The Earth as a Living Being
I’ve been thinking a lot lately on my relationship to the Earth. By now we’ve all heard the concept to treating the Earth as a living being. James Lovelock put forth his Gaia Theory in the 1970s, Bolivia has enacted the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010, and most recently the nation has seen the efforts of this belief in action in the peace camps at Standing Rock. But I’ve been thinking lately about what that concept REALLY means. Because even though I’m in love with that theory, I’ve been noticing how is does or doesn’t show up in my life as practice.
For me it started with the simple idea of asking permission, and giving thanks for what I take from the Earth. For many years this only came into play for me when I was harvesting herbal medicines. Something about the sacredness of making medicines was enough to remind me to practice good manners in my harvesting.
Other times like finding a patch of wild huckleberries or fishing for Salmon in British Columbia, my response was more like that of an excited kid. “OMG! Look at all this!” and I would find myself caught up in the present moment, wrapped up in the pure joy of the abundance Mother Nature was throwing my way. I used to feel guilty for those moments, but now I think of my own son, and how at age 3 his child-like enthusiasm often gets the best of him, and he just can’t help diving in to what ever delicious treasure he finds. I think of how as a mother I take joy in his enthusiasm and love for whatever I have provided, and I hope that is a little bit how the Earth must feel about me. Surely the Earth must have some motherly grace saved up for her overly-enthusiastic children marveling at her bounty from time to time? Especially when the bounty is given as freely as a patch of Huckleberries.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer lays out what she calls the 3 rules of an Ethical harvest; 1. Ask permission, 2. Take only what is given, 3. Give thanks for what you have taken.
I’ve noticed that when I’m in direct relationship to the Earth it is easy to be in right relationship to her, even if I’m acting like a 3 year old and forget to ask please, the pure joy I feel at discovering that patch of huckleberries lets me know that yes, this gift is freely given. In those instances She makes it easy: Her beauty and majesty make it hard to do anything but feel grateful.
Where it gets hard is when the relationship between what I’m consuming and the Earth is so far removed, that I cannot find her in the thread.
As Kimmerer asks in her book: Where is the Earth in the aisles and aisles of plastic goods at Walmart? She is there, all of those polymers were once microscopic sea creatures that lived millions of years ago, but they are so far removed from the place they started out as, that it is hard to remember. And think of the line of people who touched those products to get them on your store shelves, it is almost dizzying. It is so much easier NOT to give thanks, not to think about it: To consume and get on with your day.
For those of us conscious of the idea of right relationship with the Earth we are forced to walk in two worlds. On one side the world where we recognize her presence, we directly interact with her, harvest, hike, hunt, and revere her. And the other world where we are forced to interact with some of the technologies that are harming her. Where I currently live, oil is the main fuel used to heat homes. And I need my home heated. So I walk the walk that many of you probably do: trying to reduce my footprint as best I can by turning the heat down, and installing a wood stove.
Doing all these things make sense in their own right, but there is something else I have noticed: When I move closer on the scale of right relationship with the earth, I feel better. I feel better about everything.
Here are a few examples of when I have noticed it is easiest for me to be in right relationship with the Earth:
- Being outside, this may seem like a given, but how many of us go whole days without really spending some conscious time in nature? When I’m outside my whole pattern of thinking changes.
- Getting as close to the harvest as possible. I feel really different about the food I prepare from the farmer’s market and the food I buy at the grocery store. It’s all food, but meeting the farmer, knowing that the food was grown on the same land I wake up to every morning makes a difference. That difference carries over to the way I cook and how I feel about eating. Since I believe that intention is the core foundation of magic, the way I feel about my food carries over as a healing intention that affects the way I prepare it, and touches everyone who eats it.
- Harvesting myself, nothing beats harvesting by hand. The reverence that I slip into while cooking is doubled or tripled if I’ve harvested the food myself. It is true what people say about a web of life. You can feel yourself a part of it when you enter into the dance of the harvest. Whether I am casting my fishing pole into a crystal clear river, or gathering stinging nettles in the spring, the feeling is the same. “I am part of this place.” Of course harvesting from the wild brings great responsibility, and we are seeing a huge impact on nature from over harvesting certain species. But harvesting gets us invested in the land we live in. When we see the wilderness as another source of our livelihood, we are more invested in saving it.
Like I said above, it isn’t a perfect balance, but there are things I notice that bring me into greater relationship with the Earth. Making a conscious choice to do those things makes all the difference in my life.
Now I’m curious about you. What are the things you do that make you feel closer to the Earth as a living being? Where are the places you tend to stray? To forget? And most importantly, how do you find the balance? Leave me comment below.