“I am made to love the pond and meadow, as the wind is made to ripple the water. ”
- Henry David Thoreau
We know the difference that kind of love makes; it’s a compulsion so powerful that we simply can’t help ourselves. It’s called puppy love when we’re teenagers and it’s irrational. Maybe we adults need more of that.
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We’re proud of our rationality and the achievements that come from it. Modern civilization is a marvel of accomplishment; who could argue with that? Of course, the closer you get, the more suspect that premise becomes. Yes, we’ve built monuments to our cleverness but they are built on a foundation of sacrifice and denial. We’ve lost our connection to the innocence of that adolescent yearning, something primal and true, and we have “grown up” to ignore the consequences of technology untethered to the laws of nature.
On our watch, home Earth has been battered, raped, and poisoned, nearing a point where she may now reject the species doing all this: us. Acknowledging this truth (and how many of us can handle the truth?), we are appropriately sobered and perhaps inspired to reconsider “progress.”
James Lovelock, who coined the term Gaia to describe our planet as a living being, wrote that “Gaia is an emergent phenomenon, comprehensible intuitively, but difficult or impossible to analyze by reduction.”
Our culture is a cult of reductionism. We take things apart, figure out what makes them tick, and then manufacture them ourselves, assembly line style. Remember when mothers were discouraged from breast feeding? Having analyzed breast milk and produced “formula,” why on earth would any baby need the old fashioned original? But what’s inevitably lost in the substitution process is the soul of the thing. And so we live in a soul less world. Less soul, more artificiality.
Of course, we can’t survive that horror without something to distract us. And that something comes in many forms. Social philosopher Morris Berman describes this in The Reenchantment of the World: “Addiction, in one form or another, characterizes every aspect of the industrialized society… Dependence on alcohol, drugs, food, and tobacco, is not formally different from dependence on prestige, career achievement, world influence, wealth, the need to build more ingenious bombs, or the need to exercise control over everything.”
That’s the bad news, if we dare consider it. What’s the good news? Is there any good news? Yes indeed and, ironically, once glimpsed, it’s so obvious and appealing — compelling even — that it changes everything. This magic is seeded in Thoreau’s poetic observation: “I am made to love the pond and meadow, as the wind is made to ripple the water.”
Notice the wording: “I am made to love…” This can be read in several different ways and all of them offer deliverance from the soul-numbing spell of reductionist-based civilization. I am made to love: There is a force compelling me (remember puppy love!). Also, I am made to love: This is my purpose.
He compares this to the relationship between wind and water. Imagine that for a moment, if you can. Picture the water rippling as wind caresses it; there’s no imposition in that, it’s a dance of elemental forces. Might this delightful vision inspire us to begin reclaiming what we’ve long lost, a personal connection with the ways of nature?
Consider this evocative description of what happened to author Stephen Harrod Buhner as he explored the wilderness. “Now in the primeval silence of some unexplored tropical forest I spread my feathery leaves, a giant fern, and swayed and nodded in spice–gales over a river whose waves at once sent up clouds of music and perfume. My soul changed to a vegetable essence, thrilled with the strange and unimagined ecstasy.” 1
He describes what may happen to any one us who voluntarily surrenders human exceptionalism to rejoin our kin in the community of life. Imagine that, actually being one, not just conceptualizing about it but experiencing it, having the visceral experience, such as he describes, beyond just being human.
When the walls come down, all the separating beliefs (for instance, the one where human beings are the smartest species on the planet… where’s the proof?), and we swim again in the great river of all life, everything changes. It will seem that the sun has risen again in our souls and that a long, sad night is over. Such an awakening—which must lead to compassion and prompt a new kind of “achievement” — might just save us.
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1. Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, Stephen Harrod Buhner, page 220