If we make it to being a sustainable species, our offspring may look back to the 1969 landing on the moon as one turning point. Perhaps some of the science fiction coming out of the space age will be seen as inspiring a more grounded yet cosmic spirituality. And perhaps our offspring will also find meaning that Greenpeace, which a lot of people don’t yet realize started in Canada to protest U.S. nuclear weapons testing off Alaska, was created the same year as the first moon landing.
Until the moon landing, no human had ever seen or been able to vividly imagine planet earth, as a whole. Being a self-conscious and highly emotionally-vulnerable species, we couldn’t imagine ourselves in any other way than being at the centre of the universe. This was true whatever our cosmology. It was our group and our lives that mattered most.
Egocentrism and geocentricism reinforced each other, whether living in tribal, peasant or industrial circumstance. Armed with such beliefs we felt we had some control; with the help of fear-based beliefs we created powerful systems of domination. Sometimes we dominated people in our group; sometimes we dominated other people as well. All this is at the root of today’s global-ecological loss of control. Something fundamental went adrift on “paradise” earth.
HUMBLED BY GAIA
Seeing the “blue pearl” from outer space humbled the astronauts, and perhaps the image of the planet burned into our heart and brain is starting to humble us all. From out there, humanity seems meshed with the planet. From out there, distinctions among humans and between humans and other creatures seem superficial, even irrelevant. From out there, the industrial-economic institutions that are mostly responsible for today’s ecologic blowback, don’t seem to dominate the planet. Huge toxic scars left from such mega-projects as the tar sands are still dwarfed by the natural systems; the oceans and atmosphere encircling the planet.
Perhaps the perspective from “out there” is close to what we imagined to be an all-knowing god, looking out for, and over, us. But that would be our perception, so let’s finally take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
Gaian philosopher Lovelock has noted, “As we move in towards the Earth from space, first we see the atmospheric boundary that enclosed Gaia; then the borders of an ecosystem such as the forests; then the skin or back of living animals; further in are the cell membranes; and finally the nucleus of the cell and its DNA.” We can also reverse this perspective, so that we better grasp that humans co-exist with all other living beings within the biosphere. With imagination and science, we can go both ways; “out” into the cosmos, or “down” into the cellular level. But it’s not about continuing to see the world hierarchically. It’s more about fully experiencing our inter-Being. We co-exist within this beautiful web of life, which has boundaries of function and sentience, but no real borders when it comes to energy and existence.
Human borders, of course, continue to stand in the way of this awareness, and an eco-centric outlook can help surpass these – whether they come from creed, nation or empire. There are rigid borders of belief as well as defended borders of geography. And we are all indebted to groups like Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, and to artists, film makers, musicians, educators, lawyers, engineers, and any other grouping that engages with the world, as it truly is, without borders. The globalization of corporate markets, which homogenize culture and undermine bio-diversity, is another matter. Creativity which truly “fuses” human traditions will continue to help overcome ego-centrism.
It is futile to defend the borders we have constructed around ourselves; we can’t make ourselves separate from the grand energetics of this planet. We are, after all, never alone. Our breath connects us to the atmosphere; our DNA connects us with all living creatures. We simply have to learn to better see and experience our belongingness, here and now, more deeply.
Why would we not want to enjoy being in this place? Why would we not want to better share and preserve this place, and reduce and prevent human and other suffering? Why wouldn’t we want to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of justice and the elimination of war; rather than accumulate wealth from an unsustainable economy that perpetuates ecological and human decline? Even if we are not here for long, as individuals, why would we wish to deny that we are here at all? Why would we want to miss out on such exuberance by living in dualistic denial?
We are beginning to more clearly see where we are, and what we have to do to be able to survive as a responsible species. Our evolution to this point has created religious, cultural and economic myths and baggage which now interfere with our capacity to survive and sustain ourselves. We are not doomed; nature doesn’t doom species, it just replaces them. Thankfully, our baggage includes our greatly underused, “big-brain” capacity for foresight. And it includes our greatly underused big-hearted capacity for compassion. Both will assist us to make the necessary developmental leap.
Perhaps what is really needed is for us to “perform” as though we are going to be a sustainable species, and get on with it. Each person and community that embraces the slow change gathering momentum is part of the “natural selection” towards sustainability. Is there really any other realistic and positive choice once you have seen and accepted both the darkness and the light?
Next time I’ll report on the 820 km 7000 Generations Walk which went from Beauval to Regina from July 27th to August 16th.