Gaia—the vast, living, intelligent being that created and is still creating our planet and everything on it—constantly tends toward balance and inclusion, and toward every being within every ecosystem thriving according to its nature. Our indigenous ancestors lived lives that were centered around attuning to the patterns of Gaia in their local ecosystem, and honoring and harmonizing with the totality of life there. These ways are still courageously modeled for us by the remaining indigenous peoples around the globe.
Gaia in Her fullness can best be understood as a system, a web of infinite relationships and interactions among all of its members. Such a system cannot sustain itself without reciprocity, that is, all within it constantly finding and re-finding a balanced interchange, without anyone taking or accumulating more than they need. This reality is not a fluffy, sentimental one, of course: most interchanges within a living natural system involve finding food to eat, and its members literally eating one another. When a system is balanced, however, there is enough for all the various plant and animal beings within it to feed and shelter themselves, to reproduce, and to flourish as a totality. And when all beings (including human beings) who live in a forest or watershed, or in and around a sea or estuary, are flourishing, the entire system is vibrant, sustainable and regenerative.
In contrast, the human-created world is based on exactly opposite principles. Dating from the establishment of the first large civilizations in Babylon and ancient Egypt, the dominant social order has become one of a few (primarily wealthy, ruling class men and their immediate families) thriving at the expense of everyone else (women, non-ruling class men, servants and slaves, and non-human beings). The institutions that have arisen over the millennia to support this still-operative paradigm include capitalism and fascism, patriarchy and racism, and limitless exploitation of Nature, all driven by a seemingly insatiable greed for domination and material abundance.
This is obviously a very brief, broad-strokes summary of almost 6,000 years of human history. What is clear, however, is that the human-centered world has never been sustainable and is increasingly showing its failings in all arenas. What can we learn from Gaia that will help us live better in our own human and more-than-human communities? I refer to this area of knowledge as going with Gaia’s grain, as opposed to the human-centered world, which goes against Gaia’s grain in almost every way.
I’ll be exploring ways to go with Gaia’s grain in future posts.