how to be
* * *
I wrote the above little poem over a month ago, but over the last few days a couple of apt synchronicities have come to my attention, which I thought I would tack onto this post.
Firstly, I’ve been reading The Dream of the Earth (1988) by cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry, and have come across his own articulations of part of what I mean in my poem, when he identifies
… the earth as the immediate self-educating community of those living and nonliving beings that constitute the earth. I might also go further and designate earth as the primary educational establishment … with a record of extraordinary success over some billions of years. (pp. 89–90)
He goes on to say:
… Our difficulty in appreciating the earth community as primary educator is that we have little sense of or feeling for the natural world in its integral dimension …
A sense of the earth and its meaning is particularly urgent just now, for the different sciences have developed an immense volume of information about the natural world in its physical aspects, and a corresponding power to control it. Yet the earth is still seen as so much quantified matter. Life and consciousness as integral and pervasive dimensions of the earth have until recently found little appreciation except as more advanced phases of a mechanistic process. Because of this, the human community, the psychic component of the earth in its most complete expression, has become alienated from the larger dynamics of the planet and thereby has lost its own meaning. That we are confused about the human is a consequence of our confusion about the planet. (p. 90)
It is also, I think, a consequence of our desecration of the planet, our destruction of wild places and beings—the very places and beings who are meant to, by their wild and numinous presence, and by our interactions and relationships with them, teach us how to be ourselves. Berry writes,
… The natural world is the maternal source of our being as earthlings and the life-giving nourishment of our physical, emotional, aesthetic, moral, and religious existence. The natural world is the large sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence. (p. 81)
The earth is indeed so damaged in many parts that I believe we are diminished as a species, and this is one of the reasons for the amount of confusion and helplessness, and also illness, that exists today.
How, then, do we become fully human when our most important teacher is so injured? How do we heal when our healer is herself sick?
I have no easy answers. Only that wildness and beauty do still thrive. The earth still lives and contains immense powers, both physical and psychic, so perhaps there is time yet to change our course as humans. Thus we must seek out and protect wildness wherever it is found—including the wildness in ourselves (for we ourselves are microcosms of the earth)—and particularly in the remaining indigenous cultures that have so much to teach us about how to live, if only we would listen.
This brings me to the second synchronicity, a beautiful film called Humano, which provides an insight into the old ways of earth–human relationship and education that we once knew so well. I highly recommend it.