that is ‘inconvenient’ to us, or that we think interferes with the few plants and animals we favor. I think she’s had enough.
Like any good parent, however, I think she will forgive us and maybe even settle down, if we mend our ways. I want to live near untamed life. Life I can have a relationship with. Life I can talk to and engage with. I am thrilled when I see other kin living their lives. It is SO neat to watch birds caring for their young. To see alligators putting their young into their mouths to take them to the river after they have hatched – who knew? There is love everywhere! I miss it.
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.
Gaia is a Living System. What is true about systems is that they are wholes, composed of parts. We are not used to seeing wholes, we see only parts. That is not only confusing, but it is at the root of our deep misunderstanding. The parts are intrinsic to the whole – they can’t be removed or replaced; all of the parts are needed! Do you understand how very profound those statements are? Every part of Gaia is needed.
Our bodies are the whole we are most familiar with. Every part is needed! It is true that we can lose limbs and still function, but life will be much harder and more difficult. If we lose toes, then balance is affected. If we lose fingers, then our dexterity becomes difficult. Nature does not tolerate waste of any kind. New research suggests that the appendix is designed to protect good bacteria in the gut. That way, when the gut is affected by a bout of diarrhea or other illness that cleans out the intestines, the good bacteria in the appendix can repopulate the digestive system and keep you healthy. Nothing is useless, we just aren’t always smart enough to understand why something is important. All parts of any whole are necessary, but not all the time.
Gaia is no different from our bodies. ALL of her ‘parts’ are necessary – every life form on this planet is a needed and necessary ‘part’ of the whole that Gaia is. Let me say this again. Every life form on Gaia is a necessary part of the whole, of life. The parts fit, only because they are different, and I’ll say more about that later – that fact, alone, is glorious! Like the appendix, no part is superfluous, no part is extraneous, no part is not needed – that includes humans. For life to continue, it is imperative to maintain the integrity of the whole.
Humans are very good at interrupting that integrity. We destroy forests with an incredible nonchalance. Denuding vast areas without a thought. We replant trees and call it good, but lots of trees do not a forest make. We pave over grass. We kill soil in SO many ways. Think about that – we kill the life beneath our feet, we don’t even know that it’s there. We create huge dead zones where polluted rives run into the sea as the algae, encouraged by run off nitrogen and phosphorous, remove all the oxygen in the water. We encase rivers in concrete, and even change their course, and dam their waters. We poison enormous stretches of land, killing all life forms we don’t want, and assume it doesn’t matter. Yes, nature can limp along without her fingers and toes, but there are always consequences.
Our latest blasphemy is to propose sucking up all life on the floor of the ocean to acquire nickel and cobalt for electric engines. Impossible Mining, a B Corp run by a woman, Renee Grogan, proposes to use robots to pick up the nodules laying on the ground instead of killing everything. See the wonderful article about this in Time, April 13, 2022. There are even trees that ‘bleed’ metal. Researchers have been studying a specialized group, known as hyperaccumulators, that have evolved to take up the normally toxic metals into their stems, leaves and even seeds. We need to slow down and see what our beautiful planet offers.
A big part of maintaining the integrity of the whole is scale. We move too fast and there are too many of us, so we overshoot what the planet offers. The World Wildlife Fund says, “Humanity’s annual demand on the natural world has exceeded what the Earth can renew in a year since the 1970s. This “ecological overshoot” has continued to grow over the years, reaching a 50 per cent deficit in 2008. This means that it takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb the CO2 waste they produce, in that same year.
How can this be possible when there is only one Earth? Just as it is possible to withdraw money from a bank account faster than to wait for the interest this money generates, renewable resources can be harvested faster than they can be re-grown. But just like overdrawing from a bank account, eventually the resource will be depleted.
At present, people are often able to shift their sourcing when this happens; however at current consumption rates, these sources will eventually run out of resources too – and some ecosystems will collapse even before the resource is completely gone.
The consequences of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are also already being seen, like climate change and ocean acidification. These place additional stresses on biodiversity and ecosystems.”
The Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) uses this graphic to clarify what both overshoot and undershoot mean and how they impact our life on this planet:
I find it fascinating that we are overusing Earth’s resources, and at the same time, under serving our human populations. Maybe our ‘human centric’ way of being is just greed?
The integrity that is invisible and that we ignore all the time, is the pace of cycles. Our planet offers an infinity variety of options, possibilities, and resources IF we use things up at the same rate they are created. WE overdraw our back account regularly, doing so is out of integrity!
WE are part of the whole. We are special only in the same way everything else is special. We are unique and therefore offer unique capabilities in service to life, but we must move from a human centric approach, drop our greed, and move to a life centric way of being. We need to become part of the whole again.
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.