A New Story of Earth

"There is nothing of me that is not Earth, no split instant of separateness, no particle that disunites me from my surroundings. The rivers run through my veins, the winds blow in and out with my breath, the soil makes my flesh, the sun’s heat smolders inside me… The life of Earth is my own life."

- Richard Nelson

In the above quote, author and naturalist, Richard Nelson, is inviting us to acknowledge our deep interconnection with the natural world—with Earth! But this can be challenging insofar as many of us, today, spend much of our lives inside; and, as a result, have become indoor people.

What about you? How would you characterize your relationship with Earth? For example, is Earth mostly:

A) A backdrop for your daily activities?
B) A supply house for your needs?
C) A dumpsite for your trash?
D) All of the above?
E) None of the above?

If you respond with A or B or C or D, your relationship with Earth would appear to be mostly utilitarian. But if your answer is “E” (none of the above) there is clearly something more going on between you and Earth. For example, maybe you see Earth, primarily, as: i-the home to millions of extraordinary species; or ii-a masterpiece of feedback loops, cycles and energetic interdependencies; or, iii-the generative Mother who provides and cares for all of us?

This final way of seeing and speaking about Earth may seem a bit odd. But before dismissing it outright, I have a simple request to make.  All I ask is that you use the index finger of your right hand to point to Earth. Easy, right? Just point to Earth! So, where are you pointing? Up? Down? Right? Left? All around? It turns out that, irrespective of where you might be pointing, you are correct. Yes, Earth is all around us! But, I’m curious to know if you were awake enough to point back to yourself?

Put another way: Are you aware that you, yourself, are a part of Earth…that you are a literal manifestation of Earth?! After all, the elements found in the ground beneath your feet are the same ones that make up your body. Yes, everything in you, of you and about you, is, literally, Earth! There is no separation between your body and Earth’s body. In this very moment you are Earth breathing… Earth reading… And if you choose to stand, you will be Earth standing! What it’s like to be in tender relationship—not just with yourself, not just with other humans, but—with Earth, the Mother that we all share in common.

Separate From Earth?

When I suggest to college students that they may be separate from the living Earth that sustains them—some beg to differ. “After all,” they counter, “because of the internet, with just a few keystrokes, we can be ‘connected’ to everyone and everything on Earth!” I, too, know what it’s like to have access to all manner of information at my fingertips. Yet, I am coming to realize, along with millions of others, that the more time I spend dwelling in cyberspace, the more separate I become from what is real, visceral and vital.

Given this increasing physical separation from Earth, it is no surprise that so many of us have limited knowledge regarding the origins of the water, food, energy and clothing that we depend on for our survival; nor do we have much understanding, or even interest, in knowing the fate of these natural services after we are finished with them. You can gauge your sensibility and knowledge in these realms by considering questions such as:
•Where does your water—this most basic of substances that you depend on every day—come from?
•Where does the water that washes down your drain and toilet bowl go?
•What about the origins of the goods entering your home—especially food and clothing? Do you know where these things come from?
•And, how about the solid waste that leaves your dwelling? Do you know what happens to it after it is picked up at your curbside?
•Finally, what about the energy (e.g., gas, oil, solar, etc.) that you use to electrify, heat and cool your home? Where does it come from?

If you are like most people, you have been conditioned to think that water simply comes from the tap, food from the supermarket, clothes from the store, energy from the plug, and so forth. Understood in this way, it is no surprise that so many of us are divorced from the living world… lacking a visceral connection to the forces of wind, sunlight, soil and water… all the while, tending to regard Earth’s plants and animals, forests and mountains, rivers and oceans, sunrises and sunsets… as little more than scenery.

If Mother Earth had a voice, she might choose to speak to us with these words…

If you could write a letter to Mother Earth, what would your letter say?

Compassion for All Earth’s Creatures

Some years ago, environmental activist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy, traveled to Tibet to help those living in a small mountain community start a craft cooperative. One morning, during her visit, she met with a group of Buddhist monks. During the meeting, it happened that a fly landed in Joanna’s tea. Though this was not a matter of concern for Macy, a young monk sitting by her side, leaned over and asked if she was all right. Macy assured him that she was fine; after all, it was just a fly. A moment later the monk, again, expressed his concern and again she reassured him that she was fine and he need not worry. But the young man’s concern was so great that he excused himself, and headed outside, taking away her tea cup, fly and all. When he returned to the meeting a few minutes later, he was beaming as he assured Macy that the little fly—whom he had placed on a bush to dry, had recovered and was OK.

For Macy, this was a breakthrough moment as she came to understand that the young man’s compassion extended—not just to her, but—to all beings.

In interpreting this story, author and wildlife rehabilitator Joanna Lauck, wrote: “Our sense of self expands when we extend our compassion to insects. It is an appropriate response to our interdependence. The question is not how to connect with a fly—we are already connected. The question is how to translate that connection into appropriate behavior. Helping one in need is always a good place to start.”  

Artwork: Mandala de la Vida

Regardless of where we might point when asked to locate Earth, the truth is that we are all Earthlings. This truth is made evident in every moment—with our every breath—through all that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch…

As a means of manifesting our oneness with Earth’s body, may we all breathe in LIFE and breathe out LOVE.  

"Though we have all been conditioned to believe that we live on Earth, the truth is that we live in Earth."

- Alan Hanczyc, Steppingstone #28 Guide

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