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Uprisings For The Earth: Reconnecting Culture With Nature

Personal transformation is critical to mitigating our global crises.

Educators and psychologists, artists and activists, elders and leaders have all asserted that at the core of our global, societal and environmental crises is a need to change our fundamental personal values, and what we consider meaningful in our lives. While we teeter on a precipice without knowing the outcome, it’s encouraging to remember that unprecedented changes have occurred throughout history—positive shifts that at one time seemed impossible.

Many of us have drawn upon examples of these shifts for inspiration: from the abolishment of slavery to the achievement of women’s suffrage; from the end of Apartheid in South Africa to the fall of the Berlin Wall; from passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts to the emergence of green technology. And although we still face ongoing struggles, we can see and experience the worldwide benefits of these paradigm shifts as they occur. Yet these changes came about in our human realm only because the problems’ root causes—the suffering or imbalances— were first recognized by individuals who changed their minds, thus changing the world around them.

The outer geography of our human presence on Earth will change on a larger scale only when our internal geography changes, and not before. We require a new cultural story and societal dream in order to formulate Earth-honoring choices as we journey down this road less traveled.

Thomas Berry articulates this in his landmark book The Dream of the Earth: “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”

To find new cultural and personal stories, and to learn from their subtle sensibilities, we must first hear them.

Through deeper listening, we can become present to an alive world, one in which we can learn something new. Maybe we can find something we have been searching for, something that comes to us because we have been listening to the stories of woodlands and creeks, glaciers and deserts, polar bears and honeybees.

Scientists’ warning of imminent biological doom makes it clear that we need to choose wisely and act quickly. To draw upon our full potential as a conscious and conscientious species seems imperative at this critical juncture; to do so requires not only external information but also knowledge from our innermost being. Taking time for inward reflection is not only intelligent, but also gives us the necessary vision to move forward. To paraphrase a Japanese proverb: Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.

This kind of envisioning, or inward contemplation, begins with quietude so that we can listen to a deeper, more mature voice inside, and to the natural laws and rhythms of the Earth. When we allow ourselves to be intimate with nature, we can remember that we are inseparable from the community of the rivers, forests and animals around us. We can remember that all people, all species, share one sky. This intimacy with our living planet is one of the most crucial components in generating deep care of the Earth and each other, and it may be the very inspiration that fuels the “collective will” that climate leaders are telling us is necessary to make the change to new lifestyles, new values, new justice, new legislation and a new, post-carbon economy.

The natural world offers us enduring lessons in design, sustainability, balance and ecological health while also echoing back to us our sacred place in the greater community of the Earth.

The natural world offers us enduring lessons in design, sustainability, balance and ecological health while also echoing back to us our sacred place in the greater community of the Earth. With insight gained in the stillness of the mountain, desert or forest, as well as in a city park or home garden, we can be more certain that our actions will address long-term and enduring goals. This larger vision is bound to bring us deeper satisfaction, and not just immediate, superficial fixes.

When we sit with the quiet of nature we are reminded of time: that it can take hundreds of years to grow a mature tree, thousands to make a mountain, but only a day or a year to destroy them for short-term gain. It is here in nature that we can best learn the practice of foresight— of actually seeing ahead—and adopt the long-term goal of care for “the seventh generation,” an elegant concept of sustainability long held by the Iroquois Nation in their Great Laws. We need laws that will not harm future generations. What would happen if meetings held by world leaders and decision makers were to take place over a slowed-down, two-week period in a wild forest or mountain wilderness—instead of within the insulated urban chambers of the most frenetic cities?