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.
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!
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.