5 Ways to Celebrate the Wonders of Nature this Earth Day
“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language
that can transcend political or social boundaries.”
~ Jimmy Carter
Earth Day is coming up on April 22nd! To honor the occasion, I put together a few contemplations and actions to celebrate the wonders of nature. Of course, you don't need an Earth Day or any special occasion to enjoy the wonders of nature. It can be heartening, however, to honor Earth Day and be reminded of the many people around the world that are working tirelessly to protect and care for our gorgeous planet and its many lifeforms.
1. Zoom Out for a Larger Perspective
“National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.” ~ Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Let’s zoom out a bit and imagine that we are looking back at earth from the moon or the International Space Station. From this vantage point, we can see that we live on one relatively small planet in a field of vast darkness speckled with distant stars and remote galaxies. The few humans that have been fortunate enough to look back at Earth in this way with their own eyes say that the view of earth from space is truly a breath-taking profound experience. From this perspective, you can see no borders, no distinct separations, just one planet in space. Most astronauts say they feel awestruck by the incredible beauty of the dancing aurora borealis light shows, the ever-moving weather patterns, and the sunlight glistening off our oceans. Yet they also often report feeling a deep sense of concern witnessing the fragility of our planet with its delicate ecosystems and near paper-thin atmosphere that protects us from the harsh cold vastness of space. The experience of viewing earth from space has been such a profound experience for astronauts, that many have had ecstatic, religious, or life-changing experiences while looking back at earth. This experience is called the "overview effect."
From this perspective, most astronauts speak of identifying with all of humanity, with earth itself, instead of one religious or ethnic or political affiliation or another. Suddenly those labels seem far less significant.
So this Earth Day, I invite you to contemplate earth from this vantage point. How does your view shift? What does it inspire in you? Given this perspective, what role could you play in supporting this incredibly gorgeous and yet fragile planet, the planet which is, at the time being at least, our one and only home?
2. Zoom in on the Diversity of the Biosphere
"Why out of star dust has this come to be? Why birdsong, why green, why the lushness of palm and the stability of cyprus, and the grandeur of the mountains, and why the oceans, with their billions of teaming lifeforms. We are a part of a journey so much more than we ever could imagine." ~ Brian Swimme
Also from this vantage point, it is clear that earth is no longer a fiery lava planet devoid of life, like it was when it was first forming. Our planet is bursting with life! Since the days of single cell microorganisms in our oceans, life has become increasingly more complex, bursting into all of the myriad forms we see around us today.
As you imagine zooming back in on the planet, think of the diversity of life, from snails with their shell homes and eagles that are able to soar through clouds, to green ferns delicately coiled up under the shade of giant redwood trees. Imagine in your mind's eye, the colors and textures and almost infinite expressions of life! It truly is a wonder to behold.
“The earth was once molten rock and now sings opera.” ~ Brian Swimme
Pause to contemplate the many unique ways that life has evolved and the kaleidoscopic display of diversity we are able to witness! There are elephants, whales, strawberry plants, lady bugs, moss, lichens, and tiny acorns that grow into giant oak trees - the many forms and expressions are truly dazzling!
It's not just the richness of the many forms that amaze me, but how those forms interact, and the intricately beautiful complexity of the symbiotic relationships that allow for the emergence of ecosystems. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, “What a marvelous cooperative arrangement - plants and animals each inhaling each other's exhalations, a kind of planet-wide mutual mouth-to-stoma resuscitation, the entire elegant cycle powered by a star 150 million kilometers away.”
Seeing this drive toward increasing ordered complexity, the creativity of evolution surely is awe-inspiring! I invite you not just to think of the emergent complexity on the exterior, of all the many shapes and forms that life has taken, but also to think of the interior or the subjective experience of life as well. For example, what is the lived experience of your pet? What does it feel like to be them? I lived in a house with nine cats last fall and was blown away by how unique each of their personalities were and how much they seemed to experience the world from their own unique way of being. Though we can only imagine what another beings' subjective experience is, this contemplation can engender a profound compassion for all life. What could it be like to soar like an eagle over the world or be rooted in the earth, season after season, as a tree? What could it be like to live as a cat, curled up in a puddle of sunshine for your afternoon nap or a polar bear fishing for food in icy waters for her young?