“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle
Let’s make an exercise for few minutes. Let’s think about us as new-born babies in a small community of a hunter gatherer society few thousand years ago, with a great richness of nature. To live, we are grateful for the sun, we are grateful for the air we breathe, we are grateful for the soil, we are grateful for the plants that give us food, we are grateful for other plants and trees where we can get materials to use for shelter and clothes, we are grateful for the animals, plants, air and minerals that keep the perfect balance to keep life flourishing around the planet, we are grateful for our ancestors for being alive now.
Living as part of an indigenous community, we grow in a lifestyle where nature is sacred to us, where rituals are part of our daily lives to thank nature and to ask permission to mother earth for our actions to take from her things to keep us alive. In a community which the use of materials and food as an exchange with other people to live in an organized society where all members can sustain their lives is a gift.
From above exercise, we understand and perceive life as a gift, and this also apply to current times. We didn’t ask permission to come to this world as new-born babies to be alive, we didn’t ask for the sun, for the soil, for the rocks, for the air, for all the balance between animals, plants and minerals in the great ecosystem that keep earth alive, we didn’t ask for our ancestors to give us live. We came to planet earth in the vast cosmic arena, we are alive for a short time in the vast cosmic timescale, those are the most wonderful gift we can have.
Our lives in that situation, place us as part of nature, part of the interdependence of a whole entity that is Gaia and the cosmos.
That gift of being alive is based on the interconnectedness of the wholeness in Gaia and the cosmos. This can also be represented scientifically through the life platform on planet earth of all living and non-living entities.
We are aware of the importance of biodiversity (which is the variety and variability of life on Earth), where interdependence is key for life to flourish, but equally relevant and important is geodiversity (which is the diversity of non-living nature on earth), which forms a basis for biological diversity because organisms depend on the abiotic components of their environment.
A great example of interconnectedness is the term of Inter-being from Thích Nhất Hạnh, which I have explained in previous essays. We are nothing without the elements of nature, including the elements of cosmos, like the influence of our closest start, the sun.
We commonly take for granted the water we drink, the fruits and vegetables we eat, the air we breathe, the sunlight that support the life of ecosystems which give us the plants that offer their medicine and food. All of that which keep us alive are all interconnected, so no life can happen without this interconnectedness.
Life as a unique gift can only flourish through the interconnectedness of the wholeness in Gaia and the cosmos. It is a reminder to respect and to deal with all living and non-living things with compassion and empathy.
It is important to highlight how the Gaia theory, which in it is origins was criticized by the scientific community, it is the base of today’s Earth System Science, (the study of the interconnected components of our environment). I am glad that we are witnesses of the publication of the article “The emergence and evolution of Earth System Science” by the popular scientific magazine Nature in January 2020.
As the article states in its abstract:
“Earth System Science (ESS) is a rapidly emerging transdisciplinary endeavour aimed at understanding the structure and functioning of the Earth as a complex, adaptive system… Inspired by early work on biosphere–geosphere interactions and by novel perspectives such as the Gaia hypothesis, ESS emerged in the 1980s following demands for a new ‘science of the Earth.”
It follows a particular comment about indigenous cultures in its introduction:
“For tens of thousands of years, indigenous cultures around the world have recognized cycles and systems in the environment, and that humans are an integral part of these.”
And as part of the article, we can see the impact of Gaia theory in this new science:
“Amidst these developments, J. Lovelock introduced the term Gaia in 1972 as an entity comprised of the total ensemble of living beings and the environment with which they interact, and hypothesized that living beings regulate the global environment by generating homeostatic feedbacks. Although this hypothesis generated scientific debate and criticism, it also generated a new way of thinking about the Earth: the major influence of the biota on the global environment and the importance of the interconnectedness and feedbacks that link major components of the Earth System.”
