These days we’re being confronted on all sides with a wide variety of human grievances. We’re even being urged to re-examine the very words we use, to become more “woke” to systemic discrimination and oppression.
As a relatively privileged white woman, I can’t imagine the trauma of centuries of oppression and mistreatment of Native and Black people, and their justified outrage about that. But one way I can get close to understanding it is when I contemplate the violence and aggression long perpetrated by men on women and girls. I can certainly resonate at times with the temptation to dismiss all men as arrogant, destructive, and hopelessly ignorant, if not downright complacent, about the vast male-supremacist ocean in which we all swim. (This despite the fact that in my own life, I enjoy close and respectful friendships with men who honor the Feminine in the world and themselves.)
And yet—deep down, I know myself to be much further “out there” than even the most passionate social-justice progressive. Of course I wish for justice, liberation, and true prosperity for the earth’s human inhabitants. But underlying that, I want justice for Mother Earth, for Gaia’s entire lifeweb. I want Her oceans and forests, plants and creatures, and the multitude of spiritual beings who accompany them, to not only be “saved” or “restored,” but to be wholeheartedly included and honored as essential members of our communities.
Heading in a Gaia-centered direction, in our institutions and our lives, must go beyond addressing narrow, human-defined goals, no matter how apparently laudable. Just as white male supremacy fundamentally drives racial and gender-based prejudice, it is pervasive human supremacy that frames the way we modern humans relate, practically and spiritually, to the natural world.
What would being “woke” to Gaia look like?
At the deepest levels, humans must truly understand and experience ourselves as not inherently more important than any other lifeform. All species are unique, and human beings clearly have some special gifts and qualities. But we aren’t superior or more deserving!
Scientists lately have been reexamining the widespread assumption that humans are the only tool-using animal, and are finding that many animals use tools, from primates and elephants to crows and woodpeckers. Animals also feel and express complex emotions, including love, altruism and grief, and live together in intricate, enduring social arrangements. Even plants and fungi interact in more purposive ways than previously thought, to nourish and support each other and the surrounding ecosystem. The modern assumption of human superiority, in these and many other areas, was so entrenched that for centuries it prevented us from seeing these realities right in front of us.
Internalizing the knowing that we humans are part of the lifeweb and not masters of it—aspiring to meet the more-than-human world through communion and reciprocity, not domination and self-importance —would be an enormous first step toward Gaia-centered “wokeness.”
Concerning the words we use, it would be illuminating if, every time we say the word “people,” we pause and instead say “human people.” This helps us see that the world contains many “people”: bird people, bear and coyote people, tree people, even stone people, all of whom are inherently worthy of our respect and good will.
Finally, we need to wake up to our obligation to benefit and sustain future generations, of human and non-human beings, in everything we think, say and do. We must adhere unceasingly to the deep truth that authentic human flourishing can only come about when the entire biosphere is flourishing.
In this parlous time of climate disruption, ubiquitous pollution and mass extinctions, becoming woke on behalf of Gaia is our most important task. Let’s start now!