by Michael Dowd
"Our present situation, I think, can be summarized by the following three sentences: 1. The glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth. 2. The desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. 3. Therefore, all human activities, professions, programs and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship."
- Thomas Berry
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the diversity, stability, and beauty of the life community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise."
- Aldo Leopold
"In this last day that the Universe has reflected on itself in and through Homo sapiens, for nearly 23 and a half of the past 24 hours we were in the tribal-shamanic period of Earth's cultural development; as hunter-gatherers. This is also known as the paleolithic era or Stone Age. From 11:20pm to 11:40pm, we went through the neolithic village era. Writing developed at the end of this period and, with it, the beginnings of "recorded history." The next nineteen minutes, to 11:59pm, is the period of the classical civilizations, or the age of the classical religious cultures. For the last sixty seconds we have been in the scientific-technological-industrial period. During this last minute we have toxified the air, water and soil upon which all life depends to such a degree that we are now faced with the possibility of a collapse of the planetary life-support systems, or ecocide.
The human is an expression of Earth. We are totally dependent upon the health of the community of Life for our own health. Our own healing and destiny, as individuals or as a species, depends entirely upon our relationship to the land, air, water and life of Earth. What we do to the planet, we do to our self.
It is, of course, possible that the destiny of Life may not include a human expression much longer. This will certainly be so if the destiny of the human becomes the desolation of the Earth. But whether or not our species survives, Earth will continue to evolve, eventually healing the damage done by us. The Milky Way galaxy will continue to spiral, with countless new solar systems being born, living and dying. And the Universe will continue to expand and grow more complex for billions of years after our solar system is but a distant cosmic memory. We are part of an awesome and divine Universe. We are also only a very small part of it. We must keep this perspective in mind when discussing "human destiny." Humility may be the single most important attitude of the heart we will need if we are to continue into the future. Humility and survival go hand in hand. Pride goes before a fall.
We are now at what may be the most significant turning point in the Sacred Story of Life since the 185 million year Mesozoic era, the age of the dinosaurs, came crashing to a close some 65 million years ago. That was when the dinosaurs all died out. The last 65 million years have been called the Cenozoic era, the age of the mammals and the flowering plants. As a direct result of human activity over the past two hundred years, we are now bringing to an end this 65 million year age! It is important to see things from this larger perspective.
Today, species are being eliminated at a rate faster than perhaps any other time in history. Biologist Norman Myers, a specialist in the rain forests and vegetation of the world, says that we are bringing about an "extinction spasm" that is likely to produce "the greatest setback to life's abundance and diversity since the first flickerings of life almost four billion years ago." Thanks to our addictive industrial culture, we are altering the geological structure, the chemistry, and the biological systems of the planet on a scale that would normally have taken millions of years. Yet we are accomplishing this feat in a few short decades.
As the Cenozoic era collapses around us, the logical question becomes, "What's next?" Geologian Thomas Berry suggests two possibilities. The first possibility he calls the Technozoic era. In the Technozoic, humanity would continue to understand "progress" in terms of increasing mechanistic control over the forces of nature for its own superficial, short-term benefit. Through continued scientific innovation and technological cunning, we could create delimited artificial environments to "protect" us in isolation from our despoiled and dying world. The Technozoic would be an isolated hell of existence. Humanity would become ever more alienated from the rest of Life. In the long run, of course, it could not even hope to last. Without spirit, matter decays. The Technozoic could never be sustainable.
Another possibility, perhaps the only viable option for humans, is what Berry calls the Ecozoic era. The primary aspect of the Ecozoic would be the deep somatic awareness of the natural world as our larger body, as our larger self. All species would be granted their habitat, their freedom, and their range of life expression. The Ecozoic would further be characterized by our harmonious alignment with, rather than domination over, the biological processes of the planet. This would require abandoning many of our destructive mechanistic technologies. The natural world itself would be taken as the primary referent for all that we do, and the primary model for all our technologies. In the Ecozoic, all of our activities, professions, programs, and institutions will be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. This is the way of human destiny!
When we see things from a larger perspective, it becomes clear that something more is needed to "save the Earth" than recycling our paper and glass, not using styrofoam, and driving our cars less. Specifically, two things are absolutely necessary if the human expression of Earth is to continue into the future.
As a species, we must make a profound shift in consciousness in the direction of deep ecology if we are to survive. We must grow from seeing ourselves as discrete, separate beings that walk around on Earth, to feeling and knowing ourselves as an expression of Earth. Our thinking and behavior must align with, and flow out of, the reality of our situation: the planet is our larger body, our larger self. We are dependent upon the community of life, air, water and soil in every conceivable way. Unless we make this shift in consciousness, we will continue to be a "cancer," a parasite, consuming its own host environment. We will survive only with the spiritual guidance and awareness of the body of Life as a whole with its billions of years of evolutionary wisdom.
The second thing necessary for the human expression of Earth to survive is for human beings to live in ecologically sustainable communities. We must live our lives in deep communion with each other and with our bioregion: sharing possessions and dwelling space, growing food together in a way that enhances our lives and the soil; laughing, working, playing and celebrating together; and, in short, living in love with each other and with all of Life. We must create ecological communities where we can be most truly ourselves, where we can experience loving physical touch, where we can share our finitude and brokenness and feel loved unconditionally, and where we are both supported and challenged to be all that we can be, especially for future generations.
None of us asked to be alive at this moment in Earth's history. We did not choose to be born at this juncture in the Story. We were chosen. Each of us has been chosen by Life to be alive and to participate in the most significant geological and biological transformation in 65 million years. This is a fact! Can you feel the sense of personal destiny, or a sense of mission or purpose, that such an awareness awakens within you? (If you want to, take a few moments and allow yourself to feel your connectedness to the larger body of Life, and your place in the Sacred Story of Life.) Thomas Berry calls this awareness "the grace of the present moment."
The degree that we live the values of the Ecozoic era now will be the degree to which we participate in its inauguration. Love and Truth must be our guiding realities. As we love Life with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, we will quite naturally love our human and non-human neighbor, and our planet, as our self. That is the true state of affairs. Living the values of the Ecozoic requires being lovingly truthful and gently honest with ourselves and with each other. It means being real and open with the Life that is our Source, Body, and Destiny.
We are all stories within stories within stories, as we discussed at the start. The Great Sacred Story of Life is the biggest story. This story, the Universe story, provides the context for, adds meaning to, and affects the destiny of every other story in existence. That is why everything in human affairs must now be seen in light of this "big picture" in order to have any lasting meaning for present and future generations."
"For peoples, generally, their story of the universe and the human role within the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. Only through this story of how the universe came to be in the beginning and how it came to be as it is does a person come to appreciate the meaning of life or to derive the psychic energy needed to deal effectively with those crisis moments that occur in the life of the individual and in the life of the society. Such a story communicates the most sacred of mysteries... and not only interprets the past, it also guides and inspires our shaping of the future."
- Thomas Berry