For Earth Day
As we approach another Earth day, it’s clear that humanity is facing a host of problems. The obvious problem is the seemingly relentless devastation of the natural world. The hidden problem is the difficulty that we have facing the reality of that devastation.
We all have our own sense of fear, grief and anger over the ecological crisis that we are facing, though we don’t always have safe places to express those emotions. Perhaps it would be best to not start with a laundry list of problems, but with a simple acknowledgement that our despair over the state of the Earth is a real thing; to acknowledge that we feel it deeply; to accept that the pain of the Earth is experienced in our own bodies. This acknowledgment helps us to emerge from the psychic paralysis that occurs when we hear of another sacred place being destroyed, or of another species going extinct. We have done our best to distract ourselves from this pain through activity, but it continues to ache deep down in the core of our being. We try to hide it because we have mistakenly come to believe that this pain is a sign of weakness. But, in fact, it is a sign of hope. Our emotional pain over these losses tells us something vital about ourselves. It tells us that we are still capable of feeling our connection to the Earth, and; that we are still capable of feeling love and compassion for other living beings.
If we hope to enter into a healing relationship with the Earth, we must first come into a healing relationship with our feelings about the Earth. Then, we can begin to relate to them, rather than being lost in them. This empowers us to be present in our own experience, rather than trying to escape it with busyness. When we are able to be present in our own experience, something opens up inside of us. In that opening there is a space for deeper wisdom to emerge, for a deeper connection to life to take hold.
Luther Standing Bear once wrote that the “old Indian” liked to sit upon the Earth, “to be able to think more deeply and feel more keenly…and to come closer in kinship to other lives about him.” Being connected to the Earth allows us to have a deeper feeling experience with life. When we lose our connection to the Earth, we lose our awareness of the central life-force that connects us to the rest of creation. That awareness is the key to living a balanced life. When we understand our kinship with all living things, we behave differently. We place our feet more carefully; we share more freely, and; we guard the safety of others as closely as our own. We develop a synergistic awareness of the world around us; we are empowered to act on behalf of one another, or on behalf of the whole creation. We are compelled by something larger than ourselves, individually. We are compelled by our awareness of our place in the larger construct of life. We are no longer outsiders, apart; we are now inside the larger evolutionary process of life. From here, we recognize the intrinsic value of each element of creation, and the sacredness of all life.
Framing a new social ethic for the larger society, one that contains a defined land ethic, is essential to our continued survival. The pioneer mindset, with its adversarial view of nature, involves a relationship with the land that is strictly economic. It sees only benefit and privilege; it does not see responsibilities or shared obligations. Society must relinquish the notion that man is conqueror of the land, and develop a new ethic that places man in his proper place within creation, as a member of an extended community that includes the plants, animals, and waters. In order for this shift to occur, man must recognize that the ache that he feels in his gut is the umbilical connection that he shares with Mother Earth. It aches because man has wandered too far from the Earth, stretching that cord to its limit. Modern man has blindly followed intellect and analytical reasoning, while forgetting the teachings of his heart. Indigenous people, on the other hand, have maintained their connection to the Earth Mother. They have stayed with the land and cultivated the ways of the heart. It is now time for us to bring those teachings together. We must bring our intellect into alignment with the wisdom of the heart, so that we can all return to a more balanced way of living, in harmony with the Earth and all other living beings. Then, we will finally recognize that nature has value in its own right, and is not merely a tool for human needs. The Earth has a right to exist, whole and intact, and to maintain healthy systems, in order to ensure the continuation of ALL life. And, all peoples have a right to inherit all of the life-sustaining resources of nature, and to hold them in trust for the benefit of all future generations.
We must come to realize that our bodies have developed in mutuality with a living Earth, and to cut ourselves off from that mutuality robs us of the very thing that makes us who we are. Only through a renewed connection to the Earth will we begin to heal ourselves, because the truth of the matter is this – the Earth does not need us, it is we that need the Earth.
Sherri Mitchell is a member of the Penobscot Nation. She is an Indigenous Rights Attorney, and a Human and Earth Rights Activist.
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