October 17, 2020

We Can’t Afford to keep Pretending we’re Smarter than the Living World.


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It is said that cartographers call the blank spaces on a map “sleeping beauties.”

Fair maidens lying along the land, their virginity just waiting to be captured and plundered. I am reminded of how we are all trained to think in this way—nature as something to be taken and used productively by humans. Heated, beaten, treated into a shape of domesticity.

We can’t seem to help ourselves in our inoculation of separateness. This compartmentalizing shows up in every aspect of our current worldview. Our dominator’s training shows up even in seemingly helpful definitions and descriptions of us being “earthkeepers” implementing “sustainable practices.” But presuming that we are keepers of the earth automatically places us above all other living things. In our god-like position, we are still believing we are in charge of something.

Most of us were not raised in a family or culture that placed our feet deep in the intelligent matrix of the cool, moist earth. We were not taught to weave prayers of interconnectedness in every blanket, every basket, every interaction, every song, every prayer. We were not brought up to see ourselves as nature walking and working in human form. This is not our parents’ fault or their parents’ fault. They were also never taught. They also had deaf ears to their earth-honoring ancestors—those who might remind us that we are the howl of prayers uttered long ago.

There is so much we still don’t see. We see the fingers but not the spaces between them. We see the fruit without the air, sun, frost, soil organisms, bees, thunderstorms that have all made it what it is. Life creates the conditions for life. We don’t seem to be able to do the same.

Regenerative means to re-create itself. But are we supporting a world where that is still possible? The thing is that there are answers to our questions everywhere, we just need to change the lens through which we see the world. We do not have a lack of information, we have a lack of integration. Organisms out there have already solved all of our human problems. After 3.8 billion years, the natural world has solved the puzzles, healed the diseases, and is quite well-adapted in its genius. It is a great leap we must make, a complete rediscovery of what it means to be human.

We must learn to finally listen to our limits. Dissolve our norms. Squirm around in discomfort with the change and uncertainty. It is no longer enough to just keep ourselves going as we have. Living systems grow their tendrils into everything, regenerative systems keep rebirthing themselves, whole systems are endlessly diverse and layered as the forest floor.

Our ecological selves want to rise now, for we each have a unique ecological role, just as important as any role we carry in our society. Your very specific way of belonging in the biosphere is just as unique as the role of a microbe, a mushroom, a mountain lion, or any other being.

Spending time in nature, quietly and respectfully, reveals our particular place in the more-than-human world. Every niche of the world is filled by a life-form that perfectly fits, being born for that very function. In this way, there are always forms and forces in wild nature that reflect the source of us, the very truth that lives at our core.

In the arising of my ecological self, I feel the lines around my eyes are parched river valleys ready to fill with tear-rain,

my inner ears are creeping snail shells, my teeth are collected cowrie shells,

my spine a stretching redwood, my blood the ink of an escaping squid,

my heart’s ventricles the beating flippers of a blue whale, my eyelashes the dancing of many daddy-long-legs,

my callouses an armadillos shell, my uterus the comfort of a kangaroo’s pouch,

my ankles the barnacles on a seaweed-covered rock, and the keratin of my nails the overlapping pattern of a gecko’s toes.

My pupils are the meeting of sperm and egg.

The cosmos is full of these ever-repeating patterns, vibrations of circle, flow, wave, and spiral that resonated forth with the very biggest of bangs. It is not by mere chance that patterns of vein networks echo again and again in the hierarchy of leaves, the human nervous system, the lungs of my asthmatic grandmother, the winding arms of the Columbia River, the frost-like fingers of mineral dendrites, and the vast mycorrhizal underworld.

Patterns of spiral swirl in the ammonite fossil in my son’s rock collection, the mathematically precise romanesco cauliflower before it is split by my knife, the fuzzy fiddleheads emerging from their spring nurseries, the baby whirlpool within my bathtub drain, and the hurricane descending on my mother’s house in Charleston.

We can’t afford to keep pretending to be smarter than the living world, smarter than the design of these whole systems. These patterns are intuitive, purposeful, and endlessly repeating. They make up the very shape and movement of our own flesh, our lungs, our hearts, our brains.

There is no more denying this powerful, unifying intermeshing, and our place within it. Let us come to understand our belonging. We no longer need to believe in our aloneness. We have already paid a dear price for the story of exalted separateness we carry.

Let our connections touch us deeply as we finally feel emotionally invested and ready for radical change within the dark reaches of our individual lives. The essence of our human souls cannot be separated from the wildness of the natural world.


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