“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?
3. Remember Humans are but One Thread in the Web of Life
"The primary problem with Western civilization is that it creates and perpetuates a radical separation between the human world and the natural world." ~ Drew Dellinger, Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium
It is important to remember that we share this planet with more species than we even know exist, not to mention the countless microorganisms, only a few of which we are just beginning to understand. Not only do we share the planet, but we emerged from the planet and live in complex symbiotic relationship with the rest of the life community. Microorganisms live within us and we inhale the air that plants and trees exhale. To think of humans as separate from nature, from the rest of life, or from the rest of cosmos is to not see the profound interconnectivity of the cosmos. It can sometimes feel easy to get so lost in our day-to-day routines, that we stop remembering this reality and even forget the many other life forms we co-exist with on this planet.
Having an anthropocentric framework, or focusing primarily on a human-centric worldview, is easy to get caught up in because, naturally, we are humans and we don't see the world through the eyes of other species, but taking a moment to step out of that can be a powerful practice. As Brian Swimme said,
The way to break an addiction is to break out of a limited world view. Break out of egocentricity. Break out of ethnocentricity. Break out of anthropocentricity. Take the view point of the Earth as a whole. In every fascination, in every allurement, include the vitality of the Earth. You are the Earth, too. The Earth is not different from you. This planet bloomed through millions of years and arrived at the stupendous achievement of self-reflexion. She surpassed herself, shivering with joy at the thought of housing a creature through whom her depths, her beauty, her majesty could be cherished in a new intensity. Imagine Earth’s astonishment to see us attempt to satisfy ourselves by transforming the Earth into throw-away tinsel, most of it noxious to all forms of life. Imagine the hilarity and pathology of a civilization devoted to stacking up this stuff, instead of plunging into the joy that has been prepared over billions of years. (source)
This shift towards greater and greater circles of concern is illustrated in this video by Brian Swimme:
One problem that can come from an anthropocentric worldview is how we think about "resources." In this great video, Brian Swimme says there is this prominent idea in Western civilization that "the natural world, the earth, is there for us to satisfy our needs and desires. ...In fact, we use the word 'resource.' So the earth is full of resources that are there for us to use as we see fit. ...Now that orientation actually is not that bad so long as humans are not that powerful, but suddenly when we become so massively present, that orientation turns out to be completely pathological... To degrade the status of others to 'resource' is what is driving our culture and really is at the root of the destruction." He adds: "the only way forward, really, is the recognition that we move forward together as a single earth community."
So today I invite you to contemplate the world beyond our human-centric lenses, seeing ourselves as one thread of many glistening threads in this magnificent web of life.
"We can't call a forest a resource. It's filled with amazing beings! ...Each of these species is the end result of 13.7 billion years of evolution. They're spectacular; they're stupendous! They have a right to be here." ~ Brian Swimme
4. Get out in Nature
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
~ Albert Einstein
Given this perspective of seeing earth from a distant vantage point, remembering the incredible diversity of life that we share our planet with, and stepping outside of our human-centric lenses, I invite you to go into nature, knowing that you, too, are nature.
Go out under the open sky, put your feet on the earth, jump in a lake, lay in a field and watch the hawks circle overhead, go camping, plant a garden, or go on a treasure hunt for fresh wildflowers. No matter what way you choose to connect with this beautiful planet, take life in with your senses. Breathe in the fresh air and listen to the birdsongs, the wind rustling the trees, the bubbling brook, or the stillness of the moment. What are the smells, the colors, the textures? Notice all the life around you: the plants, flowers, trees and greenery that fill our lungs with oxygen, or the insects, butterflies, and earth worms that tend to our soils and pollinate the flowers. Are there other creatures that you see? Scampering squirrels or a grazing deer? Birds singing or the hum of a dragonfly?
See if you can take a moment to slow down and really pay attention. I've been struggling with my health recently, which has greatly slowed down my pace of life and opened me up in new ways to the wonders of nature and the changing seasons. For the past week or so I have been taking a photo every day of the same tree. I noticed one day that the tree had these little closed buds that were getting ready to open. I thought it would be fun to see those buds turn into the giant maple leaves that I so enjoy every summer. Every day I've enjoyed watching the new developments. To my delighted surprise, I realized that these tiny buds had opened up into small green flowers. In all my years of watching this tree grow, sitting under its shade, and enjoying its beauty, I'd never slowed down enough to noticed these subtle sweet little blossoms. Sometimes it takes a different pace, and a slower, quieter, much more aware mindfulness to notice the wonders of nature unfolding before us.
5. Step Up as a Steward
“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” ~ John James Audubon
Now we can start talking about more specific actions to take to help honor, protect, and steward life on this planet. I started with the other points because it is my belief that it is more powerful to take action from a place of deep reverence, awe, and love instead of acting from fear, anger or pain. Of course anger can be incredibly motivating and powerful, but I believe it is important to remember the love that underlies the anger too. For example, you may be angry because something that you love and care about is being treated unjustly and taking action is a powerful way to make things right. Don't forget the love underneath, however, otherwise that route can often lead to burnout. When we see ourselves as the earth, a member of the web of life, and feel a deep reverence for all of the life forms we share our home with, the actions that emerge from that place are fueled by an ever-renewable well of energy and motivation.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us walk together.” ~ Lila Watson, Australian Aboriginal
In this video, Brian Swimme speaks to the profound responsibility that humans hold in the web of life in this moment in time:
Ultimately, what you do is unique to you and your gifts and your sphere of influence. There are millions of ways to get involved. What breaks your heart and calls to you? What motivates you or touches your heart? Here are just a few things to check out for Earth Day:
Except for the first photo and the collage, the other photos in this article aren't my own. Thank you stock photographers for capturing the beauty this beauty!