The other day a friend and I were having a discussion about the future of this planet and of humanity. She asserted that since humanity is of Planet Earth just as much as any other lifeform here, all the human-caused disasters that are happening—forest fires, floods, droughts and heat waves, air and water pollution, even extinctions and climate disruption—are “natural.”
Well, on one level that’s hard to deny, unless humans were dropped off here long ago by an alien spaceship (a theory that I don’t find so far-fetched sometimes!) But, nevertheless, I felt myself resisting the idea that the heartbreaking mess we’re in right now, with the biosphere near collapse all around the globe, can be excused as merely natural. If natural means acting according to our true nature, can we really say that humans are “naturally” unconcerned about our impact on the planet; that we’re naturally uncaring and even hateful toward our fellow creatures?
It all makes me remember something that my first deep ecology teacher, the late, wonderful Dolores LaChapelle, said many times: We humans “threw ourselves out.”
In ancestral times, humans knew themselves as belonging to the ecosystem they inhabited. Beginning a few thousand years ago, through our own gradually changing conception of who we were and how we wanted to live, we began to “throw ourselves out” of relationship with Nature, with Gaia, in all Her physical and spiritual dimensions. Instead of living in mutuality with the non-human realms, we came to think of ourselves as separate and superior. We increasingly related to the Earth only through exploiting the land, sea, plants and creatures as sources of benefit and wealth for us alone. This domination was affirmed and perpetuated by our evolving religions, economic ideas, social structures, technologies, and all the burgeoning trappings of our human-created world.
And now we’ve arrived where we are today—essentially homeless, having thrown ourselves out of the great web of life and, in the process, largely ruined the only home we’ve ever had.
So the most relevant question now becomes: How do we “throw ourselves back in”? How can modern humans spiral around into knowing ourselves as part of the biosphere, part of Gaia? Into knowing ourselves as unique, yes, and even great in many ways, but not superior to or more deserving than any other species or ecosystem? How can we come back into knowing and acting from who we really, naturally are?
The foundation for any viable solutions that we humans might develop for the numerous challenges we face has to be a deep inner conviction of belonging to the natural world. If we’re aiming to bring about genuine, lasting regeneration of the Earth community and all its inhabitants, we must be in an ongoing study to discern whether we are still “out”—conceiving of ourselves as separate from and smarter and more worthy than the rest of life—or if we’re working to get “back in”—back to knowing ourselves and all humanity as members and citizens of Gaia’s vast, intelligent web.
When we begin to live lives based on being “back in,” our actions on the ground, whatever they may be, will be truly “natural.” This is how we can find our way back home to Gaia, and into who we really are.