After reading the Nature’s article, I want to highlight these last comments, stated in the last part of the article, named “Future Directions”, based on the following challenge:
“…how can we better understand the dynamics of human societies? What can Earth System Science contribute to understanding — and perhaps to steering — the integrated geosphere–biosphere–anthroposphere trajectory of the Anthropocene? “
“…this challenge, however, requires a much greater effort, as our understanding of the Earth System is still largely constrained to its biogeophysical components. The big challenge is to fully integrate human dynamics, as embodied in the social sciences and humanities, with biophysical dynamics to build a truly unified ESS effort. Bellow Figure highlights this challenge, with its inclusion of the anthroposphere as a fully integrated, interactive component of the Earth System, along with the geosphere and biosphere. Forcings and feedbacks between the spheres, including psycho-social feedbacks involving the anthroposphere, describe the functioning of the Earth System as a whole.”
“The human dimensions of Earth System Science must, therefore, go well beyond economic models (IAMs) and incorporate the deeper human characteristics that capture our core values and how we view our relationship to the rest of the Earth System.”
These human dimensions are the key to live in harmony with planet earth, humans as part of the interconnectedness of the whole. While this Nature’s article explores questions for top-down solutions approach, with this, I mean actions from nations, corporations, Research Centers, NGOs, and other organizations, there are currently communities across the planet already living in this interconnectedness with nature, which has taken their own initiative to build a regenerative planet, some examples of those are the ecovillages, transition movement, and many others.
Unfortunately, there is still a perception from the scientific approach, that man is in charge of planet earth, with that, we have the great risk of perpetuating the technology solutions to today’s nature’s crisis. What we need is changes in us, in our relationship with nature, a planet earth Mindset, as Robin Wall Kimmerer states in her “Returning the Gift” essay:
“I don’t think that it is more technology we need, or more money or more data. We need a change in heart, a change in ethics, away from an anthropocentric worldview that considers the Earth our exploitable property to a biocentric, life-centered worldview in which an ethic of respect and reciprocity can grow.”
In “Returning the Gift”, Robin Wall Kimmerer, also mentions few insights that I would like to highlight around the terms gratitude and reciprocity as actions to the Gift of life and all natures gives us:
“For much of humans’ time on the planet, before the great delusion, we lived in cultures that understood the covenant of reciprocity — that for the Earth to stay in balance, for the gifts to continue to flow, we must give back in equal measure for what we are given. Our first responsibility, the most potent offering we possess, is gratitude.”
“…Gratitude is founded on the deep knowing that our very existence relies on the gifts of other beings.”
“…Gratitude is most powerful as a response to the Earth because it provides an opening to reciprocity, to the act of giving back, to living in a way that the Earth will be grateful for us.”
“…What does the Earth ask of us? To meet our responsibilities and to give our gifts. Naming responsibility is often understood as accepting a burden, but in the teachings of my ancestors, responsibilities and gifts are understood as two sides of the same coin. The possession of a gift is coupled with a duty to use it for the benefit of all.”
“… The Earth Calls Us to Reciprocity — returning the gift — is not just good manners; it is how the biophysical world works. Balance in ecological systems arises from negative feedback loops, from cycles of giving and taking: living and dying, production and consumption, biogeochemical cycles, water to cloud and back to water again. Reciprocity among parts of the living Earth produces equilibrium in which life as we know it can flourish. Positive feedback loops — in which interactions spur one another away from balance — produce radical change, often to a point of no return. We must understand that we, like every other successful organism, must play by the rules that govern ecosystem function. The laws of thermodynamics have not been suspended on our behalf. Unlimited growth is not possible. In a finite world you cannot relentlessly take without replenishment.”
This is the new perception humanity needs to explore: the interconnectedness of life as a gift of Gaia and the cosmos, we should be grateful for this, and we should be responsible to keep this web alive.
It is important to place this perception as part of the bigger picture, how we focus our minds on a level of interconnectedness with the wholeness. For this, I prefer to quote Frijof Capra on his comments about deep ecology:
“Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centred. It views humans as above or outside nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or ‘use’, value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans — or anything else — from the natural environment. It does see the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all human beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.”
The interconnectedness of wholeness is one of the cognitive shifts I am presenting as part of a Planet Earth Mindset.