About 15 years ago, some people I then knew were enthralled with a movie called “The Secret,” about how to achieve prosperity through the Law of Attraction. Drawing on supposedly ages-old esoteric spiritual principles, the movie claimed to reveal how to use your mind and ambition to visualize what you want, no matter what it is, and then draw that to yourself. The example that I recall most clearly was a boy who really, really wanted a new bicycle, and, it was implied, manifested it simply through the power of positive thinking.
When the movie was over, instead of being inspired, I felt a sense of unease. There is certainly something to be said for believing oneself to be worthy and deserving—indeed, many of us have had to overcome a deep inner sense of unworthiness, sometimes through years of counseling or therapy. But something seems to be missing in this picture. No matter how genuinely worthy I know myself to be, do I really, by definition, deserve to have anything I want??
We know that the currently dominant, human-created world glorifies getting, and getting, and getting some more, without giving anything back. After thousands of years of humans growing increasingly separate from Nature, and 3 or 4 centuries of short-term, entitled mass consumerism, the planet is falling apart around us. Every continent is being logged, mined, drilled and industrially farmed; rivers everywhere are dammed and polluted; in some places the air is so full of smoke and toxins that it can barely be breathed; and the oceans are overfished and full of plastic. How can anyone believe this is a good thing?
Taking without giving back violates one of the oldest, most enduring spiritual laws on the planet. Reciprocity has been a central principle of ancestral peoples, including the ancestors of every one of us, for thousands of generations. The simple act of giving offerings—perhaps a pinch of cornmeal or tobacco in North America, a little milk or a drop of whisky in Britain—is common to virtually all ancestral traditions. The offering can be given simply to honor a particular being or place, or to give back for some specific useful item. The idea here is not that the cornmeal is “worth” as much as the sight of a soaring hawk or bounding deer, or the gathered fruit or harvested dye-plant. Instead, the giving of the cornmeal symbolically and energetically sets up an exchange. It opens the door to a relationship, a mutuality between the giver and the receiver, whether human or non-human. And it is in this mutuality that true abundance lies.
Mother Gaia exemplifies abundance through her very nature. Where it has not been damaged by human actions, Gaia’s vast web is a system that holds all of its members in balanced mutuality. This vibrant state of equilibrium embodies 2 seemingly paradoxical, yet essential principles—that every member of Gaia’s community is interdependent with every other, and that the health and resilience of the entire web depend on every member—every bear, lizard, forest, river and human—being fully itself.
The human-centered, growth-oriented model of existence is completely incompatible with these principles. Instead, it depends on everyone continually aspiring to get more for themselves, in the process disregarding the well-being of most other humans beyond their immediate family, as well as all non-human beings and ecosystems. There is no mutuality or interdependence anywhere—thus, no real abundance.
When we’re attuned with Gaia—when we dwell in mutuality with all of our fellow beings—we have true abundance. We are able to harmoniously satisfy our everyday, practical needs as we nourish our eco-spiritual aspirations. We come to realize that the root of abundance is the glorious gift of dwelling in our deep, authentic self and living in accord and reciprocity with the entire human and more-than-human world around us. Instead of relying on capitalistic ruthlessness or new age tricks to get what we think we want, we learn how to manifest what we really want and need, which is to live as members and citizens of the Green World, embodying and reflecting Gaia’s enduring laws of interdependence, inclusion and generosity.
And when we read the previous paragraph and think (even as I do!) that this sounds impossibly idealistic, it only takes a moment of contemplating the cruel, heedless, and totally unsustainable way of living promoted by modern culture to know that another way is beckoning—the way of Gaia’s true abundance. It will probably take many human lifetimes to ground and regenerate Gaia’s ways in our human and more-than-human communities around the world. All of us reading this post will be long gone—but the seeds we plant now can point the way.