Caring for Earth is caring for our self and our community

To care for the Earth and for life’s common future does not require some form of spiritually motivated altruism once we are conscious of the systemic interdependencies that our survival depends upon. The motivation for intelligent and aware people to transform business as usual can simply be a form of enlightened self-interest. It is also true that once we start the practice of caring for others (humans and other species) in the same way as we care for ourselves, we begin to realize that our perception of a separate self was in itself a limited perspective. We are relational beings in a world where everything affects everything and therefore to care for others is to care for our self. We are integral participants and expressions of Life.

The way to care for our selves and our families, the way to sustain this and future generations of human beings is to care for life as a whole. Whether we chose to draw upon spiritual teachings or a reconnection with the sacred in order to imbibe this insight with even deeper meaning for us is our choice, not a requirement.

“Finding our place in the family of things” (from a poem by Mary Oliver)

At their very core all the world’s spiritual traditions and sacred texts reflect upon the question of right relationships, between people and between all of life. So maybe the way to finally disarm religious fanaticism and separatism could be to revisit these wisdom traditions and explore their common message about how to live in right relationship with each other and the Earth? Our future depends on the health of ecosystems everywhere. The health of the biosphere and the future of humanity are inseparable. More than sixty years ago Albert Einstein saw the challenge ahead:

“A human being is part of the whole — called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.” — Albert Einstein

Einstein understood the limitations we impose on ourselves by our way of thinking, which determines what we focus on and how we see the world. He asked us to question who we are and our relationships with all of life and the universe as a whole. Einstein invited us to explore a more systemic perspective, holistic thinking, and an integrative consciousness that acknowledges our participatory intimacy with Universe, as a fundamentally interconnected and continuously transforming whole manifesting as patterns of energy, matter, and consciousness. In this view matter and consciousness, matter and life, matter and mind, matter and spirit are not separate but intertwined.

We cannot expect our scientific methodology to provide us with irrefutable proof of such claims, as the perspective of being able to prove something based on objective data and research is in itself part of the narrative of separation that divided heart from mind, culture from nature, self from world, science from spirituality in the first place.

We can however step into the space between stories, between narratives and acknowledge multiple ways of knowing, neither dismissing the reductionistic scientific perspective nor the participatory holistic perspective. If we are able to suspend judgement from within the dogmatic tendencies of our dominant worldview and open ourselves to experiencing reality in new ways, these are some speculative questions we might want to live into:

What if consciousness is primary rather than matter?

What if our specie’s most astonishing evolutionary innovation and ‘raison d’être’ — our saving grace — is that through us the transforming whole (Universe) is able to know itself and become conscious of itself?

Maybe we are worth sustaining after all? As the poet T.S. Eliot put it in Little Gidding: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” Feel free to leave aside such speculative questions taking us to the limits of what our current scientific theories are able to explain, and beyond. These questions take us outside the objectively knowable and focus our attention on the ‘coming into being’ of phenomena through conscious subjective participation. The mediators, yogis, martial artists, dancers, mountaineers, and many others among you might have had a peak experience which made you ask similar questions.

So, is humanity worth sustaining? Life and Earth will continue without us. Yet, will it not be a much impoverished place without a species capable of reflecting on the miracle of life’s evolution and able to be awestruck by the beauty of this precious planet? We have to be honest with ourselves. Even in dedicating our lives to the creation of a regenerative culture and a more sustainable future, we are not ‘saving the planet’ or ‘saving life on Earth.’ Both will continue long after our species meets its almost inevitable fate of extinction. Nevertheless, we don’t have to actively accelerate our own demise, as we have done with increasing effort since the industrial revolution.

Would we not do better to care for all of life and the planetary life support system in ways that assure that our relatively young species gets its opportunity to live to maturity and wisdom?

Consider all the creativity and beauty we have already been able to express through our diverse cultures and their arts, sciences, literature, music, stories, and cultural traditions. Humanity has already created a multitude of reflections of the ultimate in the intimate. Are you not also curious what our species might be capable of if we “widen our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature”?

By caring for the Earth and all of life, we care for ourselves. By embracing our own nature as expressions of Nature, humanity can become a conscious force of healing. By keeping the limits of our own knowing in mind, we can begin to humbly contribute to the flourishing rather than the impoverishment of Life.

Trailer for a documentary about Thomas Berry, who was among the first to call for a new story to guide humanity from a participatory understanding of our relationship to Universe. He famously said: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”

Overcoming the pain and the isolation of the narrative of separation means to learn to love our selves in order to love life more fully. By co-creating regenerative cultures we are saving our specie from an untimely, tragic extinction. Let’s give our young species its opportunity to fulfil its wonderful potential! Just imagine the beauty we could co-create. Let’s do it for Life! Let’s do it for beauty! And most of all: let’s do it with love, humility, compassion and in gratitude!

[This piece is based on an excerpt from my book Designing Regenerative Cultures published by Triarchy Press in May 2016].