A few years ago, on a late summer’s day, I was hiking in the nearby mountains. The multitude of wildflowers that had been blooming all summer were now going to seed, and all the seed-eating birds were taking full advantage. At the edge of a meadow, I caught sight of some gawky young house finches. They were flying around, sampling seeds and displaying the general goofiness typical of recently-fledged birds. Suddenly one of them left its perch and flew briskly toward a tall, upright flower stalk crowned with a big puffy seed head. When it landed, the entire stalk bent over to the ground, and the surprised bird literally fell off, upside down onto the grass. Flailing its little wings, it righted itself and indignantly flew away. And I practically fell on the ground too, from laughing so hard.
Delight, awe, and even humor are often to be found in Gaia’s world, sometimes in the briefest, subtlest encounters. But how many people see this, much less value it, other than eccentric old ladies like me who grew up roaming wild forests and canyons alone and unsupervised?
For Nature to galvanize our green hearts, we need to approach Her with patience and calm curiosity. These are not typically reinforced in today’s world, so we need to cultivate them in ourselves, as a spiritual and behavioral practice. As adults, we can see the value in this and deliberately set out to attune more deeply to Nature’s rhythms. But what do we do with our children? How can we get them away from their phones, flashy video games and wide-screen TVs and out into Nature’s beauties and wonders? Or is this really necessary for our kids to flourish?
I’m certainly not the first person to ask these questions. Many studies have shown over the years that being in the natural world is critical for children to develop in positive ways. Richard Louv in particular, in Last Child in the Woods and other works, has focused on this subject. And much research has demonstrated that interacting with wild places can make kids (and the rest of us) happier, healthier, more functional and more successful. These all seem like worthy goals—but my focus is on the heart.
Humanity’s greatest mission on Earth in these perilous times is not to be “better-adjusted” or more “successful.” It’s not even to be “happy,” if this happiness is to be found solely within the human-created world and its machines and products. No, our destiny is to be fully in our green hearts, and thereby to form creative, synergistic alliances with other beings—human and non-human, material and spiritual—so that, together, we can attune to Nature’s rhythms and bring about the regeneration of Gaia and ourselves.
The Green Heart is humanity’s most powerful and significant transformative organ. It must be nourished and activated in any matters that pertain to Gaia—which is everything. Only with Gaia’s Green Heart being fulfilled through each one of us, young and old, will we be able to arrive at a balanced world that gives every being, including human beings, what they truly need. We simply can’t access our truest, deepest human greatness without inhabiting our Green Hearts.
Being present enough in the natural world to laugh out loud while watching a bird fall off a flower is just one portal to Gaia’s ever-unfolding mysteries, visible and invisible. It is within these mysteries that the Green Heart finds itself and aligns with its mission. Our green hearts hold the key, not merely to good ideas, but to communion, generosity, inclusion—and, yes, delight and humor. These are all unifying impulses that the modern, rational mind can never arrive at on its own.
Children’s hearts and Gaia’s heart are a unity. And most children are neither encouraged nor empowered to enter fully, unself-consciously, into Gaia’s vivid, secret powers and wonders. If youthful hearts and the heart of Gaia are not able to flourish together within a sacred Green communion, the green heart in children will wither away in just a few more generations. Gaia’s heart will remain bereft and lonely. And our world—well, I don’t even want to speculate on what it could become, with no children left in the woods.
How can we serve our children and our planet by nourishing and drawing out the Green Heart that is there—ready to emerge but perilously susceptible to being drowned out—in each human child living on Gaia?
(I’ll return to this subject. In the meantime, please email me with your thoughts!)