I’ve been told that the Dineh people of the desert southwest describe someone who has gotten grievously off-track in his life and behavior by saying: “He’s acting like he doesn’t have any relatives.”
Among ancestral peoples, someone who acts like he or she doesn’t have relatives—someone who behaves as if they are not linked to their life-honoring ancestral ways, and who disrespects and rejects the human and non-human members of their community—is in major trouble. Those who rudely fail to acknowledge their connections or carry out their obligations to Gaia’s web of life, of which they are inevitably a part, are considered seriously ill, both mentally and spiritually.
When we look at our modern, human-supremacist culture, we see that we’ve been acting like we don’t have any relatives for hundreds of years. Think about a virgin forest being clearcut. Is it possible to imagine that the initial surveyors and road-builders, the chain saw crew, truck drivers and mill operators, the timber company executives, the builders and developers eager to buy the resultant forest products—that anyone in this long succession of humans preying on the forest believes that the forest is their relative?! On the contrary, the actual trees are only considered a resource that is fittingly exploited for human well-being and comfort; and the accompanying destruction of the forest’s whole chain of life, from the soil and understory plants to the birds and animals, the flowing streams and the pure air, is just unquestioned collateral damage.
Similarly, in mining, the earth on top of an ore deposit is referred to as the “overburden.” This unfortunate piece of living Earth, with all its plants and creatures, is considered to be no more than an inconvenience—something that must be efficiently dug up and flung aside in order to get to the valuable stuff underneath. There are no relatives in this picture, only commodities—and waste.
And… it’s also true that all of us, however conscious and modest our lifestyles, depend on the products of the forests and mines, the factories and oil fields, to support our material lives. The truth of modern life on Earth is that we are all caught in a huge, intertwined industrial-technological-political-economic system based on the premise that we don’t have any relatives—a system in complete opposition to Gaia and Her laws.
Our primary spiritual task here—beyond all the practical steps we can and should take to live simpler, cleaner, less impactful lives—is to explicitly, ongoingly honor and affirm all of our relatives. Doing so helps us, of course, because it accords with our real nature as members of Gaia’s web. We do have relatives! And our souls remember how it feels to connect with and celebrate them.
Equally important, however, when we regularly, humbly affirm our interconnections with the entirety of Gaia, we enter into a sacred, reciprocal exchange with the more-than-human realms. Being in relationship here means that all participants in the exchange benefit and nourish one another. We all partake of Gaia’s balancing, regenerative forces. We are all in Her together. Thus, we can become allies, not opponents.
Sometime soon, take a few minutes to go out on the land—your garden, a local park, or a nearby wild area. Present yourself as a human being who wants connection and alliance, not domination and exploitation. Listen. Watch. Feel. Offer something to the spirits of the land, perhaps cornmeal, or dried herbs or flower petals, or a song. Maybe appeal to a particular being—a special tree that you admire, or a bird species that you already have a relationship with—to help you connect. Do this not once, but day after day, by yourself and with others. This practice will open doors to additional, consequential actions you can take, with and on behalf of Gaia’s vast, complex, generous physical-spiritual reality.
Acting like we have relatives may seem like an absurdly naïve response to the cascading ecological collapse all around us. But I feel certain that this first, essential step will be the ground for many ways to truly, enduringly help both ourselves and our planet.